Band 1940’s - 80’s

The 1940’s

Shortly after World War II, Buddy Johnson created his band The Colorado Rangers. From 1945 to 1986, Buddy continuously had a Western Swing band.  Over the years hundreds of musicians played with Buddy, though some of his band members were with him for decades.

It was during the late 1940’s that Buddy began his radio work for 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. Everything he did in radio, television, personal appearances, parades, rodeos, and charity events, it all came from the music.

A 1940’s photograph you see a very early version of The Colorado Rangers. Left to right: Clarence “Russ" Hayes (steel guitar), Duane “Duke" Farrin (violin), Buddy (drums), somewhat hidden in this shot is Dan Knezevich (guitar), and Willie Morgan (accordion and 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 by the images painted on the front of Dad's drum, I believe this design is the earliest one.

The Colorado Rangers first gig was at Pueblos Senate Bar on the corner of Grand and Union. All the musicians shown on this page were around so much they were like family! One of the great joys we in the Johnson family had was of having all these great people always in our lives. They were gregarious, extroverted, and funny - it was a laugh a minute with these crazy characters! Another memory is Moms famous chocolate cakes at every Thursday nights practice session at which 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, Duke Farrin, Deloris Knezevich (vocalist), Dan Knezevich and here, Buddy’s cousin Floyd Watts (piano); on floor: popular  square dance caller Earl Maxie, known just as “Maxie” and Buddy. Dan and Deloris were married. Floyd Watts was Buddys cousin. I always think of Maxie when driving south on Santa Fe near the bridge, he had a feed store there, but he loved calling square dances. Dan and Deloris lived in the small house on the right just past the Imperial Memorial Gardens cemetery on the highway to Beulah.

Over the years Buddy had numerous musicians sit in with the band, here we have another guitarist known only as “Paul ?” in the back row. If anyone knows Paul’s last name, please email me. Left to right, back row: Paul ? (guitar), Buddy with mustache! (drums), Dan Knezevich (guitar); front row: Willie Morgan (accordion), Russ Hayes (steel guitar), Duke Farrin (violin), Floyd Watts (piano).

New drum image and now we've added Red “Pinky” Fanning on piano. Left to right: Red Fanning (piano), Dan Knezevich (guitar), Buddy (drums), Russ Hayes (steel guitar) and Duke Farrin (violin). Red played piano with Buddy for almost two decades. Red was quite a photographer and fisherman. Often after dances, with his car packed with gear,  hed drive up into the Arkansas River canyon past Canon City so he could fish at first light. Dad said Red could catch fish in a mud puddle”.

The 1950’s

This was the decade of Buddy’s entry into television at KCSJ TV. He had a 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.

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

In this 1955 photograph taken at a dance in Pueblo’s swanky Minnequa Club, the Rangers change yet again. Left to right: Russ Hayes, Duke Farrin, Buddy, Anita Feldman (vocalist), Red Fanning and Roy Leatherman (electric guitar). Roy played with Buddy over a decade. The Minnequa Club was located just off Lake Avenue near St. Mary Corwin Hospital, it had an outdoor swimming pool and a large 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 private company (the Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation, also known as CF&I) and was Colorado’s second largest city until the mid 1960’s.

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

Dad had boxes of hundreds of song lyrics that Mom typed for him. He would preplan his dances for pace and rhythm so once he got people up and dancing, he tried with the order of the music, 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 playing My Buddy and then they would play San Antonio Rose” as the last song.

A good crowd at Westcliffe, maybe in the 1950’s.

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, they were on TV, what could be better?

Rare 1950’s 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 Buddy takes on his clown persona with baggy pants and funny hat, a getup he quite often appeared in 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!

The 1960’s

This decade saw Buddy on TV with an all time high rating for his children’s show “The Adventurer’s Club Show”, and later came the end of his TV and radio involvements which allowed for the band to travel more widely.

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

And his hobbies of camping and fishing, all over Colorado, occupied more of free his time away from his day job working for the City of Pueblo.

Still the Rangers played A LOT,  distant dances and engagements from Gallup, New Mexico 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), Dave Yarberry (Trumpet), and another unknown musician I believe was named “Dwayne ?” (guitar). Again, if you know who this musician is, email me. Dad had Dave for years, having had him sometimes in the band when they played live on KSCJ TV in the late 1950’s. Dave played a very sweet trumpet.

An outfit clothing change during the same 1966 photo shoot, only rarely did the band appear in anything but Western wear. I took these in the front room of the family home at 1224 Lake Avenue in Pueblo. This drum design is the one he used the longest.

The Rangers played LOTS of benefits, this one from 1967 was for the Westcliffe Volunteer Fire Department. Because of these performances, many of which were donated, 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, a regular event Buddy played for years and years. I took this in the Westcliffe High School Gym with more new faces. Left to right: Mikey Miketa (saxophone and clarinet), Dave Yarberry (trumpet), Buddy (drums), Red’s son Paul Fanning (bass) and Red Fanning (piano). Dad took the band more into a 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. At some periods he would have two or more stringed instruments for a totally different harmony.

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

The 1970’s

The Colorado Rangers were now playing a mix of Western Swing music and 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 of Trinidad. The same band as above in a color image showing the 1970’s style (with 1960’s influenced) Western shirts. Left to right: Mikey Miketa (saxophone) and Dave Yarberry (Trumpet) for that brass sound, Buddy (drums), and father Red Fanning (piano) and son (Paul Fanning (bass guitar). Mikey I think was from back East somewhere and talked almost like he was from Chicago or Boston.

Dad and the band often did benefit dances like the one mentioned in this ad. He often entertained at the State Hospital. I have articles in his collection which mention him going to see kids who were in the hospitals, he used his popularity for good.

This is one of Dad’s playlists for a typical dance. He would preplan his dances as a general would plan a battle. This 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 of everything he did.

The 1980’s

Now 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 1970’s 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), Oscar Clingman (violin), 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 often filled in for years when other band members couldn’t make a dance and Jim was unique. I believe he was a Texan who was also a barber who often cut the band’s hair. In Jim's barbershop was a mini museum of Ranger history and memorabilia.

Even into the 1980’s Buddy and the Colorado Rangers drew big crowds like this one at the Colorado State Fair.

A Rye Colorado private party for friends. Left to right: Jim Harrington (steel guitar), Roy Wilker (guitar), Buddy (drums), Jim Lacy (bass guitar), behind Jim is Christine Clingman (electric piano) and lastly, Oscar Clingman (violin), Jim Lacy and his wife Laura were very old family friends of the Johnson family. Jim in the 1950s had his own Western band the Melody Rangers. Here Dad is grinning as Mom takes this picture, he loved playing music to the very end.

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 dance. Left to right: Jim Harrington (steel guitar), Troy Templeton (saxophone) and brother Wayne Templeton (saxophone), Buddy (drums), Dottie Lacy (violin) 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 of the band, the Lacy family had known the Johnsons since 1941 in Crested Butte, with Jim and Laura, again often playing during the last decade. Hal Williams from Amarillo also had a Western band. Hal and his wife Barbara had known the Johnsons since the early 1951 when their son Doug and I were both born on the same day. 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 coronet in the Arlington school band when he was a kid through all the decades, music was always a major part of Dad’s life.

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. Tillie Johnson, Mom accepted the award on his behalf. These awards, Dad’s silver studded saddle, his leather fringed jackets and many other items of Buddy’s are in the Pueblo Heritage Museum.

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

The Colorado Rangers Musicians                    1945-1986

Following is a list of known musicians who played with Buddy and The Colorado Rangers over 4 decades of great Western Swing music in Colorado and the surrounding states.

I know I am leaving out many fine musicians. Sorry.

If you know of others, know how long someone played with the band or find mistakes, please email me.

Colorado Rangers Band Members Information:

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


Max Aguilar
- violin, guitar
Vivian Aragon - violin


Paul Bezan - saxophone
Del Boyles - piano (started 1957)


Chet Lee Calcote - bass & violin (1 or 2 years during the”Barn Dance” evening TV show)
Christine Clingman - piano (5 years)
Oscar Clingman - violin (5 years)
Curly Cox - violin & sing
Jimmy Cox - guitar


Johnny Dwyer - guitar


Paul Fanning - bass guitar
Loren “Red" Fanning - piano (10 years)
Ralph Farmer - bass guitar, lead guitar & violin
Duane”Duke" Farrin - violin (21 years)
Anita Feldman - singer


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


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


Dan Knezevich - rhythm guitar (8 years)
Delores Knezevich - singer


Dottie Lacy - violin
Jim Lacy - bass guitar & violin (5 years)
Laura Lacy - piano (5 years)
Boots Langdon - saxophone
Charlie Lapino - clarinet & trumpet
Roy Leatherman - rhythm guitar (10 years)
Bernie Leybeda - bass? guitar (5 years)


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


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 years)
Esther Williams - singer


Dave Yarberry - trumpet (8 years)


Dwayne ? - ?
Maureen ?  - singer (Roy Leatherman’s niece)
Paul ? - guitar

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

Where they played

Following is what I know to be a very incomplete list taken from news articles, ads and flyers in his 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, dances, rodeos, and parades.

Some of the Places The Colorado Rangers Played:

Aguilar United Charities 1962
Avondale Excelsior Saddle Club 1958

Beulah Gayway Park (Dad owned Gayway from 1953-1962, countless times)
Buena Vista

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

Del Norte

Eads American Legion (2 nights) 1963, 1967, 1968
Eads Kiowa County Fair 1966
Espinola, New Mexico

Florence Pioneer Day Dance 1963
Florence Roping and Saddle Club
Fowler Missouri Days

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


Kit Carson

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

Monta Vista

Olney Springs
Ordway Chamber of Commerce
Ordway Saddle Club
Ordway Theater

Pagosa Springs
Parker Centennial Celebration Dance 1964
Penrose Apple Day 1967
Penrose Boots & Saddle Club Dance 1963
Penrose Fireman’s Ball
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 and rodeos)
Pueblo Lake Minnequa Amusement Park 
Pueblo West

Raton, New Mexico
Rocky Ford Arkansas Valley Fair (rodeo & dance) 1963

Saguache American Legion 1963

Tribune, Kansas Greeley County Fair 1968

Valdez, Colorado Ringo’s Ballroom 1962

Walsenburg Rancher’s Roundup & Cowboy Ball
Westcliffe New Year’s 
Eve Dances
Westcliffe Rodeo Dances
Westcliffe Stockman’s Dance 1967
Wetmore, Dan’s Tavern           © John Johnson 2019       All rights reserved.