MOJOFest on Studio Row Celebrates Tulsa Sound
A significant American Music landmark sits at 3rd Street and South Trenton Avenue in Tulsa.
Currently undergoing an extensive restoration, scheduled for completion in summer 2020, Leon Russell’s Church Studio is ground zero for the Tulsa Sound.
Established as a recording studio in 1972, the historic building started out in 1915 as Grace Methodist Episcopal Church, one of Tulsa’s first churches. It served as a sanctuary shelter during the race massacre of 1921, perhaps lending inspiration to the name of Russell’s record label, Shelter Records.
From 1928 until circa 1946, it was known as the Church of the United Brethren in Christ before a stint as the First Evangelical United Brethren Church. In the 1950s, the original red brick was replaced with the gray “castle” stone that we see today. In 1961, it became the First Church of God, its final iteration as a house of worship.
Russell purchased the building and opened The Church Studio in 1972, recording for artists like Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Peter Tosh, and Tom Petty, who signed his first record deal in the Church Studio.
The church was not the only building Leon purchased on 3rd Street in the 1970s. At one point, Russell owned as many as 14 properties in the neighborhood around the church that were used to house musicians and employees, store instruments, and provide office space.
In 2010, Tulsans chose to rename a section of 3rd Street where the church is located “Leon Russell Road,” and in 2017, The Church Studio building was added to the National Registry of historic places.
In 2016, the church was purchased by Tulsan Teresa Knox, who is currently overseeing its restoration. Like Russell in the 1970s, Knox didn’t limit her real estate acquisition to the church alone. She owns 11 properties around 3rd Street near the church; an area that is seeing a resurgence, with coffee shops, bars, restaurants, art galleries and other businesses opening within the last few years.
Also joining the neighborhood is another Tulsa Sound pioneer, David Teegarden Sr., who recently opened his studio, Teegarden Studios, just a block to the east of the historic church, inspiring the name, “Studio Row” for the increasingly busy 3rd Street corridor.
One of the musicians responsible for creating this epicenter of Tulsa Sound is drummer/percussionist Jamie Oldaker, one of the early Church Studio session musicians hired by Russell who went on to record 11 albums with Eric Clapton before joining fellow Tulsa-area musician Steve Ripley to form the Tractors in 1988.
After reuniting with Clapton at the Crossroads Festival in Dallas in September, Oldaker returns home to Tulsa to host the Third Annual MOJOFest, a festival created to celebrate the marriage of Jamie and Mary Oldaker (Mary Oldaker + Jamie Oldaker = MOJO) through live musical performances, community engagement, and charitable stewardship. In its first two years, the event has helped raise more than $20,000 for the Day Center for the Homeless in Tulsa.
This year’s festival will be held on Studio Row, and while the musicians will be performing outside, church will be in session when the High Priestess of Soul Ann Bell takes the stage. Bell, an Edison High School graduate and cofounder of the band Tulsa County with former husband Larry Bell, has been praised by some as the white Aretha Franklin. She spent three years touring with Leon Russell and if you’ve never seen her perform, do not miss this opportunity. Her performance at Leon Russell’s piano dedication ceremony in February is the best thing I’ve seen all year.
Also joining the lineup are local favorites John Fullbright and Friends, The Golden Ones, and Roots of Thought, as well as the New Orleans-based quartet, the subdudes.
MOJOFest kicks off at 4 p.m. on Oct. 5. All proceeds go to benefit The Day Center for the Homeless and The Church Studio Music Foundation. For more information and tickets, visit mojofesttulsa.com.
Tom Skinner’s Skyline Festival
A day that began with a sold-out Sunday gospel brunch featuring John Fullbright and Friends and featured more than 40 local artists accross three venues raised $15,441 for Oklahoma musicians in need in August.
This is the fourth year for Tom Skinner’s Skyline Festival, a fundraiser for Red Dirt Relief Fund that continues to grow in popularity due to its stellar lineup of local musicians who donate their time and talent to support the non-profit organization that has provided more than $100,000 for musicians in need since its inception in 2012. This year’s total nearly doubled the amount of money raised in previous years.
In addition to the lineup, which included The Damn Quails, Pilgrim, Science Project Band, Randy Crouch with Flying Horse band featuring Paul Benjaman, and many more, the festival featured a silent auction loaded with Red Dirt memorabilia which contributed significant dollars to the record-setting total.
Skyline Festival gets its name from Skyline Radio, a song by the late Tom Skinner, who often referred to Red Dirt music as more of a brotherhood and a community than a musical style. The growing popularity of this festival is proof that the brotherhood and community continue to thrive.
As the dog days of summer subside, there is no better time to engage with that community. All you have to do is keep searching, keep listening.