The Tractors plow ahead – November 1998
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The Tractors plow ahead  Print

By Jeffrey B. Remz, November 1998

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"I love them, and they can be on (our) record," Ripley says. "I sent a copy to the White House and got a letter from Bill Clinton 'thanks for sharing your music,' but I don't think he ever really listened to it."

While the new disc is not as political as the debut, the lively "Poor Boy Shuffle" adapts a lower class perspective. "Everybody likes to use dance as a metaphor for life," Ripley says. "We're all doing it, but we all might as well be happy."

As for the Elvis connection, that runs several layers deep. First, is the song, "The Elvis Thing." The song points to the King as one of the key players of the 20th century.

"'The Elvis Thing' I suppose as close to the story of my life," Ripley says. "It's a bit autobiographical, at least the second verse. It takes the point that the pivotal point in this century was the Elvis thing and a big part of that was Elvis...I see it as a pivotal point of my life."

"1956 was a big year for music because that's when the Elvis deal started," he says.

The song is followed by a snippet of Elvis' "Mystery Train." Playing on both are DJ Fontana, James Burton and Scotty Moore, former sidemen for Elvis.

"Scotty started the song as only he could play," Ripley says. "Half-way through, James plays his version of his lick. It was a great thing. They came and played their hearts out, and it was great. Kind of overwhelming."

"I told them it wasn't really an Elvis groove. Really about the deal, and they were part of the deal."

"I keep joking we should make Guinness for the most Elvis guitarists in one record."

The Tractors put a lot of thought about what goes where in a song. They are creatures of the studio. They may take snippets and put them where they seem to fit in a song, maybe even years later.

The late Eldon Shamblin, for example, played on the disc. But due to being ill, the former Texas Playboy was unable to record. So Ripley decided to take recordings Shamblin made for "Doreen" on the first disc and used them here on "Way Too Late."

"It's not weird to us that we take a guy who's dead and put him on our record," Ripley says. "It's archival work. It's a bunch of noises and we put it on a record."

The group's intent is get as many first takes as possible in the studio. "One of the greatest ironies is it takes a long time to get an album's (worth of songs)," Ripley says.

"The first thoughts are always the best," he says. "You can't recreate something. That's why I cringe when someone plays me a demo, but not quite good enough to be a record because it's recorded on a poor machine...You can't make a record and do it again because you can't do it again. It ain't going to work. You can't play today and say okay I'll do it again tomorrow. We try real hard. I roll tape all the time. That's the Leon Russell school of recording. I try to record when the guys walk in the room."

"We hopefully get that first idea. Whatever the guy plays the first time, however we can get from a mistake free (recording), that's going to be the best. You're going to have a mass of tape because you're recording all this stuff, and then you have the time consuming thing of editing later."

The next record from The Tractors may not take so long. Ripley says the band intends to hit the road next year for a tour of honky tonks and put out a live disc before heading back into the studio.

The road has been unchartered territory in recent years. Since 1995, The Tractors have played exactly two live dates.

"We are in the recording business is the business we are in," Ripley says. "It's a little bit different than it's viewed. That's what we are doing is making records. If you're touring, the end of that road is Las Vegas. It has nothing to do with the recording business...If you don't somewhere along the line get good at writing songs, you don't (belong) in the music business."

"All that stuff is done in the studio," Ripley says. "In Tulsa, that's what you do is record. It's not like you set a month aside to record. When you're home, you're recording. Generally, everybody has a studio at their house."

Ripley acknowledges the uncertainty of how "Farmers..." will be received. "Yeah, it's the great unknown. There is still a chasm between here and selling any records. It's all geared whether anybody wants to take you home. Everything is focused around. If you don't sell any records you can't make another one."

"You work all your life, and you get the first record deal. You have the Grand Canyon in front of you in making the first record. You make it, our surprise we sold 2 million of them. We're faced with a different kind of black hole. It still keeps moving up ahead of you."

"You have no idea how anybody's going to hear this," says Ripley.

But he thinks the long gaps may benefit The Tractors. "That's the greatest thing I learn form Dylan. You can't come back if you don't go away."

"You can put out too much product. You appear to put out product for product's sake. You might as well put the spin that works best for you. We're not in your face all the time."

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