“Tulsa Sound” legend Jimmy “Junior” Markham died Friday. He was 78.
Markham, a singer and harmonica player, was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 2017.
According to Markham’s Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame bio, he grew up in Tulsa and landed his first record deal with Capitol Records. He performed with Leon Russell, JJ Cale, Carl Radle and Ace Moreland. In 1987, Markham co-organized the TNT (Tulsa-Nashville-Transplant) Blowout.
After Russell’s death in 2016, Markham played a major role in honoring his late friend by staging annual Russell birthday celebrations at Cain’s Ballroom. Markham said he did it “just for him to know how much I cared about him.”
Markham learned in the twilight of his life how much people cared about him. He lost his home to a fire in May. The home was uninsured. A GoFundMe account was created to assist Markham, and a “Save Jimmy” concert was held July 14 at Cain’s Ballroom. Actor and musician Gary Busey returned to his hometown of Tulsa to join local musicians on stage at the event. Another benefit for Markham was held at Soul City of Tulsa.
“It’s quite humbling,” Markham told the Tulsa World when asked about the outpouring of support he received after the fire.
“Of course, it makes me feel good. It just goes to show you what a solid music community we have in Tulsa, Oklahoma — and always have had, as far as I can remember. I know that when somebody faces a serious situation, it seems like people are always there to help them, which is the way it should be. And I have been the same way when called upon to help out. That’s what we are supposed to do. It’s too bad that it takes some kind of a tragic event for one to reflect on all that and think about it.”
Items that Markham wanted to donate to the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture survived the fire, which means his legacy will be preserved at OKPOP. He talked about some of his early music adventures in an interview prior to the 2018 Russell birthday bash.
Markham said he grew up with Russell and, when they were young, they and other musicians saved their money from local gigs so they could afford to drive to Philadelphia.
“I don’t know exactly what the word is — either ‘crazy’ or ‘confident’ — that we were just going to go up there and get up on ‘American Bandstand,’ ” Markham said, who recalled that he left Tulsa with probably $35 in his pocket.
Markham said he, Russell, Radle and Chuck Blackwell climbed into a 1952 Ford business coupe with equipment and clothes. They discarded the back seat in Joplin, Missouri, to create more passenger space for the long drive.
The Tulsans didn’t make it onto “American Bandstand,” but they were able to audition for an agency in Philadelphia. The agency approved of the burgeoning “Tulsa Sound” music but suggested (ugh!) the boys get uniforms and learn dance steps to be more like other bands of the era.
“Their jaws just dropped because, hell, the band couldn’t have been better — Leon and Carl Radle and Chuck Blackwell,” Markham said. “Leon has always been Leon. Always, you know? He would drop your jaw.”
Markham was active in the music world for more than six decades. In 2014 he was among contributors to “The Breeze,” Eric Clapton’s tribute album to another “Tulsa Sound” legend, JJ Cale.