Country Chatter

Steve Ripley of The Tractors Dies at 69

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Steve Ripley, the leader of the 90’s country band The Tractors, died after a battle with cancer on Thursday, January 3 at his home in Pawnee, Oklahoma. He was 69 years old.

Ripley is best known for his time with The Tractors but had many other credits on his resume. He was also a songwriter, producer, engineer, studio owner, radio host and inventor of the “stereo guitar” favored by such fellow musicians as Eddie Van Halen, Ry Cooder and Dweezil Zappa. He collaborated on the stereo guitar along with Van Halen and started the company Ripley Guitars. The two forged what became a lifelong friendship that lasted until Ripley’s final days.

“For more than 35 years I’ve been fortunate to call Steve Ripley one of my true friends,” says Van Halen. “Steve is many things. Part genius, part musician, part inventor and many other great things, but my favorite thing about Steve is the wonderful, kind, humble human being he is and always will be. I love Steve with all my heart and am proud to know him.”

He also had the opportunity to play for one of his biggest musical heroes, Bob Dylan. Ripley’s “Dylan connection” was his friend, legendary drummer for the stars (and Tulsa native) Jim Keltner, who was also playing with Dylan at the time. Ripley played guitar on the Dylan album Shot Of Love and jetting off on a world tour, played in Dylan’s band as well. In a 2009 interview for Rolling Stone, Dylan recalled Ripley as one of his favorite guitar bandmates.

In 1994, The Tractors took the country music world by storm with their debut self- titled album, which was a blend of Ripley’s influences from the western swing of Bob Wills and traditional country styling of Hank Williams to the emergence of Chuck Berry and what Ripley called “the Elvis thing.” The Tractors’ debut album shocked the contemporary country world at the time by going platinum faster than any debut album by a country group in history, and eventually achieving double-platinum status. The album garnered two Grammy nominations, won CMA Video of the Year for its smash single, “Baby Likes to Rock It” and to this day is still the top-selling record of all time for a work recorded in Oklahoma.

In 2005, Ripley and Charlene moved back out to the Pawnee County farm where he was raised and grew it to compound with a guitar shop and recording studio dubbed “The Farm.” He continued recording music, including a collaboration with the Red Dirt Rangers titled Ripley and The Rangers, and a full length LP for The Red Dirt Rangers as well.

He is survived by his wife Charlene, children Elvis Ripley and Angelene Ripley Wright, son-in-law Jonny Wright, grandson Mickey Wilder Ripley Wright, and brothers Scott Ripley and Bobby Ripley and their families. 

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