FARR, KARL (1909–1961). Karl Farr, country and swing guitarist, was born Karl Marx Farr, on April 25, 1909, in Rochelle, Texas. He grew up in a musical family, and at an early age he played with his brothers, Hugh and Glen. Karl Farr performed in a variety of bands throughout his life and was proficient on guitar, mandolin, banjo, and drums. At age thirteen he began playing several instruments in Chet Miller’s band in Big Spring, Texas. In 1925 his family relocated to Encino, California. Later Farr, with his brother Hugh, played with Len Nash and His Country Boys in Long Beach from 1929 to 1933 which helped Karl land a staff position at KFOX radio. The Farr brothers formed the Haywire Trio with Ira McCullough in 1933 and later joined Jimmie LeFevre and His Texas Outlaws.
Karl Farr, at the behest of his brother Hugh, joined the popular group the Sons of the Pioneers in 1935 and would remain a member for the rest of his life. Although the band’s original name was the Pioneer Trio, the members changed it to the Sons of the Pioneers shortly after the Farr brothers joined. The Sons of the Pioneers became one of the most popular “singing cowboy” bands of the 1930s through 1950s, releasing several popular records and appearing in films with Gene Autry, Bing Crosby, Roy Rogers, and others.
The Sons of the Pioneers performed not only traditional folk and country tunes, but they also wrote their own material, including such hits as Bob Nolan’s “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “Way Out There,” and Tim Spencer’s ”Room Full of Roses.” The group also was known for its intricate three and four-part harmonies and its polished stage presence. Farr’s influential playing style included an emphasis on single-note runs that inspired country pickers that followed, such as Merle Travis.
Karl Farr was known for his excellent musicianship within the professional music world, but his membership in the Sons of the Pioneers eclipsed any personal recognition he might have received from the general public. As a highly-respected guitarist, however, he was given one of the first Telecasters by Fender in 1949. While performing with the Sons of the Pioneers at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Massachusetts, Farr suffered a heart attack and died on September 20, 1961. He was married and had children. He was buried in Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood, California. In 1980 Farr was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame as a member of the Sons of the Pioneers. He is also in the Hall of Great Western Performers in the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
Don Cusic, It’s the Cowboy Way!: The Amazing True Adventures of Riders in the Sky (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2003). Colin Larkin, ed., The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Chester, Connecticut: New England Publishing Associates, 1992; 2d ed., New York: Stockton Press, 1995). James Robert Parish and Michael R. Pitts, eds., Hollywood Songsters: Singers Who Act and Actors Who Sing (New York: Routledge, 2003). Irwin Stambler and Grelun Landon, Country Music: The Encyclopedia (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000). Peter Stanfield, Horse Opera: The Strange History of the 1930s Singing Cowboy (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Carol Neel, "FARR, KARL," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffazy), accessed July 26, 2014. Uploaded on June 30, 2014. Modified on July 8, 2014. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.