Today’s Feature, August 17-18: Riders In The Sky

January 18, 2008 at 5:30 pm (Today's Feature)

Familiar with Riders in the Sky? No? I didn’t think I was either. But this western music group has not only won Grammy Awards for their contributions to Walt Disney/Pixar’s “Toy Story 2,” and “Monster’s Inc.,î but they have performed with the likes of Garth Brooks, Roy Rogers and Reba

McIntyre, as well as built themselves into one of the most unforgettable acts in U.S. history.

The Riders in the Sky’s first appearance was November 11, 1977, at Herr Harry’s Phranks ën’ Steins in Nashville, where the group simply hoped to entertain the eight drunks in attendance.

However, with 29-plus years, more than 3,001,400 miles traveled and well over 5,000 performances under their collective “cowboy belt”, the Riders in the Sky have proven that the world still demands that ìwestern cowboyî sound and style. For their latest project, Ranger Doug (Idol of American Youth), Woody Paul (King of the Cowboy Fiddlers), Too Slim (“a Righteous Tater”), and Joey (the CowPolka King), have re-releasing their 1996 album, “Public Cowboy #1: The Music of Gene Autry” (re-mastered and expanded with four bonus cuts).

While this band certainly has remarkable talent (not to mention a sense of humor) on its own, they are quick to credit the music and talent of one Gene Autry as their idol and influence. Like Autry, the Riders in the Sky help their audience explore the ìwestern experience,î inspiring that sense of endless freedom, and endless possibilities (much like their music). These relentless tour artists will be back on the road before you know it, so check out their XXQ’s, then keep an eye out for a show near you.

XXQs: Riders in the Sky (PEV): How and when did Riders In The Sky first form as a band?

Riders in the Sky (RITS): Riders In The Sky’s first appearance was November 11, 1977, at Herr Harry’s Phranks ën’ Steins in Nashville. The band in those days was Ranger Doug, Too Slim, and Windy Bill Collins. We formed simply because no one else was doing the beautiful, romantic, complex music of Gene and Roy and Tex and especially the Sons of the Pioneers. After a few months Windy Bill left us, Woody Paul joined, and our true professional beginnings date from August of 1978, when we began seriously going on the road.

PEV: Tell us about the earlier days for the Riders. Where and when was your first performance and what was going through your heads?

RITS: We were simply hoping to entertain the eight drunks in the audience. It was only in the following days that we realized we had something special, and decided to pursue it harder.

PEV: Was there a certain time in your lives that you decided music was going to be a career? What was that feeling like?

RITS: That is what we always wanted, from our childhoods. Occasionally all of us had to get real jobs at one time or another, but those were just way stations along the trail; playing full time professionally was always the goal.

PEV: With 29-plus years and well over 5,000 performances under your collective “cowboy belt”, is there one performance that stands out over the rest? ?

(RITS): Surely it was our 2001 appearance at the Hollywood BowlÖuntil our July 2-4, 2007, appearance at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and a huge fireworks display. Well over 40000 people for the three nights, the top musicians in the land behind us, perfect weatherÖ.how could we ever top that?! A peak career moment we rejoiced in as it happened.

PEV: What kind of environment do you surround yourselves in when you create music together?

RITS: Our creating together is pretty prosaic: we usually rehearse at sound check, 3 or so hours before the show. Usually we write our material individually, and work it out either in the studio or at sound checks.

PEV: With more than 3,001,400 miles traveled, how is life on the road been for Riders In The Sky? What is the best and worst parts?

RITS: You have to be internally adjusted to enjoy life on the road (many great musicians in Nashville do not) but we still enjoy it. One of the best parts is, of course, introducing classic and original western music to new listeners nearly 200 times a year. I love new places and the variety: We’ve played in all 50 states, Japan, Europe, Greenland, Argentina, Mexico, BrazilÖ.what other job gives you so much contact with others cultures as well as the broad sweep of all our cultures right here in the USA? That’s the best.

PEV: In all your travels, is there one city (US or international) that you feel offers the best appreciation for music? Why?

RITS: Statistically, California is our most visited road state, followed by Texas, Nevada, Ohio, Colorado, North Carolina, Kansas, Minnesota, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Wisconsin, Missouri, the Washington DC area, Oregon, Arizona are also in the top 15, so you can see that we are most popular in the west and upper Midwest, though there are pockets in North Carolina and Washington DC that respond to what we do very well. We have played in all 50 states, but the deep South and New England are, generally our weakest areas yet. Why? Hard to say; western music knows no geographical boundaries, and comedy has a universal appeal.

PEV: Your latest project has you re-releasing your 1996 album, “Public Cowboy #1: The Music of Gene Autry” (remastered and expanded with four bonus cuts). What do you think is the reason why so many people love the music of Gene Autry?

RITS: I wish more did! Few people today realize the profundidty of Gene Autry’s musical inpact nor do they realize what a huge star he was, on movies, radio, personal appearances, hit records, and later, television.

PEV: What kind of impact has Gene Autry had for The Riders In The Sky?

RITS: It is impossible to imagine doing a set of music which didn’t touch Gene Autry’s recording career: Blue Canadian Rockies, Back In The Saddle Again, There’s A Gold Mine In The Sky, Tumbling Tumbleweeds, Be Honest With Me, South of the Border, Carry Me Back To The Lone Prairie, You Are My Sunshine, Boots and Saddles, The Last Roundup, That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine, The Yellow Rose of Texas, There’s An Empty Cot in the Bunkhouse, Mexicali Rose, and of course Here Comes Santa Claus and Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer. Anniversary tour or not, there is always some Gene Autry in our show.

PEV: What can people expect from a live Riders In The Sky show?

RITS: Four guys in great outfits having way more fun than they ought to, playing lively and sentimental music of the west, yodeling, and bringing plenty of laughter.

PEV: What do you find to be the best part about playing live? As well, what do you think is the worse part?

RITS: The best part is the audience reaction, especially the surprise and delight evident in people who have never heard us before. That makes every song, every comedy routine, fresh for us each night. The worst part is bad sound on stage, which is a constant drain on our attention and energy.

PEV: Is there one artist “on the rise” now that you think all of us should be looking out for?

RITS: There are a lot of great young individual talents in western music right now, but sad to say I don’t hear any groups of young people carrying on the Sons of the Pioneers tradition. The closest thing are some wonderful young groups of girls: the Quebe Sisters, the Peasall Sisters, and until their recent retirement (we hope it’s short-lived), the Prairie Twins.

PEV: What is currently in your CD player?

RITS: I have a 6 CD changer in the car: right now 1) Count Basie, April In Paris 2) The Whippoorwills, Hard Life Blues, 3) Freddie Green, Mr Rhythm, 4) Freddie Green, Freddie Green 5) Carolyn Martin, 6) the latest book-on-CD, currently White Noise by Don DeLillo, previously Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

PEV: Having played everywhere and with everyone, is there one artist you would like to collaborate you have not with so far?

RITS: As far as performing live, it is astonishing how many legends we have performed with live or on radio or record: Garth Brooks, Roy Rogers, Bill Monroe, Frank Yankovic, Diana Krall, Kathy Mattea, Connie Smith, Reba McIntyre, Don Edwards, Marty Stuart, Marty Robbins, Jesse McReynolds, Asleep at the Wheel, Barbara Mandrell, The Sons of the Pioneers, Little Jimmy DickensÖ.I’ll run out of room soon! Speaking for me, personally (Ranger Doug) one thing I’ve always dreamed of doing is singing a duet with Linda Ronstadt in Spanish.

PEV: You won Grammy Awards for music you created for both Walt Disney/Pixar’s “Toy Story 2,” and “Monster’s Inc.” When you were working on music for those projects, did you ever think the movies, let alone your part would have been as successful as it was?

RITS: Pixar was very very well established by the time we sang ìWoody’s Roundupî in Toy Story 2, and we were quite convinced from the moment they asked us that the movie would be a tremendous success, and that it would play a huge part in our career. Turns out we were right!!

PEV: What’s one thing fans would be surprised to hear about the men of Riders In The Sky?

RITS: That we spend way too much time on the road to keep horses.

PEV: When the band is not performing and/or traveling, what can we find you doing in your spare time?

RITS: Woody’s always tinkering with the motor home, Slim spends tons of time with his still young kids, Joey is buried in the studio with one of his myriad projects, Ranger Doug has endless projects westernizing his rancho and also plays with the Time Jumpers on Monday nights.

PEV: In 1982, Riders In The Sky became the first exclusively Western music artist to join the Grand Ole Opry. What was it like when you “got the call” for the Opry?

RITS: It was a tremendously exciting moment for us, especially when you consider at the time we were a ìnewî band (just under 5 years, the first year part-time) without any hit records. But we brought something to the showóboth a musical style unlike anything they had, and the humorówhich Hal Durham felt would add to it, and we were so honored to be a part of that grand historical institution. And still are!

PEV: In your opinion, what is it about Western music and the “Western Cowboy” appeal, that has captured all of America for so many years?


RITS: Ever since the novels of James Fenimore Cooper portrayed the western wilderness in the early 1800s, there has been a fascination with the west and the western experience: the awe inspiring landscape, the sense of endless freedom and endless possibilities, these have touched something in the American psyche through the Buffalo Bill Wild West shows, through dime novels, through movies, radio, records, and television. We as a people have never lost our fascination with the westerner, alone on horseback beneath the endless skies, answering to no one but his sense of right.

PEV: So, what is next for Riders In The Sky?

RITS: Another year of hectic touring (just got back from a Utah-New York-Oregon weekend, whew!), bringing, as we say, good beef to hungry people. In addition many many dates in our strong areas (California, Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin, Texas etc) we will be heading to Switzerland as well. As far as recording projects go, we have about a half dozen on the back burner, and will be finishing up a much requested album of traditional cowboy folk songs.

Check out Riders in the Sky at


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