Band 1940s - 80s

02-01 1963-80 Band business card

The 1940s

Shortly after World War II, Buddy Johnson created his band The Colorado Rangers. From 1945 to 1986, Buddy continuously had a Western Swing band. It’s Western music with a bit of the 1940s “swing.” Over the years, dozens of musicians played with Buddy, though some of his band members were with him for decades.

It was during the late 1940s that Buddy also began his work for radio stations such as KGHF, KDZA and KCSJ.

During his entertainment career, before and after everything, was Buddy’s love of music and his band The Colorado Rangers. All he did in radio, television, personal appearances, parades, rodeos, and charity events, came from the music.

In this 1940s photograph you see a very early version of The Colorado Rangers. Left to right, Clarence "Russ" Hayes (steel guitar), Duane "Duke" Farrin (fiddle), Buddy (drums/vocals). Somewhat hidden in this shot is Dan Knezevich (guitar), and Willie Morgan (accordion/piano).

Russ and Duke were with The Colorado Rangers for 21 years! This was not at all uncommon for a band that existed for over 40 years. Lots of musicians were with Buddy for many, many years. You can almost date these photographs not only by the musicians in the band, but also by the images painted on the front of Buddy’s drum. I believe this design is the earliest one.

02-03 Ad 1945 Senate Bar

The Colorado Rangers’ first "gig" was at Pueblo’s Senate Bar on the corner of Grand and Union.

All the musicians shown on these pages were around so much they were like family! One of the great joys the Johnson family had was having all these great people in our lives. They were gregarious, extroverted, and funny - it was a laugh a minute with these crazy characters! Another memory is Tillie’s famous chocolate cakes at Thursday night practice sessions. The band members and their wives were in our home.

Here we see another early Rangers’ variation, this time with a female vocalist and square dance caller. Left to right, on stage, Russ Hayes (steel guitar), Duke Farrin (fiddle), Deloris Knezevich (vocalist), Dan Knezevich and Floyd Watts (piano). In front, the popular square dance caller Earl Maxey, known just as "Maxey" and Buddy. Dan and Deloris were married and Floyd Watts was Buddy’s cousin.

02-05 Ad 1949 Moose Home

Over the years, Buddy had numerous musicians sit in with the band. Left to right, back row, Paul ? (guitar), Buddy with a  mustache! (drums/vocals), Dan Knezevich (guitar). Front row, Willie Morgan (accordion), Russ Hayes (steel guitar), Duke Farrin (fiddle), and Floyd Watts (piano).

In this photograph, we have a new drum image and now we've added Red "Skeeter" Fanning on piano. Left to right, Red Fanning (piano), Dan Knezevich (guitar), Buddy (drums/vocals), Russ Hayes (steel guitar), and Duke Farrin (fiddle).

Red played piano with Buddy for at least 15 years or more. Red was quite a photographer and fisherman. Often after dances, with his car packed with gear,  he would drive up into the Arkansas River canyon past Cañon City so he could fish at first light. Dad said Red “could catch fish in a mud puddle."

02-08 Band 1940s standing

The 1950s

This was the decade of Buddy’s entry into television at KCSJ TV. He continued his noon Western radio show as DJ playing music for a lunchtime audience.

In the evenings on KCSJ radio, he and the Rangers played live one night a week for his large audience who mailed in penny postcards requesting their favorite Western tunes for the next week’s show and there were a number of evening TV music shows.

During the late 1950s and into the 1960s he was always gone - a very busy time indeed!

In this 1955 photograph taken at a dance at Pueblo’s swanky Minnequa Club, the Rangers change yet again. Left to right, Russ Hayes (steel guitar), Duke Farrin (fiddle), Buddy (drums/vocals), Anita Feldman (vocalist), Red Fanning and Roy “Pinky” Leatherman (electric guitar). Roy played with Buddy for well over a decade.

The Minnequa Club was located just off Lake Avenue near St. Mary Corwin Hospital. It had an outdoor swimming pool overlooking Lake Minnequa and a large restaurant and hall. In its time, it was a beautiful, important place. This was a time period when Pueblo was very prosperous and powerful. In 1953, Pueblo had the largest state institution, the Colorado State Hospital and the largest and richest company in Colorado, the CF&I.

02-10 1957 Saguache dance ticket

The Rangers played everywhere. Buddy and the band were always gone. They would play everything and everywhere -- dances, rodeos, parades and celebrations of all types.

Buddy had boxes of hundreds of song lyrics that Tillie often typed for him. He would preplan his dances for pace and rhythm so once he got people up and dancing, he tried to keep them out there. At center is a card for his theme song which was San Antonio Rose. He would end every dance by first playing My Buddy to slow things down and announce where they would be playing next. Then they’d play San Antonio Rose as their last song.

A good 1950s Westcliffe crowd. Many couples first danced together or met at Buddy’s dances.

02-13 1959 Florence St. Patrick's ticket

They played for seemingly every holiday. Notice how this ticket mentions the “New High School Gym” for Florence. The Rangers inaugurated many new venues. In their time, they were well known and they were on TV and radio. What could be better?

Rare 1950s photograph of the band playing for a Mardi Gras celebration. Over the years Buddy and The Colorado Rangers played for just about every seasonal celebration, many on an annual basis, here with two steel guitars! 

Buddy takes on his clown persona with baggy pants and funny hat, a get-up he quite often used at his dance hall and restaurant in the mountains of Beulah, Colorado called Gayway or Gayway Park. He was very, very funny. These clothes would always get the crowd going and having fun!

02-15 Band Buddy 3 sitting COLOR

The 1960s

This decade saw Buddy on TV with an all time high rating for his children’s show The Buddy Johnson Adventurer’s Club. Later, after the end of his TV and radio involvements, the band traveled more widely.

Now having played Colorado for two decades, Buddy could not satisfy all the engagement and dance dates which were requested.

His hobbies of camping, hunting and fishing all over Colorado, now occupied more of free his time away from his work for the City of Pueblo.

Still the Rangers played A LOT, distant dances and engagements from Gallup, New Mexico and Price, Utah to Tribune, Kansas.

In this 1966 photograph I took, there are a few new faces. Left to right, Red Fanning (piano), Ralph Farmer (bass guitar), Buddy (drums/vocals), Dave Yarberry (Trumpet), and an unknown musician I believe was named "Dwayne" (guitar).

Buddy worked with Dave Yarberry  for years, having him in the band sometimes when they played live on KSCJ TV in the late 1950s. Dave played a very sweet trumpet and was in the Rangers for at least a decade.

A clothing change during the same 1966 photo shoot. Only rarely did the band appear in anything but Western wear. This drum design is the one he used the longest.

02-18 1967 Westcliffe firemen's benefit ticket

The Rangers played many, many benefits such as this one from 1967 that was for the Westcliffe Volunteer Fire Department. Because of these benefit performances, Buddy was given numerous awards. For instance, he was made an honorary deputy sheriff for his work with the Pueblo Sheriff’s department.

The Westcliffe Stockman’s Ball was a regular event Buddy played for many years. I photographed this in the Westcliffe High School Gym, with more new faces. Left to right,, Mickey Miketa (saxophone/clarinet), Dave Yarberry (trumpet), Buddy (drums/vocals), Red’s son Paul Fanning (bass), and Red Fanning (piano).

Buddy led the band into a more brassy sound during this period, some of which lasted until the Rangers final dance in 1986. He liked the harmony between the trumpet and the saxophone. Other times he would have two or more stringed instruments for a totally different harmony.

Buddy’s afternoon and evening shows on KCSJ radio went far into Kansas as well.

02-21 Band 1967 Westcliffe standing

The 1970s

The Colorado Rangers always played Western Swing music and now added a mix of more current Country music.

Buddy felt that once you had a crowd on its feet, you’d best keep playing, so quite often they’d segue right from one song into another. Over a four to five hour dance they’d usually take only one short break.

Often playing up and down the front range, here they are in one of their favorite and frequent places, Trinidad. The band in a color image showing the 1970s style (with 1960s influenced) Western shirts. Left to right, Mickey Miketa (saxophone/clarinet), and Dave Yarberry (Trumpet) for that brass sound, Buddy (drums/vocals), Red Fanning (piano), and his son Paul Fanning (bass guitar).

I believe Mickey, who played with the Rangers for at least six years, was from somewhere back east. He talked like he was from Chicago or Boston.

02-23 Ad 1977 Pueblo Police benefit

Buddy and the band often entertained at the Colorado State Hospital. There are  articles in his collection which mention him going to see children who were in the hospitals; he used his popularity for good deeds.

This is one of Buddy’s playlists for a typical dance. He would preplan his dances as a general would plan a battle. This list would continually be revised as he saw the crowd react. The key for each song is listed before the song. On the left are requests for that night or requests for music in the future. This is some of the behind the scenes work which he prepared in advance for everything he did.

The 1980s

In the 1980s, he and the Rangers just played for the love of it. They mainly played for old friends at the clubs near Pueblo, the Eagles, the VFW and certain choice locations that had come to rely on him and the band as fixtures for their celebrations.

This basically is The Colorado Rangers during most of its last decade from the late 1970s up to 1986. A number of old friends now were playing together for the joy of it. Left to right, Christine Klingman (piano), Bernie Leybeda (bass guitar), Buddy (drums/vocals), Oscar Klingman (fiddle), Jim Harrington (steel guitar), and Roy Wilker (guitar).

Many of these friends played and camped with Buddy and his family. These were all old friends, some of whom had performed at the Beulah Gayway Jamborees some 30 years before. Oscar and Christine were married. Roy and Bernie had often filled in for years when other band members couldn’t make a dance. Jim was unique and with Buddy for probably a decade. He was a Texan who was also a barber and often cut the band’s hair. In Jim's barbershop was a mini-museum of Ranger history and memorabilia.

Even into the 1980s, Buddy and the Colorado Rangers drew big crowds like this one at the national citizen band "CB" convention held at the State Fair Grounds in Pueblo. Dad loved playing Pueblo whenever he could, but over the decades the band had traveled countless miles and not always under the best conditions.

Paul Fanning who played base with the Rangers on and off for years, often accompanying his father Red who was Dad’s piano player for almost two decades, remembers how traveling to dances could, at times, be hazardous. Once, during a heavy snowstorm the Rangers headed for a winter dance in Beulah when the Cad, full of Rangers and the heavy, loaded band trailer skidded and rear-ended a car stopped at a red light on Northern Avenue. Known for very colorful language, Buddy was NOT happy. But as no one was hurt and little damage was done they proceeded on their way and had a good dance after all.

Trumpet player Dave Yarberry remembers another blizzard trip in 1960 with Buddy and the Rangers traveling to a dance in Elizabeth. Another Cad packed with musicians and of course, the full band trailer almost made it up Monument Hill, but couldn’t quite make it to the top and stalled. In heavy snow the Rangers, dressed for the dance, got out and mightily pushed the Cad and trailer up to the top. Unfazed, Buddy and the Colorado Rangers made the date and the Elizabeth crowd was none the wiser.

A Rye, Colorado private party for friends. Left to right, Jim Harrington (steel guitar), Roy Wilker (guitar), Buddy (drums/vocals), and Jim Lacy (bass guitar). Behind Jim is Christine Klingman (electric piano), and Oscar Klingman (fiddle). Jim Lacy and his wife Laura were old family friends of the Johnson family. Jim in the 1950s had his own Western band the "Melody Rangers."

Here Buddy grins at Tillie as she takes this picture. He loved playing music to the very end.

02-28 Band 1980's standing 1224

The last dance, Sargents, Colorado July 4, 1986. While camping at the Templeton ranch near Sargents, many friends came together in the school house for a holiday get together. Left to right, Jim Harrington (steel guitar), Troy Templeton (saxophone), his brother Wayne Templeton (saxophone), Buddy (drums and vocals), Dottie (Lacy) Neroni (fiddle) and her parents Jim Lacy (bass guitar) and Laura Lacy (piano), and Hal Williams (banjo).

All these excellent musicians had a long history with Buddy and the Johnson family. Troy from Penrose and Wayne from Gunnison often played with The Rangers during the last decade and a half of the band. The Lacy family, Jim, Laura and their two daughters Joan and Dottie, had known the Johnsons since 1941 in Crested Butte, with Jim and Laura, often playing with Dad during the last decade. Hal Williams from Amarillo also had a Western band.

The Templetons, the Lacys and Hal Williams all at one time or another had Western bands of their own.

For his 41 years playing Western Swing music all over the region, in 1982 Buddy received the Pioneer Award from the Country Music Federation of Colorado.

From the time he played cornet in the Arlington school band when he was a kid, through all the decades, music was always a major part of Buddy’s life.

02-31 Award 1982 Pioneer Award

Buddy was very pleased to be recognized by his peers, dozens of whom he had played with over the decades.

A" legendary figure” Buddy was inducted into the Colorado Country Music Hall of Fame.

02-33 Award 1999 Pueblo Music

Thirteen years after his death, Buddy was posthumously awarded a Pueblo Music Award for all those dances, celebrations, and performances to which he brought so much joy and fun to so many people.

02-34 Award 1999 Mom Dad Pueblo Music

Tillie Johnson (right) accepted the award on his behalf. These awards, Dad’s silver studded saddle, his leather fringed jacket, his cowboy hat and many other items are in Buddy’s display in the Pueblo Heritage Museum.

02-35 Family 1999 Mom and kids

Buddy Johnson’s family, Pat (Johnson) Ponikvar, Tillie (Trabucco) Johnson, John Johnson, and Kitty (Johnson) Therwhanger at the 1999 Pueblo Music Awards.

The Colorado Rangers Musicians                    1945-1986

Following is a list of musicians known to have played with Buddy and The Colorado Rangers over four decades of great Western Swing music in Colorado and surrounding states. The length of time performing with the Rangers are estimates.

I know I’m leaving out many fine musicians. Sorry, if you know of others please email me.

Colorado Rangers Band Members & Performers

(a very incomplete list after 41 years of music, listed with estimated years performed on radio, TV and Gayway Jamboree)

Buddy Johnson - Band Leader, Colorado Rangers - vocals, drums & bass guitar (41 years)

Max Aguilar
- fiddle, guitar
Vivian Aragon - fiddle
Mr. Arend - mandolin (Jamboree)

Paul Bezan - saxophone
Del “Tex” Boyles - piano (started 1957, 5 years)

Chet Lee Calcote - bass & fiddle (1 or 2 years during the”Barn Dance” evening TV show)
Delvin Cornelison - accordion
Cornelison - accordion
Curly Cox - violin & sing
Jimmy Cox
- guitar

Johnny Dwyer - guitar

Paul Fanning - bass guitar
Red “Skeeter" Fanning - piano (15 years)
Ralph Farmer - bass guitar, lead guitar & fiddle
Duane”Duke" Farrin - fiddle, vocals & drums (21 years)
Anita Feldman - singer

Lynn Genge- singer

Jim Harrington - steel guitar (10 years)
Russ Hayes - steel guitar & vocals (21 years)

Carol Johnson - singer (no relation)
Kitty Johnson - singer (Buddy’s daughter)
Stan Johnson - fiddle

Christine Klingman - piano (5 years)
Oscar Klingman - fiddle (5 years)
Dan Knezevich
- rhythm guitar (6 years)
Delores Knezevich - singer (4 years)

Dottie Lacy - fiddle
Joan Lacy - accordion
Jim Lacy - bass guitar & fiddle (10 years)
Laura Lacy - piano (10 years)
Boots Langdon - saxophone
Tony Langdon - rhythm guitar, base guitar & vocals
Charlie Lapino - clarinet & trumpet
Roy “Pinky" Leatherman - rhythm guitar (10 years)
Bernie Leybeda - bass? guitar (5 years)

Dick Maddox - guitar?
Earl Maxey
- square dance caller
Maureen McKenna - singer
Leroy Meyers - guitar
Mickey Micketa - saxophone & clarinet (6 years)
Willie Morgan - accordion (5 years)
Larry Morno - saxophone
LeRoy Meyers - drums & guitar

Duane Pickering
- guitar
Mr. Porter - guitar (Jamboree)

Bonnie Reed - singer

Troy Templeton
- saxophone & clarinet (3 years)
Wayne Templeton - saxophone & clarinet (filled in for Duke) (4 years) 

Floyd Watts
- piano (5 years)
Roy Wilker - lead guitar (6 
Esther Williams - singer
Hal Williams - guitar

Dave Yarberry
- trumpet (10 years)

? - ?
Paul ? - guitar
Pat ? - banjo

02-36 Band 1950 Idaho driveway

The Colorado Rangers in our driveway at 131 Idaho Street in Pueblo, where we lived before we moved to Beulah in 1953.

“The Best in Western Swing - Bob Wills Style"

Where they played

Following is what I know to be a very incomplete list taken from news articles, ads and flyers in Buddy's collection.

From shortly after World War II until a few months before his death in 1986, Buddy and the Colorado Rangers played seemingly everywhere around the region, and not just once, but at many locations for 10, 15 or even 20 years annually.

They were fixtures at many annual celebrations, fairs, dances, rodeos, and parades. Again, this list is incomplete.

Some of the Places The Colorado Rangers Played

Aguilar United Charities 1962
Alamosa (many times)
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Avondale Excelsior Saddle Club 1958

Beulah Gayway Park (from 1953-1962, countless times)
Buckskin Joe
Buena Vista

Canon City Blossom Days (many parades & dances)
Canon City Firemans Ball 1962
Canon City Royal Gorge Roundup
Castle Rock (many times)
Castle Rock Douglas County Fair 1961
Center Saddle Club Dance
Cheraw Calf Roping Club
Colorado City 1960
Colorado Springs Mr. G’s Nite Club 1967
Colorado Springs Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo
Cotopaxi (many times)
Custer County Stock Growers Association 1968, 1969

Del Norte (many times)
Denver (with Colorado State Fair contingent)
Durango (many times)

Eads American Legion (2 nights) 1963, 1967, 1968
Eads Kiowa County Fair 1966
Elizabeth (many times)
Elizabeth Hall of Pines 1960
Española, New Mexico

Florence Pioneer Day Dance 1963
Florence Roping and Saddle Club
Fowler Missouri Days (many times)

Gallup, New Mexico Indian Intertribal Roundup 1957
Greeley County Fair  Tribune, Kansas 1968
Greenhorn Valley Veteran’sCenter
Gunnison Cattleman’s Days (20+ years)
Gunnison Elks 1958. 1959, 1960

Haswell (many times)

Kit Carson

Lake City
La Junta (many times)
La Junta Cowboy Ball
La Veta San Isabel dance
La Veta Senior Class Prom 1961 & 1962
Lamar Day (many times)
Lamar 25th Annual Cowboy Ball 1976
Lamar Vaqueros dance
Las Animas Santa Fe Trails Dance 1963
Leadville Burro Days

Monta Vista
Montrose (many times)

Olney Springs
Ordway Chamber of Commerce
Ordway Saddle Club
Ordway Theater

Pagosa Springs (many times)
Parker Centennial Celebration Dance 1964
Parker Community Hall (many times)
Penrose Apple Day 1967
Penrose Boots & Saddle Club Dance 1963
Penrose Fireman’s Ball
Price, Utah
Pueblo American Legion Post #125 1967
Pueblo Army Depot Officer’s Club 1967
Pueblo Army Depot Orphans’ Party MC for 14+ years
Pueblo Colorado State Fair (countless times both dances, parades and rodeos)
Pueblo Lake Minnequa Amusement Park 
Pueblo West (Fall Roundup Dance)
Pueblo West LIons Annual Dances

Raton, New Mexico (many times)
Rocky Ford Arkansas Valley Fair (rodeo & dance) 1963
Rouse, Maxs Hall

Saguache American Legion 1963
Saguache Spring Roundup (dance & parade)
Salida (many times)
Syracuse, Kansas

Tribune, Kansas Greeley County Fair 1968
Trinidad Elks Club (many times)
Trinidad Round-Up (many times)

Valdez, Colorado Ringo’s Ballroom 1962

Walsenburg Rancher’s Roundup & Cowboy Ball
Westcliffe New Year’s 
Eve Dances (many times)
Westcliffe Rodeo Dances
Westcliffe Stockman’s Dance 1967
Wetmore, Dan’s Tavern

02-37 Band 1948 license
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