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One thing you can say about Riders In The Sky: we brought the phrase “The Cowboy Way” into the conversation. You hear it referenced all over the place these days, but where did it begin? Here’s Too Slim’s recollection...

The phrase “The Cowboy Way” dates back to a Riders In The Sky show at a bar in Tuscaloosa, Alabama around 1978 or ’79. We were stuck back in a dimly lit corner, playing our beloved cowboy songs for an “audience” of 25 or 30 semi-inebriates, trying to be heard above the loud talking, flirting, clinking, Osterizing, and general beer joint hubbub.

We had just learned and been greatly saddened by the news that Red Sovine, a country music artist who gave the world truck drivin’ classics like “Giddy Up Go,” “Phantom 309,” and, the greatest of the tearful recitations, “Teddy Bear,” had eased up the road to that Great Truck Stop in the Sky. I stood at the microphone and dedicated a song to Red, because although “He wasn’t a cowboy, he did it...” and at this point Ranger Doug, probably the only person listening to me, looked at me with a great grin, as we said, more or less together...”the Cowboy Way.”

This struck us as profound and profoundly funny. Ad-libs sometimes take on a life of their own, becoming part of the show, and that was the case with “The Cowboy Way.” We began using it every night, contrasting it with “The Easy Way,” as in “It would be The Easy Way to not sign autographs after the show; to leave the stage and hop right into the waiting hot-tub with the Keno girls. But it wouldn’t be...The Cowboy Way!” We began striking an heroic pose with these words, punctuating the joke with a visual sting.

But it was more than a joke. “The Cowboy Way” encapsulated Riders’ appeal in a marvelous shorthand. We are about respecting, recreating and adding to a musical and comedic tradition, i.e. the music and hi-jinks of Hollywood’s singing cowboys of the 30’s and 40’s while viewing it in through a post-modern lens of contemporary, culturally referential humor. But the reason “The Cowboy Way” survives and flourishes is the same reason Riders In The Sky survive: at its heart is a friendly decency and, in an ever shifting cultural landscape, an unmovable, unshakable core and moral code. This code reminds us of lessons we learned as children from our cowboy heroes: to take responsibility for our actions; to be cheerful, helpful, and hard-working; to lend a hand to folks in need; to take life dead seriously and not seriously at all; and, when in doubt, yodel.

Happy Birthday, Riders In The Sky!

----Too Slim

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