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The Tractors plow ahead

By Jeffrey B. Remz, November 1998

The first time around, The Tractors sent intermittent postcards to their record company, announcing they were on the right track to finishing their debut.

The Tractors were not exactly speed demons when it came to the recording process. Then again, maybe there's something to be said for that, given their ultra-catchy song that stayed on the airwaves and videos stations for a long long time, "Baby Likes to Rock It," sales of a few million and award nominations.

Slow forward to 1998. Arista honchos weren't holding their breaths for a second regular album being done soon.

No postcards this time from the Tulsa-based Tractors.

"Just getting done is a reason for celebrating," says lead singer and lead Tractor Steve Ripley, who takes the bull by the horns in raising the question himself about the gap in between the debut and "Farmers in a Changing World," out Nov. 3.

"That's the first goal - just getting it done whereas most people's goal may be ultimate perfection. So, we pat ourselves on getting it done."

While some have thought this is the group's second album, "Have Yourself a Tractors Christmas" came out in 1995, the product of only three weeks in the studio.

"We got off the road in October of 1995, and I actually started then," Ripley says of the third album. "Some of that though was deciding whether, if any, new equipment (was needed)."

The studio is where The Tractors - keyboardist Walt Richmond, bassist Casey Van Beek, guitarist Ron Getman, drummer Jamie Oldaker and Ripley - do their thing.

Oldaker, at one time Eric Clapton's drummer, was managing Ronnie Dunn, pre-Brooks & Dunn. Dunn's band members included the other Tractors, all with long experience. Richmond played with Bonnie Raitt, Van Beek with Linda Ronstadt and Getman with Leonard Cohen. The Tractors are not youngsters with Oldaker the youngest at 47 and Van Beek the oldest at 56 in December.

The band was put together in 1988. "We hadn't played at all when we made the first record. We were old friends that had gathered around the studio," Ripley says.

Ripley, who grew up on a wheat farm, met Getman in college. Ripley later worked with Leon Russell and made guitars for seven years, spending time on the West Coast. Ripley and family returned in 1987, the same time Getman moved back from New York.

"That was the real impetus for the whole deal," Ripley says.

A deal was hatched with Arista by 1990.

Four long years later, The Tractors were all over radio and TV with "Baby Likes To Rock It" despite the song never even cracking the Top 10.

Follow-up singles did not chart highly.

The group completed "Farmers..." in mid-July and released it in early November.

"It's a stretched-out process in that everything is done in the studio," says Ripley, who did guitar duty with Bob Dylan about 15 years ago. "Saying the songwriting is done is one thing everybody would understand. I think Leon Russell style or J.J. Cale style is done in the studio. Especially when you think the Tulsa style where the studio is in your house. You write in the studio. I'm here long hours. I sometimes even sleep on the couch. It's long hours. We kind of have to invent the process as we go along."

The 11-song disc is stylistically similar to the debut. There's some country, rockabilly, blues and a Chuck Berry feel to the proceedings. Even Elvis in more ways than one.

The hyperactive chugging sound of "Baby Likes To Rock It' is present on several songs.

"We 're doing the same thing," Ripley says. "That's our goal with this album - to make it as familiar and friendly as the first album. If you've heard Chuck Berry as we did and loved him, then you'd recognize a lot of guitar lines or Hank Williams or Buck Owens or Johnny Cash. If you never heard of any of those guys, then we get to be the fortunate guys who get to give them a little bit of it for the first time."

The sense of humor hasn't been lost over the years. To wit, the first single, "Shortenin' Bread." Yup, the children's song,

Ripley calls the song the "ultimate roots music for us. It kind of pervades country and R&B. Chuck Berry grooves."

The band had thought about doing the song for awhile. While in the studio, Ripley said the band should try it.

"Then the next day, I called Casey and Walt and said, 'let's just do 'Shortenin' Bread.'' You put your tongue firmly in your cheek and see what happens. 'Shortenin' Bread' is (played) with a Little Richard piano with one eighth notes. It's what works for us."

The closing song is a hidden track, "Hale Bopp Boogie," which takes off.

"First of all the name we loved because it sounds like both Bill Haley and bop music," Ripley says. "Everybody was focused on it (when the comet was out. We wanted to) get the song done real fast. In pure Tractors fashion, when the song was done, the comet was long gone."

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton also was focused on it because her saying "Hale Bopp" is sampled in the song.

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