To read a full biography of Ken Carson on the ultimate site for all things Sons of the Pioneers, click here: Ken Carson on bobnolan-sop.net
Ken “Shorty” Carson was born Hubert Paul Flatt on November 14, 1914 in Centrahoma, Coal County, Oklahoma. He was raised partly by his mother and stepfather, and partly by his grandparents. His parents played guitar and fiddle. Even as a child Ken found pleasure in seeing people enjoy music, so he picked up the Jew’s harp and a harmonica. His mother gave him a guitar one Christmas and a legend was born.
His career started with playing harmonica accompanied by a fellow by the name of Red Barton on KGFJ radio. He went on to perform with all sorts of notables such as Stuart Hamblen, the Beverly Hill Billies (not to be confused with the later TV show of the same name), the Ranch Boys, and the Sons of the Pioneers. He appeared in 22 of Roy Rogers’ movies as a member of the latter group. Ken was a regular on the Garry Moore Show from 1951 to 1958 and was also a successful solo artist.
He had a voice that was sweet, soulful and pure, unlike any other. He could cover any variety of genre, and his tenor voice was well suited for the harmonies of trios and quartettes. Bob Nolan of the Sons of the Pioneers took a liking to him when they met in Chicago and Ken kept in touch with them over time. When Lloyd Perryman was drafted into WWII, Bob brought Ken in as Lloyd’s replacement. Ken was in two of the groups’ most famous recordings Tumbling Tumbleweeds and Cool Water. On the latter tune, Ken’s was the voice echoing “Cool, clear water.” Although Ken was only with the Pioneers for four years (from 1943-1947), his impact on the group was tremendous. He added the voice that hit. He added the whistle which became a classic Pioneer sound to this day, though no one has ever been able to do it as well as Ken did!
Ken was master of over six instruments. He was the only one of the group who could write musical scores. He took down many of Bob Nolan’s compositions over the years, including Halfway ‘Round the World.
At age twenty three, Ken rode from Los Angeles to Chicago, and from Chicago to New York on horseback along with Curley Bradley and Jack Ross. The three, who comprised the group called “The Ranch Boys”, did it as a publicity stunt for their sponsor, Miles Laboratories (the producer of Alka-Seltzer). The trip took three months. “I always tell everybody it’s 3975 miles on horseback,” he used to say, “and I’ve got the calluses still to prove it!”