Western swing and comedy quartet Riders in the Sky brings its Christmas tour to OKC while celebrating 40 years 

click to enlarge Riders in the Sky | Photo Provided
  • Riders in the Sky | Photo Provided

Doug Green likes Christmas, but what he loves more is the chance to deliver seasonal joy to concertgoers around the country. And that is exactly what he and the Western swing band Riders in the Sky have been doing for the past quarter century.

Riders in the Sky is a country string quartet and comedy group with appearances in everything from Hee Haw and the 1985 Patsy Cline biopic Sweet Dreams to Disney Pixar’s Toy Story 2 in its 40-year span. The band — guitarist “Ranger Doug” Green, bassist Fred “Too Slim” LaBour, fiddler “Woody” Paul Chrisman and Joey “The Cow-Polka King” Miskulin on accordion — is known for appealing as much to children as it does adults, with two Grammy wins for Best Musical Album for Children and 35 years as members of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry.

Tuesday, Riders in the Sky will bring its Christmas the Cowboy Way tour to Oklahoma City Community College’s Visual and Performing Arts Center Theater, 7777 S. May Ave. Green, in a recent interview with Oklahoma Gazette, said the band has had a Christmas tour for at least the last 25 years.

The show will combine the group’s trademark jovial banter and storytelling with classic Christmas songs like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “White Christmas” along with a few originals and some yodeling.

“It’s always a happy time of year,” Green said. “It seems like people are just a little more open, a little more generous.”

Many will recall the Riders’ role as stars of Western sketch comedy shows Tumbleweed Theater and the eponymous and short-lived Riders in the Sky. They also hosted the public radio show Riders Radio Theater for several years.

The Riders’ famous humorous tagline is, “Bringing good beef to hungry people.” It is a good metaphor for the way the group rustles up laughs and nostalgia for its eager fanbase.

“That’s been our mission for 40 years, and we’ve had a lot of fun doing it along the way,” Green said.

Keeping young

Following a Pixar storyboard meeting for Toy Story 2, the movie’s creative team knew they wanted to feature fictional Woody’s Roundup, a ’50s-style television show chronicling the adventures of cowboy doll Woody, somewhere in the film. Randy Newman, who had already had a long existing relationship with Disney and Pixar, wrote a theme song for the title sequence, but his voice didn’t fit the show aesthetic. The production team had to look elsewhere.

“One of the producers was a fan of ours, and he said, ‘Well, I know just the guys,’” Green said. “He downloaded some yodeling and showed them our sound, and they all looked at each other and said, ‘Those are our guys; give them a call.’”

Green said the offer from Pixar came as a total surprise.

“They called us,” he said, “and we thought about it for about an eighteenth of a second and said, ‘Yes!’”

In addition to recording the Woody’s Roundup theme, the band worked with Pixar on the albums Woody’s Roundup: A Rootin’ Tootin’ Collection of Woody’s Favorite Songs and Monsters, Inc. Scream Factory Favorites, which won the 2001 and 2003 children’s album Grammys, respectively.

Though children have long enjoyed the Riders’ music and comedic style, their experiences with Pixar helped them reach a whole new generation of fans. In 2003, the group made an in-show appearance on Duck Dodgers, following it in 2006 with an appearance on Stanley’s Dinosaur Round-Up.

Since practically its inception, the band’s amicability and wholesomeness have made them family favorites.

“Several times, people have come up to us after the show saying, ‘I sat between my dad and my kid, and you’re the favorite band of both of them,’” he said.

Success maintained

Green’s introduction to guitar came around age 11, when he used to play around on one his uncle owned. Years later, before his uncle died, he gifted the guitar to Green.

“It was really sweet,” he said. “[The guitar] is nothing special; it’s just special to me.”

Nashville-based Riders grew up in the shadow of the Grand Ole Opry, watching the long-tenured careers of Little Jimmy Dickens, Bill Monroe and Roy Acuff. Green said when they started the band, they never dreamed it would last 40 years, but they also knew it wasn’t an impossibility.

“We could see those guys still performing into their 70s, so we knew it was possible,” he said. “We knew we wanted to make a whole career of it if we could.”

The Riders still perform just shy of 170 shows per year, many of them at the Opry. Green said of everything the band has had a chance to do over the years, nothing beats performing for an audience that really loves the music.

“For senior citizens, we’re still out there rolling,” he said. “We often say we’d like to see these young kids do what we’re doing.”

Visit ridersinthesky.com.

Print headline: Long ride; Western swing and comedy quartet Riders in the Sky brings its Christmas tour to OKC while celebrating 40 years.

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