Rinehart, Nolan Arthur [Cowboy Slim] (1911–1948)

By: Hugh O'Donovan

Type: Biography

Published: December 7, 2006

Updated: May 3, 2019

Cowboy Slim Rinehart, known as the "King of Border Radio," was born Nolan Arthur Rinehart on March 12, 1911, near Gustine, Comanche County, Texas. Rinehart made a career singing hillbilly songs and playing guitar on border radio programs. Big Bill Lister, rhythm guitarist and opening act for Hank Williams, fondly remembered listening to Rinehart in 1935 on Brady radio station KNEL, which also featured Bobby Kendrick's (a.k.a. Bob Skyles) family medicine-show band and the Skyrockets.

In 1936 Rinehart and the Skyrockets performed on KIUM, Pecos. Soon afterward, Rinehart moved to the station that helped him become famous, XEPN near Eagle Pass. In 1937 XEPN of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, was one of the numerous border radio stations, unregulated by the United States government, that transmitted their programs into the U.S. Since these stations operated in Mexico, they could use very strong signals that reached as far north as Canada. This arrangement gave Rinehart an audience much larger than that of a conventional American radio station. He performed as part of the Good Neighbor Get-Together, a block of radio programming that included such musicians as Patsy Montana, the original Carter Family, Doc Hopkins, Russ Pike, and the Modern Pioneers. The show, which ran twice a day, also included Mainer's Mountaineers and Doc and Carl, as well as a future governor of Texas, W. Lee (Pappy) O'Daniel , who addressed political and economic issues and sang with the Hillbilly Boys.

Performing on XEPN gave Rinehart national popularity. He played and sang, often with Patsy Montana, with whom he went on tour to the East Coast. Hollywood movie producers invited him to audition for roles in Westerns. Rinehart went to Hollywood, but turned down the offers, choosing instead to return to XEPN. He eventually ended up at XEG, Monterrey, Nuevo León, where he was very popular in 1946.

In addition to his influence on Big Bill Lister and others, Cowboy Slim Rinehart helped shape Ernest Tubb's career. Tubb attempted to convince Rinehart to follow his lead and record at Decca, but Rinehart was unwilling to go. There is some conflicting information as to why Rinehart never commercially recorded. One theory, offered by Lister, was that Rinehart was afraid records would hurt his business of selling songbooks to the border stations. A second explanation was offered by Dallas Turner, another border radio entertainer who was greatly influenced by Rinehart. Turner claims Rinehart held a great disdain for disc jockeys, whom he saw as the reason so many musicians lost their jobs. During Rinehart's time, it was these disc jockeys who were responsible for firing the live entertainment, since many radio stations were replacing studio performances with records.

Rinehart was killed in a car crash in Detroit, Michigan, on October 28, 1948. One source says that he died with a record contract from Decca in his pocket; others state that he was on his way to a recording session at the time of the accident. In any case, he never made any commercial recordings. Most of what remains of the "King's" musical legacy is recordings of his radio broadcasts, principally those made at XEG. In 2008 Heart of Texas Records out of Brady, Texas, issued Cowboy Slim Rinehart: King of Border Radio, a CD of radio transcriptions containing both story songs and cowboy classics. Rinehart is an inductee in the Country Music Association of Texas Hall of Fame.

"Dallas Turner Interview" (http://www.furious.com/perfect/dallasturner.html), accessed November 16, 2011. Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford, Border Radio: Quacks, Yodelers, Psychics, Pitchmen, and Other Amazing Broadcasters of the American Airwaves (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002). Colin Larkin, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 3d ed. (New York: Muze, 1998).

  • Music
  • Genres (Country)

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Hugh O'Donovan, “Rinehart, Nolan Arthur [Cowboy Slim],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/rinehart-nolan-arthur-cowboy-slim.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 7, 2006
May 3, 2019

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