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 center.
Tommy and his wife, Naomi, moved from Imnaha to Enterprise in 1988, and approximately two years ago moved to Wallowa, Karolyne Doss said.
Although the Dosses were locally prominent in Imnaha, where the couple ran the Imnaha Store and Tavern from 1963 to 1977 and where Naomi served as postmaster, that was a low-key existence compared to the couple’s former years in Burbank, Calif., where Tommy was in show business.
Tommy, who was born in Weiser, Idaho, but grew up in La Grande, joined the Sons of the Pioneers in 1949, replacing the group’s legendary baritone Bob Nolan. During the 1950s, the group performed in at least two major Hollywood films - “Rio Grande” (1950) and “The Searchers” (1956), both starring John Wayne - and recorded music for another, “The Wagon Master” (1950), directed by John Ford.
According to Murfreesboro, Tenn., cowboy western music producer Fred Goodwin, the Sons of the Pioneers also performed during the 1960s on television variety shows.
Goodwin said Bob Nolan hand-picked Doss as Nolan’s own replacement in the group. The Sons’ most-featured trio from 1952 to 1968 included Doss, Dale Warren and Lloyd Perryman. Because the Sons already had a “Lloyd” in Perryman, Doss switched to using his middle name, Tommy.
According to Goodwin, many of the group’s longtime fans didn’t soon recognize that Nolan had even left, so indistinguishable was Doss’ voice from Nolan’s. And this particular style of baritone was critical to the group’s success. Goodwin relates a story about celebrated guitarist Chet Atkins’ insistence on this point at a time late in Doss’ singing career when his continued availability was in doubt. “Chet Atkins was not interested in re-signing with the Sons of the Pioneers unless they had that Bob Nolan sound, meaning Tommy Doss,” Goodwin said.
Doss occasionally reappeared with the group until 1972. In November 2008, he was inducted into the Western Music Association Hall of Fame in Albuquerque, N.M.
Tommy Doss’ most immediate survivors include his wife, Naomi, the couple’s sons, Dennis and Tim, and their families. A funeral service was held Saturday, Oct. 29, at Enterprise Christian Church. Karolyne Doss said the family plans to submit a complete obituary soon for publication.