The (Mostly) True Story of the Tulsa Shuffle: Part IV
The Rock Star
“You like avocado?”
I admit that yes, I do, quite.
“Here, take mine. Reminds me of baby shit.”
Jamie Oldaker and I are sitting at a table at a Mexican restaurant in Tulsa’s Kendall Whittier District. He's heard lots of good things about the place but has never been.
Oldaker’s lifelong career has taken him around the world, but in recent years he has found himself once again living in Tulsa, and he is eager to see and try everything. To feel one with his hometown.
Over a plate of camarones, he paints a picture to begin his story. He speaks with such excitement, and in such detail, it is easy to see.
Two kids share a drive on a summer evening. A guitar riff creeps out of the cars speakers. A proclamation, a plea for mercy.
“I shot the sheriff, but I did not shoot the deputy.”
“Hey that's me!”, a fresh faced Jamie Oldaker exclaims. His date is thoroughly unimpressed and confident she is riding shotgun with a liar.
To be fair, her doubt was not unwarranted. Why in the world would this young Okie be playing drums with Eric Clapton on the massively popular song?
“I never did get the girl.” Oldaker says with a laugh.
Rock and roll has a way of sinking its claws into the hearts of the young, the impressionable and excitable. For Jamie Oldaker, it was never a choice.
Oldaker began playing around Tulsa with his first band, The Rogues Five at the tender age of 13. He picked up his first set of sticks at 9.
A sponsorship by Pepsi-Cola allowed The Rogues Five, with their Beatle-esqe sound, a wider audience than the high school parties they would have otherwise been confined to. This allowed him the opportunity to open for larger touring bands and gave the young man a taste of times to come.
Although his father played and provided influence through his collection of jazz records, Jamie found his way to the drums by the random nature of life.
“I went to McKinley Elementary School, wanted to play the violin but the class was full. They had a spot open for percussion and I went for it. Didn't take long to figure out rock and roll was how you got the chicks.”
Once the ball got rolling, not a single look back was given.
As a younger man than the rest of the pack at the time, Jamie idolized locals like Chuck Blackwell and David Teegarden. Blackwell was one of the original pioneers to go to L.A. with Leon Russell years earlier to return a big fish.
Blackwell is often credited to having taken in many of the younger guys under his wing, showing them how to be true to themselves yet still flexible enough to get work. He saw these men following their dreams and would do the same, come hell or high water.
Even now as a man of 65, Jamie exudes a life, a presence so strong that it is easy to picture the tenacity he held as a young man. A strength and spirit that is not easily dismissed. This can be seen in the career he has had. He attributes part of his success to the same philosophy that he applies to his drumming.
“I’m uncompromising. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s where I’m from. Maybe it’s the people. Maybe it’s the strength that Oklahoman’s have.”
Where an artist hails from is greatly accepted to impact their creations and it could be argued that were you to go stand down by the Frisco tracks the beat of the freight trains chugging along would hold an unmistakable similarity to “Lay Down Sally”, one of Eric Clapton’s biggest hits. A song penned in Tulsa by singer Marcy Levy.
He decided from the start that he wasn't a session player. Oldaker wanted to be in the band. If he were to be on the record, he was to tour and be part of something larger than himself. On this there was little comprise. This mentality led way to a band that would define him as a drummer and provide a stepping stone for the countless artists he would in time work with.
In 1973, friend and world renowned bass player, Carl Radle paid Oldaker a visit at the long since gone Observatory Club which sat on N. Sheridan by the airport. Radle sat in and listened to the songs Oldaker, Levy and others were working on and suggested they record a cassette tape. They did and Radle took it and went on to his next gig, the tape fading from Oldaker’s memory.
A year later Oldaker was working for Shelter records and part of The Gap Band. Radle called Jamie out of the blue with a question.
“You remember that tape you gave me? Well I gave it to my friend Eric Clapton. He’s been listening to it in his living room for the last year. He’s about to make a record in Miami and wants me to bring you.”
The news came as a shock to Jamie and presented a hard choice to be made.
“I go ‘Fuck, I’m supposed to go on tour with Leon Russell in two weeks.’” He had a decision to make. Looking back now he can say he feels he made the right one.
A friendship and partnership emerged from the cutting of that record that lasted for 11 more.
To put into contrast the importance of these songs allow a mental image of a father at his daughter's wedding, having just given her away he claims his last right, a dance. The cymbal works slowly as “Wonderful Tonight” floats alongside tears and joy. These songs matter. These are the songs people will know as long as there are people left to know songs.
Years pass and with them too many stories to document here. To surmise Jamie finds himself able to look back on a career he is proud of. He allows himself a small amount of pride in the work he has done but has no intentions of quitting. He instead now focuses on the work he has yet to do.
“Well, I have a farm. I love it. I get to be home and enjoy life. I also got married last year.”
So, he got the girl after all.
At his wedding in Tulsa’s East Village, friends and family were treated to a block party and a surprise reunion of his old band, The Rogues Five. Oldaker, used the get down as an opportunity to raise money for a cause he cares deeply about, The Day Center for the Homeless. The event went so well that he is going to recreate it again this year in the form of a festival, MOJOFest, again with all proceeds going to DCFH.
It is clear that with age Jamie is not slowing down. He is a man renewed, entering the next chapter of his life. Fulfilling work, a fresh happy marriage and a chance to reconnect and invest in the community he loves.
The Bee Gees. Ace Frehley. Asleep At The Wheel. The Gap Band. Peter Frampton. Leon Russell. Eric Clapton. On and on. Jamie Oldaker’s resume is as stacked as it can get and he is no longer interested in tallying artists, adding to the list.
“I did the band thing. I had a goal. I wanted to be in a rock and roll band. I did it. Now it’s time to do something different. Tulsa has been good to me. It’s time I do something for Tulsa.”