Riders In The Sky
With 28-plus years, over 5,200 performances and counting under their collective cowboy belt, RIDERS IN THE SKY, the multi Grammy winning Western music group whose music is firmly grounded in the rich American music traditions of such legendary cowboys singers as Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and the Sons of the Pioneers - and whose fun-filled performances have enchanted audiences of all ages - are themselves the stuff of legend.
Indeed, the Riders - Ranger Doug (Idol of American Youth), Woody Paul (King of the Cowboy Fiddlers), Too Slim ("a Righteous Tater"), and Joey (the Cow Polka King) - have single-handedly revived and revitalized an entire music genre since they formed in 1977. With their recent induction into the prestigious Walk of Western Stars in Newhall, California, they've only added more luster to an extraordinary career that long ago placed them rightfully alongside the all-time greats as the world's premiere Western recording and touring band.
Foremost on their list of achievements are their Grammy-winning albums: Woody's Roundup featuring Riders In The Sky was a "companion album" for the soundtrack of the 1999 Walt Disney/Pixar animated classic Toy Story 2, which contained their delightful version of "Woody's Roundup." The album won the Grammy for Best Musical Album for Children for 2001 - an honor the Riders received again two years later for their Walt Disney Records release Monsters Inc.-Scream Factory Favorites - another animated film classic musical tie-in.
But the Riders have other estimable animation credits. In 2002, they composed the original score to Pixar Animation's Academy Award-winning short For the Birds. More recently, they wrote the theme for a new Internet cartoon by renowned Bugs Bunny creator Chuck Jones - and had their own animated characters make a guest appearance in an episode of Duck Dodgers, the Warner Bros. cartoon series on the Cartoon Network starring Daffy Duck in space, for which they recorded and sang the "Ballad of Duck Dodgers." Their animated characters also appear in episodes of Stanley on the Disney network this year - and the DVD versions - and perform three songs in a few episodes as well.
As real-life characters, the Riders continue to record seasonal episodes of Riders Radio Theatre, a radio program that's been broadcast by over 170 public and commercial stations since 1989. They've also starred in their own Saturday morning children's TV series, Riders In The Sky, for CBS; hosted another one, Tumbleweed Theater, for TNN; appeared regularly on Austin City Limits; and served as spokesmen for the National Park Service, Opryland, and such varied products as Levis, Taco Bell, Budweiser, Coke, and Cheer. Additionally, the group performed in Sweet Dreams, the acclaimed Patsy Cline biopic starring Jessica Lange, and the Kenny Rogers made-for-TV movie Wild Horses.
Of greatest significance, however, is that in 1982 Riders In The Sky became the first exclusively Western music artist to join the Grand Ole Opry. Coming two years after the release of their first album Three On the Trail, their Opry induction recognized the then trio's instantly-earned stature, not only as the foremost custodians of America's great Western music heritage, but as among country music's leading entertainers. The humorous aspect of the Riders, of course, is inherent in their identities.
Guitarist Ranger Doug, "Governor of the Great State of Rhythm," sings lead and baritone vocals with an ever-present big grin and a warm twinkle in his eyes. A yodeler of breathtaking technique, he is also an award-winning Western music songwriter in his own right - and a distinguished music historian whose 2002 Vanderbilt University Press book Singing in the Saddle was the first comprehensive look at the singing cowboy phenomenon that swept the country in the 1930s.
Upright "bunkhouse" bassist Too Slim, easily the sharpest wit in the West, was, prior to the Riders, a janitor, industrial galvanizer, puppeteer, rumor-monger, hay stacker, burlesque show emcee, sportswriter, wildlife manager, and electric bassman. Besides his superb bass play and comic genius, he has inspired thousands to whack out tunes on their faces.
Woody Paul, "King of the Cowboy Fiddlers," sings lead and tenor vocals, and gained early experience in country-western music by hanging out with the likes of Roy Acuff. When not dazzling Riders fans with his fiddle, he's thrilling them with intricate rope tricks which he swears he'll get right before his career is over.
Accordionist Joey The Cow Polka King, "plays both ends against the middle," as they say, on his "stomach Steinway." The master musician, who apprenticed with the late polka king Frank Yankovic and has played with everyone from Roy Rogers to U2, is also the Riders' album producer and a licensed driver.
One of Joey's latest productions for the Riders is Silver Jubilee (Acoustic Disc) a two-CD set of new recordings of their best-loved songs - along with a bonus live mini-concert. It's the 32nd album from the group (averaging well over one album release a year), and perhaps the quintessential Western music album of the modern era.
There can be no doubt, however, that after 28 years, more than 5,000 performances (a rate of one show every other day!), 3,001,430 miles traveled, and 300 national TV appearances, Riders In The Sky, whose history has now been recounted in Don Cusic's biography It's the Cowboy Way!, are among the most historically significant acts in the history of American music.