Musical Icons Saluted at Hall of Fame
By TERRELL LESTER
Editor at Large
LEGENDARY SOUND: Elvin Bishop entertains during his induction into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame ceremony at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa Nov. 1.
Photo by CLIFF MOORE
Back in the ‘50s, when cars had tailfins and telephones had no mobility, rock ‘n’ roll was in its infancy.
Teenagers tuned transistor radios to The Big 97, , by far the most popular station in Tulsa.
Infatuated with the music their parents never knew, some of those teenagers turned to guitars and drums as forms of self-expression.
The teens of the day were graduating from high school in 1956, 1957, 1958, from Central, from Rogers, from Webster.
Young musicians – drummers, guitarists, singers – were forming bands, playing the rock ‘n’ roll they heard on , playing the blues they heard on stations in New Orleans, in Chicago, in Del Rio, Texas.
Some of those young musicians, boys like Johnny Cale of Central, like Leon Russell of Rogers (although at the time, he was known by his birth name, Russell Bridges), like David Gates of Rogers, like Clyde Stacy, who moved to Tulsa from Texas, had a special something, a special talent, that would soon separate them from their peers.
A few, the lucky few, landed gigs, playing for adults, playing in nightclubs, playing for money, playing to hone their skills.
They played bars when they were not old enough to drink.
They might be found in nightspots that went by the names of Club Orchid, Rose Room, Fondalite, Speedway Lounge, Casa Del, Blue Moon, Flamingo Lounge.
The local gigs might be seen as the young musicians’ apprenticeship.
By the late ‘50s, early ‘60s, some were migrating to California. Moving up in class. Moving up to the big leagues.
Russell Bridges and Johnny Cale. Chuck Blackwell and Jim Keltner. Carl Radle and Dick Sims. They found work in nightclubs and recording studios.
Their Tulsa work had prepared them for a larger stage, their reputations flourished.
It did not take long for others to follow from Tulsa. Jimmy Karstein and Elvin Bishop. Tommy Tripplehorn and Mike Bruce. David Teegarden and John D. Levan. Larry Bell and Bill Raffensperger. Jamie Oldaker and Don White.
They hit the road. They made music. They made their marks.
Those marks were indelible. Lasting. Memorable.
Some of those same music makers, some of those same guitar riffs, those same drum licks, were back where it all started, in the Tulsa spotlight, on Nov. 1.
It was the Hall of Fame induction ceremony and concert, put on by the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. From the stage of the venerable Cain’s Ballroom, five of Tulsa’s musical icons were saluted and honored: Elvin Bishop, Chuck Blackwell, JJ Cale, Lowell Fulson and Jim Keltner.
A full house, several hundred, sat, stood and swayed as the musical lovefest unfolded over threehours, turning back the clock to a pink-and-black time, a time when guitar and drum legends were born, when bop and sock-hop memories were made.
Blues guitarist Fulson (1921-1999) and guitarist-songwriter Cale (1938-2013) were first and last to be feted.
In between, Bishop, Blackwell and Keltner performed as a galaxy of noteworthy Tulsa stars orbited around them.
For one night, Tulsa again was the epicenter of rock and blues, just as it had been a half-century ago, back when many of these same musicians were finding their way through half-notes and chord progressions, shuffle beats and backbeats.
Singer Ray D. Rowe kicked things off with a rollicking set honoring Fulson.
Bishop elevated the evening to the next level, as his wow-factor guitar work and his front-porch blues voice took turns stretching the limits of glorious gratification.
He was backed and joined and complemented by a cast of musicians that seemingly could have played for hours, if not days.
The only thing that could have rivaled Bishop’s fretwork was his storytelling. From his days as a National Merit Scholar finalist at Rogers High School to his nights with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in Chicago, Bishop crafted an enduring mosaic of an American troubadour.
Blackwell and Keltner, drummers who set the groove for so many well-known acts on so many recordings, were the central figures in an unrivaled jam that brought together just about every musician in the house.
There were David Teegarden and Jimmy Karstein, Jimmy Markam and Jimmy Byfield, Gary Gilmore and Jamie Oldaker, Larry Bell and Walt Richmond, Steve Hickerson and Tommy Crook, Don White and Johnny Williams, Rocky Frisco and more. Many more.
Keltner has made a one-of-a-kind career as a session drummer, appearing behind the likes of Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison.
Blackwell, who began playing drums in Tulsa bars at the age of 13, might be best remembered for his work with Leon Russell and as a member of the house band, the Shindogs, on the television show “Shindig.” He also kept the beat for, among others, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Taj Mahal, in addition to Russell.
In every class of recognition, one individual always seems to stand out as the brightest star in that specific constellation.
On Nov. 1, 2014, that one brightest star was Cale. Although he had died some 16 months ago, Cale’s legacy was alive and energized on this night.
His widow, Christine Lakeland, and his sister, Joan Somers, were on stage, accepting the Hall of Fame award in his honor.
Minutes later, Lakeland joined the all-star mix of musicians paying rhythmic tribute to the man widely known for his disdain of the spotlight. Cale preferred the background to the spotlight, was more comfortable playing guitar on the side of the stage and writing songs at home than fronting a band or accepting awards.
Cale has been called reclusive.
So, with all this audience attention and footlight focus being turned on his career, his talent, his name, what would the solitary Mr. Cale think of the turnout this night?
“He’d be embarrassed,” came the straightforward reply from drummer David Teegarden, who played often with Cale and contributed to the Eric Clapton tribute album “The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale,” released earlier this year.
“We’re having fun at his expense,” Teegarden said with a smile.
On the night before the Hall of Fame ceremony, Christine Lakeland hosted a get-together at a Tulsa hotel for the musicians who played with Cale, who traveled with Cale, who learned from Cale, who respected Cale.
They took the stage one night later to publicly express their love and admiration for Cale.
Don White joined Lakeland in driving the musical tribute. Cale had once played in White’s band in Tulsa, and White had a featured solo on the Cale appreciation album.
Musicians from both coasts joined the Tulsa lineup that also saw the return to town of organist Skip (Van Winkle) Knape, who teamed with Teegarden in the 1970s.
Guitars and drums, keyboards and saxophones celebrated the career of Johnny Cale.
Before the high-octane, full-stage encore “Clyde,” a longtime Cale friend and sideman shared the explanation that saw the transition of Johnny Cale to JJ Cale.
Performing at the famed Whisky A Go Go on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood shortly after its 1964 opening, Cale was making a name for himself on the national stage.
However, the club owner asked if he could alter Cale’s identification on the marquee out front.
Already, there was a band growing in popularity, the Velvet Underground, that featured a vocalist by the name of John Cale.
Additionally, Whisky A Go Go had a house band that featured singer Johnny Rivers.
The club owner suggested to Johnny Cale that a name change would eliminate any possibility of confusion.
Johnny Cale’s reaction? You can call me anything you want, as long as we get the job.”
The next night, a photo of Cale at the entrance to the club proclaimed the appearance of “JJ Cale.”
That could have been the official coming-out party of a musical legend. Well, that and the 1970 release of Clapton’s recording of Cale’s “After Midnight.”
With that, the one-time Tulsa club player was transformed into a national treasure. One that would be acknowledged in November 2014 as an Oklahoma Music Hall of Famer. One that would have his name etched forever in the Oklahoma songbook alongside those who contributed unforgettably to the first decade of rock ‘n’ roll.