Outlaw Country

Rick Sikes was a rising star of Texas music—until he and one of his bandmates went to prison for bank robbery.
Jailhouse rocker
Sikes (center) and the Rhythm Rebels in their 1968 publicity photo.

A scraggly teenage boy ambles up to the 65-year-old proprietor of a roadside antiques shop in Coleman.

“Mister, are you Rick Sikes?”

“Yeah.”

“Can I talk to you a minute?”

“All right.”

“How do you rob a bank?”

Reputations die hard, and Rick Sikes’ story has been untold—until now. It has been fifteen years since the once-fearsome country band leader cum bank robber was released from Leavenworth penitentiary in Kansas. He’s raised two stepdaughters and owns a sign shop in addition to the antiques store. He and his wife of fifteen years, Jan, live in a charming compound behind dusty, unpaved streets. He is one of Coleman’s most revered citizens. But his past has taken on a life of its own.

“Boy, I danced a million miles to y’all’s music,” says one starry-eyed local old-timer, reminiscing at the shop. In the sixties Rick Sikes and the Rhythm Rebels scored a handful of regional hits that made the little girls squeal, including the rockabilly ballad “Give Me a Little” in 1965 and “Den of Sin” a year later (“I’m not cryin’ because my baby left me / I’m cryin’ ‘cause she’s comin’ home to stay”). Sikes had his own half-hour live-music program on TV station KPAR, then Abilene’s CBS affiliate. His theme song was “Standing Room Only When I Die.” The band was the first to attract an audience of cowpokes, rednecks, and hippies—before Willie, Waylon, and the boys.

But then in 1971, two members of the band were convicted of robbing two banks. A bank teller recognized Sikes’s hands as those of a guitarist she had seen—“My fingers are too big on the tips,” he says. Rick Sikes and the Rhythm Rebels’ longest booking became Leavenworth. From behind bars, Sikes resigned himself to watching the outlaw country movement take off without him. “I didn’t blame those guys, but it still pisses me off,” he says. “We were the real outlaws in country music. We had numbers to prove it.”

It’s rumored that when Sikes got busted, he called Jan. She had been planning to do some gardening, and Sikes, suspecting that the FBI was going to dig up their yard in search of buried loot, told her to hold off. Sure enough,

More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...