‘We all need heroes’
When I mentioned I was going to interview Ranger Doug of Riders In The Sky, everyone claimed to be a personal friend. So that’s the first question I asked him.
Ranger Doug chuckled.
“When we meet fans, someone will say, ‘We saw you in 1982,’” he said. “That connection happens a lot with certain entertainers that appear likeable. The connection has to be natural. You can’t plan it, and you can’t practice making faces in front of a mirror. It’s just the way we come across.”
How they come across is as a wise-cracking, guitar-picking, joke-making musical group that appears to have genuine fun on stage at every show. That part is not an act.
“We just go out and do our job, and have a great time doing it,” Ranger Doug said. “We enjoy cracking each other up. We feed off the audience reaction.”
While the hijinks gets the big laughs, none of the humor would work if not underpinned by a foundation of excellent musicianship and respect for the genre. The group has lassoed a herd of honors including two Grammy Awards, been named Entertainers of the Year, are regulars on the Grand Ol Opry, hosted a TV variety show, and performed “Woody’s Round Up” in the movie “Toy Story 2.”
Ranger Doug and “Side Meat” host a popular Sirius radio show “Cowboy Crossroads” that celebrates the music and history of the great cowboy singers and songwriters. Ranger Doug boasts an encyclopedic knowledge, even down to the quirks of sidekicks such as Pat Buttram, Gabby Hayes, Andy Devine, and Smiley Burnette.
This genuine love for the genre is not contrived.
“We always felt from the start that it would come off as a college prank if we weren’t good at what we did,” he said. “We very consciously are trying to be the very best musicians we can be. This music is well worth preserving, and we are committed to that. Then we wrap it up in humor and fun, to make a wonderful show.”
For the few who may not be aware of their stage personas, the four members are Joey the Cow Polka King, Woody Paul, Ranger Doug, and Too Slim. They dress in the over-the-top cowboy costume popularized in early movie serials complete with white cowboy hats, wooly chaps, and lots of fringe. It is an act, but an act based in reality.
“We stay in character,” Ranger Doug said. “We had one fan deeply disappointed when we got off the bus wearing shorts and tennis shoes. Sorry, but we are real people too. But you have to maintain the look people expect. That’s easy for us to do, as the characters we developed are an extension of who we really are.”
The show they will present at the Cailloux Theater on Dec. 21 is part of their popular Christmas Tour. The band promises lots of Christmas songs, many written by them in the tradition of the cowboys. They enjoy interacting with the audience, taking requests on stage and meeting fans after. All their shows are family friendly. That doesn’t mean “for children only.”
“Many times we see fans sitting between their father and their son, who tell us we are the favorite band of both,” he said. “Our appeal is timeless and spans generations. It’s fun. You’ll laugh. We all need a laugh, and laughter is therapeutic.”
Their show also evokes the timeless myth of the old west, when the good guys wore white and the men were gentlemen. Real or not, we miss those heroes.
“That’s part of the trimming on anything to do with classic westerns or classic western music. It is embodied in us. Not that we try to be a hero, but there is just something about the western image that evokes that. I feel the same way. The first time I met Clayton Moore I was speechless.”
(For those who didn’t grow up in the 1950s, Moore of course played the original Lone Ranger.)
So, Buckaroos and Buckarettes, slap on your cowboy hats and pull on your boots and plan for an evening of music from the days when all cowboys sang, all deer roamed, and even greenhorns knew to drink upstream from the herd.
Riders In The Sky perform Cowboy Christmas at the Cailloux Theater in Kerrville On Friday, Dec 21.
Tickets and information at www.CaillouxTheater.com or 830-896-9393.
Phil Houseal is a writer and owner of Full House PR, www.FullHousePR.com.