He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on November 5, 1911. The building where he was born now houses the Riverfront Stadium, also known as Cinergy Field. Later he and his parents lived on a houseboat for a few years. Then solid land beckoned and his dad bought a farm. Farms require long hours, hard work, distance from neighbors, and schools. But it agreed with Leonard. He rode horseback to school since it was long before the days of school busing.
Home grown entertainment was about all there was. Radio was in its infancy and it was many years before the advent of television and computers. Leonard learned to play the mandolin and sing. Neighbors would be invited for square dances and soon he became expert at calling them.
He also learned to yodel by playing over and over the recording of a Swiss yodeler. His mother also yodeled and the story goes that they used it as a way of communicating on the farm. One kind of yodel was to let him know it was lunch time; another kind to warn of a change in weather and yet another at the end of the day.
He dropped out of high school and worked in a factory but those kinds of jobs were difficult. He moved to California with his parents and siblings, where he worked at all and any kind of job he could find, all the while singing and playing his guitar whenever he had free time.
His sister Mary convinced him to try out for a radio program featuring amateur talent. He did, singing, yodeling, and playing the guitar. It was his entry into the world of public entertainment as he was asked to join a country music group called the Rocky Mountaineers. In 1933 he joined a group called the O-Bar-O Cowboys and they toured Arizona and New Mexico and the Southwest. As it was depression years they barely made enough for gas for the trip.
While in Roswell they were given air time to announce their appearance in town. In addition to their singing and guitar playing they talked about being homesick and especially about their favorite foods. Leonard’s favorite was his mother’s lemon pie.
A call came into the studio that if he would sing “The Swiss Yodel” the caller would bake him a lemon pie.
That evening someone knocked on their traveler’s cabin door and there was a young girl and her mother with two lemon pies. Her name was Arline Wilkins. After he returned to California they corresponded and in 1936 they were married. They had a daughter, a son and one adopted daughter. Arlene died in 1945 from complications after the birth of their son.
Leonard starred in many movies with his horse, Trigger. “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” was the first. He become part of a group known as The Sons of the Pioneers. In 1937 Republic Pictures changed his name.
Have you guessed who Leonard Slye was? Does “Happy Trails” give you a clue? Yes, all of the above is about Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys., who died July 6, 1998.