The Flying W Wranglers bear the distinction of being the second longest-lasting country & western outfit in history -- only the Sons of the Pioneers have been around longer. If they're not as well known as the Sons of the Pioneers, it's because they haven't recorded nearly as much, and had the bad fortune to come along in the 1950s, when cowboy songs weren't given nearly as warm a reception on the radio as they had when Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers got together in the early '30s. The circumstances of their origins -- if not their origin itself -- go all the way back to just after World War II, to 1947 when Don Wilson of Kansas bought the Douglass Homestead, northwest of Colorado Springs. He quickly made his whole family, including his wife and daughters, Marian and Marietta, as well as Russ Wolfe, Marian's husband, part of the new ranch. During the summer, Russ began renting horses as a sideline, to people who would come out from Colorado Springs to ride over the nearby range, which was renowned for its beauty. Wolfe served as the guide, and if the group was small enough, they'd be invited back to the ranch house to share dinner with the Wilson family.
Later on, Wolfe and his wife made this a regular event, a scenic tour on horseback and a home-cooked meal under the stars around an open campfire. From 1953 onward, guests were a welcome addition to the ranch, paying three dollars each. By the end of that summer, they'd fed over 1,600 people, working two nights a week. The authentic cowboy dinner under the stars was followed by entertainment -- music -- and it was there that the Flying W Wranglers started, unofficially. Originally, the Wolfes booked locally available folksingers and college students who were suitable (and it should be noted that the Serendipity Singers started out at the University of Colorado not too much later than this), and even the Sons of the Pioneers played there. But business was good enough that, by the second half of the 1950s, the Flying W Ranch, as it was known by then, merited its own permanent resident performing group.
The Flying W Wranglers -- who were patterned after the Sons of the Pioneers -- made their formal debut in 1957. Since then, over three dozen people have passed through the lineup of the outfit, whose repertory includes comic as well as country & western songs, and they've left behind at least one complete live album of material on the Flying W label. The group's specialty is three- and four-part harmony, interspersed with comedy, and the members trade off on a multitude of instruments. The Flying W Wranglers have toured extensively, playing as far away as London and entertaining troops during the Vietnam War, and they've appeared at such august venues as the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and Carnegie Hall in New York City.
They've also seen a whole Western town grow up around them at the Flying W Ranch. The ranch was open to the public three nights a week starting in 1954, but by the early '60s it was operating seven nights a week and had served over 125,000 people. Reservations were recommended, and guests often arrived early to be sure they'd found the place, and it soon became clear that they needed something to entertain them before the horseback ride. As a result, the Wolfes built a Western town for guests to walk around and enjoy. The town grew over time, as did the seriousness of its purpose, as Russ Wolfe began preserving parts of historical structures from Colorado Springs and other parts of the state that were being demolished.
Russ Wolfe has continued to lead the Flying W Wranglers in the 21st century. For reasons best known to themselves, but probably due to their being based in Colorado, they have done precious little recording over the decades. Based on their live album, however, they were (and likely still are) a finely honed yet loose-limbed country & western outfit, and worthy rivals/successors to the Sons of the Pioneers. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi