CHILDERS, ROBERT WAYNE (1946–2008).
Born to Howard and Rhea Childers on November 20, 1946, in West Union, West Virginia, songwriter and musician Robert Wayne "Bob" Childers is often called "the godfather of Red Dirt music" or "the Dylan of the dust" for his primary role in establishing the Red Dirt genre of Oklahoma music. Combining folk, blues, rock, and country with a unique Oklahoma lyrical sensibility, Red Dirt usually focuses on better times in the past, humorous endurance of hardship, or meditations on contemporary rural or small-town life. Childers began guitar at age sixteen, graduated from high school in Ponca City, Oklahoma, and studied music at the University of California–Berkeley. Leaving California, he traveled the country and settled in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where he heard Chuck Dunlap, a local musician. Dunlap was one of the first Stillwater artists to embrace the musical mixtures of a developing musical genre that allowed some stylistic and lyrical freedom.
Childers became successful in the 1980s. He emerged nationally in 1979 with a debut album titled I Ain't No Jukebox, which he recorded with help from Jimmy LaFave. The album's positive reviews led Childers to a nationwide tour. Released in 1982, his second album, Singing Trees, Dancing Waters, led to a call to perform at the White House in Washington, D.C. That event gave Childers the confidence to move to Nashville in 1986. His initial successes in Music City convinced some of his friends, including Garth Brooks and Tom Skinner, to make the same move. In 1986 Childers released two albums, Four Horsemen and the all-instrumental King David's Lament. He left Nashville for a brief stint in the Austin, Texas, music scene and recorded Circles Toward the Sun (1990).
In the 1990s he came home to Oklahoma, returning to Stillwater. There he released Nothin' More Natural (1996), Hat Trick (1999), and a fan club collection of rarities, La Vita e Bella—Out-takes, Demo's & Jams 1980–88 (2000). His return to Oklahoma facilitated collaboration with other Red Dirt performers, including The Great Divide (Dirt & Spirit, 1999), Terry Buffalo Ware (Two Buffalos Walking—Live At The Blue Door, 2003), Randy Crouch (Kindred Spirits, 2004), and Jason Boland and the Stragglers (Ride for the Cimarron, 2006).
When Childers's health failed in 2004, his friends compiled a three-CD album for his benefit. Restless Spirit features tracks from more than fifty performers who donated their own versions of his songs. The artist list is a who's who of Red Dirt, including Jimmy LaFave, No Justice, Steve Ripley, Mike McClure, Brandon Jenkins, Greg Jacobs, Tom Skinner, and Cross Canadian Ragweed.
Bob Childers's influence on Oklahoma music and musicians cannot be overestimated. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Awards Red Dirt Hall of Fame and the Woody Guthrie Festival Hall of Fame. He died on April 22, 2008, and was immediately inducted posthumously into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. He was survived by his two sons, Zach and Jesse. More than two hundred artists have recorded his songs, a fitting legacy for "the godfather of Red Dirt music."
"Bob Childers," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.
Jared E. Cranke, "A True Celebration of Stillwater Music," Stillwater Scene (November 2003).
Hugh W. Foley, Jr., Oklahoma Music Guide II (Stillwater, Okla.: New Forums Press, 2013).
John Wooley, "Red Dirt's Music is like a Present. You Gotta Open It Up to Know What It Is," Tulsa (Oklahoma) World, 15 December 2000.
The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Hugh Foley, Jr., "Childers, Robert Wayne," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=CH069.
© Oklahoma Historical Society.