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Low-key legend: Remembering guitarist Gene Ruley
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Low-key legend: Remembering guitarist Gene Ruley

  • JD Shazer
  • A tribute to Gene Ruley on the marquee of the Rialto.
    A tribute to Gene Ruley on the marquee of the Rialto.
  • Rocco's Pizza salutes the late Gene Ruley
    Rocco's Pizza salutes the late Gene Ruley

"To all my fellow travelers- what a privilege to have you along!" - Gene Ruley, via Facebook. 

If you were a musician or music fan in Tucson in the past three decades or so, odds are you knew Gene Ruley — either as a guitarist in countless prominent local bands such as the River Roses, Phantom Limbs, Drakes, Johnnys, Zsa Zsas and Silverbell or as a dispenser of sage and sacred record buying advice at UA-area music store Discount Records in the late '80s and early '90s. A native of New Orleans, Ruley was a fixture of the local scene and one of Tucson's more beloved adopted sons.

Over the years, Ruley's influence on Tucson's music scene and signature style of low-key guitar prowess were the stuff local legends are made of. As a player he was skilled but subtle, intricate but never flashy. He played guitar to serve the song and not the spotlight and his infectious enthusiasm as a music fan bled through into his playing with brilliant little nods to bands like Big Star and the man he swore was one of the most underrated guitarists in rock and roll, the late Prince.

As a friend to many in Tucson's rock and roll community, Gene was that guy who just knew things, whether it was music theory, errant grammar or the name of some obscure band you'd heard one time in the middle of the night and couldn't quite place. 

In the past year, Ruley had been in failing health, having suffered a major heart attack in March 2018, but even in his convalescence he continued to play guitar prolifically and opine on gear and bands and other matters musical.

Gene Ruley died Sunday night, Aug. 26, at the age of 54. News of his passing prompted memories and eulogies from many local folks via social media and a couple of more public tributes via the marquees of Rocco's Pizza and the Rialto Theatre.

One of Ruley's last Facebook posts, dated August 16, read "To all my fellow travelers, what a privilege to have you along!" Based on the outpouring of love and grief by those that knew Gene Ruley, it's safe to say the sentiment was mutual. Stay tuned for more remembrances of Ruley in this weekend's music column, and share your thoughts so they can be included by sending us an email: arts@tucsonsentinel.com.

In the words of yesterday's message on the marquee at the Rialto, farewell, Gene Ruley, we will miss you greatly. 

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