The ‘deep and solid’ legacy of Steve Ripley

The legendary musician and Red Dirt music patriarch died Jan. 3, 2019.


Steve Ripley

Courtesy Public Radio Tulsa

Musicians and music lovers, in Tulsa and beyond, will probably remember the late Steve Ripley, former Tulsan who died Jan. 3 of cancer at 69, as the founder and leader of country-rock’s The Tractors and patriarch of Red Dirt music. 

Influenced by Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys during childhood, Ripley wore many hats during his career: owner of The Church Studio, radio show host, inventor of the “stereo guitar,” and working closely with rock-n-roll greats Eddie Van Halen, Bob Dylan, Beatles Ringo Starr and George Harrison, and creators of “The Tulsa Sound,” Leon Russell and  J.J. Cale, among many others.

But longtime Tulsa impresario Jim Halsey knew Ripley way before all that. “I have known a few geniuses in my life … Steve Ripley was one of those,” says Halsey, who first met Ripley in the mid-1970s. “Our company was involved in producing many television shows and live concerts. Steve was a part of our company during that time, specializing in production, sound and lights,” Halsey says. “We were representing Leon, and I believe this is where Steve and Leon started their close relationship.

“Always a supporter of ‘The Tulsa Sound,’ Steve was a big fan of the legacy established by the Wills family,” says Halsey. “Steve convinced me on his ability to produce a major label production of the Wills Family, utilizing members of Bob’s and Johnny Lee Wills’ bands. 

“With top quality production in mind, Steve produced, in 1978, the Johnny Lee Wills ‘Reunion’ album, featuring previous members of the bands, and doing Wills’ classic western swing style music,” says Halsey, even calling O.W. Mayo out of retirement. “Mr. Mayo was the announcer on the KVOO radio broadcasts. Steve utilized this ‘announcing’ on ‘Reunion‘,” Halsey says. “It truly is a masterpiece, and one of the very first major record company productions Steve did. In 1979, Steve put together two of the world’s most iconic guitar players, Roy Clark and Gatemouth Brown. We had just featured Roy and Gate at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Another masterpiece by Steve Ripley, Roy Clark and Gatemouth Brown, ‘Makin Music,’ for MCA Records. 

“Every so often, stars align, paths cross, and magic happens,” says Halsey. “I jokingly like to claim, I discovered Steve Ripley. The reality is Steve Ripley discovered me. His legacy is deep and solid.”

Gatemouth Brown, Roy Clark and Steve Ripley. Courtesy Jim Halsey.

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