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Tulsa - What's In the Water?

Safe-T-Stand Co Founders Jeff Cook and myself are both from Northeast Oklahoma. Jeff is from Tulsa, and I'm from 45 miles north.  We were fortunate to grow up in this part of the world.  It CERTAINLY wasn't because of the weather.  Tornadoes were a constant threat and the weather was subject to change at any moment.

Having just visited Tulsa for the February 9th Leon Russell commemoration concert, held at Leon's Tulsa Will Rogers High School, this piece is about the fact that Tulsa Oklahoma, and the surrounding area, has been a hotbed of creativity for decades, especially as it regards music. Following is a partial list of names you might recognize.  Each one lived a substantial part of their life in Oklahoma.  Many were of them were born and raised:

Leon Russell, Woody Guthrie, Becky Hobbs, Vince Gill, Elvin Bishop, David Gates, J. J. Cale, Bob Wills, Reba McEntire, Carrie Underwood, Wayne Bennett, Carl Radle, Jim Keltner, Lowell Fulsom, The GAP Band, Toby Keith, Lee Hazlewood, Steve Hardin, Gus Hardin, Roy Clark, Wanda Jackson, Hoyt Axton, Mae Boren Axton, Garth Brooks, Joe Diffie, Ronnie Dunne, Steve Hardin, Patti Page, Jamie Oldaker, David Teegarden, David Gates, Roger Miller, Merle Travis, Shep Wooley, Ann Bell, Blake Shelton, Anita Bryant, Kay Starr, Watermelon Slim, Flash Terry, Wayman Tisdale, to name a few.

The following is from the program from the Leon Russell Commemoration Concert:

"Claude Russell Bridges was born in Lawton OK, April 2, 1942, and began playing piano at the age of 4.  He graduated from Tulsa Will Rogers High School in 1959.  His collaborations rank as some of the most successful in music history.  As a touring musician, he performed with hundreds of notable artists, recorded 33 albums, and at least 430 song.

Over the course of his 60 year career, Bridges was awarded a Grammy and 6 gold records. 

He began his musical career at the age of 14 in the nightclubs of Tulsa. He was an original member of The Starlighters, formed by classmate Johnny Williams, Chuck Blackwell, Lucky Clark, and Leo Feathers.  Others, including J.J. Cale, joined along the way. The group toured with Jerry Lee Lewis and was instrumental in creating the style of music known as "The Tulsa Sound."  He also played with David Gates in high school, in a band called The Accents.  He took the name Leon Russell from a friend who lent him an ID to get into the clubs where he was legally too young to perform. 

He moved from Tulsa to Los Angeles in 1959 where, as a first call studio musician, he played on many of the most popular songs of the 1960s.  He played piano with the Wrecking Crew, in informal name for the most sought after L.A. studio musicians of the 1960s.

He wrote "Delta Lady," recorded by Joe Cocker, and organized and performed with Cocker's "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" tour.  "A Song for You" has been recorded by more than 200 artists. "This Masquerade" has been recorded by over 75 artists. 

Leon Russell produced or played on recorded sessions for Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Ike and Tina Turner, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, and many others. Russell performed as a member of Delaney and Bonnie and Friends in 1969 and 1970, playing guitar and keyboards on their albums and as part of the touring band. Through this group, he met George Harrison and others with whom he would work over the next couple of years.  He took guitar lessons from James Burton during his early days in L.A.

Russell produced some tracks for Bob Dylan in March 1971 when Dylan was experimenting with his new sound. The sessions produced the single "Watching the River Flow."

At the invitation of former Delaney & Bonnie and George Harrison, Russell played piano on Badfinger's third album, "Straight Up" in the summer of 1971. The piano part complemented Pete Ham's and George Harrison's dual slide guitars on Badfinger's "day After Day."  The Straight Up sessions were interrupted when many of the musicians left for New York City to participate in The Concert For Bangladesh, at which Russell performed a medley of the songs "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Young Blood."  Bob Dylan surprised Russell by asking him to play bass for some of Dylan's portion of the show; Russell and Harrison sang harmonies on the chorus of "Just Like a Woman." Leon helped Bluesman Freddie King revive his career by collaborating on three of King's albums for Shelter Records during the early 1970s.

Leon's collaboration with Elton John,"The Union," was nominated for a Grammy.

He moved back to Tulsa where he opened The Church Studio, now being restored.  He had a recording studio in his house in the historic Maple Ridge District as well as his place on Grand Lake of the Cherokees.

Leon Russell died in his sleep at his suburban Nashville home in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, on November 13, 2016, at the age of 74."

We will be posting additional information about the Tulsa Music scene going forward.

1 comment

  • Amigo – that brings back some GREAT memories!! The Tulsa Sound is truly unique. Thanks for sharing.


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