As long as performers
have donned rhinestone-studded suits country music has been as much
about style as twangy guitar riffs and tales of broken hearts. Whether
it’s the right hat, the skin-tight
jeans or the flashiest western boots, creating a look is all part of
made these flag-motif boots for display in western museums and
exhibits. Bo has made boots for Marty Stuart, Alan Jackson and
other country music stars. A Missouri native, he
recently opened a boot shop in Ozark after living and working
in Nashville, Tenn., and Batesville, Ark.
When it comes to
boots, a veritable hit parade of Nashville stars has turned to Bo
Riddle, a Missouri native who recently moved to Ozark after working
in Tennessee and Arkansas.
At this year’s
CMA Awards ceremony singing duo Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry
wore boots bearing the Bo Riddle brand. Bo has made boots for Lee
Greenwood, Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney and many other singing sensations.
Marty Stuart — one
of the most style-conscious country entertainers ever — rarely takes
the stage without a pair of Bo’s boots.
probably made a dozen pair for Marty Stuart,” Bo says. “He
told me he doesn’t wear anything on stage that I didn’t make.”
boots have been featured in museums and in coffee table books celebrating
the art of the cowboy boot. But unless customers spy the personal messages
scrawled on publicity photos adorning his shop walls they might assume
Bo was just another shoe repairman, replacing half soles and fixing heel
would be as wrong as the one held by country music insiders who knew
Bo as “the” boot maker to the stars
during his Nashville days in the 1990s. While Bo made his reputation
crafting outrageous $3,000 works of art for celebrities, his stock
in trade is providing custom-fitted footwear for the rest of us.
prices starting at $600, Bo will custom make a pair of western
boots that fit the customer to a T. But even that, he says, doesn’t
describe his true calling. While he’s earned his living for
nearly 30 years making boots, Bo, 48, says he’s really a
a guy with a dream like anybody else,” he
think I have a hit song in me and I’m pursuing that. In the
meantime real life dictates that I make boots to pay my bills.”
Bo was in seventh grade his father traded a 1964 GMC pickup for
a shoe repair shop a friend had inherited. The father and son
learned the craft together and operated the business, first in Willow
Springs and later in Kirksville.
Bo Riddle sands the heel of a custom made boot which bears his
After high school,
Bo attended technical school in Oklahoma to learn boot making. Although
he traveled as a musician for six years, playing fiddle in country
bands, he eventually settled down to make boots in Birmingham, Ala.
great-grandfather made boots there during the Civil War.
a fire destroyed his home, Bo took a job teaching boot making at
a minimum-security prison. Bored with teaching, a year later he
moved to Nashville to be a songwriter. Meanwhile, he managed a chain
of shoe shops to pay the rent.
Bo landed a record
deal with an independent label and released an album. The record
never went anywhere and is now relegated to the bargain bin.
got some decent airplay but the bottom line was it’s hard
to compete with the major labels,” Bo says. “I never
did get any royalties off of it.”
Despite his determination
to concentrate on music, Bo’s first wife saw
more money in boots and pushed him to return to his craft.
When Kix Brooks, later of Brooks and Dunn fame but then an up-and-coming
artist, came into Bo’s
store looking for a pair of black boots emblazoned with
red flames, Bo agreed to make them. Word of Bo’s boot making
ability soon reached a press agent for Marty Stuart.
brought Marty in to meet me and see my work. It went from there
and I became Marty’s custom boot maker,” Bo says. “Marty
and I became very good friends.”
|Bo tunes his guitar in the back room of his Ozark boot shop.
Although Bo has made his career and reputation crafting custom
boots, his real desire is to acheive success as a songwriter.
With the king of
Nashville cowboy style in his corner Bo’s reputation spread
like wildfire. “Marty has referred a lot of customers
to me, both fans and fellow artists,” Bo says. “I’ve
made boots for so many of them I’ve just lost
began a period of Bo’s
life that was both heady and unsettling as he looks
“I was welcome
in the circles of the stars,” Bo says. “My regular
Friday and Saturday night hang out was backstage
at the Grand Ole Opry. I had an open door every
time I wanted to go out there. It was kind of an ego-swelling
event for me.”
designs are as varied as the many clients he’s served
over the years. He is best known for pointy-toed
masterpieces with sharply under-sloped heels.
More often than not, his boots are inlayed and overlaid
with roses, stars, bucking broncos, eagles and
boot making career was taking off, his music career suffered. “I
had gone to Nashville in 1990 to be a songwriter
and got so busy making boots I didn’t
have time to do the music,” he says.
braces himself while stretching boot leather over a last. Although
best known for outlandish creations for the stars, Bo's stock
in trade is made-to-fit custom boots for ordinary customers.
A basic pair of custom boots costs about $600 while the highly
ornate stage wear the stars prefer often costs more than $2,000
personal life wasn’t doing any better.
His first marriage ended in divorce and his
mother’s health was failing. Bo moved
to Summersville, Mo., to be near his parents
and later married his junior high school
parents passed away the couple moved to Batesville,
Ark., when Nyla’s job transferred
there. Bo concentrated on songwriting while
filling his backlog of boot orders. Early
in 2004 Nyla’s daughter moved to
the Springfield area to open a beauty shop
and the couple followed.
Bo opened his
Ozark shop in August. He still makes
boots for Nashville’s
elite. Mostly, though, he downplays his
celebrity reputation and caters to normal
customers in search of well-made, custom-fitted
“A lot of
times John Q. Public thinks I’m out of their
range. In reality, $600 for a pair
of handmade boots is not out of range,” he
pay $200 for an off-the-rack pair that’s
not made as well, won’t
last as long and won’t fit as
and repairing boots Bo has begun crafting seat covers
to match the paint schemes on custom
motorcycles. Bo is also building
on his 30-year reputation, negotiating
with a name brand company to produce
a line of Bo Riddle designed boots.
His primary effort, though, is to
keep trying for that hit song.
when I went to Nashville was to be a professional songwriter and
that hasn’t changed,” he
In addition to
traditional country tunes Bo has written two Christmas
tunes that, he says, have received
limited airplay. One, “Mrs. Santa Claus,” is
the story of the woman behind
the jolly old man of the North Pole. Another, “Camouflage
Santa Claus,” Bo sees as
the next great Christmas novelty
Bo says that while
he hopes his songs will someday top the
willing to wait for success.
OK with where my music is
right now,” he says. “I’m
frustrated in that I don’t
have major label cuts yet
but I’m not
unsettled about it. I’m
very patient and know that
it’s all in God’s
timing. When I’m in
a position to handle it,
it will come to pass.”
Leininger brought Bo a pair of boots for repair and, while in
the shop, examined the flag boots. These boots were a featured
exhibit at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library museum.
attitude reflects an overall
change in his life. It’s
an outlook, he says, shaped
by the excesses of Nashville
and the experiences he’s
a different person than
I was in Nashville,” he
I got away from there
I got closer to my family
and closer to God. I
realized it’s not
life in a true perspective
now. I’ve lived
a lot. I’ve
lost a lot. I’ve
lost my dad. I’ve
lost my mom. I went
through a divorce.
You experience things
in life that make you
look at life a little
differently than when
everything is roses.”
he longs for a day
when his songs are
heard on every country
music station he’s content with what he’s accomplished. The customer
with the worn half sole may not know he’s in the presence of greatness,
but Bo Riddle has earned his place in the boot maker’s hall of fame.
attitude is that I’m already pretty well known at what I do.
make me rich and
famous. That just
makes me a known
name in this field,” Bo
one of the few poor
and famous people
in the world.”
shop is located at 517 N. 21st St. in Ozark. His phone number is