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No place like home for Home Rangers

Cowboy band doesn't play very often, but it has a lot of fun when it does get together.

By Diane Samms Rush
The Wichita Eagle

    Trying to get straight answers from the Home Rangers is like eating a big, wiggly bowlful of Jell-O:  Before you get to the substance, you have a lot of fun playing.
    To say that the four Wichita-area musicians who comprise the cowboy band are quick-witted would be an understatement.  With the possible exception of one, each makes his living with his wits, at least to some extent.
    Orin Friesen, bass and harmonica player, is a longtime Wichita broadcaster with KFDI Radio and a bluegrass junkie who is an expert at filling dead air; Richard Crowson, banjo and Dobro player, is The Eagle's editorial cartoonist and a student of the absurd; David Hawkins, mandolin, bouzouki and guitar player, is an account executive with an insurance company -- an occupation that surely must require a measure of humor; and Stan Greer, guitar, mandolin and bass, teaches sixth grade at Maize East Elementary School -- need we say more?
    Each man is at least 6 feet tall, which has inspired Greer to refer to the act as "almost 25 feet of fine music and jokes."
    At a rehearsal early this week, the Home Rangers prepared for a big night, the band's CD-release party from 6 to 9 tonight at Old Town Barbeque & Chili Factory.  The event is free and open to the public.
    After warming up with tunes such as "Sioux City Sue," "Cool Water" and a ditty called "Glue in the Saddle" that Greer swears he learned from his high school shop teacher in Illinois, the band reflected on its three-year history and its amorphous vision for itself.
    The four agreed that they are "recovering" bluegrass musicians who came together over their interest in cowboy music.  They also agree that Wichita was without a cowboy band when the Rangers were birthed in March 1995.
    From there, it gets murkier, depending on the speaker.
    "The way we see it," offered Greer, "it all started with Waylon and Willie in Texas, then it came to Oklahoma with Vince and Garth. We figure we're next."  Hawkins, however, may have put the band's ambitions in perspective when he confessed that it had played somewhere between 12 and 15 gigs in 1997.  That's not the level of ambition required to catch up with the Willies and the Garths.
    The dates were diverse, though.  One was Hawkins' neighborhood block party, and another was for a Chinese delegation that visited the city.   "They all wanted to put on our hats and have their picture taken," Friesen said.
    The foursome decided early on that everyone's diverse work schedules and family obligations would prevent the Rangers from being a traveling band.  Even so, the band has played as far away as Marion, Council Grove, Manhattan and Moundridge.   The Home Rangers had a spot at the past two Walnut Valley Festivals in Winfield, and the boys are hoping for a third invitation.
    The money the band earned last year was poured into its CD, "Bad Boots."  According to the liner notes, the title song was inspired by Friesen as he soaked his feet.  Real celebrities Charlie Daniels, Rex Allen Jr., Red Steagall and Ray Benson (of Asleep at the Wheel) are credited collectively on the CD as the Reflection Ridge Riders. The name is apt because Friesen took a tape recorder to the Charlie Daniels Celebrity Golf Classic at Reflection Ridge and talked each of the entertainers into adding a phrase to the song.
    The CD is on the Hedge Apple label, a takeoff on the Beatles' Apple label. Snippets of Fab Four tunes can be heard throughout the CD, making it a sort of baby-boomers homage to four outlaw singers from Liverpool.
    The Home Rangers, it seems, is part hobby and part serious pursuit. "It's a diversion from real life," Friesen said.  "It's a cowboy's dream -- playing banjo in a cowboy band," added Crowson.