In 1994, The Tractors released their debut CD. Thanks to the hit “Baby Likes To Rock It”, the CD became the fastest-selling country group debut to go Platinum in RIAA history. That CD sold over 2 million copies and became the Number One selling debut country CD of the year.
Well, The Tractors are back!! “Farmers in a Changing World” (Arista Records) is their latest release. Lead singer Steve Ripley talked with us about ‘The Tractors”.
Q – Steve, isn’t it rather difficult to be both the singer and the co-producer of The Tractors?
A – Well, I would defer to or refer to, either one, what I think of as the J.J. Cale School of recording, and Leon Russell, both Tulsa guys. We’re students of them, even though they’re not much older. It’s the setting where everything becomes part of the deal, whether it’s putting the strings on the guitar or writing the song, or playing the guitar. Whatever it might be. All of it seems to be as important as any other piece of the puzzle. Sort of like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, only you’re having to make it up as you go along. It’s a different kind of deal. The easiest thing in the world, relatively speaking, is to just be a singer or just be a producer. You, as a producer say, sing now. As the singer, you want for somebody to say that, and then you sing. It’s very stress-free. It’s a bit more like being in the Army I would think.
Q – Would it be fair to say that everyone in the group was hand-picked?
A – If it’s hand-picked, it’s more of the act of God or twist of fate. It wasn’t that case at all. I was living in California for a long time and various things. I was out there with Leon and then played with Bob Dylan. I built guitars for a while. The other guitar player, Ron Getman, had been living on the East Coast and he coincidentally decided it was time for him to move home. That was the beginning point. Then it was a case of looking around to see what old friends were here. It really was a case of calling old friends. We’d known each other for a long time. It wasn’t any kind of audition process. If you want to lay it on somebody, it all comes to me. I’m the guy sitting in the building calling people, and saying, come over and play. I was the center of it. It seems pretty silly, but I was the only one who had a vision for a Tractor (Laughs).
Q – Did you come up with the name The Tractors?
A -1 worked for a guy named Jim Halsey, as an in-house producer. I was a part of the Halsey family. Now, skip ahead, and I was playing with Dylan. I was playing new songs to Halsey’s kid. In that meeting, the name came up and from then on, I thought that sums it up. It came out of his mouth. I always give him credit for it. It just seemed like, I did grow up driving a tractor, and the image you get is maybe a slow-moving, but powerful machine. It’s a silly name I think, but, it does conjure up the image for me and most people, I think.
Q – It would seem a natural fit for a country group, but it also sounds like you could be poking fun at country music.
A- In the beginning perhaps they didn’t know if we were true lovers of Porter Wagner or not. But it goes by the way side, If you listen to us. It’s not all schtick. I loved Hank Williams and Bob Wills from age 3 on. That’s what we’re doing. Along comes Chuck Berry and Elvis and you mix it up with James Brown and Ray Charles and Buck Owens, and that’s the deal. And, that happens in Oklahoma. I’m not sure how it was around the rest of the country, but the radio played all of those folks right alongside each other.
Q – Does this band tour and where?
A – We take way too long to make records, and it’s a real problem. We toured all over the country in ’95, and went to Europe twice. We should be going on tour now, but, it’s a six month advance deal when you set up those bookings. So, we’re taking dates for the fall. In country music, you play a lot of fairs and festivals, and we’ll do all of that stuff. That’s really where all my energies are going right now. The tour, the bookings.
Q – How’d you get your start?
A -1 grew up on a farm, and played in bands starting at 14. Everybody played guitar, it seemed. I played mostly fraternity parties and bars. It’s a weird thing I suppose that goes on everywhere. You can get in and they’ll buy you drinks, which I didn’t take. Fortunately I didn’t go down that path. They’ll pat you on the back at age sixteen, but you couldn’t possibly get in there if you weren’t holding a guitar. It’s an odd thing. I remember playing a club at a Holiday Inn for weeks, at probably 14 or 15. So we just did the same thing the Beatles were doing in England. We were playing the same songs, Johnny B. Goode, and you can list ’em right out. I struggled through Crosby, Stills and Nash and Chicago and liked it. Then when Journey, Kiss, Foreigner and Styx hit, I actually quit playing in bands. That’s when I built my first studio. I didn’t like it. I never liked it. I don’t think it’s rock ‘n roll. But, that rock ballad thing was about as far away from what we thought of as rock ‘n roll. I think it’s such a goofy thing. I saw an old video the other night of Guns ‘n Roses, and I’m thinking, are they kidding? They’re tattooed up, and all the moves, like they’re the meanest bunch of rock ‘n rollers you’ve ever seen, but-the songs like ‘I Gave My Love A Cherry.’ It’s like an acoustic guitar folk song.
Q – You have a track on the CD called “The Elvis Thing” that you recorded with the help of Elvis Sidemen, James Burton, Scotty Moore, and D.J. Fontana. What was it like to be in the studio with those guys?
A – Well, I hate to say a dream came true but, it was very Rod Serling sort of. It was my own little Twilight Zone. As a little kid, I can remember trying to explain to them how I knew an Elvis record before he started to sing. There was something about the sound. This would be when I was 5 or 6 years old. Scotty and D.J. were a big part of that sound, as Elvis was. To have James, Scotty, and D.J. in the studio participating in the recording of The Elvis Thing certainly comes under the heading of full circle. It was a great thing. And, we’d gotten to know them all before that, so, it wasn’t like that’s when I met them. I included them as a portion of the writers because although it’s not an Elvis group, it’s certainly a part of all of our lives. It certainly is mine. Their participation has been with me since before I started, at age four.
Q – You built guitars for Eddie Van Halen. I thought Eddie Van Halen built his own guitars.
A – Well, there was a point when I was working for Leon that I came up with a different take on an electric guitar. I just did it for myself, and I started looking around for some guitar players to show it to. One of my favorites at the time was Ry Cooder. Leon was hooked up with Warner Bros. And I was reading the Warner Bros. Magazine and here’s this guy, Eddie Van Halen, that had been launched, and they were calling him the world’s greatest guitar player. It was part of that thing I didn’t listen to any more, that sort of rock ‘n roll. So, it took me two years to find him, and it came about through a mutual friend. All of a sudden it was Edward on the phone. We just became best of friends. I don’t how many guitars Edward bought probably just masses of them. He was a big supporter of my little company. Were still really good friends and I talked to him just last week.