“At least what ever happens,
It’s been good to be with friends.”
– Randy Crouch
Writing this column for the past three-plus years has been such a learning experience that I truly feel I’ve earned a post-graduate degree. I’m thinking a Master’s degree, but if you want to call me Dr. Cantrell, recognizing my Ph.D. in Okie music, I’ll answer to that.
To take the higher education analogy a step further, you could say my doctoral thesis in pursuit of this imaginary degree has been the story of legendary Oklahoma musician Randy Crouch.
Since late 2017, I have been part of a team of filmmakers, photographers and archivers working towards a feature-length documentary called, “Randy Crouch: Survival of the Fiddlist.”
What I thought was going to be a few show recordings and getting some comments about Crouch and his band Flying Horse for the sake of posterity, quickly snowballed. “Oh, you know who you should talk to…” we kept hearing early on.
One interview led to another, people shared home movies and other items until the Crouch vault grew to 75-plus interviews and more than 100 hours of footage from four decades, as well as a treasure trove of memorabilia, song books, posters and photographs.
This project has been immersion learning, constantly putting me in the presence of some of the most accomplished and influential musicians to come out of Oklahoma since Woody Guthrie. Crouch is impossible to put a label on (more on that in a minute), but he is revered in the Red Dirt community not just for playing fiddle for the Red Dirt Rangers, but as one of the founding fathers of the blossoming genre. Some of the biggest names in Red Dirt music: Cody Canada, Jason Boland, Stoney LaRue and others, were happy to go on camera and express their admiration, respect and appreciation for the inspiration he has provided since he began playing in and around Stillwater in the early 1970s.
“A lot of people play music, Randy Crouch is music,” says band mate John Cooper of the Red Dirt Rangers. “Guys like him are at a Mozart level.”
It’s a sentiment shared by dozens of musicians that Crouch has played with over the years, like Vince Hermann of Leftover Salmon. “I think he sees the mechanisms of the universe being operated by notes in his head and that keeps the world spinning,” says Hermann of Crouch. “He has a cosmic connection to it. It runs a lot deeper than your average human being.”
It was clear in the early days of filming that Crouch is not your average human being, and that his story is one that has to be told.
But it’s not one man’s biography. Crouch is fond of saying, “We’re all in the same band, the rest is BS.” So this is the story of Crouch’s far-reaching, all-inclusive band; a beautiful community strengthened by camaraderie and a spirit of collaboration that is rare in the competitive music industry.
That spirit can be traced directly to Randy Crouch and his influence, making him such an important figure in the Red Dirt genre that many people consider him a Red Dirt musician, but he doesn’t exactly fit that mold. In fact, there is no mold for Randy Crouch. Part Jimi Hendrix, part Jimmy Rogers. Part Woody Guthrie, part Frank Zappa. A fiddle player with a wah pedal and a Marshall stack. He’s one of a kind and there is no label or singular genre to apply to him or his music.
There are, however, muses that seem to speak more loudly to Randy Crouch. As a songwriter, he often finds inspiration through activism and his songs have lent themselves to many movements, from no nukes to clean water, beginning in 1978 when he wrote two original songs for the Black Fox Blues album. The opposition to Black Fox, a planned nuclear power facility in Inola, Okla., was a galvanizing force among musicians and activists in the 1970s. Crouch performed at more than 50 Stop Black Fox Rallies, and I don’t want to give too much of the movie away, but spoiler alert: PSO abandoned its plans to build the Black Fox nuclear plant.
Honoring Crouch the eco warrior, on Earth Day (April 22), Storyteller Productions is launching a crowd-sourcing campaign on the website Indiegogo to cover a portion of the post-production costs.
To learn more and see the official trailer, visit randycrouchmovie.com. If you like what you see, consider making a donation to help launch this story of community into the world with the professionalism it deserves. And in 2022, we can head to the theater as we continue our never-ending quest to keep searching, keep listening.