Epic moments of rock 'n' roll history in Tulsa
BY JENNIFER CHANCELLOR World Scene Writer
Thursday, February 14, 2013
2/14/13 at 12:43 PM
Related Story: The Who talks about 'Quadrophenia' rock opera ahead of BOK show Thursday
In recent years, Tulsa's been filled with "epic moments" of rock 'n' roll.
Our venues are some of the top-selling in the world, and they bring in artists who top global ticket sales.
What many may forget is the area isn't an overnight celebrity. Not even close. As AC/DC once sang, "It's a Long Way to the Top (If Ya Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)."
Indeed, it has been for Tulsa.
Before acts like Paul McCartney and Reba McEntire shattered attendance records at the BOK Center, before Justin Bieber sold out 18,000 seats in six minutes, before Elton John and Leon Russell and Eric Clapton and Britney Spears and AC/DC and Bruce Springsteen all sold out concert dates at Oklahoma's largest arena venue - before Thursday's concert from The Who, one of the most recognizable rock acts of all time - northeast Oklahoma was filled with extraordinary music moments.
Those included Frank Sinatra, who broke all the rules, as did punk icon The Sex Pistols. Actually, the former probably broke more rules than the latter. It's true.
Then there were the breakthrough moments from young music acts like Britney Spears and U2 and Kings of Leon and Hanson and even Garth Brooks, who took down the 911 phone system when a record number of fans called to purchase tickets to a string of Tulsa concerts.
Sometimes the critics were hilariously off-the-mark on their reviews (See: Hendrix). Other times, our police force was hilariously overzealous (See: Led Zeppelin, James Brown, Elvis, Clapton). Another time, decent Tulsans stood up in the face of blatant racism (See: Ray Charles).
It all happened in Tulsa.
‘BABY’ POP DIVA
Adolescent squeal appeal raged into Brady Theater when Britney Spears and 'N Sync made an early stop here in 1999.
Britney Spears' music career has outlasted that of 'N Sync, the boy band she opened for in 1999. Tulsa World file
Scratch that. Reverse it. The bill was 'N Sync with Britney Spears opening.
She got so little press that she wasn't even mentioned in the concert review. Alas, she's outlived her boy band counterpart (except for Justin Timberlake) by more than a decade.
In fact, she sold-out an arena show at the BOK Center in 2009.
Wrote the Tulsa World reviewer of 'N Sync: "The band obviously expected and relished the squeals. In fact, one particular bit of stage play involved Timberlake 'orchestrating' the squeals. With a single pointed finger, he could cause the volume to ratchet up at least 50 or 60 decibels."
BONO SWINGS FROM BRADY'S BALCONY
Frontman Bono swung wildly from the balcony and ran down the aisles waving a white flag as outspoken Irish band U2 played its first (and so far only) Tulsa gig to a sold-out crowd at the historic Brady Theater in 1983.
It was before the band's 1987 breakthrough album, "The Joshua Tree."
The Tulsa Tribune called U2 a Christian act, and at the time guitarist and keyboardist The Edge didn't necessarily disagree with the label. Admitting a deep spirituality, "Our motivation for being in music is not the rock 'n' roll lifestyle," he told the newspaper. "It is because we believe in our music and we think it's a worthwhile, creative thing. ... We decided if we are going to do this, why not do it with dignity, honor, ideals? Why not do it our way?"
The Edge also admitted a kinship with the spirit of Bruce Springsteen and his fight for the working man. The band's set included poignant "Two Hearts Beat As One," "Seconds," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "40," "New Year's Day" and others.
"There's so much escapism today - in music, in movies - which I don't think is ultimately that worthwhile. If you can deal with realism, but with a positive side, that is much better."
He also added: "We're not setting ourselves up as a mouthpiece for a generation."
SINATRA SPURNS THE RULES
Frank Sinatra was a complete original who refused to compromise.
It was his first Tulsa concert, but one of the last for the "Chairman of the Board" Frank Sinatra. In 1994, at the Mabee Center on the Oral Roberts University Campus, he smoked. He drank. He did his show his way. In 1994, the tickets went for $80 a pop, and the Tulsa World counted down the days with a dwindling number of martini glasses.
"He sang it with feistiness that belied his 78 years. He sang it like he meant it. He sang it like the Sinatra of yesteryear," the Tulsa World reported.
"The evening's most vivid moment came when Sinatra started to launch into what was his best performance of the evening, 'One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).' Sinatra said this was a song that needed the right atmosphere, so he lit up a cigarette and lifted up a glass to toast 'My friend Jack.' Daniel, obviously." Sinatra died in 1998.
CRITIC FAIL OR JIMI FAIL?
Jimi Hendrix, June 7, 1970: Less than a year after his breakthrough at the Woodstock music festival - and three months before his untimely death - the guitar legend was panned in the Tulsa Daily World.
"To say that Hendrix & Co. do not have any talent is misleading. (Billy) Cox and (Mitch) Mitchell are good backup men and probably could put out some good sounds, except that leader Hendrix distracts from them with his attempted playing and singing. ... His wild gyrations and contortive playing are the most obnoxious, but his singing, which could unfortunately be heard above the noise, is a close second."
Writer Bob Beck went on: "It may not have occurred to the average person, but the guitar can be played by mouth, between the legs, behind the head and back or by rubbing it against a microphone stand. The resulting sound didn't resemble good music but it did get wild responses from the audience ..."
There were 4,700 fans at the at the Civic Assembly Center Arena.
LED ZEP CROWD GETS TOO HOT
We haven't always been the kindest to our visiting musicians. Sometimes, we have, though. Perhaps overly so.
Led Zeppelin played to a crowd of 6,300 at the Civic Center on Aug. 21, 1970. "Led Zeppelin III" was recently released, and the band was well on its way to becoming "the biggest band in the world." So much so that "during the encore ... one sweet young thing jumped onto the stage. She danced along with (Robert) Plant for a moment and then jumped into his arms. The stage was immediately invaded by a number of young girls obviously intent on a similar experience."
The set list was a mind-blower and included "Immigrant Song," "Heartbreaker," "Dazed and Confused," "Moby Dick," "Whole Lotta Love" and "Communication Breakdown."
Perhaps because of the memories of the 1970 show, Tulsa police cracked the whip on Plant's solo trip here in 1988. "The heavy undercover police force was brought back for this concert because of the history of hard rock concerts and the crowd the band was expected to attract," the Tulsa World reported.
ROCK ROYALTY SEES KINGS
Robert Plant was back in Tulsa in 2005 for a show when he decided he wanted to see Oklahoma-raised band Kings of Leon at one of their earliest live shows at Cain's Ballroom.
"HOLY (expletive)! IS THAT REALLY HIM!?" was the introduction to the Kings of Leon concert review. It breathlessly described the Led Zeppelin frontman as he stood meekly by a KoL merch table as several hundred were obviously distracted from watching the band on stage. Kings of Leon went on to sell out arenas seating tens of thousands across the globe.
"As Plant might have told you, catching the Kings before the fellas become massive stars was more than worth the risk," the Tulsa World reported.
KoL sold-out the BOK Center in 2011.
SEX PISTOLS ‘LOST IT’
The Sex Pistols, Jan. 11, 1978: A review of this now infamous punk concert panned the band, saying a phony bomb threat emptied half of Cain's Ballroom by the third song in.
"God Save the Queen" is the only song mentioned in the Tulsa Tribune's review.
Johnny Rotten of the Sex
Pistols performs at Cain’s
Protesters sat outside proclaiming "Life is 'Rotten' without God's ONLY begotten JESUS!!!" a slam against frontman Johnny Rotten.
The band huddled in the venue office for hours, hiding from cops and protesters. Actually, the band spent much of its short-lived tour in hiding as most band members had criminal histories and controversy followed them everywhere on the band's ill-fated, short-lived and only U.S. tour.
Even though it's now part of local lore, the Tulsa concert was lackluster. "The group didn't perform a single vulgar gesture, such as spitting or vomiting, even once," wrote Tulsa Tribune reviewer Ellis Widner. Aw, dang.
"The Sex Pistols were hot for the first three numbers, then lost it," said one fan. "There are a lot better rock 'n' roll bands than this one," said another. Said yet another, "I don't think they'll be a major influence in America."
It's no wonder bassist Sid Vicious punched a (now preserved) hole in the wall of the historic building. The band broke up later that year.
The band is credited with initiating the punk movement in the U.K. and, many say, in the United States.
When 75,000 tickets went on sale, mostly by telephone, for Garth Brooks' 1997 concert at Drillers Stadium, the city's phone system crashed, causing the 911 system to go offline. One woman died of a heart attack after her husband's attempts to reach 911 operators failed. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World file
GARTH CRASHES 911
Oklahoma country music icon Garth Brooks was coming into his own in 1997 - in a way that had never been seen for any solo artist.
In a rush to release tickets for a series of five concerts at Tulsa's Drillers Stadium, nearly 75,000 tickets went on sale, most by telephone.
The city's phone system crashed, the 911 system went offline, and a doctor whose wife had a heart attack died after failed attempts to reach 911 operators. Southwestern Bell denied any negligence. But the phone company did institute a policy to prohibit mass ticket sales during periods of overwhelming demand in an effort to protect public safety.
Zac Hanson performs at the Mabee Center. Tulsa World file
Boy-band fever brought thousands of fans to Tulsa from as far away as Hong Kong to wait in line for Hanson tickets. In 1998, Mabee Center officials - and the band - wanted to curb scalping by offering armbands for a place in line and a chance at concert tickets.
At the peak of the band's "Mmmbop" fame, a hometown show for the 9,000-seat venue was an epic win. Extra police were called in to keep teens from rushing the stage. "This is definitely the biggest concert from the aspect of people wanting tickets," said Tony Winters, operations director for the Mabee Center.
The band of brothers still have annual "Hanson Day" events that bring thousands of fans from around the world into Tulsa every May.
The Eagles perform during the first event at the BOK Center on Sept. 6, 2008. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World file
THE EAGLES CHRISTEN BOK CENTER
The band was two full songs into its set before blurting out "Hello, Tulsa!"
But nobody needed an introduction.
The Eagles played two full concerts to help celebrate the opening of the BOK Center arena in 2008. The band also launched its tour from the center. The legendary California act played from its canon of eternal hits, new and old, including its award-winning version of "How Long," and "Witchy Woman," "Lyin' Eyes," and even the Don Henley hit "Boys of Summer." More than 15,000 people paid $80 or more to see the concerts.
Wrote a Tulsa World reporter: "One thing's for sure: The music's held fast with fans of these cosmic cowboys who have never dug on punk or disco. Multiple standing ovations in a crowd at least three generations strong was proof positive of that."
Luciano Pavarotti reacts to the applause following his performance at the Mabee Center in 2005. Tulsa World file
TAKING CARE OF A TENOR
World-renowned tenor Luciano Pavarotti launched his Worldwide Farewell Celebration Tour from the Mabee Center in 2005.
The venue went all out to make him comfortable and installed a "lift," or elevator for him, special plumbing and constructed an "apartment" of a dressing room that spanned 390 square feet.
"'Oh, you padded the floors!' 'Oh, you got the lift,' " venue manager Tony Winters said Pavarotti's management exclaimed, referring to the platform elevator that can raise Pavarotti from the floor to the dressing room's entrance.
And after a world-class night of singing, World Staff Writer James Watts wrote, "True, Pavarotti's Buddha-like proportions and physical ailments make it very difficult for him to move, so he spent the evening seated behind the grand piano set center stage, his music spread out in front of him, glasses of water within easy reach."
He died in 2007 at age 71.
In 1975, Eric Clapton was arrested at Tulsa International Airport after police saw him throwing his suitcases down a banister to the waiting arms of a friend. Clapton's band played the show and was joined by the rock guitarist who was released from jail at 9 p.m.
CLAPTON GOES FROM CLINK TO CAIN’S
Some music moments are memorable for what almost doesn't happen. In 1975, Eric Clapton became part of a Tulsa World headline that read "Rock Star Rolled into Tulsa Jail." He was fined $25 and briefly jailed after disembarking his flight to Tulsa in a tipsy state. An officer "said he saw the Ripley, England, native dropping his two suitcases off the upper banister to the waiting arms of an unidentified friend below." The officer said when he approached, Clapton became irate.
He was released to Cain's Ballroom attorney Jeff Nix, who said, "I hope while he's in my custody I get to see him play."
He did, as did hundreds of others that night. He's returned many times since, also playing the Tulsa Assembly Center in 1979 and the BOK Center in 2010.
Similarly, in 1965 Elvis Presley was charged with a felony after he accidentally used an expired credit card to pay for gasoline while in Oklahoma. The charges were later dismissed for insufficient evidence. It didn't stop him from returning in 1972, 1974 and 1976.
CRIME OF COLOR
Some moments in Tulsa history were downright disheartening for what did happen. In 1962, Ray Charles' band was reportedly denied service at The Pines Drive-In Restaurant for their skin color after the group played a benefit concert for the University of Tulsa's Quarterback Club at Skelly Stadium.
The group donated $3,000 to the school (adjusted for inflation, that amount would be nearly $23,000 today). The restaurant lost customers who witnessed the exchange, reported a front-page story in The Oklahoma Eagle. Instead, the band made do with cold cuts from Git 'N Go.
Later, in 1966, extra police were stationed at a James Brown concert: "No dancing will be allowed during the show" reported the Tulsa Tribune. None! Days before, 27 people had been arrested at Brown's Kansas City show when a melee followed a bottle-throwing incident after a dance contest.
RASCALS’ MEMORIES OF MERLE
A new country music act played a club called Curly's in 2001. Rascal Flatts has since gone on to play multiple sold-out shows to more than a million fans, but back then the band's bassist Jay DeMarcus related a story about meeting country music icon Merle Haggard.
"He said, 'What kind of music do you boys play?' " the Tulsa World reported. "We said, 'Mr. Haggard, we do country.' And he said, 'Not with them dadgum earrings you don't.' "
Then the band, including Picher native Joe Don Rooney, launched into a version of Haggard's "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink."
Wrote reporter John Wooley: "Whether Merle Haggard or ... any of the rest of us are all for it, this may be country's new trend - and the undeniably talented, incessantly high-energy, Rascal Flatts may be the voice, and the look, of country music's future."
65,000 COME TO SEE WILLIE
True bad-boy country had its heyday with an unexpected juggernaut of fandom in 1977 when 65,000 people jammed into the Expo Square Raceway to hear Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and the boys. Oh, crowds were expected all right, but not the record number that it received.
Revelers were well-behaved, the Tulsa World reported. It was the first "Willie Nelson Picnic" to hit Tulsa, which had been running in Texas since 1973.
"We wanted every one of these people, but we didn't want one more," event organizer and promoter Larry Shaeffer said. "There's no room for them out there."
Reporter David Brown wrote, "Tim Hamilton, 19, (of) Meridian, Miss., said he's received an unusual personal invitation to attend the Tulsa concert.
"'I talked to Willie personally in Meridian when he played there. He told me, "I'm havin' my picnic in Tulsa, Oklahoma this year. Be there!' " Hamilton recalled.
" 'I said, "I'll see you there, Willie," and I came.' "
Tulsa World researcher Hilary Pittman contributed to this story.
Original Print Headline: Epic rock 'n' roll moments in Tulsa history
Jennifer Chancellor 918-581-8346