DEAR JERRY: In a televised biography of Michael Landon, a short “Bonanza” clip ran in which all four of the Cartwrights Little Joe (Landon); Ben (Lorne Greene); Adam (Pernell Roberts); and Hoss (Dan Blocker) took a turn singing a verse of the show's theme song.
In all its years on TV, I never once saw an episode where they used a vocal version of the theme. I didn't even know “Bonanza” lyrics existed.
Didn't Duane Eddy, or one of the popular guitarists at the time, have a big instrumental hit with “Bonanza”?
Did anyone popularize the vocal? If so, I'd be surprised. It is pretty corny.
I know of Lorne Greene's smash hit “Ringo,” but did any of the other three make recordings?
Arnie Cleveland, Racine, Wisc.
DEAR ARNIE: Only in the pilot episode, “A Rose for Lotta” (September 12, 1959), did the producers allow the Cartwright clan to vocalize “Bonanza.”
This comical footage was eventually cut but now found among “deleted scenes.”
The familiar instrumental by David Rose and His Orchestra became the official “Bonanza” theme. Though not credited at the time, Rose prominently features guitarists Tommy Tedesco and Bob Bain.
Written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, it is David Rose who, in 1960, first issued “Bonanza” as a TV soundtrack LP (MGM 3960), and the main theme as a single (MGM 12965).
That first “Bonanza” single didn't exactly hit the mother lode, but in early 1961 Al Caiola's rousing rendition (United Artists 302) rode into the nation's Top 20.
In 1962, Johnny Cash tried singing “Bonanza,” using essentially the same lyrics written for the series pilot. His single (Columbia 42512) misfired completely, confirming what television producers and you learned earlier: “Bonanza” is a great instrumental and a not-so-great vocal.
All four “Bonanza” co-stars turned up on records during the show's 14-year prime-time run, though only Greene reached significant hit status.
Coincidentally, Lorne's No. 1 hit, “Ringo,” came out in 1964 during the peak of the British Invasion. Though his Ringo is a cowboy on the wrong side of a lawman wearing a star, many made a connection to Ringo Starr the drummer in a fairly popular Liverpool quartet at the time. Oh yes, the flip side of “Ringo” just happens to be “Bonanza.”
Michael Landon actually recorded two years before he became a Cartwright. His debut single, “Gimmie a Little Kiss (Will 'Ya' Huh)” (Candlelight 1017) came out in 1957. In 1960, this single was reissued (Fono Graf 1240), and this time with a picture sleeve.
Making record buyers aware of the “Bonanza” link, Fono Graf added this note: “Little Joe Cartwright of the NBC Bonanza Color TV Series.” Record and sleeve together can now sell for $100 to $150.
Michael's next single came in 1964: “Linda Is Lonesome” (RCA Victor 8330), valued at $10 to $20.
Lorne Greene, the Ponderosa patriarch, churned out more records than the rest of the cast combined: seven singles and 10 albums, none of which have noteworthy values.
Dan Blocker made just two LPs, the first of which is rare and collectible: “Tales for Young 'Uns” (3 Trey 903), a 1961 issue now worth about $100.
Dan's second is “Our Land, Our Heritage” (RCA Victor 2896), released in 1964 and a $25 to $35 item.
Pernell Roberts' lone album, “Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies” (RCA Victor 2662), came out in '63 and fetches $40 to $60.
Finally, there are two albums that feature all four “Bonanza” stars, both in the $20 to $30 range: (1962) “Ponderosa Party Time” (RCA Victor 2583); and (1963) “Christmas on the Ponderosa” (RCA Victor 2757).
IZ ZAT SO? Unlike nearly every other television show, “Bonanza” claimed no individual star. They showcased their four co-stars equally, with top billing and the order of introducing the characters alternating with each weekly episode.
This means 24 episodes could be aired without repeating the exact order in which the four men ride into the picture for the opening credits.