Crossing Over


The ‘Tulsa Sound’ Loses a Pioneer

Buddy Jones

June 18, 1940-February 20, 2011

By David McGee

When I was in my grade school years in Tulsa, OK, in the late ‘50s into the early ‘60s, and totally besotted by sports, books and rock ‘n’ roll—not necessarily in that order—my interest in the latter was intensified by a thriving local scene in town boasting a wealth of talented musicians, some of whom would go on to write their names large in rock ‘n’ roll history in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Akdar Shrine Temple

Even before that, though, the city was a major stop for country musicians, owing to it being the home of the beloved Cain’s Ballroom, with its spring-loaded dance floor and star-studded talent lineups, where the cream of the crop of country music streamed through the place from the time it opened in 1924. Needless to say, as the home of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys from 1935 to 1942, it played a key role in popularizing western swing. Wills, who lived in California for most of the ‘40s before relocating to Oklahoma City in 1949, made Tulsa his home in 1957, just as rock ‘n’ roll was hitting its cultural stride. Reunited with his brother Johnnie Lee Wills, Bob held forth every Saturday night at Cain’s, and later at the mammoth Cimarron Ballroom in the ornate Akdar Shrine Temple—a truly striking architectural wonder incorporating Moorish, Art Deco and Rococo styles (it was demolished, of course, in 1973) in downtown Tulsa, a stone’s throw from Cain’s, which would become, on July 29, 1961, the site of Patsy Cline’s return to live performance after nearly perishing the previous month in a head-on car collision that launched her through the windshield. Backed by the tough western swing band led by steel guitarist nonpareil Leon McAuliffe, a battered, bruised and bandaged Cline was at her best, in a performance that has been preserved on CD since a reel-to-reel tape of it resurfaced some thirty years later (Patsy Cline: Live at the Cimarron Ballroom).

Patsy Cline, live at Tulsa’s Cimarron Ballroom, July 29, 1961,  her return to live performance after nearly perishing the previous month in a head-on car collision that launched her through the windshield.

Upon his return to Tulsa late in 1957, Wills was asked by Tulsa Tribune reporter Jim Downing about his attitude towards this new rock ‘n’ roll music that was taking the country by storm. "Rock and Roll?” Wills huffed. “Why, man, that's the same kind of music we've been playin' since 1928! We didn't call it rock and roll back when we introduced it as our style back in 1928, and we don't call it rock and roll the way we play it now. But it's just basic rhythm and has gone by a lot of different names in my time. It's the same, whether you just follow a drum beat like in Africa or surround it with a lot of instruments. The rhythm's what's important.”

A lot of young people in rock ‘n’ roll bands at that time were spreading that important rhythm around T-town, and most of them were landing guest spots on a local dance show, Dance Party, modeled after American Bandstand and airing on Tulsa’s KOTV on Saturday afternoons, preceding Leon McAuliffe’s own country show featuring whatever top name was coming in to play the Cimarron that night. It was all quite amazing. I remember a couple of bands in particular as being the cream of a quite bountiful crop. One was called the Heartbreakers, and for a time its lineup included a guitar slinger of note named Roy Buchanan. The other, longer lived and far more prominent, was the David Gates Band—yes, the same David Gates who went on to, first, write a big hit for the Murmaids in 1964 (the immortal “Popsicles and Icicles”) and later formed the hit singles juggernaut Bread. The David Gates Band had a local hit with “Jo-Baby” and a lineup that included his Will Rogers High School classmate, Claude Russell Bridges, now better known as Leon Russell, who as a 14-year-old was also a mainstay of the Starlighters, a hot Tulsa group that included J.J. (or Johnny, as he was known then) Cale, Chuck Blackwell and Johnny Williams. It was a rare Dance Party show that did not mention where the David Gates Band or the Starlighters could next be heard live.

Tulsa’s Dance Party, a local version of American Bandstand

Tulsa recently lost a valuable part of its rock ‘n’ roll history when one of its pioneering rockers passed away. Harrell C. “Buddy” Jones, a drummer who either accompanied or knew anyone of note who played in Tulsa in the ‘50s and ‘60s, died at age 70 on February 20. In recent years Jones had operated retail clothing shops in Tulsa, Maxie’s Special Sizes, and was a co-owner of Direct Sales, but in his younger years he had seen the rock ‘n’ roll era take root in Tulsa as it unfolded before him from his perch behind a drum kit in local venues. Also a Will Rogers High School student (Class of ’58), his first regular job was with Benny Ketchum’s band at Cain’s Ballroom, where he backed the likes of Cline, the Louvin Brothers, Ferlin Husky, Red Sovine, Faron Young and other top country stars of the time. He broke into the rock ‘n’ roll club scene as part of Cale’s group with Bill Raffensperger that held forth at the Case Del Club at 11th and Sheridan, on Route 66. Following the lead of Gates, Cale, Russell, Jamie Oldaker and other Tulsa musicians, Jones headed to California, where he landed a gig with Jimmy Karstein’s band at the Gold Room in L.A. Drafted by the Army, he played in the Army Band, entertaining audiences in many of the cities American troops had liberated during World War II. After his tour of duty was up Jones returned to Los Angeles, where Russell hired him as his personal manager. Jones returned to Tulsa in 1967 to pursue his own business interests, but when Russell relocated his business back to Tulsa, he lured Jones back to manage and promote his tours.

Upon his return to Tulsa Jones fell in with a promising local funk band, the Greenwood, Archer and Pine Street band, headed by brothers Charlie, Ronnie and Robert Wilson and also including Tuck Andress, who would later gain fame on his own as part of the duo Tuck and Patti. The Wilson brothers later changed the name of their band to the Gap Band. Jones wrote some songs for and produced the band’s first album, 1974’s Magician’s Holiday.

In a 2003 interview with the Tulsa World, Jones said his fondest memory of the early rock ‘n’ roll days was the enduring bond between the city’s musicians as the years passed.

"I think musicians in every town think they're special. But I look back and I see all the old musicians we used to play with, and everybody's still friends,” Jones observed. "They're all real mellow, and they play mellow," which in turn, he said, engendered warm, lasting relationships.

"Everybody was playing, and playing good stuff, but no one was trying to run over anybody," Jones said. "There was just a kind of a feel, more than anything. It kind of transcends the music."

Chuck Blackwell, Jones’s friend and fellow drummer dating back to the ‘50s and including time together in Los Angeles in the ‘60s, remembered Jones as the best kind of drummer a band could have.

"Buddy was right in the groove, and 'not too much is enough,’ Blackwell opined. “He was one of the best. We will miss him,"

Buddy Jones is survived by his wife of 20 years, Kelly Jones; a sister, Judy Johnson; and two brothers, Steve Jones and Robert Jones.


Mary Jane Eldredge

Mother of The Grascals’ Terry Eldredge

February 28, 2011

Mary Jane Eldredge, mother of Grascals’ co-founder Terry Eldredge, passed away on February 28 after a lengthy illness. She was 77. Mrs. Eldredge lived in Castalian Springs, TN.

Mrs. Eldredge worked at Cracker Barrel, where patrons called her the “best biscuit maker on earth”; at home she was a passionate and caring housewife and mother. She and her husband Bud were members of Friendship Baptist Church in Millersville, TN.

She was preceded in death by mother and father, Charles Liffick and Bessie Lutz Liffick; and a brother, Paul Liffick.

She is survived by her husband, Merlyn W. “Bud” Eldredge; daughter Sheri Jo Featherston and husband Randall; sons Terry Wayne Eldredge and wife Catherine, Grady Olin Eldredge and wife Tammy, and Peyton Warren Eldredge and wife Karla; grandchildren Leah and Kaleb Featherston, and Brittany, Denton, Christopher, Jennie, and Carlie Eldredge; great-grandchild, Kambri Eldredge; sisters Roanna Watson and husband Paul, and Sandy Coulter and husband Randy; brothers Charles “Chuck” Liffick and wife Judy, and Danny Liffick and wife Sue.

TheBluegrassSpecial.com offers its deepest condolences to the Eldredge family.

Elvis, ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ by Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey and George Nelson Allen.


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