Red Dirt Rangers – Stillwater is still moving to them
Oklahoma may be known as the birthplace of Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire and Vince Gill, but the Red Dirt Rangers lay claim to being the state’s real music ambassadors. Throughout the ’90s, this engaging bunch of alternative-country misfits has crisscrossed the state and nation playing a truer Okie sound than anything heard from the above named expatriates.
On almost any given night principal songwriters Bob Wiles, Brad Piccolo and John Cooper, along with guitarist Ben Han and multi-instrumentalist Benny Craig, can be heard serving up a sound that combines the legacy of Woody Guthrie and Bob Wills with the spirit of everyone from Merle Haggard to the Grateful Dead and all manner of American music inbetween. Throw in the influence of Jimmy LaFave, Kevin Welch, Alvin Crow, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Joe Ely, combined with their own intelligent country and folk-rock songs, and you have a sound they simply call “Red Dirt Music” — named for the reddish-brown ground that landscapes Central Oklahoma.
“While we were influenced by all that we heard growing up in Oklahoma, all the usual stuff on the radio and the Oklahoma/Texas regional progressive country stuff, I think our sound has been more influenced by friends such as Jimmy (LaFave), Greg Jacobs, Tom Skinner and Bob Childers, who were working in Stillwater when we were students at Oklahoma State,” guitarist Piccolo said. “They really inspired us to start to write.”
Slowly but surely, they have developed a dedicated following among all walks of Okies, from the alternative-country bar crowd to wholesome family gatherings populated by fans of traditional country and western swing. “We play all over the place,” Cooper says. “A rock club one night, opening for Asleep At The Wheel the next. We do children’s concerts, weddings, festivals, benefits, you name it. One night while playing at this private party I saw a kid slam dancing in one corner and an older couple swing dancing in the other — to the same song! I guess that is the best description of what we do.”
The Red Dirt Rangers recently completed demos with renowned producer Lloyd Maines in hopes of securing a record deal. In the meantime, the music of the band can be heard on their 1993 CD Red Dirt, their children’s album Blue Shoe and on two compilation albums: Pastures Of Plenty: An Austin Celebration of Woody Guthrie [editor’s note, in the interest of full disclosure: this disc was co-produced by the writer of this article] and The Songs Of Route 66.