Rock of Ages: Tracing the Roots of the Tulsa Sound

rock of ages

This band of all-stars got together at the Tropicana Club one long-ago night. From left, Leo Feathers, Chuck Blackwell, Ron Ryan, Johnny Williams, Russell Bridges (aka Leon Russell), Jumpin Jack Dunham and Jimmy Markham.


As nearly as anyone can tell, the Tulsa area first started rocking to live local guys back in early 1956, when Gene Crose put together a little group and played the rockabilly tunes “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Baby, Let’s Play House” and “I Forgot to Remember to Forget” for the Cadet Capers show at Oklahoma Military Academy in Claremore, where he was enrolled. It wasn’t long before he’d picked up a new band and begun doing Tulsa engagements.

According to a new poster, “Pioneers of the Tulsa Sound” (available from Janine Stovall at the Paperwork Company, 369-1014), the other major bands that sprang up over the next couple of years were led by Bobby Taylor and Clyde Stacy (beginning in ’56); the late Wally Wiggins (’57); David Gates, Jumpin’ Jack Dunham and the late Lucky Clark (’58), and Jimmy Markham and Tommy Rush (1959).

While Stacy actually knew and played with Buddy Holly when the two were high school students together in Texas, it was Wiggins whose repertoire was heaviest with Holly’s music. As Gene Crose remembers, “I met (guitarist) Donnie Bell when he was playing with Wally Wiggins, and all he could play was Buddy Holly, because that’s what Wally Wiggins was doing.”

“Lucky Clark was more of a laid-back guy,” adds Dunham. “He was mostly blues, and a great singer.” A couple of people have indicated that Clark was the first white vocalist signed to the famed Chess Records label.

Besides those nine pioneers, other Tulsa acts began to emerge in the late ’50s. Vocalist Jeff Musick, whom Larry Bell calls “as important as anybody in this, although he was never hailed for it,” fronted a popular outfit called the All-Nighters. More than one ’50s musician describes him as a Rick Nelson type.

“Maybe he wasn’t as highly visible as we were,” says Jimmy Markham with a laugh. “Or not as crazy — that’s what I’m tryin’ to say. But he’s a great guy, and a dear friend of mine to this day.”

Originally published by Tulsa World on January 4, 2004.



Rock of Ages: Part Four

Making waves, Tulsa’s early radio deejays recall how they got rock ‘n’ roll in the air. Writer John Wooley gives us an intimate look into the movement that forever changed Tulsa.



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.

For more information about John and his projects,  please visit: | Tulsa Sound Documentary

Teresa Knox

Teresa Knox

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1 Comment

  1. Greg Lew on October 19, 2022 at 4:15 pm

    Giants of Tulsa music brought to us by a great historian and writer.

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