‘Riders’ bring Old West to Suffolk

Published 4:34 pm Wednesday, September 16, 2009

After two Grammy awards, 32 years of touring and more than 30 albums, the Riders in the Sky are coming to Suffolk.

America’s favorite cowboy singers will open the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts 2009-2010 season on Sept. 25 at 8 p.m. The classic cowboy quartet will add Suffolk to its more than 5,400 concert appearances over the years.

“We started almost 32 years ago, playing completely obscure music, and had a lot of fun doing it,” said Ranger Doug, a member of the quartet, in a phone interview Wednesday.

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The group bills its act as “comedy and western” and its mission is to help preserve the music and traditions of the Old West, Ranger Doug said.

“We believe in our mission, but it’s not a museum act,” he said.

Riders in the Sky formed about 32 years ago, when the original members — Ranger Doug and Too Slim — performed at the Nashville nightspot “Phranks & Steins” for a handful of onlookers. They subsequently added Woody Paul, King of the Cowboy Fiddlers, and Joey the Cowpolka King.

The four have played in all 50 states and 10 other countries, appeared in venues from the Nashville National Guard Armory to Carnegie Hall, and also had their own weekly show on TNN and CBS. They (or their animated likenesses) have been guests on numbers television specials and variety shows.

However, the song for which they are best known — at least among the 12-and-under crowd — is “Woody’s Round Up” from the Disney/Pixar film “Toy Story 2.” That album gained the group its first Grammy Award in 2001 for “Best Musical Album for Children.” Two years later, the Riders also garnered a Grammy in the same category for “Monsters Inc. — Scream Factory Favorites” for the companion CD to that movie.

“This is just classic Western music, and we’ve had a lot of fun doing it,” Ranger Doug said. “They’ll see four guys with colorful, Western, flashy clothes, yodeling, having a good time on stage,” Ranger Doug said.

There could even be some rope tricks, he said, although every show is different.

“Every one’s different, because it keeps it fresh for us,” Ranger Doug said. “The audience can tell when it’s fresh or when you’re just going through the motions.”

The group just released its newest album, “Lassoed Live at the Schermerhorn!” The CD is a collaboration between Riders in the Sky and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. The group will perform its portion of songs from that album, although the 80-member orchestra will not be joining the show in Suffolk, Ranger Doug said.

All members of the audience will love the show, he said. Older adults will remember the music, middle-aged people will enjoy the getaway from everyday life, and “kids always love cowboys,” he explained.

“It’s a good acoustic show for all ages,” he said.

Ranger Doug hopes everyone in Suffolk comes out for the fun.

“It’s important music to preserve, but it’s the fact that people have fun with us that’s kept us on the road all these years,” he said.