Artists / Country Music News

Steve Ripley of The Tractors dies at age 69

Photo credit: Phil Clarkin

Steve Ripley, leader of the country-rock band The Tractors, died peacefully at his home Thursday, January 3 in Pawnee, OK at the age of 69, surrounded by his family. He had been suffering from cancer.

Born Paul Steven Ripley on January 1, 1950 during his parents’ brief residency in Idaho, Ripley grew up on the family’s Oklahoma Land Run homestead in Pawnee County. On his radio show, he recalled his earliest musical memory came when he was only three years old while listening to his dad enthusiastically singing along to Bob Wills’ “Roly Poly” in the family car. He said his “most impactful” musical memory was hearing Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” blasting from his Aunt Babe’s radio when he was six. “It just slayed me,” he marveled. “Nothing would ever be the same.” Seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show was yet another “cosmic moment.”

In 1994, The Tractors managed to take the country music world by storm with their first self- titled album. For Ripley, the project was the culmination of a quest to blend his earliest influences—from the western swing of Bob Wills and traditional country stylings of Hank Williams to the emergence of Chuck Berry and what Ripley called “the Elvis thing.” Record company expectations for this unique hybrid were low, but The Tractors’ debut album shocked the contemporary country world by going platinum faster than any debut album by a country group in history, and eventually achieving double-platinum status. 

Tim DuBois, president of The Tractors’ label at that time, said of his first impression, “I remember dropping a tape into the machine and the first thing I heard was ‘The Tulsa Shuffle,’ and being hooked immediately.” The album garnered two Grammy nominations, won CMT Video of the Year for its smash single, “Baby Likes to Rock It” and is to this day the top-selling record of all time for a work recorded in Oklahoma. Vince Gill called The Tractors “one of the coolest bands ever.”

“Steve was truly a creative genius,” says DuBois. “He and I had known each other since the late sixties when we both attended Oklahoma State. Our musical careers took us down different paths, but when they crossed again in the early nineties, I was running Arista Nashville, and he and a group of his Tulsa friends were building The Tractors. The music wasn’t exactly country, but it was exactly great. Somehow we managed to get it on country radio, the CMA Awards show, and sell over two million albums. 

Steve Ripley leaves with us the words with which he closed all of his radio shows:

Don’t forget, family is what’s important. Tell your mama you love her. Kiss your babies. We’re all in this together. Bye-bye, kids.

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

The family will announce a memorial service later. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to The Red Dirt Relief Fund, which provides a safety net of critical assistance to Red Dirt music people in times of need.

For more information about Steve Ripley and his musical legacy:

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