Robert C. "Bob" Oates
(1920 - 2003)
Tim's father, the late Robert C. Oates, better known as Bob Oates, was a loving father to his three sons, Ron, Robin and Tim. He was also an amazing singer, whistler and yodeler and spent his life performing and entertaining audiences throughout the western United States.
Born on February 23, 1920 in Los Angeles, California, Bob grew up surrounded by music and parents who appreciated and nurtured his gift of voice. Long before the era of televsion and instant news media, one found amusement on radio, an occasional movie, and, in Bob's case, singing and playing musical instruments with family and friends.
Bob sang from a very early age in church and his high school glee club but his professional career really took off after returning from WWII where he served in the Navy as a Yeoman 1st Class aboard ship in the South Pacific. In 1948, he entered a series of singing contests hosted by country western star Tex Williams. The shows, which were called "The Tex Williams Talent Contest", were held at the famed Riverside Rancho Ballroom, a big western dance hall located near Glendale, California. The shows were kind of a predecessor to today's popular singing contests such as American Idol and The Voice and featured up-and-coming country western singers; a very popular genre at the time. Bob entered the contest and won four consecutive times. First place prizes included $250, a one week paid engagement at the Riverside Rancho, custom made western outfits, a one-hour plane ride over Los Angeles and a custom photograph of himself done up in oil.
As a result of his success with the Tex Williams shows, Bob went on to enter and win two national singing contests on NBC Radio hosted by musician and big band leader, Horace Heidt. By winning those two contests Bob qualified for the finals at the world famous Hollywood Bowl. He didn't win but he did place. As a result of his NBC Radio success Bob had appearances at the Trianon Ballroom and was asked by Horace Heidt to head up a "unit" of several stars and tour the nation. Bob also appeared on NBC Radio with Italian opera singer Ezio Pinza, Hedda Hopper, and Barbara Stanwyck. Singing, yodeling and whistling, Bob, also known as "The Whistling Westerner", appeared on radio, stage and screen.
On the heels of his talent show success, Bob launched a weekly radio show on KIEV in Glendale, California. The show was western themed and featured Bob singing, whistling and yodeling to the accompaniment of his life-long friend, Bud Kelley, on guitar and Curly Bergen on bass. The show, which he started in 1948, ran for about a year.
In 1950, Bob extended his Whistling Westerner radio show to KSDO in San Diego, California. The show was sponsored by the Pacific Drive-in Theater chain. He made personal appearances at the grand openings of the drive-in theaters that were popping up all over southern California. Some of these theaters are still in operation today. 1950 also saw Bob serving as Grand Marshall in several parades in the San Diego and Chula Vista areas riding his horse "Bomba".
From 1951 - 1958, Bob continued his radio appearances but also branched out to the television and film medium. His studio work consisted of voice-overs and dubbing services for motion picture studios Paramount, Columbia, 20th Century Fox and Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM). Bob's singing voice can be heard in the 1958 film "The Girl Most Likely" which starred Jane Powell. Bob's voice was dubbed in for actor Tommy Noonan in the film who performed a duet with Ms. Powell. The song was called "We Gotta Keep Up With The Joneses" written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine ("Meet Me In St. Louis") and arranged by Nelson Riddle.
During the 50's, Bob also appeared as a regular guest star on Ray "Crash" Corrigan's TV show "Crash Corrigan's Ranch", a weekly variety show which aired on Saturday nights on KABC. Corrigan also owned the Corriganville Movie Ranch, a working film studio and movie ranch for outdoor movie shooting as well as a Western-themed tourist attraction. Every Sunday Crash, Bob and other cast members from the TV show would put on two shows in front of live audiences at the ranch. Many films and TV shows were filmed there such as Fort Apache, Buffalo Bill in Tomahawk Territory, The Robe, The Lone Ranger, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Sky King, The Cisco Kid, The Adventures of Kit Carson, Have Gun - Will Travel, Star Trek, and more. In 1965, Corrigan sold the ranch to Bob Hope who developed part of the ranch into a housing subdivision which became known as Hopetown. The ranch was located in Simi Valley near where the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is located. The property ultimately ended up in the hands of a local municipality and is now the Corriganville Regional Park.
It was also during the 50's that Bob saw commercial success when he recorded and sold records (some of which can be heard right here) under the labels of Coast (recorded under the name "Bob Ballard"), ABC-Eagle, Charm, and Majestic Records.
Bob was also a very gifted whistler and yodeler. His double-tongue whistling talent can be heard in the 1957 film "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and the 1958 Jerry Lewis film "The Geisha Boy" where he whistled the tune "The Colonel Bogey March" in both films.
Bob's yodeling prowess was highlighted in an Italian Swiss Colony Wine television commerical in the early 1960's which featured the "Little Old Wine Maker, Me" series of commercials.
Throughout his career Bob had the opportunity to guest star with celebrities such as Bing Crosby, Gower Champion, Rory Calhoun, Deborah Kerr, Mel Blanc, Esther Williams, Jeff Chandler, Nelson Riddle (who did so much to influence the success of Frank Sinatra), and Roy Rogers. And speaking of Roy Rogers, Tim remembers his dad performing with Roy at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California when Tim was just a small boy. After the performance he got to go backstage and meet Roy and his wife, Dale Evans, and get their autographs. In his eyes, Roy was about the biggest western star on the planet, next to his father, of course! Tim says it was quite a thrill for a litte guy like him to be in the presence of his two favorite cowboys!
In the 1960's, Bob took a hiatus from the music business and concentrated on real estate development after moving his family to Idyllwild, California. But his Italian Swiss Colony Wine commercial continued to run through the early 60's. Tim said it was always a thrill to hear his dad yodeling on TV.
In the 1970's, the show business bug took a bite out of Bob, once again. He spent several years touring the western United States appearing at supper clubs and organizations where he put on a series of concerts to the accompaniment of his very gifted and talented pianist, Dwight Elrich. With his western roots, his shows still contained a few western songs. But Bob also had made the transition to include some religious and contemporary songs of the day. His broadway show tunes are some of Tim's favorites. Tim had the honor and privilege of performing at a few of his dad's shows. And in 1972, Bob returned to the studio to record an LP entitled "Bob Oates Presents" for Double Oh Records. Tim played harmonica on the song "Wagon Wheels" which was quite a thrill for him.
By the mid 70's, Bob retired from performing, but he didn't retire from singing. Right up through the 90's, he stayed very active as his church's cantor. He also found time to host yet another radio program, this time on KHPY in Moreno Valley, California. The show was called "The Bob Oates' Happy Hour" with the theme "What's Right with America". Ever the eternal optimist, this program featured local community people with uplifting stories and, of course, some occassional singing and whistlilng by the man himself. And the ever-proud papa found a way to work in a few of Tim's recordings into an occasional show.
A personal word from Tim
"On July 16, 2003, I lost my loving father and the world lost a very special man possessed with endless optimism and an equal amount of musical talent. My father always encouraged me to develop the musical talent I have and to share it with others. His memory and positive attitude continue to inspire me daily. I like to think that a little part of him continues to live on through me everytime I sing and entertain."
Click on the links below to hear some of Bob's music or view some pictures of him.