Bob Childers on stage with the Red Dirt Rangers (John Cooper, Brad Piccolo, Ben Han)
at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival
July 11, 2007
November 20, 1946|
West Union, West Virginia
|Origin||Ponca City, Oklahoma, U.S.|
|Died||April 22, 2008
|Genres||Red Dirt, Country, Folk, Bluegrass|
|Labels||Binky Records, Smith Music|
|Associated acts||Woody Guthrie, Jason Boland, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Randy Crouch, The Red Dirt Rangers, No Justice|
Robert Wayne “Bob” Childers (20 November 1946 – 22 April 2008) was an American country-folk musician and singer-songwriter from the state of Oklahoma. Both before and after his death, he achieved widespread critical acclaim having been compared to songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. Childers is often labeled the "father", "grandfather", or "godfather" of the regional Oklahoman music scene known as Red Dirt music.
Biography and works
Childers was born on November 20, 1946, in West Union, West Virginia, to parents Howard and Rhea (Gaskins) Childers. At the age of seven, he and his family moved to Ponca City, Oklahoma. He developed an interest in music and started playing guitar at age 16. After graduating from Ponca City high school he moved even further west and studied music in Berkeley, California. After a stint in California, Childers returned to Oklahoma - this time to Stillwater - where he found "people interested in the natural and supernatural aspects of life and love, and folks not afraid to sing about it."
Childers emerged in 1979 with his debut album titled I Ain't No Jukebox which he recorded with help from friend Jimmy LaFave. The album received many positive reviews and led Childers to begin touring nation-wide. In March 1979, the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor disaster took place. Protestors of Three Mile Island, having heard Childers' song "Sunshine, Wind and Water," invited him to perform at a no-nukes rally in Washington, DC. Childers performed before Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger in front of a crowd estimated to be 65,000 to 100,000 persons.
In 1986, Childers released two albums: Four Horsemen and a collection of instrumental works entitled King David's Lament. While many of his peers had success in Nashville, Childers chose to relocate to Austin, Texas. He then released Circles Toward the Sun (1990). By 1991 Childers had relocated again, back to Oklahoma where he released Nothin' More Natural (1996), Hat Trick (1999) and a fan club collection of rarities La vita è bella - Outtakes, Demos and Jams 1980 - 1988 (2000.) His return to Oklahoma facilitated collaboration with other Red Dirt music artists including Dirt & Spirit with The Great Divide (1999), Two Buffalos Walking - Live At The Blue Door with Terry "Buffalo" Ware (2003), Kindred Spirits with Randy Crouch (2004) and Ride for the Cimarron with Jason Boland and the Stragglers (2006.)
In 2003, Jimmy LaFave produced a Woody Guthrie tribute show called Ribbon of Highway, Endless Skyway. The ensemble show toured around the country and included a rotating cast of singer-songwriters individually performing Guthrie's songs. Interspersed between songs were Guthrie's philosophical writings read by Childers, sometimes called the "Dylan of the dust", who served as the show's narrator.
Later years and death
By 2004, Childers' health was in decline. A long-time smoker, Childers suffered from numerous lung-related ailments including pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (often referred to as "lung disease"). To help Childers with his medical bills, Chris Maxwell of Binky Records spearheaded an effort to raise funds. The result was the 2004 triple-CD compilation album entitled Restless Spirits: A Tribute to the Songs of Bob Childers. The collection features tracks from over fifty performers who donated versions of Childers' songs recorded at their own expense. Childers succumbed to his illnesses on April 22, 2008, in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Tributes and legacy
Five years prior to his death, Childers was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Awards Red Dirt Hall of Fame along with Steve Ripley and Tom Skinner. In an interview with The Current in 2007, Childers said of his songwriting, "I just keep it honest and keep it simple. There really is no secret to writing a song." Even before the release of the tribute box-set Restless Spirits, Childers influence on other song writers was pervasive. The Tulsa World reported that Bob Childers songs have been recorded by more than 200 artists. Many musicians have stated that Childers served as a mentor. Bassist-guitarist Bob Wiles said of Childers, "He was the first older, respected musician to take us seriously, probably when we didn't deserve it. And he encouraged us to take ourselves seriously. He's done that with a lot of bands. Bob is that common thread through us all." When asked what it was like to be a mentor to so many aspiring singer-songwriters, Childers said, "I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. It makes me try a little harder, knowing that people are being influenced. It makes me try to do right a little bit more."
Childers was a regular at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival held every July in Guthrie's hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma. At the 10th annual festival in July 2007, seven "10-year artists" - artists who had participated every year since the festival's inception - performed at a benefit show titled "In the Spirit of Woody Guthrie". Artists included Jimmy LaFave, Don Conoscenti, Ellis Paul, Joel Rafael, Terry "Buffalo" Ware, the Red Dirt Rangers, and Childers.
On July 8, 2008, a special pre-festival Childers tribute show was held at Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa on the evening before the official start of the festival. Performers included Jimmy LaFave, The Burns Sisters, the Red Dirt Rangers, Mike McClure, Joel Rafael, Stoney LaRue and Tom Skinner. In addition, the festival program booklet included a special Bob Childers Memorial Page, and quotes made by his songwriting friends were interspersed as tributes throughout. The Tulsa World announced that Childers would be inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in October 2008 at a gala to be held in Muskogee, Oklahoma. The induction ceremony, held at the Muskogee Civic Center, took place on October 8, 2008. The Red Dirt Rangers and Tom Skinner accepted the award on behalf of Childers.
- Stillwater NewsPress. Robert Wayne “Bob” Childers. April 28, 2008. Retrieved July 29, 2008.
- Wooley, John. Godfather of Red Dirt music returns with disc, a Tulsa show. Tulsa World, Dec. 31, 2002. Retrieved Aug. 4, 2008.
- Mack, Joe. A final farewell to the rainbow rocker. The Current, May 2008, p. 24.
- Payne County Promotions website. Texas Troubadours Interview with Bob Childers. Retrieved Aug. 4, 2008.
- Critter, Chris B. The 'green' beginnings of red dirt. The Current, December, 2008, p. 68-9. Retrieved January 13, 2009.
- Galvin, Mark. Bob Childers releases new CD., Ponca City News, July 5, 1999. Retrieved Aug. 4, 2008.
- Binky Records website. Bob Childers. Retrieved Aug. 4, 2008
- Ribbon of Highway website.Ribbon of Highway website Retrieved Aug. 2, 2008.
- Propaganda Media Group, Inc. Ribbon of Highway - Endless Skyway: Concert in the Spirit of Woody Guthrie. Retrieved Aug. 2, 2008.
- Binky Records website. Restless Spirit: A Tribute to the Songs of Bob Childers. Retrieved Aug. 4, 2008.
- Cranke, Jared F. A True Celebration of Stillwater Music. Stillwater Scene, Vol. 3, No. 6, November 2003. Retrieved Aug. 4, 2008.
- Conner, Thomas. The nominees for Spot Music Award "Best Oklahoma Sound Act" are.... Tulsa World, Oct. 15, 2999. Retrieved Aug. 2, 2008.
- Wooley, John. Red Dirt's music's like a present. You gotta open it up to know what it is. Dec. 15, 2000. Retrieved Aug. 4, 2008.
- Allen, Tony. Bob Childers’ natural music makes latest album soulful. The Daily O'Collegian, May 6, 1997. Retrieved Aug. 4, 2008.
- 10th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. July 11–15, 2007. (Program booklet.)
- Transcript Staff.July 8 tribute to Bob Childers to kick off 11th annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. Norman Transcript. June 26, 2008. Retrieved July 29, 2008.
- 11th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. July 9–13, 2008. (Program booklet.)
- Chancellor, Jennifer. Bob Childers to be inducted into Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. Tulsa World, Aug. 7, 2008. Retrieved Aug. 9, 2008.
- Lang, George. Hall of Fame names Rejects ’08 rising stars. The Oklahoman, Oct. 9, 2008. Retrieved Oct. 9, 2008.
- Galleywinter discussion forum. Rest In Peace Bob Childers the grandfather of Red Dirt Music. April 22, 2008.
- Wooley, John. Jimmy LaFave, Red Dirt's Austin Ambassador. Tulsa World, Jan. 4, 2002. Retrieved Aug. 5, 2008.