Alive And Kickin’: Life of music brings Vandygriff to one-man show

Alive And Kickin’: Life of music brings Vandygriff to one-man show

It’s a long way from the small farming community of Roxton, Texas — where he picked cotton and hauled hay for a penny a bale — to a huge country music festival in Peterborough, England. And it was on that stage that musician R.J. Vandygriff knew he’d parlayed regional success as the leader of the Blue Diamonds to hitting the biggest of the big time.

“We were over there touring, and my agent called to say he’d gotten me on the show. Steve Wariner had to cancel, so we were replacing him on the Saturday night show, which was the big night.”

Told they had 18 minutes — not 17, not 19, but 18 — Vandygriff decided to end the set with an acapella version of “The White Cliffs of Dover,” a tribute to the resilience of the British during World War II.

“I told the band, we’re not going to say a word during our set, just one song right after another, until we get to our last song, then I’d announce to the audience I was dedicating this song to them, for without their support we would not have been on the festival,” Vandygriff remembers. “I told the guys when we finish, take your cowboy hat and throw right out into the audience and walk off. We did an a cappella version in four-part harmony. I could see some of the audience wiping away tears, and when we finished and threw our cowboy hats into the audience, they erupted — 6,000 people on their feet shouting my name! Wow.”

Life is more like that small-town beginning these days, Vandygriff admits. He no longer plays for the ladies in his mom’s beauty shop or stars in the neighborhood honky-tonk like he did when he was younger. But he does live in Lipscomb, Texas — population 37, according to the internet — where he has a small cattle ranch and and “five grandkids that we try to see as often as we can.” And he plays just 30 shows a year instead of 225.

R.J. Vandygriff left the sport of rodeo and college to pursue a career in country music. After regional success with his recordings of “Big Blue Diamond” and “Say Lady,” Nashville came calling. He packed his guitar and saddle for Tennessee and soon found himself touring 200 days a year opening for the biggest names in country music, folks like George Strait, Garth Brooks, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Alabama, The Judds and many more. (Courtesy Photo)

“I’m still doing some film work; just did a couple of regional commercials in Dallas and later this month I am filming a show for Mike Rowe,” he says. He has a new CD, “We Were Cowboys.” And he’s playing the King Opera House in Van Buren Aug. 12, bringing to the stage his one-man show, “The Cowboy Ain’t Dead Yet.”

“A character, Joe Texas, has heard the rumor the cowboy is a dying breed, so he’s come to town to convince the audience we’re not dead, you just can’t see us from the road,” Vandygriff begins the story. “He starts out in the 1860s, carries you through the early trail drives, then through the early ranching days and up to modern times.

“There are three costume changes, all on stage, as he goes from one time period to the next,” he adds. “I play harmonica, guitar and banjo in the show, [and] Joe tells the story of the cowboy through song, poem and dialogue. I’m wanting the audience to hear the real story of the cowboy, not the Hollywood version.

“There’s some tear-jerking moments, but there’s plenty of laughs as well,” he promises. “It’s family friendly with an appeal to audiences of all ages from all walks of life.

“It’s one of the most successful one-man shows ever, which we’re proud of,” he says, adding that he wants audiences to realize “there are shows out there that are entertaining, informative and fun without having to use bad language.”

“We often get folks who don’t normally go to theater productions, but I hope they will after seeing this show,” Vandygriff says. “The underlying message of the show is that times change, and we all have to adapt, and the cowboy has adapted as well.”



‘The Cowboy Ain’t Dead Yet’

WHEN — 7 p.m. Aug. 12

WHERE — King Opera House, 427 Main St. in Van Buren

COST — $30-$40

INFO — 474-7767 or

FYI — Next in the King Opera House series is “Walkin’ the Line,” a tribute to two of the most influential and legendary country artists of all time, Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline, with Bennie Wheels and Lisa Irion, Sept. 22.

Categories: Cover Story