Our great heroes are The Sons of the pioneers…
Interview with Douglas B. Green (“Ranger Doug”), western musician and scholar
© Lilly Drumeva-O’Reilly.
Douglas B. Green, better known by his stage name Ranger Doug, is an American musician, arranger and award-winning Western music songwriter, best known for his work with the group Riders in the Sky in which he plays guitar and sings lead and baritone vocals. He is also an exceptionally accomplished yodeler. I met Doug two times while residing in Nashville. He came to my hotel and gave me an interview as well as some of his CDs and books. It was kind of him to give me a lift to the Green Hills Mall in his sporty car. The other time when we met was on stage, where I had the honor to sing “My Window Faces the South” with The Time Jumpers, a fantastic western-swing band, which features Ranger Doug sometimes. Here is what he shared with me:
Tell me about yourself? How did you become passionate about the western and country genres?
My dad was in the Navy when I was young. We lived in California. There was an amusement park where I first heard country music. They had reruns of the singing cowboys movies on TV. I became a fan of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers. My mother’s family is from Finland. They settled in Northern Michigan. They were listening to the barn dances on the radio and played the songs “Red River Valley” and “You Are My Sunshine.” My mom had a beautiful voice, but she wasn’t a singer. She was a nurse. My father was a doctor and played the piano.
How did you start playing?
My two uncles inspired me to play guitar. I was about 11 when I picked it up. In high school, I had a girlfriend who was a very gifted singer. She liked folk music and encouraged me to play more. I had also a friend who was into bluegrass. I got deep into it in college, learning a whole lot of Bill Monroe’s music. I heard him for the first time in 1966. I had a chance to play guitar in his band for a short while. Then he got a more permanent player – Roland White. I graduated from university (English) and moved to Nashville. In 1977 I met couple of guys (Windy Bill Collins, Too Slim) and we formed Riders in the Sky. We stared to play western music.
What is western music exactly?
Cowboy songs, swing, music of the west, from the wide open spaces. Our great heroes are The Sons of the Pioneers. They exemplify everything beautiful about western music. The harmonies are amazing, the songs – “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” “Cool Water” are real masterpieces.
You have about 40 albums and 2 Grammy awards?
Yes. It’s been a long career. We recorded for different labels: Rounder, MCA, Capitol, Acoustic Disc (David Grisman’s label) and then we formed our own.
Where did you get your name from?
From the song “Riders in the Sky”. It was written by Stan Jones about 1948. Johnny Cash made it famous.
Does the western music have its association and community?
It does, yes. In Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s called The Western Music Association.
Do you travel outside the US?
Yes, we’ve been to Holland, Switzerland and England. We found they don’t always understand our humor.
How did you learn to yodel? Where does yodeling come from?
Well, there are conflicting stories on that. I tried it as a kid and it worked. I was influenced of course by Jimmy Rodgers. I heard also a guy, Elton Britt, who blew me away. That’s the guy who started me on the really fancy yodeling.
But how did Jimmy Rodgers hear the yodeling? Did it come from the Germans, Swiss, from the Alps?
It is a way of being heard across long distances. It is present in many cultures. Jimmy Rodgers went to see a Vaudeville show that had Swiss yodelers. He adapted some of what he heard in his own music. When he was dying, they prepared Gene Autry as his successor. When Autry went to the movies, he started to yodel and made it popular.
Thanks Doug, very nice talking to you.