one last saddle stop before christmas

After Monday, Riders in the Sky will hang up their hats and head for the coral.

No, the long-running, Grammy-winning singing cowboy troupe isn’t calling it a day after 32 years of bringing harmony-rich Western music, swing savvy instrumentals and a healthy slab of bunkhouse humor to audiences around the country. It’s just that its annual Christmas concert at the Kentucky Theatre this year falls just a few days before Christmas itself. There will just enough time for the Riders to hit the trail home for the holidays after the Monday concert winds up another performance year.

Of course, that makes it sound like the quartet of guitarist Ranger Doug (Douglas Green), fiddler Woody Paul (Paul Chrisman), bassist Too Slim (Fred LaBour) and accordionist Joey the Cowpolka King (Joey Miskulin) get to indulge in a lengthy winter break back on the ranch. No such luck. Come mid January, Riders in the Sky will take to the road again and tour clear through the summer.

“That’s been our life for 32 years now,” Green said last week by phone while enroute to a Greensboro, North Carolina performance. “There is no reason to change anything now.”

Indeed not. Initially viewed as revivalist of a singing tradition that champions such cowboy stars as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, Riders in the Sky has fashioned its ultra authentic Western music into television shows, a serial-like radio series, hit film soundtracks and, of course, holiday music.

The latter’s connection to singing cowboy tradition is extensive. It was, in fact, Autry that first popularized Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Here Comes Santa Claus (which he composed) and Frosty the Snowman.

The Autry inspiration abounds in the Riders’ holiday shows along with holiday cowboy polkas, some seasonal vaudeville from LaBour (Sidemeat’s Christmas Goose), gentler spiritual fare (Corn, Water and Wood) and even some vintage country Yuletide fare (the often-covered Tex Logan classic Christmas Time’s A-Coming).

It’s all G-rated as can be, in keeping with a brand of country and Western music produced in an altogether more innocent age.

“I think that’s what people enjoy so much about the season, too – the entire innocence of it,” Green said. “It’s the fact that people do smile at you in the street. All of a sudden everyone’s excited about getting something for their kids or their spouse. There is an undeniable magic to this time of year.”

But what of the tunes that don’t have a specific Western or holiday heritage? How can, say, Jingle Bells or I’ll Be Home for Christmas work in a program that still boasts such non Yuletide cowboy favorites as Happy Trails, Wah Hoo and the 60 year old anthem that gave the group its name, Ghost Riders in the Sky?

“What we do is approach each song with the idea of how we can make it into a Riders classic. It’s a challenge because you’ve been hearing these songs on the radio every day, all day, since Thanksgiving. You hear them in all kinds of versions, too, from swing to pop to classical. It’s overwhelming, really. So we just try to put our stamp to it with our own particular sound and arrange it so that it’s a little bit unique.”

Such a stamp is evident on two holiday albums that Riders released during the ‘90s – 1992’s Merry Christmas from Harmony Ranch (where Deck the Halls becomes Deck the Bunkhouse Walls) and 1999’s Christmas the Cowboy Way (where The Last Christmas Medley You’ll Ever Need to Hear sets snippets of a dozen or so carols to the tune of Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow).

But anyone thinking the Riders treat holiday music as parody need to check out the group’s crisply harmonious take on The Friendly Beasts (cut for Christmas the Cowboy Way but regularly revisited during the holiday shows) that brings to mind the sterling country version of the tune cut in 1961 by the Louvin Brothers.

Of course, what ultimately sells the harmony, humor and rich singing cowboy tradition of any Riders recording – be it a holiday classic or not – is a resilient band spirit has long fueled the quartet onstage and off.

“We’re extremely lucky in that respect,” Green said. “Most groups don’t have that bond, which is why so few last 30 years or more.

“We were laughing about that today at lunch. The sound man at the venue we were playing was telling us about a band whose members showed up for a show separately, didn’t speak to each other at soundcheck and left afterwards in separate cars.

“I mean, holy cow, how would you like to live like that? It would be like digging ditches for a living.”

Riders in the Sky perform at 7 p.m. Dec. 21 at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 East Main. Tickets are $14.50 (children 16 and under) and $18.50 (adult). Call (859) 231-7924.

Raiders to bench Pope; Harris to start.(Knight Ridder Newspapers)

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service December 12, 2001 | Ryan, John Well, it’s official. The Raiders have singled out Marquez Pope.

Johnnie Harris will replace Pope as the starting strong safety Saturday in San Diego. That’s the only lineup change, following days of talk from players and coaches that nobody is solely responsible for the defense’s collapse in the past six weeks. how many plays did shakespeare write

“I don’t feel that I should be benched,” Pope said Wednesday. “It doesn’t look right. None of this looks right. It’s been in the paper, `We don’t point fingers, we’re not saying this.’ There’s something I’m missing.” Coach Jon Gruden clearly is wary of causing a locker room controversy. He initially declined to say who was starting. After being told Harris and Pope had discussed the matter with reporters, Gruden asked, “Whatever happened to the old days?” Finally, he confirmed that Harris has the job for now, although he was quick to add that Pope would play.

“I don’t want to pit two players against one another in the media,” Gruden said. “Right now we’re just looking for a change of pace, let Marquez come off the bench and observe for a little bit. You’ve seen it happen in major league baseball, you’ve seen it happen in the NBA a lot.” Safe to say, Pope isn’t trying to win the Sixth Man Award. Although Gruden said all of the safeties will play, Pope expects to be on the field only for short-yardage and third-down situations.

“This is a team situation,” he said. “A team is a team. Eleven guys giving effort….When you get singled out, you think about the words. People talk about not singling out, and you look at this and you know this doesn’t make any sense.” Harris replaced Pope to start the second half Sunday against Kansas City, a game in which the Raiders gave up 204 yards on the ground and 447 overall. The Raiders won 28-26 to improve to 9-3, but their defense in the middle of a crisis.

Harris, 29, thinks he can help. A third-year player with experience in the arena and Canadian leagues, he started two games last season while Pope was injured. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, he is bigger than Pope. He has played both safety positions and even a little at cornerback, and he plays special teams.

During practice last week, Harris asked coaches to give him a shot. On Sunday, the Chiefs scored 17 points in the first half and nine in the second. Harris led the team with seven solo tackles and leaped to swat a deep pass off Tony Gonzalez’s fingertips in the fourth quarter.

“I’ve just been trying to get my point across all year,” Harris said. “I didn’t want to go to them while we were winning and try to stir up stuff. I just waited until the time was right, and then I said something.” The Raiders are in no position to refuse help. On Nov. 5, they had the fourth-best rushing defense in the NFL, allowing 92 yards a game. But in their past five games they have allowed an average of 194.6 yards on the ground, and their season average of 134.8 is the league’s fourth-worst. The Raiders are 3-2 in that stretch only because of their offense; they are scoring 30 points a game. here how many plays did shakespeare write

The halftime move to Harris was a clear sign of where coaches thought the problem lay, and Pope and free safety Anthony Dorsett have felt they were in the spotlight since then. In addition to Harris’ insertion in the starting lineup, the Raiders have been giving rookie Derrick Gibson more practice time at free safety.

“What do the safeties do that’s so bad in this defense?” Dorsett said Monday. “How many plays have I made? How many plays has this guy made? Where is the breakdown? If someone misses a tackle, there’s 10 other people on the field to make the tackle.” Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan agrees to a point. Sometimes, such as San Diego’s 67-yard reverse for a touchdown on its first play Nov. 18, a cornerback is the last line of defense in zone coverages.

But that wasn’t the case Sunday when Kansas City running back Priest Holmes took a screen pass and went 67 yards for a touchdown.

“The situation the other day was a safety situation,” Bresnahan said. “If he gets over the top and makes a cut back in, Charles Woodson’s right there and the ball’s tackled at 17 to 18 yards. But I’m not pointing fingers.” But the lineup card is.

___ Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Ryan, John

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