Bob Childers: Godfather of Red Dirt Music


Bob Childers, often hailed as the godfather of Red Dirt music, left an indelible mark on Oklahoma's music scene. Born on November 20, 1946, Childers' legacy is deeply intertwined with the cultural fabric of Stillwater, Oklahoma, and the broader Red Dirt movement.

Over his three-decade career, Childers wrote more than 1,500 songs. His work resonated deeply with both fans and fellow musicians, leading to over 200 artists covering his songs. Childers' music, characterized by its heartfelt simplicity and profound honesty, earned him comparisons to legends like Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie.


Bob Childers at The Farm
Bob Childers at The Farm Bob Childers hanging out with friends and fellow musicians at The Farm


Early Life and Ties to Oklahoma

At seven years old, Childers moved with his family to Ponca City, Oklahoma, about an hour north of Stillwater. His passion for music ignited at a young age, and by 16, he was playing guitar. Following his high school graduation in Ponca City, Childers pursued music studies at the University of California, Berkeley. However, his heart always drew him back to Oklahoma, particularly to Stillwater, where he would find a community that shared his musical vision.


John Cooper, Bob Childers and Brad Piccolo Performing at The Farm
Jam Session at The Farm John Cooper, Bob Childers and Brad Piccolo Performing at The Farm


The Birth of Red Dirt Music

Stillwater, with its welcoming and creative atmosphere, was the perfect place for Childers to thrive. In 1979, he released his debut album, “I Ain't No Jukebox,” which earned widespread acclaim and set the stage for his influence on the blossoming Red Dirt music scene. Known for its blend of country, bluegrass, folk, and rock, Red Dirt music was epitomized by Childers' honest and evocative songwriting.


Bob Childers Playing Guitar at The Farm
Bob Childers Playing at The Farm Bob Childers jamming at The Farm where he lived in a travel trailer for years.


 Life at The Farm

A significant chapter in Childers' life began when he moved to The Farm, a communal haven for musicians on the outskirts of Stillwater that was the undisputed birthplace of Red Dirt music. Living in a modest trailer adorned with personal mementos and flanked by two pink lawn flamingos, Childers became a central figure at The Farm. His presence there was a turning point, attracting songwriters who came to share songs and ideas. Danny Pierce, a fellow musician who was one of the lessees of The Farm, noted, "We'd been having parties, been having music, now Bob's there. So, the songwriters are coming out more to pick songs and swap ideas."


Terry Ware and Bob Childers Playing at The Farm
Bob Childers and Terry Ware Bob Childers (right) and Terry Ware performing at The Farm


Later Years and Legacy

Despite stints in Austin and Nashville, Childers always returned to Stillwater, where he continued to produce music and mentor young artists. Health issues began to plague him in the early 2000s, but the community that he had helped build and had nurtured for decades, came to his assistance. More than 50 artists recorded versions of Childers’ songs at their own expense for a compilation box set, “Restless Spirits: A Tribute to the Songs of Bob Childers” (2004).

Bob Childers passed away on April 22, 2008, in Stillwater, Oklahoma, at the age of 61. His death marked the end of an era, but his legacy lived on through the countless artists he inspired and the music he left behind. Posthumous honors, including his induction into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, ensure that his contributions to Red Dirt music are remembered and celebrated.


Bob Childers Tribute Show
Bob Childers Tribute Show Musicians at the finale of the Bob Childers Tribute Show at Eskimo Joe's


Childers' role in the Red Dirt music scene is unparalleled. His songs, filled with raw emotion and profound simplicity, continue to inspire new generations of musicians. As a regular at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival and a central figure at The Farm, Childers' influence extended beyond his music; he was a mentor, a friend, and a guiding light for the Red Dirt community.

Bob Childers' legacy is a cornerstone of Stillwater's rich musical history, embodying the spirit of Red Dirt music and the heart of Oklahoma. His life's work and the community he fostered continue to resonate, ensuring that his contributions to music and culture will never be forgotten.

Red Dirt music lovers head to Stillwater each May for the Bob Childers’ Gypsy Cafe music festival featuring an impressive lineup of Oklahoma's top Red Dirt songwriters in several venues. This is Oklahoma’s largest music festival for homegrown songwriters, nearly all of whom trace their music back to Bob Childers' influence. Pay a visit yourself and join in celebrating his legacy during this toe-tapping tribute to the power of Red Dirt music to unite and inspire.