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Producer/Musician Steve Ripley Dead at 69

By Steve Harvey. The studio owner and inventor also led the Grammy-nominated act, The Tractors.

Pawnee, OK (January 7, 2018)—Producer, engineer, studio owner and inventor Steve Ripley, best known as the guitarist and bandleader of the GRAMMY-nominated country-rock band The Tractors, died at his home in Pawnee, OK, on January 4 at the age of 69 following a battle with cancer.

Ripley reportedly discovered his love for recording in the 1960s, working in Gene Sullivan’s Hi Fi Studio in Oklahoma City. He opened his first studio, Stillwater Sound, in Oklahoma in the early 1970s, a period during which he produced artists such as Roy Clark, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and Johnnie Lee Wills for the Jim Halsey Company.

Ripley had a long association with fellow Oklahoman Leon Russell, working as his live sound engineer before working on staff at Russell’s Paradise studios and record label in Burbank, CA, in the 1970s. (The facility is now Bang Zoom! Entertainment – At Paradise Studios, Ripley engineered projects by the likes of New Grass Revival and JJ Cale, another Oklahoma native, also playing on two of his records.

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While in California Ripley collaborated with Eddie Van Halen on a stereo guitar design—used to great effect on the track “Top Jimmy” on Van Halen’s 1984 album—and started the Ripley Guitars company. During the same period, Ripley’s friend, drummer Jim Keltner, a Tulsa native, introduced him to the Beatles and to Bob Dylan. Ripley played guitar on the Dylan album Shot of Love and toured in his 1981 gospel band.

In 1987 Ripley acquired Russell’s former production facility, The Church Studio, in Tulsa, OK, where he produced seven albums for The Tractors and a solo album, Ripley. During 19 years of operation at The Church he also worked with Red Dirt Rangers, Hanson, Chainsaw Kittens, Admiral Twin, Carlton Pearson and others. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017, recognizing its role in the development of what has come to be known as the Tulsa Sound.

Ripley sold both the studio and his Tulsa home in 2005 and he and his wife, Charlene, whom he first met when she recorded at Stillwater Studios in 1976, moved back to the Pawnee County farm where he was raised. They subsequently expanded the small farmhouse to include a guitar shop and a recording studio, dubbed The Farm, from which he hosted his Oklahoma Rock & Roll radio show for the Oklahoma Historical Society. His recording projects included a Red Dirt Rangers full-length as well as a collaboration, Ripley and The Rangers.

In 2013, Ripley was hired as an audio archivist, and worked with OKPOP executive director Jeff Moore to engineer a collection of unreleased Bob Wills recordings. In 2016, OKPOP acquired the Leon Russell archive and Ripley became the official curator of the Russell collection, which is destined for a planned museum in Tulsa. His final recording was “Mickey and Grandpa (A Day in the Life),” a song written for his grandson that references Ripley’s earliest musical influence, the Beatles.

Steve Ripley •