Tulsa’s Music Scene has Rich History, Bright Future

Searching for the Sound by Bryan Cantrell

SCIENCE PARTNERS: From left, Joe Schicke (filling in admirably for for Brad James), Rick Gomez, Don Morris, Dylan Layton and special guest Joe Mack perform at Tom Skinner’s Science Project at The Colony, 2809 S. Harvard Ave. The weekly collaboration, started by the late Tom Skinner, features different guest musicians every Wednesday.

BETH TURNER for GTR Newspapers

Greetings, readers of . Great news: I got my own column!

Okay, so you may not be as excited about that as I am… yet. But I’ve made it my goal to create excitement among all of my readers; excitement about the most valuable resource we have here in Greater Tulsa: music.

I’m not talking about the many outstanding national and regional acts that come to our city with increasing frequency to venues like the Center, the Brady and Cain’s Ballroom. My friend and fellow columnist Nancy Hermann will continue with style to keep us posted on the hottest shows coming to town in her long-running Show Buzz column (see page B1. But not yet, I still have more stuff I want to tell you). This column is focused solely on the Tulsa sound and those who keep it alive today.

From the oil boom days of the 1930s when Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys entertained thousands daily (except Sundays) on the 50,000-watt radio station from the stage of Cain’s Ballroom, to the 1960s when three friends from a Tulsa neighborhood named Russell, John and Carl* left dusty Oklahoma to chase their dreams, to the 1990s when a trio of future beer-brewing brothers came from the middle of nowhere to blow up the pop charts with their debut album, Tulsa has been a hotbed of music.

That tradition continues today, as Tulsa maintains a local music scene disproportionately robust for a city its size. In that sense, little has changed since roughnecks gathered on North Main Street on Thursday and Saturday nights to unwind with the bluesy swing and sentimental ballads of Bob Wills. What has changed is the music industry. In 2017, anyone with a laptop and Pro Tools software can record a few songs in their living room, promote it on social media and sell it on iTunes. Not a bad thing necessarily, but it does muddy the waters a little and makes it more difficult to find the hidden gems that are still out there keeping the Tulsa sound alive.

That’s where I come in. I’m not a critic. I’m not going to tell you what’s good, what’s bad and what you should like. My aim is simply to tell you where to look when searching for the sound that best suits your taste.

This feels like the first day of class: we just got through going over the syllabus, and it’s almost time to adjourn. I have only a few words left to fill my allotted space, so I must be brief with my tips on searching for the sound this month.

That’s unfortunate, because I could fill several pages of this newspaper talking about Tom Skinner’s Science Project. Tom Skinner, the renowned Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame singer/songwriter, began this weekly collaboration in 1999 and kept it going for 16 years until his death in 2015.

Change is a constant: the venue has changed many times, musical guests change weekly, but the name is still Tom Skinner’s Science Project in honor of the late, great red dirt pioneer.

Hosted by veteran Don Morris along with Brad James, Dylan Layton, Rick Gomez, and with the blessing of Skinner’s son Jeremy and the appreciation of music lovers throughout Greater Tulsa, Tom Skinner’s Science Project is still going strong. But don’t take my word for it, see for yourself at The Colony, 2809 S. Harvard Ave., Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Lambrusco’z Deli provides the food, and Tom Skinner still provides the inspiration.

“Tom was such a great mentor to the young musicians that would show up for the Science Project,” says Don Morris, who has been part of the Science Project since early 2000. “Jesse Aycock, Dustin Pittsley, Wink Burcham, Beau Roberson… He was a big influence on a lot of musicians right up until he passed away. That’s why I’m honored to help keep this going and a big reason why we still call it Tom Skinner’s Science Project.”

As the name implies, the Science Project involves some experimenting. You’ll get the house band, the special guest, most likely some combination of the two, possibly an audience member or two sitting in as well. You never know what you’re going to get at the Science Project, but I’ll bet you your bar tab that you won’t leave disappointed.
I hope my first installment of Searching for the Sound hasn’t left you disappointed either. Please check back next month as I will dispense with the introductory formalities and devote the entire column to local music and where to find it. Until then, keep searching, keep listening.

* I’m referring, of course, to Russell Bridges (Leon Russell), John (J.J.) Cale and Carl Radle. More on those three in later columns. I assume my reference to the Hanson brothers needs no clarifying.

Updated 07-25-2017

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