Out & About in Greater Tulsa By EMILY RAMSEY
MAKING WAVES: Paul Benjaman Karleskint and Jesse Aycock, left, in the Paul Banjaman Band perform at Guthrie Green during the First Friday Art Crawl.
EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers
I may not currently be as much into Tulsa’s music scene as I would like, but I want to change. That’s because I know I’m missing out. I know this because of what I’m always hearing: that Tulsa has a music scene that is the envy of other cities and musicians.
“I have musician friends who travel through, and they’re always impressed by Tulsa,” says Tulsa musician Jesse Aycock.
When Marc Ford, former guitarist for The Black Crowes, played in Tulsa, he told Aycock – who once opened for Ford –” ‘it was one of the best shows because the crowd was so supportive.’” Aycock attributes that to the incredible camaraderie among Tulsa’s musicians.
“Musicians back each other up here,” Aycock continues, which is, arguably, the very reason for our city’s constant surge of successful musicians – even if unbeknownst to many Tulsans.
“Tulsa music has a huge following, although, sometimes it seems that there’s more respect and recognition outside of Tulsa,” notes Brian Horton, owner of nonprofit record company Horton Records and lover of everything that is music. “You mention Tulsa music to a musician (from another state), and they know all about it.”
Because, that’s how good Tulsa’s music is, says Tulsa drummer Patrick Ryan. “I’ll go on tour and go to all of these cities with music scenes, but they don’t compare to what we have in Tulsa.”
For individuals tuned into the scene, they are well aware that our homegrown musicians are experiencing huge successes on national and international stages, a fact that others are slowing catching onto.
Take, for example, Patrick Ryan, who returned to Tulsa in 2013 after touring for the past six years in various bands throughout the country. He was later contacted by an old bandmate about playing in a band for the Secret Sisters during the group’s national tour. When Ryan joined the band in July 2013, he recruited Aycock to play guitar.
When Aycock and Ryan came with the Secret Sisters to play in Tulsa, Ryan asked Jacob Tovar to perform as the group’s opening act, promising the Sisters that they wouldn’t be disappointed.
After that show, the duo asked Tovar to be their opener for the remainder of their national tour.
As months went by and Aycock’s schedule got busier with his obligations to his other national-touring band Hard Working Americans and his solo projects, Aycock asked Paul Benjaman Karleskint, a constant on the Tulsa music scene since the ‘90s, to step in.
“When one local artist gets out and gets exposure, it’s good for all of us because we connect our buddies,” says Aycock.
Aycock came on the local scene around 2003. He and Dustin Pittsley created Dustin and Jesse’s Higher Education in 2004, which took place on Thursday nights at McNellie’s Public House in downtown Tulsa.
“It was always packed,” says Horton. “Great musicians would come out to play with them, young and old.” The weekly event’s popularity got so big that, on occasion, bands playing at Cain’s Ballroom would catch wind of the event and drop in to play.
Horton pinpoints that as the time when the music scene as we know it now and its collaborative community began to take shape.
Tovar has certainly been a recipient of that spirit. Tovar began playing music only five years ago but has gained quite the following thanks to his band’s reminiscent honky tonk sound and Tovar’s classic Hank Williams-esque vocals. Tovar credits Paul Benjaman’s Sunday Night Thing, held every Sunday at 10:30 p.m. at The Colony, where sometimes not even Karleskint knows who will show up on stage, as one of Tovar’s first vocal performances.
“The Tulsa scene is open and welcoming, there’s no jealousy, no one’s worried about (being upstaged) like in some other cities,” he says. “Here, musicians just want each other to succeed.”
Aycock, Karleskint and Tovar’s experience with the Secret Sisters is just one of many examples of one domino of success falling for a musician, with many following as a result.
Similarly, after Wink Burcham and Dustin Pittsley returned to Tulsa earlier this year from a festival tour throughout Europe, including Belgium and the Netherlands, “now, we are getting calls requesting their merchandise and more Tulsa musicians to come and play in Europe,” says Horton, who created Horton Records to provide management guidance and resources for musicians.
Horton Records has helped to create a number of compilation records to showcase Tulsa’s wide-ranging group of musicians, including New Tulsa Folks and two volumes of The New Tulsa Sound. “These compilations give a nice snapshot of music in Tulsa,” Horton says. And they’ve been “a catalyst to help musicians come together even more.”
He also helps to organize various music showcases, spotlighting Tulsa-based artists, including, in September, the Tulsa Music Showcase, which took place in Nashville and several Arkansas cities and featured eight Tulsa musicians. Also, in November, 20 area bands performed at Cain’s Ballroom in the first annual Rock N’ Folk N’ Chili Cook-Off, a fundraiser to support local musicians, hosted by Horton Records.
Thanks to Burcham and Pittsley’s success, local acts Desi and Cody, Broncho, and the Low Litas are all booked to travel next to Europe to perform at various music festivals.
Tulsa is also home to Jenks High School graduate Jeff Coleman, who plays guitar for the Swon Brothers and will be on tour with the duo next year, opening for Brad Paisley, as well as John Fulbright, John Moreland, John Calvin, and I’m barely scratching the surface.
There is so much more music to be found in so many genres.
While I have touched mostly on musicians who lean toward the roots-based, Americana sound reminiscent of the Old Tulsa Sound, local indie alternative and punk bands are alive and well and can often be found playing at Yeti and Soundpony, while the more rock ‘n’ roll, blues, country-based bands are featured at venues such as Fassler Hall and The Colony.
Horton, I think, sums up best what we have in Tulsa, “The musicians around here are not ‘local musicians.’ They are nationally-touring musicians, who just happen to be from Tulsa.”