"If there was a house band playing at the Sons of Anarchy's clubhouse every Friday night, the Forest Rangers would be the band," says Bob Thiele.
The Rangers - heard almost every week on the popular FX drama "Sons of Anarchy," and prominently featured on Columbia Records' soundtrack album for the show - wouldn't be out of place hanging at the Teller-Morrow clubhouse in Charming, CA. And Thiele - who composes the show's music and acts as leader of the Forest Rangers - could be considered the group's equivalent of SAMCRO leader Clay Morrow himself.
The Rangers had their genesis when Thiele - a longtime fixture of the L.A. music scene, and son of the legendary producer, songwriter, and label executive Bob Thiele - and guitarist Dave Kushner of Velvet Revolver co-wrote the theme for "Sons of Anarchy." Thiele was also drafted to compose original music for the show and direct recording for the series.
"By the time of the sixth or seventh episode of the first season," Thiele says, "I began to see that this could be a continuing thing. This is an entity that has a defined sound. It has a core group of members. So why not?"
He adds, "If we hadn't come up with a good name, we probably never would have had a band! There was a band back in the '90s called Plexi that used to play on the Sunset Strip, they were a pretty good band. And they had a song called 'Forest Ranger.' Dave and I both liked the band and loved the song, and said, 'How about that for a name?'"
Most of the "members" of the Forest Rangers - who to date have never played a live show, but wouldn't mind if you asked - have long associations with Thiele and with each other.
"We all played with each other in the studio - on various records, demos, whatever," Thiele explains.
"I go back with Davey Faragher to when I first moved out to L.A. 26 years ago. We landed on a session together - it was Lou Reed and Sam Moore doing 'Soul Man.' Davey was playing bass and I was playing all of Steve Cropper's stuff on guitar. Phil Shenale and I have worked together for over 20 years. We were in the Royal Macadamians together. He can do anything!"
"I've known guitarist Greg Leisz for a long time. I was producing an album for Curtis Stigers at Columbia in 1998, and Greg was in the band. He's just a phenomenal musician. And he was a forest ranger -- real forest ranger! I found that out after the fact. Lyle Workman is blindingly good. He's somebody I'd always wanted to play with, and never did until the Forest Rangers came up. We got together on the version of 'Fortunate Son' that's in season one. He's an incredibly versatile guitar player."
"Drummer Brian MacLeod is one of these guys who plays really soulful but rock-hard. He's very unique. For me, he plays like a band drummer. He doesn't feel like a studio guy."
Floating members include singers Katey Sagal ("Gemma Morrow" of "SoA," and a former backup vocalist for Bob Dylan and Bette Midler), Curtis Stigers (the lead voice on "This Life," the "Sons of Anarchy" theme), Gia Ciambotti, Kim Yarborough, and Billy Valentine; guitarists Val McCallum and Blake Mills; bassist Bob Glaub; and drummer Pete Thomas.
Engineer-producer Dave Way plays an important role in recording and shaping the Forest Rangers' music, Thiele says: "Dave knows how to keep this thing moving. He's got a home studio off Mulholland Drive, in a garage. Brian MacLeod says the Forest Rangers motto is, 'Putting music back where it belongs: in the garage.'"
The music the Forest Rangers make is defined by the narrative demands of "Sons of Anarchy," and how the music dovetails with the show's ever-twisting plot lines.
Thiele says, "I have a pretty good idea of what it's going to be, so the pre-invention of the song occurs - I know I want to do 'House of the Rising Sun' at a different tempo, or I know I want to do 'Gimme Shelter' with some Celtic elements in it. So I know what we're doing before we get in there, at which point these guys say, 'Great! Let's play!'"
In the end, Thiele and the rest of the Rangers see their mission as keeping their music - which includes re-imagined versions of songs by Bob Dylan, Son House, the Who, the Rolling Stones, and Neil Young, among others - back in that garage.
"We feel like we're 15 on these Forest Rangers sessions," Thiele says. "We're having a really good jam session, as 15-year-olds, but with our present-day technique. It's not like we're jamming to shred - we're playing songs as if we're 15 years old, saying, 'Yeah, that's cool!'"