Tulsa Sound Blends Multiple Genres

Searching for the Sound by Bryan Cantrell

BRANJAE: The soulful, energetic performer brought her talents to the Mercury Lounge recently. Whether it’s Count Tutu, Swunky Face or BranjaiMusic, she is a can’t miss act.

BETH TURNER for GTR Newspapers

Greetings music lovers, and welcome back for another installment of Searching for the Sound.

It’s been just over 30 days since I successfully pitched this idea to my publisher, and one thing is already abundantly clear: this is the best job I’ve ever had.

“Go see live music. It’s your job.” Those are great words to hear.

Live music is like a satisfying meal for the soul; it nourishes and invigorates, simultaneously calming and relaxing.

All kinds of music have this nourishing effect on me, but the Tulsa Sound is like really good comfort food.

So, here are some of the things I’ve been feasting on:
Kalo (www.kaloband.com) recently held a CD release party/ fundraiser for Red Dirt Relief Fund (www.reddirtrelieffund.org) at Soul City and it was hot! Literally hot, 95 degrees or so on that back porch, but the trio was unfazed. They killed it. Check their website for dates and venues, and sample their new album, Wild Change, while you’re there.

Whether it’s Count Tutu, Swunky Face or BranjaeMusic, you should really check out Branjae (www.branjaemusic.com), because I don’t have words to do her justice. Okay, I have a few words. If it were 1975, Tina Turner would have some serious competition for the role of Acid Queen in Tommy. She’s headlining at the Postoak Wine & Jazz Festival Sept. 1-3. Her album, Powersource is available on iTunes.

Eldridge Jackson (www.eldredgejackson.com) also made an appearance in Tulsa recently and reminded me that there’s a jazz influence to the Tulsa Sound. His 2008 collaboration with fellow Tulsa church-musician-turned-jazz-musician Wayman Tisdale, Listening Pleasure, is one of the gems of the Tulsa sound on which I seek to shed some light with this column.

I need to take a little detour here, because the variety represented in just those three brings me to a topic that still needs some clarifying: what is the Tulsa Sound? And do I capitalize “sound”? Help me out, editors, I’m new at this. (Editors note: Tulsa Sound is not mentioned in the AP style book, but in 2003, Tulsa World revised its newsroom stylebook to specify that Red Dirt be capitalized when referring to the music genre.)

Alright, Tulsa Sound is a genre, so we’ll capitalize Sound, but that’s only scratching the surface. We need to figure out what we mean by Tulsa Sound. And we need to talk about Red Dirt music, but let’s stay focused. I only get one column per month.

J.J. Cale, the messiah of the Tulsa Sound, is often quoted as saying, “We were just trying to play the blues and didn’t know how, so that’s what we came up with.”

That “aw, shucks” answer is the most often quoted, but the great one also gave more thoughtful, meaningful answers to questions regarding the Tulsa Sound in which he referred to Tulsa’s proximity to many musical influences. To paraphrase, he spoke about blues coming from the north out of Chicago and Kansas City, Delta blues from the east, jazz and gospel from the south (some of that coming from New Orleans in the form of five-year-old Eldridge Jackson), and country all around.

Tulsa was a melting pot of steel guitars and saxophones, pipe organs and dobros, fiddles and Fenders creating a subtle alchemy of sound. Okay, J.J. Cale didn’t say that, I said that. He said something close, I’m just taking liberties with my paraphrasing.

I will also take liberties when defining the Tulsa Sound for the purposes of this column. Just as the Tulsa Sound includes a wide range of influences, this column will include a wide range of music. At the very least, I’ll give you a heads up next time El Jack is in town. That guy’s so smooth he makes the roads in Venice jealous. He’s smoother than a sheet of curling ice. Smoother than the soles of James Brown’s shoes.

That took a while, but aside from the excessive use of smooth similes, it was a necessary detour. We’ve at least loosely defined Tulsa Sound, so let’s get back to where to find it.

If you want to be immersed in the Tulsa Sound, look no farther than Chandler, Oklahoma, for the Stone River Music Festival, Sept. 15-17 (www.stonerivermusicfestival.com).

Aside from Austin-based headliner Ian Moore, the lineup is a who’s who of area talent: Dustin Pittsley, Wink Burcham, Brad James, Dylan Layton and Red Dirt Rangers to name a few.

If you’re new to the Tulsa Sound and this column has piqued your interest, I highly recommend continuing your education with some hands-on learning at this festival. If you’re a connoisseur of the Tulsa Sound, I’ll see you there. Between sets we can talk about how excited we are to be only a week away from the release of Leon Russell’s swan song album, On a Distant Shore, Sept. 22.

It’ll be like really good comfort food.

More talking Tulsa tunes next month. Until then, keep searching, keep listening.

Updated 08-29-2017

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