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10.29.08

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Phaedra

Yokelele: Yodeling wonder Sourdough Slim whoops it up in Felton this Sunday.

Yokelele

Sourdough Slim yodels his way to Felton this week.

By Paul Davis


Even in our modern age, there's still a place for the yodeling cowboy. You need look no further than vaudeville cowboy Sourdough Slim for proof. Hailing from Paradise, a small town near Chico, Sourdough Slim, a.k.a. Rick Crowder, has taken his yodeling cowboy shtick to some of the nation's toniest establishments, including Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center. Folks whose tastes run more to Christopher Lloyd than Andrew Lloyd Webber might recognize Slim from his cameo in Back to the Future III. But it's Slim's solo appearances that give the accordion-grinding cowboy crooner and comic his chance to shine.

Crowder has had a lifelong obsession with cowboy and country music, but it wasn't until his early 20s that he discovered his inner yodeler. "I grew up on a ranch here in Northern California. My grandfather was a real nut for the whole cowboy culture--he introduced me to cowboy music as a kid," says Crowder, who's been yodeling since he was 22. He adds, "It's one of those things that when you first start out it might sound bad, so I used to go in the attic to practice and just let loose."

Ever since Jimmie Davis popularized the form in the 1920s, yodeling has been as identifiable a part of cowboy culture as tumbling tumbleweeds. And though yodeling is intrinsically American, it hasn't enjoyed the reverence granted many other homegrown musical strains. So it's hard to not think of Crowder as doing yeoman's work as he shares the stage with the likes of opera singers at venues such as the Lincoln Center.

"It's kind of a vocal thing like opera--I played the Lincoln Center with an opera singer, and she was telling me about the similarities between yodel singing and opera," Crowder says. "You have to practice it almost every day to maintain the ability to break into falsetto like that. Most singers can go a week without singing, but yodelers have to do a vocal warm-up before going on, to be able to make the break like that and sustain that note."

The Lincoln Center is a long way away from the Opry stage that Crowder heroes such as Gene Autry and Slim Whitman once graced. With equal servings of cowboy tradition and madcap vaudeville humor, Sourdough Slim does his forebears proud. And though he may have not been born with the yodeler's golden throat, he's made his mark as the modern progenitor of the vocal style. "You gotta yodel, man," he laughs. "You gotta do it if you want to play this kind of music."


SOURDOUGH SLIM With Robert Armstrong of the Cheap Suit Serenaders on Sunday, Nov. 2, at 7pm at Don Quixote's, 6275 Hwy. 9, Felton. Tickets are $12 advance/$14 door. 831.603.2294


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