Small Act, Big Music

Little Music City Hall of Fame Awards Vintage Trio

By Rodger Nichols

From left, the trio of Don Tibbets, Stan Ruehlow, and Truman Boler recently performed together for the first time in more than 40 years at an event honoring the men. Photo by Rodger Nichols

A group of local musicians headed by guitarist Al Hare has formed an association called Little Music City. The group’s vision is to promote live music performances in The Dalles and the surrounding area, making their hometown the best place in the Gorge for people to see and enjoy live music.

The group held its first event in August to induct a storied local country music trio into the newly established Little Music City Hall of Fame.

The event at Bargeway Pub gave the trio—Don Tibbets on guitar, Truman Boler on bass and vocals, and Stan Ruehlow on drums—a chance to play together for the first time in more than 40 years. The event drew a packed house.

The evening was a double reunion. The Kane family operates Bargeway, and it was Jay Kane who ran the legendary Shamrock in The Dalles, which served as one of the trio’s main venues. The other venue was Ole’s Supper Club. Former owner Ross Bailey was also on hand to honor the group.

Rob Neuberger, a founding member of Little Music City, gave the introductory speech.

“Don Tibbets picked up the guitar at around the age of 16,” Rob said. “Before long, he was accomplished enough to be able to sit in with older and more established players in clubs around The Dalles and at the Legion Hall.

“Soon, he met another picker, Truman Boler, who was working at The Shamrock, and they formed a guitar duo. Before long, they were booking their own gigs at clubs around town. To achieve a fuller, richer sound, Don developed his own unique style of finger-picking, which enabled him to sound like a rhythm guitar, pedal steel, and lead guitar all at the same time.

Rob Neuberger shows off the first three first names on the Little Music City Hall of Fame plaque. Photo by Rodger Nichols

“When Truman switched from the guitar to the bass, his rock-solid steady bottom end and his smooth vocals anchored their songs.”

Rob explained that after several successful years as a duo, the men caught an act in Goldendale, where Stan was drumming.

“He could play any beat to any song, remain tastefully in the pocket, and never overplay,” Rob said. “They were so impressed with him that they hired him away from that band. When they formed their trio in The Dalles, that’s when the magic happened. They were very popular, and they packed clubs all up and down the Columbia River: Pendleton, Arlington, Boardman, all around The Dalles, the Lariat Room in Dufur, and, I am told, even the infamous Frosty Freeze in Rufus.”

Don had several opportunities to tour with other players, but the trio always got back to their favorite gigs: the Court Club, which eventually became Ole’s Supper Club; and The Shamrock, where they played to packed houses for many years.

“When I asked them why they felt they were so popular, they said it was because they were just a good little band that stayed true to the pure original sound of country, the music that people wanted to come out and hear over and over again,” Rob said.

Ross recounted an incident from Ole’s Supper Club.

“One night,” he said, “Don said, ‘We’re gonna pull a fast one on these people tonight.’ So, he took an old curly telephone cord and taped it to the bottom of an old guitar, and had it going back out of sight. Then he made a big deal about how I had been practicing and said, ‘Bring him on up here with a big round of applause.’ He was in the back playing, and I was just strumming. People came up to me saying, ‘Wow, we didn’t know you could do that!’”

“I didn’t either,” Ross said with a smile.

That wasn’t the only time the trio had some fun with the audience. Truman recalled a night at The Shamrock when they had a guy get up and lipsynch to Truman singing out of sight of the audience.

“He almost got in several fights afterward because he insisted he really couldn’t sing,” Truman said.

A 1977 ad for Ole’s Supper Club features the trio.

Truman turned 91 in September. His first time on stage was in the early 1950s.

“I went to private clubs and sang for my supper until I got old enough and could sing in taverns,” he said.

His first guitar was a $12.50 Gene Autry model with a rearing horse on it that he talked his father into buying for him. It was not the easiest guitar to play.

“The neck felt like a 2x4,” he said.

Truman said his father wasn’t a club-goer and never visited a club while Truman was playing, and his mother only came once. But he knows his father was proud of him.

“He bought me a car so I could go places,” he said.

Stan recalled playing with Don at The Oasis in Goldendale.

“One day, he just called me and said, ‘We need a drummer down at Ole’s Supper Club.’” he said. “I didn’t think I knew enough stuff to play with a trio, but he said, ‘Come on down. Just give it a shot.’ So, he talked me into it. I went down there, and we were there for quite a while. It just worked out well.”

Don explained how much he enjoyed the music business.

“You meet so many good people, going town to town, listening to other musicians, and stealing their stuff,” he said with a grin. “I like the old country songs, and it feels wonderful to get together again after all these years.”