Riders In The Sky - Western with a wild side

February 10, 1999

The Riders in the SkyBy MEG H. PARTINGTON / Staff Writer

When Roy Rogers and Gene Autry died in 1998, the members of Riders In The Sky lost their childhoods, but the Old West lives on through them.

"They were stars for a reason," says Ranger Doug, spokesman for the group.

Skilled musicians and actors abound now, but they don't touch the hearts of Ranger Doug, Woody Paul and Too Slim like the King of Cowboys and The Singing Cowboy did.

[cont. from lifestyle]

"Musically, yes, certainly there are thousands (of talented performers). Emotionally, no," says Ranger Doug from a hotel room in Orange Beach, Ala.


It was a sad time for the group and the world, but Riders In The Sky is back on the bus, bringing laughter and Western music to audiences at 180 to 200 concerts a year. The only state they haven't played in is Hawaii.

One of the stops for the group is The Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown, where the members will share their flashy costumes, classic cowboy sounds and trademark humor at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13.

The difference between country and Western music may be slight to some, but it's monumental to Riders In The Sky, which formed in 1977 in Nashville, Tenn.

"It's a subtle distinction but it means the world to us," says Ranger Doug.

The members joke that country music is about getting drunk, feeling sorry for yourself and hitting on your neighbor's wife. Western music, on the other hand, is about free life and fresh air, says Ranger Doug.

"Its theme is the Western land, Western life, the Western ethos," says Ranger Doug. "There's nothing like watching the sun rise on horseback."

The three, all of whom are "around 50" years old, started on very different paths.

Ranger Doug, who says he was promoted from Deputy Doug, has a master's degree in literature. Woody Paul, who got his stage name from his real first and middle names, Paul and Woodrow, has a doctorate in plasma physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Too Slim, who earned his name after losing too much weight while working at a galvanizing plant and doing music on the side, has a degree in wildlife management from University of Michigan.

Music was their common link.

"It was just our passion growing up," says Ranger Doug.

Too Slim has a "razor-sharp wit" and is known for his crazy-colored getups, says Ranger Doug. He sings lead and harmony in the trio and plays the bunkhouse - upright - bass.

Slim hasn't completely abandoned a vocation in wildlife. Ranger Doug says he has perfected a slew of "varmint dances," including those of a rabbit, three-toed sloth and armadillo. He also plays his face.

"You can't explain it. You have to see it," says Ranger Doug of the face act, just one of Slim's zany stage antics.

Woody Paul is the "goofball genius" of the group, says Ranger Doug. He sings lead and tenor and plays a mean fiddle.

Ranger Doug, who sings lead and baritone in the trio and also plays guitar, calls himself the "big dull tool in the middle."

The threesome will grow to a foursome for the Hagerstown performance when Joey "The Cowpolka King" Miskulin joins them on accordion. Ranger Doug says Miskulin, who produces the group's records and performs with them quite regularly, is "full of smiles and full of life." He's also an amazing musician, he says.

The Riders don't just play the music of yesterday's heroes, they throw in some of their originals, usually penned on the bus between gigs.

"Even from the start we didn't want to be a museum piece," playing only other people's music, says Ranger Doug.

In addition to performing and recording albums, the group also has been in movies ("Sweet Dreams" and a Kenny Rogers TV movie, "Wild Horses") and launched "Tumbleweed Theater" on The Nashville Network.

While logging major miles on the tour bus, the members of Riders In The Sky listen to a mix of music, including The Temptations, Trio Los Panchos, jazz and classical music.

"We're very eclectic," says Ranger Doug.

  • What: Riders In the Sky
  • When: Saturday, Feb. 13, 8 p.m.
  • Where: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., Hagerstown
  • Tickets: $18 and $24, plus $1.50 service charge.
  • For information: 301-790-2000.
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