Celebrating 25 years as a band, the Red Dirt Rangers keep digging new ways to “keep spreadin' the dirt.”
The venerable Payne County band — singer/guitarist Brad Piccolo, singer/mandolin player John Cooper and singer/lead guitarist Ben Han — has revived its “Red Dirt Radio Hour” on KOSU, embarked on its “Oklahoma World Tour” and launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the final touches on its new album, “Lone Chimney.”
“We do have a lot of irons in the fire. We just always seem to have something going on and I like it that way,” Cooper said in a phone interview from his home in the rural Payne County community for which the new album is named. “It keeps it interesting for us to have all those other things to do. It's all intertwined with the music, but it's all different facets.”
As expected, the long-running band's history is a long story with its roots in the fertile Stillwater music scene.
“It seems like a whole series of happy accidents,” Piccolo said. “I think these things happen for a reason. You come across people that you're supposed to come across, and that's what happened with us.”
He and original Rangers bassist Bob Wiles became friends at Oklahoma State University, started playing music together and began making pilgrimages to The Farm, the homestead considered the birthplace of red dirt music. They met Cooper, who at the time didn't play but was a great music fan, at the now-legendary farmhouse.
“I had an old cheap mandolin that I'd gotten for a Christmas present or something, and I said, ‘Man, you love music so much, Coop, here's a mandolin.' I showed him three chords and I said ‘Well, now you know 10,000 songs,'” Piccolo recalled.
They played living room and front porch shows for several years, until Jimmy LaFave gave the budding band a slot at his musician's reunion at Willie's Saloon.
“The rest is history,” Piccolo said with a laugh. “Our first gig as the Red Dirt Rangers was in '88 ... but a lot of the same people that ended up starting in the band were the same guys we were playing with back in '81.”
The lineup has shifted over the years — “at one time, the Rangers had a rhythm and a lead accordion,” Piccolo recalled with a laugh — but Piccolo, Cooper and Han have formed the core since original bassist/guitarist David Clark invited Han to one of the band's early jam sessions.