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.
“He said, ‘I work with this guy who's from Borneo, and he plays a mean guitar,' so Ben brought his guitar over and we just clicked immediately. It was a beautiful thing,” Piccolo said.
Almost from the beginning, the Rangers played original songs along with old country covers. In 1988, they saved enough money to record their debut album, “Cimarron Soul,” in a single night at Stillwater's Lamb Studios. Since, they have released four more albums and been featured on five compilations.
For the past few years, the Rangers have been working with Grammy-nominated Pawnee-based producer/musician Steve Ripley. The album has 13 tracks, including several the band's co-wrote with the late Childers.
“Steve is the greatest recording engineer/producer that we've ever worked with. He's so knowledgeable,” Piccolo said. Along with Ripley, the Rangers played with Grammy nominees John Fullbright, Lloyd Maines and Fats Kaplin on “Lone Chimney.” Although the album is finished, the band recently launched its first Kickstarter campaign to fund promotions and other unfinished details. The Rangers have have until April 27 to reach the mark or they won't get the funding.
Along with a May 31 album release show at the Blue Door, the band is performing at various festivals, honky tonks and tribute concerts around the state as part of its “Oklahoma World Tour.”
Plus, the Rangers are playing albums they love on their resurrected “Red Dirt Radio Hour,” which aired for several years on KVOO in Tulsa. In January, they started broadcasting across central and northeast Oklahoma on KOSU and worldwide on KOSU.org.
“I honestly think it's more fun now that it's ever been,” Cooper said. “If you hang on for 25 years, it'll either drive you crazy or you'll really love it. Sometimes a little bit of both, but mostly, it's love.”