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TRACTORS ARE ROAD-TESTED

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Diesel-sniffer: noun. Musician who has worked with numerous road shows for many years. From the diesel engines of the buses they travel on. See, for example, The Tractors.

One thing you can count on from a bunch of old diesel-sniffers is that they can put on a show anytime, anywhere, with anybody. So it shouldn't surprise Music Row that The Tractors' debut single "Baby Likes to Rock It" shot up the charts and that their debut album, "The Tractors," is already gold and may be platinum by the time you read this. But somehow it does.See, Music Row has people in suits who say things like, "I've got a hat guy, a duo, a group. We got a girl; we got every position filled." (We didn't make that quote up, by the way.) Such people don't want to put money behind a bunch of over-40 bar rats who've made their own album down in Tulsa.

But when Tim DuBois, head honcho at Arista, got a shoe box with a tape, a toy tractor and a "Tractors Owners Manual," he heard something. And Tim's got good ears. Now he's got another hit album parked in his label's garage. It didn't hurt that Walter Miller, producer of the CMA awards show, loved their single so much that he gave them a plum spot on the broadcast.

Some folks are making a big deal about how The Tractors didn't sing together in front of an audience until that CMA performance. But, come on, ya'll - separately the band members (Steve Ripley, lead singer; Walt Richmond, keyboards; Casey Van Beek, bass; Ron Getman, guitar; Jamie Oldaker, drums) have worked with Leon Russell, J.J. Cale, Johnnie Lee Wills, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Janis Ian, Leonard Cohen, Linda Ronstadt, the Righteous Brothers and Eric Clapton. And they weren't toting speakers.

When Steve Ripley auditioned potential band members a few years back at the Church Studio in Tulsa, he says, "The joke got to be, 'If you didn't learn to play "Johnny B Goode" when it was a hit for Chuck Berry, then you're too young.' "

Their first release isn't a "pretty" album from "The record company machines/turnin' out hits on an assembly line" (from "Tulsa Shuffle"). It sounds more like they got a bunch of their friends together for a rehearsal and recorded it. Mainly because that's what they did. Ripley says it's "filled with noises, first takes, knee-jerk reactions - we rolled tape and we'd leave. Sure there are mistakes, but we kept those imperfections and tried to massage it into something people will identify with." Apparently a lot of people are.

You might catch their Christmas video, "Santa Claus Boogie," which was taped on Halloween night. That's why Santa's dancing with a vampire. It's also available as a cassette single along with "Swingin' Home for Christmas."

And, yes, now that they've got a hit album of their own, they will be climbing on a bus again. Starting in January they'll be on tour with David Ball and Brooks & Dunn for six months. Bunch of old diesel-sniffers with their own hit album - who'd have thought it?

QUIBBLES 'N' BITS

Front Porch Song Dept.: When Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen were roommates at Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, Robert says they would "crawl out about 11:30 on Sunday morning in our underwear, amidst about 400 or 500 beer cans, and strap on a banjo and a guitar and wait for the Presbyterians." The house was across from a church, so they would "play them some gospel songs and give them something to talk about on their way to Luby's."

Try to Think About Ice Cream Dept.: John Michael Montgomery put off recording sessions for his new album because he came down with tonsillitis. His doctor is deciding whether to remove the offending tonsils.

Rough Cuts Quote of the Week: "Where's the music at? I feel kind of naked up here without my guitar. Feel like a politician." - Merle Haggard at the kickoff party for the tribute album "Mama's Hungry Eyes." Later, Merle, Diamond Rio, Lee Roy Parnell, Radney Foster, Steve Wariner and Alabama's Jeff Cook jammed for over an hour at Nashville's Wildhorse Saloon. The album benefits Second Harvest Food Bank, and even the lawyers donated their time on this one, folks.