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Sour­dough Slim per­formed at the American West CCA Jan. 30 | Reynolds, Col­legian

With a yodel and lasso, Sour­dough Slim brought the charm of the Wild West to the attendees of the American West CCA. Per­forming to audi­ences for nearly 30 years, Rick Crowder, a.k.a. Sour­dough Slim, asked his audience if anyone knew the origin of yodeling. “Switzerland,” an audience member said. Slim replied, “Very good. Yodeling started in the Alps — it was the cry of a mountain climbing accident.”

 

How did your Sour­dough Slim act get started?

I started this act in 1988: that’s 29 years ago. As I kid I was a natural ham, just a cut-up. I always did con­sider myself an enter­tainer and was very musi­cally inclined. My mom started me on the Hawaiian steel guitar at age 6, and I played the French horn in high school. Per­for­mance was a natural progress.

In 1988 I came up with the idea of Sour­dough Slim, an enter­tainer who would yodel and play the accordion. I bought an accordion and taught myself how to play and yodel.

I rode the cowboy cul­tural renais­sance wave that had started around 1985. What really kicked it off was the National Poetry Cowboy Gath­ering in 1985, and all these people came out for it. Where did they come from? There were 20,000 people there. I’ve been riding that wave ever since. People liked the act and I started pur­suing school assem­blies and county fairs and show­casing my acts.

Why the name Sour­dough Slim?

I’ve been playing music all my life. Back in the 70s, I was in a music group called the Rhythm Wran­glers and there were two men in the group named Rick. My name is Rick Crowder, so I picked up the nickname Slim. And I was slim at the time.

When I started the solo act, I wanted some­thing to stand out. I added “Sour­dough” because it fit me. I lived my whole life at the foothills of the Sierra moun­tains in Cal­i­fornia. The name “Sour­dough” is syn­onymous with that gold country. They use a yeast to make the bread in that region which was very popular during the Gold Rush because you could keep the bread forever.

How did your love for the West come to be?

I grew up on a small 700-acre cow ranch in Cal­i­fornia. We had a family calf oper­ation. I was very for­tunate to be raised in that envi­ronment. It was very influ­ential to me.

As kids, Westerns were all that was on TV. I didn’t con­sider myself a cowboy as a kid. Cowboys were these guys you saw on a silver screen.

Besides a live audience, what other kind of pro­fes­sional expe­rience have you had?

I’ve done yodeling for Disney. For example, I was involved with the pro­duction of “Home on the Range.” Unfor­tu­nately my yodeling was cut.

I was recently at Lucas­Films’ Sky­walker Ranch to record yodeling clips. Sound designer Ben Burtt called me up and said, “I hear you’re the only guy for this.” I replied, “Yes, I’m the guy.”

I’ve also done yodeling in com­mer­cials for McDonald’s and the Hershey Company. They paid really good, and I didn’t care if they were making fun of it. The accordion, yodeling, my hokey cowboy outfit — I’ve gotten laughs. It’s hum­bling at times, but I love it. I refuse to conform. I do what I do and am proud of it.

How does a vaude­ville singer perform to a modern audience?

I write my own original music as well as sing the tra­di­tional Hol­lywood cowboy songs. The people who come to my con­certs want to hear “Don’t Fence Me In” and other tra­di­tional songs. So it usually ends up being a bal­ancing act because though some­times I would rather be playing an old blues song, the audience doesn’t want to hear that.

What does the future of Old Western music look like?

The future doesn’t look bright because it’s like a lot of the tra­di­tional art forms. The people that grew up with it come to see and the gen­er­ation that came after them wasn’t intro­duced to it, so it’s not part of their life. Fes­tivals like the Cowboy Poetry Gath­ering try to bring in young people to keep this going. It’s playing out unfor­tu­nately. I don’t see a real bright future for it, but because it’s an American icon it may live on.