|Cast of Bonanza
"Ponderosa Party Time"
RCA Records LP (1962)
Reissued on CD by Bear Family
Bonanza - All
Sourwood Mountain - All
Sky Ball Paint - Dan Blocker
Early One Morning - Pernell Roberts
Ponderosa - Lorne Greene
Careless Love - Michael Landon
Skip To My Lou - All
In The Pines - Pernell Roberts
Happy Birthday - All
My Sons, My Sons - Lorne Greene
The Hangin' Blues - Dan Blocker
Shenandoah - Michael Landon
Miss Cindy - All
The Place Where I Worship - Lorne Greene
They're four single guys with their own 1960s NBC TV series. There's a smart one, a cute one, a
sensitive one, and a goofy one, and the liner notes of their first LP make a big deal of the fact that they
not only sing, but also play their own instruments. Hey, hey! They're the... cast of Bonanza?
If you're creaky enough to remember the debut of Bonanza back in 1959, then you shouldn't be shocked
by these singing Cartwrights. The first show started with the cast riding up to the camera on horseback
and singing some very corny lyrics to the Bonanza theme song. Wiser heads prevailed, and this was
quickly replaced with the famous "burning map" opening and an unembarrassing instrumental theme. But
the singing idea lingered, and after several years of TV success, it was resurrected for this album. It's
not a soundtrack (it doesn't include that vocal rendition of the show's theme, darn it), but a stand-alone
concept album, subtitled Ponderosa Party Time!
It is Saturday night at the Ponderosa ranch. Usually, that would mean it's time to bathe Hoss, but this
week, all the neighbors have dropped by for a big party and sing-along. The Cartwright boys take turns
singing such frontier favorites as "Skip To My Lou" and "In The Pines," and between the songs, there is
a lot of dialogue: joshing about the Hoss waistline, arguing over who will sing next, getting all misty over
family bonds, and so on, all of which would get mighty tedious if anyone ever listened to this record more
than once. But if your idea of a good time is a Saturday night on an isolated ranch with four men in
leather and no women, then let's jump right in.
The top singer of the bunch is Pernell Roberts (Adam), whose choirboy voice and precise diction on the
Elizabethan-tinged "Early One Morning" sound so much like Dick Smothers, you keep expecting Tommy
to interrupt him with a yo-yo trick. The following year, Roberts sang on the sequel to this LP, Christmas
on the Ponderosa, and released a solo album of overly-arch folk songs (Come All Ye Fair And Tender
Ladies, both on RCA). At the end of the 1964-1965 season, Roberts left Bonanza because his role was
holding him back artistically. His immediate rocket ride to obscurity made him the butt of countless
Johnny Carson jokes, until he finally resurfaced in 1979, his hair having migrated from his head to his
chin, as the star of Trapper John, M.D.
Dan Blocker (Hoss) can't really sing, so he does what he did on the show: provide comic relief. He
tackles (and we mean that literally) the novelty songs, like "Sky Ball Paint" (a song about an ornery horse
that Riders In The Sky re-popularized) and "The Hangin' Blues" (a humorous ditty about a lynching). He
blusters his way through each, and many witty jests are made about his inability to reach the low notes.
The mountainous Texan appeared on a few other records, including the essential Ponderosa Christmas
LP and a children's album, but most of his output was spoken word.
Michael Landon (Little Joe) was the only Cartwright who had recorded before. With his dreamy looks and
athletic build (his hopes for a career in sports were dashed by a torn ligament), Landon was a prime
candidate for teen idol. TV Guide even described him as "Kookie with chaps." Landon was starring in the
camp classic I Was A Teenage Werewolf when he recorded his first single, the immensely irritating
"Gimme A Little Kiss (Will Ya, Huh?)" for Candlelight Records. A brief tour with Jerry Lee Lewis couldn't
make it a hit in 1957, nor could his "Bonanza" fame coax record buyers when it flopped a second time
after a 1960 re-release on Fono Graf. On the Ponderosa Party LP, Landon takes the yearning, romantic
ballads ("Careless Love," "Shenandoah"), which he sings passably, although slightly flat and with a
rockabilly slur that is as anachronistic as Elvis' Civil War songs in Love Me Tender. After the Bonanza
Christmas LP, Landon cut one more dud single, "Linda Is Lonesome" (RCA, 1964). According to his
daughter, it was while being forced to sing and dance with Brooke Shields on an NBC Bob Hope special
that Landon suddenly decided to stick to acting and never sing again. Wise career move.
This brings us to the only Cartwright to carve out a successful musical career, Lorne Greene (Ben), who
assays the "meaningful" songs, like "My Sons, My Sons" and "The Place Where I Worship" (the A and B
sides of the only single released from this LP). Greene can't hold a high note without making an odd billy
goat noise, but he does handle the deep bass lines smoothly, as you might expect from Canadian
Radio's former chief news announcer. Greene and his mellifluous lower register went on to appear on
seven solo LPs, a couple of soundtracks, and more than a dozen singles, including the oddball Number
1 hit, "Ringo" (RCA, 1964). It's a western tune with chanted lyrics that Rhino Records has anointed as
one of the earliest examples of how white men can't rap...
Excerpt from Hollywood Hi-Fi...
All material copyright 1995-2007 by Pat Reeder & George Gimarc. All rights reserved.
To buy or hear samples
from these CDs, click on
the covers! The CD above
is a 4-disc set containing
both Bonanza LPs and
three discs of solo records
by cast members. The
Bonanza Christmas album
(left) is still available
separately. The German
import (left, bottom) is a
supplement to the box set,
in case four discs aren't
enough. It features cast
rarities and covers of