Bob Childers

Bio from Bob's website:

Bob Childers is the guy who most definitely defines red dirt music. Read enough interviews with Oklahoma musicians and you'll hear Childer's name dropped like he was some kind of legend. Some call Bob a "Dylan of the Dust," and that's not far from the truth.

Born in West Virginia, Bob moved to Oklahoma at an early age. He lived in California and a number of other places along the way until one of his many rambles across the states took him to Stillwater, Oklahoma. It's there that the longtime wanderer finally found home. Bob began playing his music throughout the area and built a solid reputation as one of the finest songwriters in the state. By 1978 his music came to the attention of local musician Jimmy LaFave, and a lasting friendship ensued. With LaFave's help, Childers recorded his first album in 1979. "I ain't no Jukebox" was released to critical acclaim and local radio air play greatly expanded his fan base. He signed with Cimarron Attractions and his follow up album "Singing Trees, Dancing Waters", came in 1982.

The lure of Nashville was too much for Bob Childers to resist and in 1986 he made his move. Childers released two albums that year. "Four Horsemen" was another strong effort and was quickly followed by the instrumental "King David's Lament". Bob grew tired of the Nashville scene. Childer's unique blend of country stand-up folk and roots rocks rings with an authentic sound not often found in the mostly commercial world of Nashville music.

He packed up and headed to Austin, Texas to hang out with his old friend LaFave. With LaFave's assistance Bob recorded his strongest effort to date "Circles Toward the Sun." From his traveled, weathered voice comes songs of loss, love, regret, promise, betrayal, fun and hanging out, story songs and real-life songs.

The 1997 release of "Nothing More Natural" has the crusty songwriter crafting wonderful story songs with a ragged but right sound. Stand out tracks include "Dance with the Gypsies," "Memphis after Midnight." Bob's ode to Woody Guthrie, "Woody's Road" ranks, according to No Depression Magazine, among the best songs ever written about Woody Guthrie.

"Hat Trick", Bob's 1999 CD, contained another stellar set of songs including co-writes with Mike McClure (The Great Divide), Brad Piccolo (Red Dirt Rangers), wild man Randy Crouch, former label mate Greg Jacobs as well as former Stillwater alumni Garth Brooks.

The new Millennium saw the release of "La Vita e Bella - Out-takes, Demos and Jams 1980 - 1988." Many of these treasured rarities were thought to be lost in Childers' well publicized house fire. As luck would have it, Jimmy LaFave had seen fit to store master tapes and pristine copies of much of Bob's early work.

Bob continues to write songs and is currently finishing an autobiographical work of fiction called " I rode with the rangers: The past chronicled, history untangled, rumors expounded, myths unravelled, legends probed, wild tales explored, flimsy documents examined, exaggerations refuted, mis-reportings explained, words ungarbled and facts unjumbled."

Interview with Bob Childers by

1. For those who don’t know Bob Childers, can you give us some background on yourself? (IE where you grew up, etc)
I grew up in northern Oklahoma in Ponca City, I was actually born in West Virginia, and we moved here when I was seven. I played in high school rock bands and stuff, and moved to California after I got out of high school, and kinda got into the psychodelic music scene out there, wound up in Stillwater in the early 70s, I lived in Nashville in the 80s, and Austin and keep windin’ up back here in Stillwater. (laugh)

2. You were studying music at UC Berkeley in the 70s, but not long after you went to OK. Why did you choose Stillwater in particular?
It was just kind of a fluke. I was hitchhiking my way back to Ponca City, and these guys picked me up in Oklahoma City, and said they’d take me to Ponca, but that they had to stop off in Stillwater. When we did, I ran into a guy that I played music with in high school, and he told me about a party going on that weekend, and one thing or another happened, and I wound up going to hear a guy named Chuck Dunlap play.

His music had something unique about it… it was kinda mystical (laugh), and I thought that’s what I was lookin’ for, and just a weird chain of events happened, and I wound up livin’ down here. A few days after I moved here, Chuck moved in a couple doors down, and we got together, and I suddenly realized that it was like a magical place. The music was unlike that I hadn’t encountered anywhere else.

3. You came from a non-musical family, (according to Binky Records bio) at what point did you become interested in music?
That’s from the Binky bio isn’t it? That thing is full of wrong stuff (laugh), I think he must’ve made that up… there’s lots of musicians in my family, so I don’t know wherever he got that idea. (laugh)

Although the bio says I'm retired, I’d say that I'm semi-retired. Of course, I'm still writing, and playing more than I have in awhile. I'm just not actively seeking gigs. I haven’t done that for four or five years, and things seem to have gone better. If someone calls me, I’ll go there, but I don’t look for gigs. And I don’t do sound, so that just cut out a lot of the BS type gigs. I don’t look to that to make my livin’ anymore, so things just got a lot better when I said no more crap. (laugh)

I finally said that I'm not going to put up with the nonsense anymore of talking to people to let me play. I’ve never found anyone… a lot of people have said they wanted to, but there’s just so very few good promoters and booking agents out there. I’ve always said that all Red Dirt needs is a colonel. If we had a Colonel Parker, or a Bill Graham, it would be huge music, because there are plenty of musicians and songwriters. I think it takes a lot of faith to live this life.

4. Who are some of your biggest musical and life influences?
Woody Guthrie, Neil Young, Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, man… there’s been an awful lot of them that I’ve admired over the years, but those are probably the basic ones right there.

5. How much of an influence do you feel that Woody Guthrie has been on Red Dirt artists?
Tremendous influence. I think Woody for all of us just brought it home. You hear Woody and you think, ‘I can do that,’ and it’s deceptive. His music is deceptive, because you don’t realize how deep it is until you get into it. It just sounds so simple, and every day. You get the second book, and the third book, and that’s how I’d like mine to be… where it’s just right there, accessible, and close to the ground, but it says more. Woody has made us realize we could do that, and made us want to do that.

6. How would you define Red Dirt Music?
It’s an attitude. I’ve been asked to define it several times, and it’s a hard thing to do. I think I know it when I hear it… but it’s just an attitude that we can do it however we want to, and there’s a lot of good will in it, a lot of hope and optimism.

7. In what ways do you feel that Red Dirt Music has evolved over the years?
Well, I don’t know exactly how you’d say that, because music is eternal. The music we’re playing has been played for probably 7,000 years. It’s gotten stronger as it’s gained acceptance, and I don’t know if you can talk about music like this, but it’s gotten more self-confident. Part of what made it Red Dirt music is that it’s always been close the ground, you know? And it seems like you can write about a lot of stuff than, ‘My baby done left me,’ and the traditional subjects of what those songs are about. That’s all stuff that people have to deal with, and if you want to know what overkill is about, take a look at Nashville. (laugh)

8. What do you feel are the main differences between “Red Dirt” and “Texas Music?"
I don’t know if there is that much difference really. I know we’ve learned a lot from the Texas guys, and they’ve probably learned a lot from us. There’s some great singers and songwriters who are originally from Oklahoma, that everyone thinks are from Texas – Jimmy LaFave, Alvin Crow are a couple. If you’re not interested in football, then what the hell. (laugh)

9. After two successful albums, you moved to Nashville in 1986. What was so alluring about Nashville that made you want to pursue music there, rather than in Oklahoma?
At that time, I had a wife and two kids, and needed to make a livin’ and it couldn’t be done around Oklahoma. I had been touring colleges on the East Coast, and that was pretty good, but I felt like I was gettin’ too old to count on performin’ and I really wanted to dig into the songwriter thing.

I met a guy down there through Chuck Dunlap… he turned me onto Kevin Welch and he thought it was a good time to come down, because things were in transition, and that there was more opportunity. Mostly, it was that I needed to make it pay, and I had a lot of mixed feelings about it. A lot of people slam Nashville because of the tip of the iceberg… the whole CMT sort of mentality – but there’s a lot more goin’on down there than that… and I wanted to see if it could be done. I wanted to learn more about writin’, because I hadn’t written any good country songs…. I didn’t think I had. I had a pretty good time down there… I saw Nashville as my own personal amusement park.

10. How was your music received in Nashville?
Everybody seemed to like what I was doin’, but nobody knew what to do with it. (laugh) My latest project when I went down there was Four Horsemen, which was definitely not country. It was pretty out there… and everyone liked it. Infact, when I got to town, Kevin said he thought I had the ability, but that I had to write a whole new batch of songs. That’s what I started doing… I accepted the challenge of trying to do it their way, but my way too – to see if I could pull it off, rather than saying, ‘These guys are so screwed up,’ so I just tried to slip one in on them. (laugh)

11. What’s your opinion of the current Nashville scene?
I try to pay attention to what’s going on down there, but it just doesn’t hold my attention. It’s the same thing they’ve always done… but if something works they beat it to death. It’s hard to believe now that when Garth hit town, it was a radical departure from what was going on. I kinda tried his approach… he sorta burrowed in, and made his changes from the inside. Suddenly, after he started bein’ successful doin’ things a bit different, then you have 100 people soundin’ like Garth. They’re out there tryin’ to make money, so they really can’t take too many chances.

12. Lately, a lot of Red Dirt artists (IE Cross Canadian Ragweed, Jason Boland, etc) have been finding a tremendous amount of success within the “Texas scene.” How do you feel that these groups have helped advance the Red Dirt scene?
Well, the last six weeks or so I’ve been touring Texas with Stoney LaRue, and I'm just amazed at how well known we all are, and how well the music is going over. Every once in awhile something will happen that makes me realize it’s getting out there worldwide. I got a letter a couple weeks ago from Sweden, and one from Belgium of people wanting a copy of my new CD (Live at The Blue Door). So it is out there, but it’s been the slow way, which is probably better.

Just the other day, I was laughin’ when I was tellin’ someone that when I write my book what it’s going to be about is how I have so much without dealin’ with the BS of bein’ rich of famous. (laugh) There’s a lot of baggage that comes with both of those things, and I’ve had a pretty good life without those things, but I think I could stand to be a bit richer. (laugh) I'm amazed how many people are aware of us, and this last six weeks in Texas has really brought it home.

13. Are there any artists and bands in the Red Dirt scene now that you feel are “on the verge” of breaking out and making a name for themselves, and if so, who?
Stoney, but he’s pretty much broken out. There’s just a lot of them right now. It seems like everytime I go out, I meet some young guy who says hey I'm a songwriter, would you look at my stuff, or would you like to co-write? I’d say right now… there’s a band out here called No Justice that I have my eye on. Steve Rice is Brad Rice’s brother… Brad is the drummer in the Stragglers. I think they’ll be the next ones out of the chute. It’s like Skinner says, “You can’t swing a dead rat in this town without hittin’ a songwriter.” (laugh) But, I’ve heard No Justice several times, and I’d say they’re comin’ on pretty strong.

14. What kind of impact do you feel that Texas artists have had on the Red Dirt scene and vice versa?
The Flatlanders… I love the way Butch Hancock writes…the first time I heard him, I thought it was Dylan, and he’s obviously influenced by the same type deal, and there’s Guy Clark, and Rodney Crowell…when I start thinkin’ about those guys, I just want to hang it up, you know? I'm sure there’s a bunch of new ones that are just as mind-boggling. But those guys influenced me at a time where I needed to be influenced. I think they influenced us all.

15. There seems to be this kinship among Red Dirt musicians. How would you describe the relationship that y’all have?
At a certain point, we all realize… or some of us realize that if we work together… it’s just a big ole’ family, and we have a lot of fun makin’ music together, and hangin’ out together. I think we realized at a certain point that we go a lot further as a team, than we could by competing in an unhealthy way. Like, the first time I came to Stillwater, you’d never hear one band say something good about another band… it was a real tough competition.

16. You and Jimmy LaFave have been pretty close since you first moved to Stillwater, around ’81 or so. How did y’all first meet up?
He had a little place down on the strip called, Up Your Alley. He played of course, but he hired a lot of different types of musicians….one day someone told me about it, and I just walked in there one day, and the minute I walked in the door he told me to go get my guitar. At that time I had never been out by myself as a singer/songwriter. I started giggin’ there, and we just saw a lot of things the same way, and he had this incredible voice, so I started pitchin’ songs to him.. he was one of the first ones who started singin’ them… we just have managed to stay connected somehow.

17. How would you describe your relationship with LaFave? Do you have any future projects planned with him?
I'm going out on the road with Jimmy for about half of January, and all of February all over the country, four shows in California, and off to Minnesota… I'm the narrator of the show.

18. What inspires you to write?
I don’t know. (laugh) I don’t even really know how I got started. I just started doing it, and one thing leads to another. There’s nothin’ quite like finishin’ a song, and feelin’ like it’s a good song.. it’s the most gratifying thing. It could be anything that triggers it… just hearin’ a good line, drivin’ down the highway… I’ll start repeatin’ things in my mind to keep myself amused and awake.

19. How do you approach co-writes?
That’s as varied as writing myself. It just depends on the co-writer. Stuff I’ve written with Mike McClure we’ve done over the phone, and with Jimmy we don’t sit down together either… McClure and I have… but we’ll swap ideas and go off and work on it… or like with John Cooper (Red Dirt Rangers), we’ll just sit here with our guitars, and thrash it out, and have a few beers while we’re doin’ it.

20. Can you give us the stories behind:
- Tennessee Whiskey: I wrote that song when I lived in Talequah, and was gettin’ ready to move to Nashville. There was this competition between Austin and Nashville… some polarization or something, and I just wanted to symbolize that a bit. I was sittin’ down on the river one day, and this little creek was runnin’ down the hill and had a rhythm to it.. and I started playin’ along with the creek, and the song just came out.

I had forgotten all about it until about three years ago, I was ridin’ up to Winfield for the bluegrass festival with Boland. We were talkin’ and somehow it came up, and I said, ‘Hey I have this song,’ and I told him the lyrics, and he liked it… and when we got up there I got out of the car, and played it for him.

- Dance With The Gypsies: I was livin’ in Pawhuska, and I had an extra bedroom… I was married at the time, and it was getting’ to that point in the marriage where things were gettin’ kinda strange. In this extra bedroom I had built into a studio and shop… and I liked to work on guitars. I had put this guitar back together, and I started playin’ that little thing… I don’t know where it came from… out of the air or something I guess, and my wife came upstairs and said, ‘What’s that?’ I said it’s this little gypsy thing…there’s not much to it, and she asked me to keep playin’ that.

A little bit later I forgot about it, and went on to somethin’ else and probably would’ve never played it again, until she came up and asked me to play it again for her. She did that enough times over the course of that day, and that weekend that it kinda stuck in my head, and I figured that I should at least come up with enough words for it, so I could remember the melody. The next day I was playing in Talequah with Greg Jacobs, and I stopped in Tulsa to see my friend Kurt Nielsen, and he just learned it immdediately… he just went wild about it. It’s just one of those songs that has an immediate impact on people… it resonates with them. I guess we all have a little gypsy in us.

21. Are there any plans for a new studio album?
The thing we’ve been talkin’ about for awhile is a project with Randy Crouch. We’re thinkin’ about both contributin’ some songs and it looks like we may have it all lined up… it’s just a matter of goin’ into the studio and gettin’ it done. I would love to do another ‘Nothin’ More Natural’ but who knows when the opportunity will come up. I’ve got plenty of songs, that’s always the frustratin’ part… I always write more than I can ever get recorded. It’s like a disease… they keep comin’. (laugh)

22. Religion seems to play a huge role in many of the Red Dirt artists’ lives. How big of a part does it play in your life?
Well, I'm kinda anti-religion. I'm real big on faith, I believe in God, I don’t see how anyone could not. But as far as organized religion and dogma, and all that… I'm not real big on that. I have a real mystical feeling about things, especially music. I believe that I can talk to God myself, and I don’t need someone else to do it for me.

23. What are some of the toughest challenges you’ve faced, both personally, and musically and how have you overcome them?
Musically, just so many people tellin’ me I can’t make it that way. You have to get to the point where you’re the only one you trust. At first people said, ‘Naw, you don’t have it,’ and I said I don’t care, I still enjoy it and I'm gonna do it anyways. All I want to do is to be able play a song all the way through, and of course the next thing you want to do is play two songs, then write a song, and then you want to be a part of a band.. and it leads you on. Positive feedback is good, and negative feedback is good because it keeps you honest with yourself.

Personally, the divorces. Those were always shattering. (laugh) You always feel like such a failure, especially when kids are involved. But you have to go on.. I guess the only way you can deal with that is to suffer through until you realize that’s the way it is.

24. What do you find pleasure in when you’re away from the music?
Not much. (laugh) I like to take walks in the woods, I like to play solitaire on the computer, I like to read, watch TV, hang out. I enjoy just about everything I'm doin. I'm old enough now that I don’t bitch a whole lot… but I reserve the right to. (laugh)

25. Where do you see the future of Red Dirt Music going?
Well, it’s just going to keep growin’ I think until it gets to the point where it’s the establishment, and then it’ll collapse, and something new will come along. It seems like it gains strength every year though… so I hope it will always be viable.

26. What advice do you have for aspiring singers/songwriters?
Give it up. (laugh) Quit while you still can. (laugh) If you can’t be discouraged, then you should be. It’s a lot tougher than it seems that it would be. I tell these young guys to let me write the songs, because I'm already ruined. But they don’t believe you. There’s a lot more involved than it looks like on the surface… you pay a pretty high price for some of the songs. Dig in, and keep goin. One foot after another. If you believe that’s what you should be doin’, then do it.. no matter what anyone says.

For more info on Bob Childers, please visit

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