Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame Induction 2007

This year, the actual induction ceremony was held upstairs at The Muskogee Civic Center November 1.
It says a lot for our hall that they inducted Tommy Crook, who isn’t really famous.  He did tribute performances when Charlie Christian, Barney Kessel and Eldon Shamblin were inducted.  Many Tulsans have never heard him or heard of him. Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard know who he is.  So did Chet Atkins.
Crook was humbly grateful.  “The only thing I ever won was a talent contest at the Rialto Theater when I was nine.  I won a clock radio,” he quipped.
Several members of inductee Hoyt Axton’s family were on hand to receive his award.  His grandson, Matt, said, “Hoyt said that Oklahoma is the cultural center of the universe.  He also said that songwriting is organic; it either happens or it doesn’t.”

Hoyt’s mother, Mae Boren Axton, was also inducted.  The aunt of former Governor David Boren, she is best know for writing “Heartbreak Hotel.”  She also was very active in Nashville and helped start many careers.
Cal Smith played for years with Ernest Tubb, until his first big hit, “Drinking Champagne.”  Tubb helped him and Stonewall Jackson get started, among others.
“We played joints where, if you didn’t have a knife, they’d give you one at the door,” Smith joked.
Smith’s biggest hit was “Country Bumpkin,” a bittersweet song.  Smith is from Gans, OK, population 200 – “Where everyone knows you and cares about you,” he said.
One of his teachers, Sue Lester, once told him, “Cal, you just might go places with your singing.  Just don’t ever forget where you came from.”
Smith then called Sue Lester to the stage.  Sue still lives in Gans.  Smith handed her the award and told her, “I want you to take this back to Gans and put it in the schoolhouse.  This belongs to my hometown; it made me what I am.”  It was a touching moment.
Sammi Smith was born Jewel Fay Smith, but her dad never called anyone by their given names.  Sammi had the first big hit by the janitor at Columbia Studios: “Help Me Make It Through the Night”, by Kris Kristofferson.  She was also one of the country Outlaws that included Waylon and Willie and Jessie Coulter.
I heard a catchy hard rock song on a jukebox a while back and wondered who it was.  I was pleasantly surprised to find it was Oklahoma’s own Hinder.  These guys have some real talent.
The man who introduced them for the Rising Star Award said he hoped they’d be back when they are old codgers. “From what I hear about your lifestyle, that could be sooner than you think,” he joked.  Hinder has sold millions of records already.
“This is great,” said the band’s front man, Austin Winkler.  “There are all these great musicians, and then there’s us.”
In the lobby, you could buy T-shirts and autographed Three Dog Night pictures and CDs.  Budweiser was turning a lot of product.
Inductees present included Billy Parker, Byron Berline, Eldon Shamblin’s daughter Rita, and Leona Mitchell.  The only Tulsa musicians I ran into were John Southern, Don Price and Bill Raffensperger – and John and Don were working.
Performances of inductees or tributes are preceded by video biographies that are informative and well-produced.
Cal Smith opened the show.  Rodney Lay’s band backed him up, with Rocky Frisco on piano.  Cal said he was nervous and hoarse and forgetting words, but his rich baritone sounded good.  He said that a dying Ernest Tubb gave him a guitar.  That guitar is the only acoustic made by Shot Jackson, creator of Sho-Bud steel guitars.
Lay also backed Candace Clark and Peggy Lane, singing Sammi Smith songs: “My Window Faces the South” and “Take the Ribbon.”
They also provided music for the Hoyt and Mae tributes, as Matt Axton did a shuffle version of “Heartbreak Hotel”.  Hoyt’s widow, Donna, played piano.
Matt sang Hoyt’s first hit, the Kingston Trio’s early smash “Greenback Dollar.”  Ironically, he was cheated out of the royalties on that one, only getting a few hundred for the million-seller.  He also did Hoyt’s biggest solo hit, “Della And The Dealer.”  It was explained that Hoyt was playing at the Troubador in LA when he introduced “The Pusher.”  The dishwasher there was John Kay, who later recorded it with his band Steppenwolf.  It ended up in the film “Easy Rider.”
Tommy Crook’s bio explained that a guy in Wichita gave him the idea of adding thicker low strings on his guitar so he could “Travis pick” bass parts with his thumb; based, as Atkin’s style was, on Merle Travis’ finger-picking.
Crook was introduced as “one of the best guitarists in the world.”  This is fact, not opinion.  People cheered and clapped and whistled all through his amazing performances of “Stardust,” “Folsom Prison,” “San Antonio Rose” and “It Had To Be You.”  Crook — who usually plays for people eating and who clap politely, if at all – got a well-deserved standing ovation.  Thurman “Leo” Jones backed him on bass.
“We have to follow Tommy Crook?  Nobody can do that!” exclaimed Hinder front man Austin Winkler.  But they did a good unplugged set using acoustic guitars and hand drums and got the biggest noise of the first half from a large contingent of young people.  I only saw one person singing, but I think he was using a vocal harmonizer.  These guys are really pretty good.  I hope they keep developing musically.
Most of the young people left at intermission.
Seven piece Three Dog Night still has four original members: singers Corey Wells and Danny Hutton, guitarist Mike Allsup (conceived in Henryetta) and keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon.  Bassist Joe Schermie is deceased, and third singer Chuck Negron was permanently written out after years of junkie unreliability.  Greenspoon had the same problem, but mended his fences.  Original drummer Floyd Sneed was sitting down front.
Three Dog Night did a solid 90 minutes of Top Twenty hits. They were the biggest band in the U.S. in the early seventies.  They were the first band to pack stadiums; now they were giving their all to about 500 people.  They really sounded better than ever.  It was a great set.
Corey said that Hoyt invited him up to his hunting lodge in northern California.  After a day of fishing and a night of imbibing, when they were sufficiently mellow, Hoyt whipped out his guitar and offered him “Never Been to Spain.”
On the first chorus (“…but I’ve been to Oklahoma”), a huge, proud cheer went up from the crowd.  They closed the show with “Joy To The World” – their biggest hit.  They recorded it reluctantly.  In fact, it was Chuck who said, “Hell, I’ll sing it.”  He should’ve been there.  Floyd got up and sang with them, and the Axtons came out, too.
And YOU should’ve been there.  Let’s get some more rears in the seats for these shows.  If you love music, this is a lot of entertainment for $20 and a 45-minute drive.  Plus, it’s musical history, of which we have an embarrassment of riches.  I intend to go every year from now on, and we encourage everyone to do so.
It made me proud to be an Okie in Muskogee. 

For more on the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, click here.