Lloyd "Tommy" Doss
(1920 - 2011)
Tommy Doss took Bob Nolan's place in the Sons of the Pioneers' trio when Bob retired in 1949. Fans who were not present at the stage shows or who knew the Sons of the Pioneers only from their recordings, often did not realize that Bob Nolan was not with the Pioneers. Their voices were similar. Bob Nolan was a guest on the Lucky U Ranch program and confused Betty Taylor. To the delight of fans everywhere to this day, the two men sang a duet, "Hillbilly Wedding in June". Tommy Doss had that rare ability to put emotion into his singing effortlessly. For example, when he recorded "You are My Eyes" by Bob Nolan in 1966 with the Sons of the Pioneers, he brought a lump to millions of throats. He did the same thing when he recorded "The Memory" on his latest album, "Tommy Doss Sings a Million Memories", released by Concept Productions of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, under the Texas Moon label.
The following biography is quoted from pp. 99 - 101 of Ken Griffis' "Hear My Song, the Story of the Celebrated Sons of the Pioneers", © Ken Griffis 1994
Lloyd Thomas Doss first saw the light of day in the small Idaho community of Weiser, on September 26, 1920. His father, Thomas, a farmer and carpenter, and his mother, Thursey Rexroat Doss, were lovers of music. Thomas played the accordion and Thursey the organ. Thursey came by her talent and interest in music quite naturally as her father was a better than average fiddler. In 1922, the family moved to La Grande, Oregon, where Lloyd, or Tommy as he was called, later attended school. Tommy's early interest in music came not only from his parents but from the records played on the family Victrola. Artists of the day that caught his attention were Carson Robison, Vernon Dalhart, and Jimmie Rodgers. The Doss family, in the tradition of the time, participated in local house dances where young Tommy would hang around the musicians, watching intently as they performed, asking so many questions they could joyfully have throttled him. In addition to the harmonica, he soon learned to play the guitar in an acceptable fashion.
When he was around eleven, Tommy entered his first amateur contest in Portland, Oregon, playing the harmonica which was mounted on a neck bow, and picking the guitar while singing. Much to his delight he was awarded first price. In 1939, he and his brother, Claris, or Beek, as he was nicknamed, along with a friend, Joe Schooler, formed a trio, adopting the colorful name - Sons of the Grande Ronda, inspired by the northeastern Oregon river of the same name. The trio first appeared on radio station KLBM in La Grande, later performing three times a week in Baker, where they were paid the handsome sum of $12.50 a week. The trio performed a number of songs featured by the Sons of the Pioneers, even using Pioneer arrangements. It is safe to say from the first time Tommy heard a Pioneer record and saw them in the movies he was a confirmed fan. He was so greatly impressed with their songs and harmony.
During World War II, Tommy worked at various defense related jobs, and while he was employed at the Army Ordinance Depot in Hermiston, Oregon, a friend gave him the nickname of "Spike," which he rather liked and it was to stick with him from then on. In 1942, he met and married Naomi Henderson.
Returning to La Grande in 1946, Doss put together another trio, working whenever an opportunity presented itself. An unexpected break occurred in 1948 when Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys appeared in La Grande. At that time the Playboys were the most popular western group in the country and it wasn't too surprising that the fellows would have a desire to sing a song or two with the band. He was pleased when the promoter of the event indicated he could arrange a spot on the show for them. The trio was rehearsing in the basement of Zuber Hall when, to their surprise, Wills himself walked in and spent a few minutes listening to the trio. After the night's performance Doss was thrilled when Wills offered him the opportunity of joining the Playboys as a replacement for their recently departed vocalist, Tommy Duncan. Doss left the next day for Fresno, California, where he rehearsed with the band. The Playboys at that time were Eldon Shamblin, guitar; Millard Kelso, piano; Johnny Cuviello, drums; Billy Jack Wills, bass/vocal; Joe Holley, fiddle; Louie Tierney, fiddle/sax; Herb Remington, steel; and the McKinney Sisters, Evelyn and Dean, vocal.
After their first performance in Sacramento, the Playboys made a two-month tour through Texas and several southern states, joined by Tex Ritter, Al Dexter, and Carolina Cotton. Doss stated that he thoroughly enjoyed his time with the Playboys, finding working with Wills to be a rewarding experience. He made no commercial recordings with the band, appearing on only a few of their Tiffany Transcriptions.
Soon after their return to Fresno, Wills asked Doss to join brother Luke Wills' band, the Rhythm Busters, then appearing at the 97th Street Corral in southeast Los Angeles as a member of the Ole Rasmussen band. The move from the Wills band to the Rasmussen band was easy, as Rasmussen patterned his sound very closely after that of Wills, even to the "ahh, haa." While with Ole's group, he recorded several songs on the Crystal Label, one being "Nebraska Moon."
In mid-1949, Hugh Farr appeared unannounced at the Corral, spending a couple of hours listening to the band, and Doss in particular. After a short conversation, Hugh informed him he would be hearing from the Pioneers. He received a call from Tim Spencer a few days later indicating that Bob Nolan would be retiring from the Pioneers and asked if he would be interested in joining the group. Would he? As far back as he could remember, his wish, or more properly, his committed goal was to someday be a member of the Sons of the Pioneers. A few anxious days went by before Lloyd Perryman called to make a definite offer. Perryman indicated that Nolan had agreed to go as far as Helena, Montana, on their current tour, and that Tommy should join them there.
Doss met Pioneers Lloyd Perryman, Ken Curtis, Hugh and Karl Farr, and Shug Fisher in Helena on July 15, 1949. He recalled that he was very nervous his first night with the group, but felt the performance went fairly well. Over the next few days, Tommy joined Lloyd and Ken in their "stretch" DeSoto, going over the many Pioneer arrangements as they drove from engagement to engagement. He found it relatively easy to fit into the trio as he was well versed on their songs, phrasing, and arrangements. Tommy makes no secret of his appreciation of the time spent with the Pioneers. Despite the usual ups and downs, he stated he would not have missed the experience for anything.
Every Pioneers had a store of amusing tales to tell and Doss was no exception, recalling once such episode which occurred on a 1950 Rex Allen program. On the song "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You", Perryman created a problem by incorrectly singing, "May your fortunes all be small ones," leaving a distressed Ken Curtis to counter with, "And your troubles ten times ten." Doss found it most difficult to maintain his composure as he added his part. Needless to say, the trio was a bit embarrassed. On one of their "Lucky U Ranch" programs, Perryman made a point of the number of requests they had received to do the verse of "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," and he stated, "I'll do it myself." After a few nervous strums on the guitar, he added, "If I can think of the words." "Well," he continued, "I'll do it next week."
Te albums Country Fare and Legends of the West, are Tommy's choice for the best sounds on their many recordings. When these albums were made, he remarked, "We were at our best." He also mentioned an interesting point pertaining to the Pioneer recording sessions. The fellows would listen to a playback of a recording in the studio and it would sound great. However, this same sound would often not come across when later played on a home stereo.
Does he think he and Nolan sounded alike? "Somewhat," he responded. "I prefer to think I sound like my father." He was impressed with Nolan's voice, but he was not happy being compared with Nolan and at the same time being accused of imitating hm. Was there some unfulfilled wish during his time with the Pioneers? Yes, he wishes he had been more aware of and made greater use of his vocal talent. In later years, he demonstrated this remarkable talent by recording an album, singing all the parts.
Feeling the need to "get away from it all," Tommy took leave of the Pioneers in late 1963, but returned for special appearances and recordings with the group through 1967.
Over the years, Pioneer fans have voiced individual opinions regarding the similarity and quality found in the voices of Tommy Doss and Bob Nolan. The choice for "best" is left for each individual to make. However, it's a safe bet that just about every single fan could agree that Lloyd Thomas "Spike" Doss rightly earned his place among the legends of Pioneers music.
The Rex Allen Show
(Right: Les Adams photo)
In 1950, Rex Allen invited the Sons of the Pioneers to be guests on his show and when Rex left it, the show became Lucky U Ranch, hosted by Ken Curtis while he was there.
The Rex Allen Show
(John Fullerton Photo)
p. 48 "Hear My Song" by Ken Griffis, Norken 1994
Courtesy of Fred Goodwin
While Tommy Doss was with the trio, the Sons of the Pioneers were invited to appear at Carnegie Hall, the first western group to do so. Then came the movie business in earnest with parts in a number of John Ford pictures with John Wayne such as Rio Grande, The Quiet Man and The Searchers.
"I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen" (video clip)
Left to right: Ken Curtis, Tommy Doss and Lloyd Perryman as the regimental singers in Rio Grande, 1950.
Back: Lloyd Perryman, Shug Fisher and Tommy Doss
Front: Hugh Farr, Karl Farr and Ken Curtis
Left: Los Angeles Herald-Examiner October 19, 1952
Right: The Lucky U Ranch Show crew (Karl E. Farr photo)
Courtesy of Ed Phillips
At the Golden Nugget, Las Vegas
(Karl E. Farr photo)
(Karl E. Farr photos)
(Karl E. Farr photos)
Sons of the Pioneers on Ranch Party TV, 1958
(Roy Rogers Family Trust photo)
(Roy Rogers Family Trust photo)
(Roy Rogers Family Trust photo)
(Roy Rogers Family Trust photo)
Colleen Cody, president of the Sons of the Pioneers fan club, with Tommy Doss
(photo by Joan Shapira)
Released December 25, 1999 by Bear Family
November 13, 2004
A special tribute to Tommy was organized by Fred Goodwin of Nashville, at the Tucson Cowboy Music Roundup on Saturday, November 13 2004 in Tucson, Arizona. Tommy was backed by The New Pioneers and everybody loved him. They sang "Tumbling Tumbleweeds", "Cool Water" and "Let's Pretend" by Bob Nolan plus "Timber Trail" and "The Everlasting Hills of Oklahoma" by Tim Spencer. Then Tommy came back for a second encore and sang a solo rendition of "My Best To You". He received three standing ovations. He looked wonderful, too. Tommy Doss has that rare ability to put emotion into his singing effortlessly. For example, when he recorded "You are My Eyes" by Bob Nolan in 1966 with the Sons of the Pioneers, he brought a lump to millions of throats. He did the same thing when he recorded "The Memory" on his latest album, "Tommy Doss Sings a Million Memories", released by Concept Productions of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, under the Texas Moon label.
"Tommy was the hit of the Cowboy Music Round-up down in Tucson this past weekend! Wish y'all could have been there. He received three standing ovations during his stint on stage Saturday night with the "New Pioneers" from Texas. That's him on this end standing alongside fiddler, Paul Denton. They sang "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," "Cool Water," "Timber Trail," "Let's Pretend," "Everlasting Hills of Oklahoma" and then Tommy came back for a second encore and sang a solo rendition of "My Best To You." 84 years young and loving every minute of it! What a warm and personable gentleman he is! Everybody just loved him and I don't think that grin of his ever disappeared the whole time he was there." (Dick Goodman to EM Nov. 16, 2004)
Tommy Doss (left) with The New Pioneers at Tucson, November 13, 2004
Tommy Doss with Dick Goodman, Tucson, November 13, 2004
Tommy Doss with Dick Goodman and Jerry Compton, Tucson, November 13, 2004
(Courtesy of Michelle Sundin)
Lloyd "Tommy" Doss passed away on October 25, 2011 in Enterprise, Oregon at age
91. Funeral services
were held at the First Christian Church
in Enterprise on Saturday October
Famous musician Lloyd 'Tommy' Doss dies (
ENTERPRISE- Cowboy western music's last surviving
singer among the "Sons of the Pioneers" vocal group members whose fame soared
during the 1950s has died. Lloyd "Tommy" Doss, 91, formerly of Imnaha, died
Tuesday, Oct. 25, in Enterprise at Wallowa Valley Care Center, Doss'
daughter-in-law, Karolyne Doss, told the Chieftain. She said her father-in-law
had been recently hospitalized for several weeks before moving to the care
1948, Tommy Doss replaced Tommy Duncan as vocalist with Bob Wills & his Texas
Playboys. Later that year, he recorded with Bob and with Luke Wills and Ole
Rasmussen, singing both western and western swing music. In mid-1949, when Bob
Nolan was planning to leave the Sons of the Pioneers, Bob & Lloyd Perryman were
driving around when they heard Tommy sing on their car radio. Nolan exclaimed,
“There’s my replacement!”