Tulsa’s early rockers were black and white, and no one cared – as long as the racial mixing was on the stage
By JOHN WOOLEY
“I’m tellin’ you, I didn’t know segregation back then — in the Flamingo Club for sure,” states multiple music hall of famer and bluesman Flash Terry.
Terry worked in that north Tulsa venue both as a headliner and with the legendary Jimmy “Cry Cry” Hawkins throughout the ’50s.
“If you were a musician or a music fan, you could come in there and sit down,” he said. “There wasn’t any discrimination. Not at the Flamingo. And we used to play on the south side of town, too, at places like Benny’s Supper Club, out by the turnpike gate.
“I remember around ’54 or ’55, way back there, some of Bob Wills’ guys used to come in the Flamingo,” he added. “And then, when it was kinda goin’ out in ’58, ’59 and ’60, when they were about ready to tear it down, Leon (Russell) and (J.J.) Cale and (Jimmy) Markham and Rocky (Frisco), all those guys, they used to go over there.”
In fact, pianist Frisco — who was known as Rocky Curtiss at the time — got his first paying gig with Terry.
“I’d play for him all week, and then I’d go in on Tuesday nights when they had their talent contest, and it was automatic — if I’d played all week, I’d get second place in the talent contest,” Frisco remembers. “Eleven dollars. That would be my pay for the week. It was a deal with Flash.”
How was it that Frisco showed up at the Flamingo in the first place?
“I just went over there one night,” he says, “a stupid crazy teenage white guy coming into the club. And Flash was just real nice to me. He’s the most color-blind man I’ve ever met.”
It’s said that music can transcend all human barriers, and that was surely the case in Tulsa in the late 1950s, when the pioneers of the Tulsa Sound were sinking their roots into the concrete and clay of this town. There was a north side and south side, a black and white population that didn’t mingle easily — unless you were a musician.
And then, it didn’t matter much.
Originally published by Tulsa World on December 30, 2003
Rock of Ages: Part Two
Titled “Rockin’ this Joint Tonite,” the second part of the series, takes us back to Tulsa’s first rock’n’roll gigs and the venues and characters that created the foundation for what Tulsa’s music scene is today.
What is Rock of Ages?
A five-part series on the early history of rock ‘n’ roll in Tulsa written by John Wooley, originally published in the Tulsa World.
Used with permission from the Tulsa World.
JOHN WOOLEY is a writer, lecturer, filmmaker, and radio host who specializes in the movies, literature, and music of the 1930s and ‘40s as well as other pop-culture history. He has written, co-written, or edited more than 40 books, scripted a number of documentaries, with his scripting extending to comic books and graphic novels. An entertainment writer for the Tulsa World newspaper for 23 years (1983-2006), Wooley has seen his articles and interviews appear in a wide range of other publications, fromTV Guide to the horror-movie magazine Fangoria, for which he wrote more than 100 pieces. He is also the producer and host of the highly rated Swing on This, Tulsa’s only western-swing radio program.
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