Riders in the Sky (band)

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Riders in the Sky
Riders in the Sky appearing at the Ponca Theatre in Ponca City, Oklahoma on September 29, 2007 at a concert commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Gene Autry. From left to right are Joey the Cow Polka King, Woody Paul, Ranger Doug and Too Slim.
Riders in the Sky appearing at the Ponca Theatre in Ponca City, Oklahoma on September 29, 2007 at a concert commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Gene Autry. From left to right are Joey the Cow Polka King, Woody Paul, Ranger Doug and Too Slim.
Background information
OriginNashville, TN
Years active1977–present
LabelsRounder, MCA, CBS, Epic, Walt Disney, Rykodisc
MembersDouglas B. Green
Woody Paul
Fred LaBour
Joey Miskulin
Past members"Windy Bill" Collins
Tumbleweed Tommy

Riders in the Sky is an American Western music and comedy group which began performing in 1977.[1] The band has released more than 40 full length albums, starred in a single-season self-titled television series on CBS, wrote and starred in an NPR syndicated radio drama Riders Radio Theater, and appeared in television series and films including as featured contributors to Ken Burns' Country Music. Their family-friendly style also appeals to children, exemplified in their recordings for Disney and Pixar. They have won two Grammy Awards and have written and performed music for major motion pictures, including "Woody's Roundup" from Toy Story 2 and Pixar's short film, For the Birds. The band also recorded full length companion albums for Toy Story 2 and Monsters, Inc.


Early years (1977–1979)[edit]

The Riders first performed on November 11, 1977 at Herr Harry's Frank N' Steins in Nashville, TN. For this first performance, the Riders consisted of Deputy Doug (Douglas B. Green), Windy Bill Collins, and Fred LaBour. Happy with the crowds reaction, the Riders performed for the second time at Herr Harry's the next evening. Between the second and third performances, the band still didn't have a name, but that changed in December 1977, when Fred LaBour found a copy of The Sons of The Pioneers album Riders in the Sky. When LaBour saw the album, he immediately called Green and told him that Riders In The Sky should be the band's name. Green agreed and from their third performance on, they were officially billed as Riders In The Sky. In 1978, Bill Collins left the Riders shortly after "Tumbleweed Tommy" Goldsmith joined. Shortly after Collins left, "Woody Paul" Chrisman also joined the band. In mid-1979, Tommy Goldsmith left the Riders shortly before the recording of their first album, which would become Three on the Trail. Goldsmith would perform on the Riders' second album, Cowboy Jubilee, in 1980, but not as a member of the band.

Rise in popularity (1980–1989)[edit]

Induction into the Grand Ole Opry (1982)[edit]

In 1982, Doug Green wrote a letter to Hal Durham, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, telling him the Riders would like to join. Durham responded favorably; western music was under-represented in the Opry, and it wouldn't conflict with the other materials and performances already in the Opry. After 26 appearances as a guest act, the Riders were officially inducted into the Opry on June 19, 1982.

Tumbleweed Theater (1983–1988)[edit]

In late 1982, the Riders were approached by Steve Arwood and Randy Hale to host a television show on The Nashville Network (which had not begun broadcasting yet) called Tumbleweed Theater. The premise of the show was that their 90-minute program would show heavily edited public domain "B-Westerns" of the 1930s and 40s with Riders In The Sky performing skits and songs before, in between, and after the films. After screening the movie that would be featured in the episode, Arwood and Fred LaBour wrote the sketches that played between the films, with many of the skits carrying over to the Riders' live shows and albums. Tumbleweed Theater premiered March 12, 1983, and continued for five seasons overall, the last two consisting of repackaged skits and songs.

Sweet Dreams & Wild Horses (1985)[edit]

In 1985, the Riders made their Hollywood debut when the trio landed parts in Sweet Dreams, a biographical film about the life of Patsy Cline. The band played The Jordanaires, although in the film they are never mentioned by name. After filming their part for Sweet Dreams, the Riders appeared as themselves in the made-for-television Kenny Rogers movie Wild Horses, where they performed their original compositions "Here Comes The Santa Fe" and "Blue Bonnet Lady" during a party scene.

Riders Radio Theater (1988–1995)[edit]

Beginning in 1988, Riders In The Sky were the stars of Riders Radio Theater, a weekly radio show written by Fred LaBour and Steve Arwood (now going by the stagename Texas Bix Bender) that was essentially the Tumbleweed Theater television show minus the "B-Western" films. The half-hour show was taped at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville for the first year of episodes, but later moved to Cincinnati, Ohio beginning in 1989. The weekly show was canceled in 1995, but later came back as occasional specials beginning in 1998.


CBS Children's show (1991)[edit]

In 1990, CBS approached the Riders to do a Saturday morning television show that would later be described as "Pee-Wee's Playhouse meets the wild west". Only airing for one season (a total of 13 episodes) due to low ratings and weekly schedule changes, the show was written by George McGrath instead of the Riders themselves. Fred LaBour reflected on the show, saying "Everything we've had a hand in writing had been a success, we didn't have a hand in that, and it wasn't." The show premiered on September 14, 1991 as Riders In The Sky (although it has also been referred to as Saturday Mornings With Riders In The Sky).

Toy Story 2 and Grammys (1998–2002)[edit]

In 1998, Ash Brannon recommended to Disney and Pixar executives that Riders In The Sky be the performers of "Woody's Round-Up" for their upcoming film Toy Story 2. The executives were so impressed with the Riders' performance, they had the Riders create a tie-in album around the characters of Toy Story 2 called Woody's Roundup: A Rootin' Tootin' Collection of Woody's Favorite Songs. The album won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Album for Children at the Grammy Awards of 2001.

After the success of the Woody's Round-Up album, the Riders were called back into Pixar in 2002 to do another tie-in album, except based on Pixar's latest film: Monsters, Inc. The album, titled Monsters, Inc. Scream Factory Favorites, won the Riders a second Grammy Award for Best Musical Album for Children at the Grammy Awards of 2003.

In animated form (2003–2015)[edit]

The Riders made their animated debut in 2003, in the Warner Bros. animated series Duck Dodgers, where they played a robot band modeled after themselves. Their second animated appearance was in Disney's direct-to-DVD animated adventure children's film titled Stanley's Dinosaur Round-Up. Their most recent animated role was in the Kickstarter-funded film Cartoon Cowboys by WonderVista Studios. Cartoon Cowboys borrows heavily from Riders Radio Theater, including characters from the show and the Riders having the same personalities as their radio counterparts.

YellaWood spokesmen (2009)[edit]

The Riders appeared as musical spokesmen in a series of YellaWood commercials, which re-united the Riders with Steve Arwood (once again playing Texas Bix Bender) and featured a set similar to the one seen on Tumbleweed Theater (complete with a blue Studebaker pickup truck and the Riders performing on a Bunkhouse porch). The Riders also performed the theme song for YellaWood's The Adventures of Yella Fella and make cameos in the first episodes of seasons one and two.

Hiatus (2019–2021)[edit]

The Riders in the Sky went on an extended hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, in part because of Miskulin having extended health issues that prevented him from playing. The remaining members declined to make any of their usual Opry appearances during the pandemic; only Ranger Doug continued with any cowboy-related projects during the hiatus. The band resumed performing in 2021. As of 2022, they perform on the Grand Ole Opry several times per month.[2]




  • "Windy Bill" Collins – guitar, vocals (1977–1978)
  • "Tumbleweed Tommy" Goldsmith – guitar, vocals (1978–1979)


Ranger Doug (Douglas B. Green) performs at the Poncan Theatre in Ponca City, Oklahoma on November 7, 2008
Woody Paul (Paul Woodrow Chrisman)
Too Slim (Fred LaBour)
Joey the Cowpolka King (Joey Miskulin)

Riders in the Sky were named Western Music Group of the Year during the Academy of Western Artists 2006 Will Rogers Awards.


Title Type Release date Label
Three on the Trail studio 1979 Rounder Records
Cowboy Jubilee studio 1981 Rounder Records
Prairie Serenade studio 1982 Rounder Records
Weeds & Water studio 1983 Rounder Records
Riders in the Sky, Live live 1984 Rounder Records
Saddle Pals studio 1985 Rounder Records
New Trails studio 1986 Rounder Records
Best of the West (album) best of 1987 Rounder Records
Best of the West Rides Again best of October 25, 1990 Rounder Records
The Cowboy Way (album) live 1987 MCA
Riders Radio Theater (album) studio June 27, 1988 MCA
Riders go Commercial studio June 19, 1989 MCA
Horse Opera studio 1990 MCA
Harmony Ranch studio 1991 CBS
Merry Christmas from Harmony Ranch studio 1992 CBS
Saturday Morning with Riders best of 1992 MCA
Cowboys in Love studio 1994 Epic Records
Always Drink Upstream from the Herd studio October 31, 1995 Rounder Records
Cowboy Songs best of 20 August 1996 Rounder Records
Public Cowboy #1: The Music of Gene Autry tribute October 20, 1996 Rounder Records
Yodel the Cowboy Way best of 1998 Rounder Records
A Great Big Western Howdy! studio July 14, 1998 Rounder Records
Christmas the Cowboy Way studio October 5, 1999 Rounder Records
Woody's Roundup: A Rootin' Tootin' Collection of Woody's Favorite Songs studio August 29, 2000 Disney
A Pair of Kings studio February 19, 2002 Oh Boy Records
Ridin' the Tweetsie Railroad studio 2002 Self Released
Monsters, Inc. Scream Factory Favorites studio August 27, 2002 Disney
Silver Jubilee studio 2003 Acoustic Disc
Riders in the Sky Present: Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier studio August 3, 2004 Rounder Records
Riders in the Sky Live from the Golden Age of Riders Radio Theater studio 2006 Riders Radio Records
Riders in the Sky "Lassoed Live" at the Schermerhorn with the Nashville Symphony live 2009 Nashville Symphony
The Land Beyond The Sun studio 2011 Riders Radio Records
America's Favorite Cowboy Songs studio 2012 Cracker Barrel
Home On The Range (with Wilford Brimley) studio 2013 Riders Radio Records
Riders in the Sky Salute Roy Rogers: King of the Cowboys studio 2016 Riders Radio Records/Too Slims Mercantile
Songs of the Frontier (as Ranger Doug "with a lot of help from Riders in the Sky") studio 2018 Rural Rhythm
Throw A Saddle On A Star studio 2023 Riders Radio Records

Notable filmography[edit]

Year Film Role Notes
1982 Twilight Theater Guest Performers Performer: "That's How The Yodel Was Born"

Miscredited as: "The Rider's In The Sky"

1983–1988 Tumbleweed Theater Themselves/Various Characters TV series
1985 Sweet Dreams The Jordanaires Credited as "Opry Band"
1985 Wild Horses Band at Dance TV movie
1989 Hee Haw Guest Performers Season 22, episode 5 (10/14/1989)
1990 Christmas The Cowboy Way Themselves/Various Characters TV special
1991 Riders In The Sky Themselves TV series (13 episodes)
1993 A Riders In The Sky Christmas Themselves/Various Characters TV special
1995–1996 Riders Radio Theater: The Television Show Themselves/Various Characters Series of TV Specials (Four Episodes)
1998 Barney & Friends Themselves Performer: "How Does He Yodel"

Episode: "Howdy, Friends!"

1999 Toy Story 2 (No On-Screen Appearance) Performer: "Woody's Round-Up"
2001 For The Birds (No On-Screen Appearance) Performer: "Big High Wire Hop"
2003 Country Music: The Spirit of America Themselves
2003 Duck Dodgers Saloon Robot Band Episode: "The Wrath of Canasta"
2005 Stanley's Dinosaur Round-Up Themselves Performer: "Stanley Rides Again"
2015 Music City U.S.A. Themselves


  • Cusic, Don (2003). It's the Cowboy Way!: The Amazing True Adventures of Riders in the Sky. University Press of Kentucky. 306pp. ISBN 9780813128825.


  1. ^ Show 189 of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. The answer to when they first began performing is November 11, 1977 (given 19 minutes into the video). Video includes conversation and performance; taped January 7, 2002. Audio also available at this archive page. Archived March 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Riders Pandemic Word from the Back of the Herd".

External links[edit]