Updated: Oct 11, 2020
The Red Dirt music genre, generally speaking is closely associated with Still-water, Oklahoma where Bob Childers owned a home in the 70's that many musicians gravitated to, and made incredible music. In that mix of musicians, we find Tom Skinner, who is regarded as the Father of Red Dirt music. Though, Steve Ripley of The Tractors fame coined the term, it was Tom Skinner who breathed life into the music with every performance. Not really a road warrior or studio rat, Tom's music was intensely personal, raw, and honest-embodied the spirit of Red Dirt which is authenticity, and heartfelt expression. This is what Garth Brooks had to say about Tom:
Of course, since I am a super fan of #RedDirt, #CountryMusic, and #Americana-that's where my focus will be for this humble blog post. There are several artists I did not know are from Oklahoma, like Gospel Soprano Sandi Patty. Hey ya' ll, she doesn't sing country music, but let me tell you, when I was growing up Sandi Patty was the def-facto Gospel Music Queen-what a powerful voice! Any way, with that being said, let's take a look at some of the Okie Taste Makers that have graced us with their enormous talent throughout the years.
Can a conversation be had about Oklahoma music without talking about Leon Russel?
Born in Lawton, Oklahoma, he cut his teeth in the Tulsa music scene. Leon was an accomplished musician, singer, session player, songwriter, and Arranger.
His music defied genre, and is often credited with bringing the Tulsa Sound to national prominence. It is literally impossible to list all of Leon's credentials here, as he played on hits from the Beach Boys, Connie Francis, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan just to name a few. A two time Grammy winner, and inductee to both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Songwriter's Hall of Fame, he is probably best remembered by most for his chart topping collaborations with Joe Cocker, Willie Nelson, and Eric Clapton. But few would argue that his signature song was probably Delta Lady, which Joe Cocker took to the top of the charts. I however, discovered Leon Russell's foray back into country music under the name Hank Wilson' which is nothing less than epic. Check it out.
The Red Dirt music genre, generally speaking is closely associated with Stillwater, Oklahoma where Bob Childers owned a home in the 70's that many musicians gravitated to, and made incredible music. In that mix of musicians, we find Tom Skinner, who is regarded as the Father of Red Dirt music. Though, Steve Ripley of The Tractors fame coined the term, it was Tom Skinner who breathed life into the music with every performance. Not really a road warrior or studio rat, Tom's music was intensely personal, raw, and honest-embodied the spirit of Red Dirt which is authenticity, and heartfelt expression. This is what Garth Brooks had to say about Tom:
"“I know Tom Skinner well enough to say that making a record of his original recordings was not something he was easily talked into doing and hats off to McClure for getting it done. Tom is very private with his music because the stuff that he writes is extremely personal. This is a very, VERY special gift from Tom to all of his fans…of which I am one.”
Tom actually played in Garth Brook's original band, and even moved to Nashville with him. But with family responsibilities pressing, he moved back to Oklahoma where he continued contributing to the music scene as a collaborator, musician, performer, and all around mentor.
I wish I had discovered his music earlier, but am grateful many people had the foresight of recording his performances, and for the music he left behind. Here is one of my favorites
Listing Carrie Underwood, Toby Keith, Reba, and Vince Gill is just too obvious. Their contributions to Country music cannot be overstated. On the show i host #StoneColdCountry, we highlight traditional, and Alt-Country/Americana type music, so my focus with this piece is the same.
As I'm writing this blog Trigger posted an update on 1 of my beloved bands Turnpike Troubadours. Amidst breakup rumors, they are taking an extended hiatus. The Turnpikes have taken the Red Dirt sound out of Oklahoma and into the mainstream with sold-out concerts across America, and top charting albums on the Country, and Folk charts. Mind you, this is all without major label support, and on the strength of well-crafted songs, and stellar musicianship.
Additionally, they have created an infrastructure that supports sonic-ally simpatico bands. Case in point, The Medicine Stone Festival is an annual event in the Turnpike's hometown of Tahlequah where they give artists an opportunity to perform, and connect with fans. People from all over the world come to the event. Past performers include Cody Canada & The Departed, Jason Boland & The Stragglers, and Parker McCollum to name a few.
While many bands move away from their home state when they reach a certain level of success, the Turnpikes have remained in Oklahoma. Also, they have been instrumental in expanding the audience for other artists by adding them as opening acts. As I write this, BJ from American Aquarium reacts to the latest news on the Turnpike Troubadours. Here is the tweet:
The Turnpike Troubadours is definitely one of the bright spots in the Oklahoma music landscape, and I have great hope, and faith that they will pull through, and come back better than ever!
Here is the band's epic performance at Austin City Limits.
As shared previously, and to no surprise to listeners of #StoneColdCountry, and Twitter followers, I have deep respect, and bottomless passion for traditional country music. From Oklahoma, I dig up a gem from yester-years that y'all may not know about.
Formerly known as the Oklahoma Wranglers, The Willis Brothers were a band from Shawnee, Oklahoma that earned national success as a backing band for none other than Hank Williams!
They had a string of popular truck driving' tunes with Gimme 40 Acres peaking at 9 in the U.S., and #1 in Canada. They became members of the Grand Ole Opry in 1946, and went on to chart three more singles.
Who comes to mind when i say Rockabilly? Johnny Cash, Jimmy Horton or maybe even Elvis?
If you answered any one other than Wanda Jackson, to quote Waylon, you are Wrong!
Wanda Jackson, born in Maud, Oklahoma was a pioneer in Rockabilly, and charted 28 songs,
two top ten hits, and was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an early influencer. Additionally, she was inducted to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma Music and Oklahoma Country Music halls of fame. Her parents were part of the diaspora of Okies that moved to Bakersfield during the Dust Bowl.
Why was the Queen of Rockabilly so important? Well, a lot has to do with the time. Her stage performance was lively, think about the backlash Elvis received for shaking his hips. Now pour that she is a woman, with shimmying fringe at every turn and you'll start to understand. She by the way dated Elvis while they were on tour, who advised her to switch from country music to Rockabilly, and that she did. Wanda was booked on packaged tours with all the big boys like Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, and Johnny Cash. She was usually the only woman on the bill.
Additionally, she was one of the first to integrate her band in the 1950's well before the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Wanda has influenced generations of artists from almost every genre imaginable. She never forgot her roots, and currently lives in Oklahoma City, OK.
Here is Wanda with a song written by Harlan Howard, and first recorded by Patsy in 1956.
Woody Guthrie is arguably the most influential Singer/Songwriter in Folk Music history. He influenced all the greats across genres including Dylan, Springsteen, and Childers. Many would say Alt-Country is a direct descendant of Mr. Guthrie as pioneers such as Farrar from Son Volt, and Jeff Tweedy both cite the artist as a major influence.. Well, and if you really think about it Americana is absolutely the prodigious child of Guthrie as generally speaking, Americana is sometimes described as the liberal subset of country music..
Woody was born on July 14th, 1912 in Okenah, OK, and came from a middle class family. Struck by tragedy early in his life by way of the passing of his sister, who set her clothes on fire during an argument with her mother. Also, his mother's death due to Hutchinson's Disease, which was not a known condition at the time was especially tragic. His father was involved in politics, and was implicated in a lynching in the small town before Woody was born. His mother was committed to a hospital, and Woody's father had moved to Texas to earn a living. The kids were left to fend for themselves. Woody recalls that he begged for meals, and slept at the homes of friends. He was 14 years old.
Guthrie's father eventually sent for him, four years later, already 18, Guthrie was reluctant to attend High School. Instead he befriended an African American harmonica player, and learned how to use the instrument well enough to busk and eke out a living. With the onset of the Dust Bowl, he moved to California. and landed a radio gig gaining influential friends such as Author John Steinbeck. His popularity grew as he performed finally settling in New York where he recorded the critically acclaimed Dust Bowl Ballads.
Here is the most famous of Woody Guthrie's compositions, and to many a national anthem.
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