Another Hot Oklahoma Night: The History of Okie Rock And Roll

Actually, this debut was on a cool and wet night. The Oklahoma Historical Society building is just off 23rd and Kelly, in the northeast part of the capitol complex.  It was a big turnout for the VIP premier; parking was overflowing and despite the weather, it was Another Hot Oklahoma Night.

Since I had a couple of extra passes, I invited Mark & Lori Lyon of 13 Seeds.  Mark and I played with Jimmy LaFave in the original Night Tribe.  Before that we were in Flying Horse.

I see high heels with short shorts and weasel agent types.  It’s a rocking crowd: Punk  douchebags and Bleeths, Bikers with hippie chicks, Grunge guys with girls in little black dresses, and real people too.
There was a rockabilly band kicking it up pretty good onstage when we arrived, and then there was a group photo op of many OKC rockers past and present. KOMA in OKC helped spread rock fever all over the western US in the early days. It was a powerful station heard far and wide. Famed DJ Ronnie Kaye was on hand. A duo jumped up with the house band. The gal was a foxy grandma, and the guy looked like David Spade with sideburns. He was playing up a storm on a double-neck guitar.

By the headstock I knew it was a Moserite (designed by Okie Semie Mosely) but it was a very early model with engraved symbols on the armrest. Then it hit me; these are The Collins Kids!The Collins Kids are a rockabilly brother and sister, Larry and Lorrie, who were discovered by Leon McCauliffe and became regulars on the Tex Ritter Show. They were some of our earliest Okie rockers, and they are still dynamite, rocking like a steamroller. This is history and I was thrilled to finally see them and hear how great they still are.

If that wasn’t enough, they then backed up Wanda Jackson! Lori crowded up front and got Wanda’s autograph for me. Wanda was elected this year to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. She was the very first female rocker and toured with Elvis.

Being locals, the Lyons were distracted by schmoozers, so I slipped away and ferretted through the exhibits. Most of the collection is in three main galleries, but some displays are scattered in amongst others, so you have to look for them.

One tucked in by itself had posters of The Gap Band from early on, when Odell Stokes and Roscoe “Toast” were still in the band. They called him Toast because he had burn scars on his face, honestly. There were rainbow colored Rose Room posters.

A showcase of rock fashion was under the quote “All changes in pop music are accompanied by a change in fashion. Rock is to dress up to.” –Frank Zappa.

I told Mark I never felt any competition between OKC and T-Town. Tulsa bands played down there a lot, but I only remember The Jades from OKC playing in Tulsa. “There’s rivalry in everything, but I always looked up my nose at Tulsa,” said Mark, who has roots in both cities.

Tommy Allsup played with Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Elvis and Wanda. It was Allsup whose life was spared by the toss of a coin 50 years ago in Iowa. He played a set too.

Atop the Tulsa diorama: “I always liked Tulsa music for it’s no compromise attitude as if the musicians were playing just for themselves without regard to what people would think of it.” –Eric Clapton.  Amen, Eric. That’s exactly right, and it works; though the listener is not consciously aware of it.

Tulsa is well represented, and rightly so. Jim Keltner’s credits seem to be second only to Leon Russell’s. Keltner played with all Beatles but Paul, Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Elvis Costello, BeeGees, Ry Cooder, Warren Zevon, Tom Petty, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Pretenders and many more.

A Brewer & Shipley poster was subtitled “Chief Waldo & The Potted Mum”. I saw a poster of Don Duca’s band The Carpetbaggers, and one of my old bands Xebec. There was a rare picture of Leon with a Beatle haircut, and a big picture of a Junior Markham session at The Church Studio.

I did not know that Muskogee jazz guitarist Barney Kessel played with the Righteous Brothers, Elvis, Sonny and Cher, Ike and Tina, Sam Cooke, T-Bone Walker, The Monkees, Duane Eddy and more.

Duane Eddy’s producer was Manford native Lee Hazelwood, who also produced all of Nancy Sinatra’s hits. He also wrote “The Fool”, with it’s “Smokestack Lightning” lick, which was a hit by our Sanford Clark.

A man named Jody Reynolds had one of the first death-rock hits with “Endless Sleep.” John Henry used to play that one regularly.

There are assorted historical guitars, amps, mikes, costumes and drum kits on display, a radio station and a teenage bedroom.

Even as someone with a large knowledge of this subject, there was a lot of information new to me. For interested parties, this may just be overwhelming. These red dirt prairies have produced a significant amount of American music. Even Woody Guthrie and Bob Wills are considered founding influences on Rock And Roll.

Steve Ripley and Zac Hanson were there. We bumped into John Cooper and Brad Piccolo of The Red Dirt Rangers as we were leaving, and we also chatted with Jimmy Karstein, whose name was on at least two walls in the exhibit. Jimmy has played with Garry Lewis, Joe Cocker, Steve Winwood, Pete Townsend, Eric Clapton and scads more.

We have a lot of music to be proud of, and this huge exhibit covers much of it. It’s definitely worth the trip to Oklahoma City. If you can’t make it, they will be bringing it to Tulsa sometime next year.

Tulsa could use a permanent display along these lines.