Riders in the Sky

Riders in the Sky at the Ozark Folk Center

Shortly before their 6,865th concert — at the Ozark Folk Center — Ranger Doug and Too Slim sat down with State of the Ozarks to talk cowboy music, Pixar, inaugural performances, and more.

And I can’t think of a better way to kick off our new section of recorded interviews than with two-time Grammy award winners, Riders in the Sky.

— Joshua Heston

Your tagline is Bringing Beef to Hungry People. How did that come about?

Too Slim: “That’s what we do. I was watching the movie Red River with the great John Wayne and there was a part in it when he was getting ready to take the cattle to Abilene and draws his brand in the sand there by Red River for Montgomery Clift and says, ‘This is where the ranch is gonna be. This is where the house is gonna be. The cattle’s gonna be here. There’s gonna be a lot of people, lot more people coming, good people, strong people and they’re gonna need good beef. Good beef for hungry people.’

“I said, ‘Woah! That's a great line!’ Good beef for hungry people. That’s it.

“Because we’re a meaty band. We don’t just do one thing. We entertain. It’s a meaty meal, wouldn’t you say, Ranger Doug?’

Ranger Doug: Five courses.

Too Slim: “We involve all the senses.”

Ranger Doug: “Especially smell.”

On your first public performance, did you have a vision of what was to come?

Ranger Doug: “No, I don’t think there was a vision. I think it was just a love of this music that we heard and nobody was doing anymore and it was just a sense of fun. The first few shows were just fun. Once we started to get a good response was when we started to say, “You know, we could take this someplace.’ But at the very first, I’d say it was just a joy to play that music and to work with each other.”

What is the power of cowboy music?

Ranger Doug: “Well, I think it evokes nostalgia but I think the music itself is really appealing in its rhytmm and its harmony and everyone enjoys seeing a virtuoso musician and we have several in this group. People who are committed to a style that is very much the fabric of Americana and has the same appeal that bluegrass may have or Cajun music. It evokes a time and a place and yet it is contemporary in that we are here and now and we are entertaining and having fun.”

Too Slim: “It crosses all age boundaries. We get little kids right up through really old people (who remember it when it was populat in the ’30s and ’40s) and it’s something that everybody [enjoys]. There aren’t many showbiz acts that can do that: make everybody feel good in some way.”

Ranger Doug: “The older generation, as Slim said, their parents sang them these songs, some of them were alive in that era. The middle generation: they like to laugh, they like to get away from the overdue mortgage and the surly teenager, and kids — for a period of their lives until they discover rap — love cowboy music. They love the feel of the rhythm, the outfits, they can relate to songs that tell a story or paint a picture of singing with your friends and being out on a horseback. They don't know about broken hearts and cheating wives and falling off of bar stools. They can relate to the wide open spaces.”

Too Slim: “The fun and adventure of it and the feel, the loping feel of a lot of music. It’s music you sway or dance to. Kids love to dance to it.”

Ranger Doug: “It’s very happy music in a way [but] as you get older you begin to listen more closely to the lyrics and how difficult the harmony is and how pretty it is to put together. And then there’s the whole other aspect of the poetic side.”

Your music was featured in Toy Story 2. Did the offer from Pixar come as a surprise or were you expecting?

Too Slim: “It was out of the blue.”

Ranger Doug: “Complete surprise.”

Too Slim: “We had a fan at Pixar. Guy named Ash Brannon. He had a nametag, you see. They had a meeting about who would sing Woody's Roundup theme song for the show and he said, ‘I got the guys,’ so they went to our website and downloaded some yodeling and gave us a call.

Ranger Doug: We had to think it over for quite a long time. About an eighth of a second.”

Too Slim: “So that began an association with Pixar that has lasted until this day.”

Did you travel to California to record?

Too Slim: “We did. We went out and recorded the song. We had a conference with Randy Newman who wrote the song, a telephone conference, and he basically said “I’ve listened to your records. You guys know what you are doing. Just go ahead, just arrange it how you’d do it.”

And then we went out and played it and everybody said, “Great! That’s it. Disney’s sort of famous for hands-on and a lot of notes but there were none. It was “Go, do what you do.” And Pixar is a fabulous company.”

Ranger Doug: “We did a couple more things. We did the music to the For the Birds short and they mentioned us on the Oscars. That was pretty cool. And we did a little tiny piece in Cars.”

Too Slim: “We did a Monsters Inc album and that was the second Grammy.”

Ranger Doug: “I dare say, in the history of the recording industry, it is the only album strictly about monsters by a strictly Western band.”

Too Slim: “Yeah, I think that’s pretty safe [to say].”

Ranger Doug: “I certainly can’t think of another one. Sons of the Pioneers... no.”

Too Slim: “No, they got as far as the South Seas. Couldn’t get them on monsters.”

— Interview continued above right...

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Plate 1. 9/5/15, Riders in the Sky. From left, Joey the Cowpolka King, Woody Paul and Ranger Doug. Photo credit, Ozark Folk Center.

Listen in to the Riders in the Sky interview:

(Mountain View, AR) Check out this interview with Grammy-award winners Ranger Doug and Too Slim by clicking PLAY below:

Riders in the Sky

plate 2. From left, Too Slim and Ranger Doug hamming it up “on radio.” Photo credit, Joshua Heston.

Riders in the Sky

plate 3. Too Slim (Man of A Thousand Hats), at left, is central to Riders’ comedy. Ranger Doug, at right, also writes as a music historian with the 2002 Vanderbilt University Press release Singing in the Saddle., noted as a “comprehensive look at the singing cowboy phenomenon in the 1930s.” Photo credit, Joshua Heston.

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Riders in the Sky

plate 4. Photo credit, Ozark Folk Center.

Riders in the Sky

plate 5. Photo credit, Ozark Folk Center.

Riders in the Sky

plate 6. Photo credit, Joshua Heston.

Slim, you are central to Riders’ in the Sky comedy. What is “cowboy comedy?’

Too Slim: “Any comedy with a hat. Comedy has its own rules. And you just dress it up in different things.”

Ranger Doug: “Wear a big hat and talk about Donald Trump and ...

Too Slim: “And it writes itself!”

Ranger Doug: “You don’t even have to say anything. Just say the name and go on. It’s comedy gold.”

You appeared in a Jessica Lange film about Patsy Cline, Sweet Dreams, in 1985. Tell me about that.

Too Slim: “We were the backup band, we were the Jordanaires, on the stage of the Opry, and we didn't wear hats. It was weird. I had to shave my moustache.”

Ranger Doug: “But for art!”

Too Slim: “We were supposed to be in the movie a bunch more but we went to Alaska. We had a whole Alaskan tour that winter so we missed a lot of the filming, and they had to trot out these other bozos but that's showbiz.”

You’ve played for a number of presidents...

Too Slim: We played for Clinton at the big congressional bash and for Bush at a big congressional bash...”

Ranger Doug: “It’s that yearly barbecue...”

Too Slim: “And the big Easter egg roll ...”

Ranger Doug: “We played at the inauguration for Reagan...”

Too Slim: “We took a lot of heat for that.”

Ranger Doug: “Our liberal fans were not happy.”

Too Slim: “‘How could you?!’ It was tough.”

Since you began in 1977, have you seen a change in the American people?

Ranger Doug: “Not our audience. I think they are people who like acoustic music, who like to laugh, and who appreciate tradition. They were that way from the start.”

Too Slim: “They’re older.”

Ranger Doug: “But we get the kids too. Kids love us. They just come and dance and we get them up on stage and they sing a song with us at a lot of our shows and it’s just great.”

Do you have a favorite Arkansas story?

Too Slim: “There is so much great history here. We were talking about Glenn Orlin, the late great, and Jimmy Driftwood is a great hero of ours from here, and of course, Grandpa Jones. I got a pair of boots that Grandpa gave me so this is a thrill to be here in the Ozark Folk Center.

Ranger Doug: “The first thing my wife and I did — my current wife — we got married and came out to Hot Springs. We enjoy rural Arkansas. We love it here. Always had a nice following here. Very early in our career we played the Arkansas State Fair.

Too Slim: “And we played next to the bee exhibit. It was this building and there was the bees and the quilts and a surge milker and a little tiny stage — us — and the folding chairs. It was great. It was one of our first state fairs early on.”

— September 5, 2015. Interview conducted by Joshua Heston

Chinkapin Oak

Toy Story 2 - “Woody’s Roundup” Riders In The Sky Music Video :

Riders in the Sky / Back in the Saddle Again:

Riders In The Sky - That’s How The Yodel Was Born [Live at WAMU’s Bluegrass Country]

Riders In The Sky “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” Live

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