As I stood at the podium at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Ford Theater in Nashville, I anxiously searched for the right transitional words to introduce one of my favorite groups – The Riders in the Sky.
I have always admired western music, from the configurations of the harmonies to the mix of the instruments and the musical styles fused into what became the standards in the western films of the 1930s-50s and beyond.
I was privileged to know many of the men who created the sounds that shimmered across the screens, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Pee Wee King and the Golden West Cowboys, the Sons of the Pioneers, the Sunshine Boys and others.
The sounds of this music to me are as big as the western sky and as beautiful as the ranges upon which the cowboys rode.
When I first made my first guest appearance for the Grand Ole Opry back in the early 1980s they were already members even though at that point as an act they were relatively young group coming together in 1977 to reflect the western sounds with its music, costumes and comedic antics.
From the first time I saw the Riders in the Sky, I became a fan and continue to be.
I watched with smiles as they found an ever-growing place for their talents whether on TNN, CBS children’s programming, cartoons, and writing music for a long list of projects.
While I was an adult by the time Disney released “Toy Story” with the cowboy character “Woody” voiced by Tom Hanks. When they selected the Riders to enhance the the sequel film “Toy Story 2” with their music for the song “Woody’s Roundup,” I just could not help getting one of those Woody action figures for my film collection.
They would win their first Grammy for their Disney CD “Woody’s Roundup: A Rootin’ Tootin’ Collection of Woody’s Favorite Songs” and then repeated that for yet another Disney CD “Monsters, Inc. Scream Factory Favorites.”
I was lucky to tune into the Grand Ole Opry earlier this year when they debuted their latest CD “Home of the Range” Riders in the Sky with Wilford Brimley. The acclaimed western actor joined them on stage to share tunes from the 12-song project which ranges from “Won’t You Ride in My Little Red Wagon,” “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine,” “Roly Poly,” and “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen.”
I have enjoyed this CD immensely, it is a must have if you have any desire not to miss one of the true historic pairings of two distinctive American talents.
For those of you not familiar with the characters who make up the Riders in the Sky, it includes four – “Ranger Doug, the Idol of American Youth,” “Woody Paul, the King of the Cowboy Fiddlers,” “Too Slim, the Man of a Thousand Hats,” and “Joey, the CowPolka King.”
I was like a kid again looking up at my favorite cowboy heroes as I sat at the Country Music Hall of Fame and watched their seamless presentation of music and comedic camaraderie that thrilled every person in the theater. I was honored to appear on the same show with them but even more so to bring them to the stage. Though I was worried I might not find the words that gave them the right build up as I introduced them, as Ranger Doug passed me after the show, he thanked me for thoughtful introduction I shared. That was as good to me as a handshake from Roy Rogers.
I encourage you to seek out the Riders in the Sky, see them in concert, buy some of their music, visit their website http://www.ridersinthesky.com.