Country Rock sextet Ridge Runner just returned from Nashville, where they showcased for labels, collected business cards and passed around their sophomore CD, the aptly titled Kickin’ and Stompin’. As half of the band — lead vocalist/acoustic guitarist Jeff Workman, bassist/vocalist Troy Brown and fiddler/vocalist Ron Ball — relaxes over beers and fish and chips at the Back Porch Saloon, they proudly recount their Music City triumphs.
“I think it was the most productive thing we’ve done as a band besides make this CD,” Brown says.
“We played Cadillac Ranch on Tuesday night, showcased for about six labels on Wednesday night and attended the Country Radio Seminar on Thursday,” Workman says. “It was a good time.”
Ridge Runner may have opened some doors with their electrifying CRS performance, which Workman says one attendee likened to a freight train running through the conference. That’s nothing particularly novel for Ridge Runner; that train runs like clockwork through each of their shows.
Ridge Runner assembled in 2002 when the Brown brothers (bassist Troy, guitarist Razzle and keyboardist Tony) ended their hiatus after dissolving their previous band. Two years later, they lost their original vocalist and drummer and gained former Hollow members Workman and Joe Zoller. This lineup recorded Ridge Runner’s 2006 debut, Leave the Rest Behind.
“It’s a good CD, but it’s almost like we were getting something out of our system,” Brown says about the band’s debut. “With the second one, it was like, ‘OK, now we know what we don’t need to do.’ ”
Over the next four years, the quintet honed their stage presentation into a well-planned set that still left room for Workman’s improvisational tendencies.
“I have a reputation for winging it,” Workman says. “Joe has spent so much time with me, he’s able to read my body language and sees it coming.”
Just over a year ago, RR added former Liquid Fire fiddler/vocalist Ball, the last piece required to complete their sonic puzzle. Ball contributed so much that the band rethought some material slated for the Kickin’ and Stompin’ sessions, which were about to begin.
“I wouldn’t change anything right now,” Brown says. “Three of us are brothers, Jeff and Joe are like brothers and Ron fits right in. He can play anything. The chemistry comes easy.”
Where Leave the Rest Behind crammed RR’s influences into one set, Kickin’ and Stompin’ refined and distilled those influences into a more cohesive yet satisfyingly diverse whole. And those influences are plentiful, from Country both classic and contemporary to Pop and Rap to the King’s X T-shirt Workman is sporting: Funktry Music is an appropriate name for their publishing company. The range and expertise on Kickin’ and Stompin’ is a testament to the band’s diligence and hard work.
“When we Ridge Runnerize a song, we don’t try to sound like Kenny Chesney or Alan Jackson,” Brown says. “When it’s all said and done, it comes out like us.”
As Ridge Runner’s musical ambitions have grown, so too has the scope of their stage presence. The band’s show is so extensive that many venues are just too small to accommodate all six members and their equipment.
“One promoter said, ‘You guys bring more stuff than the national acts,’ ” Workman says. “That’s just our show. One guy said, ‘What do I need to do to get you guys in my place?’ And we said, ‘First, you’ll have to knock out this back wall...’ We need a lot of room. It‘s like Garth Brooks meets KISS meets Dream Theater meets Hank Williams Jr. You’re going to be visually entertained.”
“That’s hard to do on a sheet of plywood,” Brown laughs.
Ridge Runner’s deal with HMG in Nashville helped get their single “Danced a Dream” to Country radio, but they’re content with Brian DeBruler’s up-and-coming label Sol Records, also home to Dallas Moore, Pure Grain, Peppertown and Moon Zoomer. With the exposure and sales opportunities inherent in viral Web marketing, Ridge Runner will stay put for the foreseeable future and capitalize on word-of-mouth publicity.
“We’re getting feedback now that’s telling us we’re different,” Brown says.
“Different in a good way,” Ball says. “Not bizarre, where they can’t label us, like, ‘What the hell was that?’ ”
“I think we’ve locked into something that not too many people have,” Workman says. “I debated in Nashville whether or not to play a couple of songs at the showcase. If you’re going toward radio people, you’ve got to do what they want. But the rest of the guys were like, ‘Do what we do.’ And because of their musicianship, we just nailed it.”
RIDGE RUNNER (ridgerunnerband.com) plays Friday and Saturday at Randy’s Roadhouse in Batesville, Ind. Get details and find nearby bars and restaurants here.