Robert J. "Sunny" Spencer blew one last labored breath into
his saxophone, then stopped.
He put the instrument on the stage at the Hidden Valley Inn on that
Thursday night two weeks ago and turned to his Sons of the Pioneers bandmates.
"He said, 'Well, it's over,' " said lifelong friend and bandmate
On Saturday, surrounded by family and band members, Spencer, 75, died
at El Dorado Hospital of respiratory failure. He had been hospitalized
since Jan. 30.
Spencer was born in Kentucky and was a "shirttail" relative of
Sons of the Pioneers founding member Tim Spencer, LeMaster said.
Although they couldn't quite connect the dots, somewhere along the line the
Kentucky Spencers were likely connected, LeMaster explained.
Spencer learned to play music as a child and spent his adult life
performing everything from Western to Dixieland jazz. He mastered
several instruments from winds to strings.
"He played about everything you could think of - all the horns,
the bass, fiddle, guitar, mandolin. He even played the jug," said
Warren, 79, a 53-year member of the Pioneers who first worked with
Spencer in the late 1940s.
Spencer's signature act with the Pioneers had him playing every
instrument in the band, from fiddle to sax, for the
ditty "Mama Don't Allow No Music Played Around Here." He would light into
the fiddle at a furious pace, and the band would sing "Mama don't allow …"
and fill in the blank with whatever instrument Spencer was playing.
The audience would laugh as Spencer scrambled to play every instrument,
followed by the perfect harmonies of his boys chiding him not to play.
"He was just an all-around entertainer," Warren said. "It's not only a
loss to Western music; it's a loss to all kinds of music. The whole
industry lost a great performer."
The Sons of the Pioneers will continue their seasonal run at the
Hidden Valley Inn - they've been winter visitors in Tucson for 20 years,
the first 18 at Triple C Chuckwagon. They perform Wednesdays-Sundays until May 1.
Each night, Spencer's mic will take its place on stage with his hat draped on top.
In addition to his son-in-law, Spencer is survived by three daughters,
Valerie LeMaster and Paula Ristau, both of Branson, and Sherry
Gilmore of Michigan; two brothers, William "Ted" Spencer of Branson
and Warren "Leo" Spencer of New Mexico; and eight grandchildren.
Funeral services and burial will be held Monday in Branson.
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