The (Mostly) True Story of the Tulsa Shuffle: Part III
Part III: David Teegarden and the Tale of The Two Bob’s
A morning sun rises over an empty desert, its pink hue creating a glow that shines upon a lone runner, a man in a self-imposed exile. His long beard flows from a stiff southwestern breeze and Bob Seger’s voice guides his path. Running. Against the wind.
“Oh yeah, I absolutely remember the first time I saw ‘Forrest Gump’. I didn't even know that song was in the movie.”
David Teegarden sits on a comfortable looking sofa in a mostly empty building that will soon house a recording studio, just a few blocks down from the fabled Church Studio. He recounts the way he felt seeing the film and hearing the song he played on in such a featured and prominent way.
“My wife and I went to see it and we were just floored throughout. About halfway through I told my wife this is greatest movie I've ever seen. Then the song comes on and my jaw drops, and I say, "wow I'm in the greatest movie I've ever seen!"
Teegarden is soft spoken and deliberate in his story telling. He smokes while he reminisces. With each inhale you can see on his face the thoughts and memories formulate and each exhale brings with it another chapter a of a long life well lived.
In 1968 Jim Cassily was a college student with aspirations of helping change the world. Traveling from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles to work on the presidential campaign of Robert Kennedy, he found himself stranded in Tulsa due to a fierce rainstorm that made pushing on an impossibility. He got a hotel. Boredom set in and he found his way to a club.
Walking into the bar Cassily was immediately awestruck by the house band. Their sound hit him and he was hooked. He began making rounds, asking patrons about the players on stage. His excitement was such that it at first seemed feigned.
“We all thought he was a narc. Who the hell is this guy and what's he about?” Teegarden says with a laugh that is hard and tender all at once.
Cassily, a Detroit native, was convinced this sound would be more than well received in his home town and approached Teegarden. He pitched the idea of relocation to the Motor City. Teegarden was dismissive, not in an arrogant way, but in the way, one becomes after being a working musician for awhile. Opportunity knocks often but rarely stands there true once you've made it to the door.
Cassily and Teegarden traded phone numbers and went their separate ways.
Mere weeks later fate would intervene in the form of an assassin named Sirhan Sirhan, a national tragedy and the loss of Robert Kennedy's life.
“I got a phone call. He goes ‘Well, my short-lived political career is over. Why don't you come to Detroit and let's do this music thing?’ I was leary about it, but he was convincing. And persistent. Eventually me and my partner Skip Van Winkle decided to go to Michigan and see what happens.”
Upon arrival in Detroit, Teegarden found himself immersed in a thriving music scene. The success of the R&B driven Motown Records had inadvertently created a rock and roll counterculture. Teegarden found contemporaries to be bands like the MC5, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Ted Nugent, and the man who he would forge a long-lasting friendship with, Bob Seger.
“All these rock bands were great but I, as a player, felt more of a connection to the Muscle Shoals thing, the soul, the way those guys played. My start was in jazz and rhythm and blues and it just showed in what I did.”
Coming from Tulsa, a town at a cultural crossroads that also served a thriving music community, Teegarden had developed a style that allowed him to float between gigs and genres. Country, R&B, jazz, rock and roll, all living side by side. Working with Tulsa icons JJ Cale and Leon Russell, both known to have very clear visions of what would become of their songs, contributed to Teegarden's style as well.
“Less is more, stay back, keep it easy and you had better be on time.”
Teegarden felt an immediate kinship to Seger and the way he sang as he was “the only white guy I ever saw that sounded like Wilson Pickett.” The respect was reciprocal.
Teegarden & Van Winkle, the band he helped form, began to gain momentum with the hit “God, Love and Rock and Roll” and eventually led to a string of dates touring with Bob Seger opening. Halfway through the tour, Seger fired his entire band and convinced Teegarden and Van Winkle to pair up. They finished the tour under the billing “Teegarden & Van Winkle with Bob Seger” and operated for a time as such.
Eventually butting heads between Seger and Van Winkle led to a parting of ways but Teegarden and Seger remained friends.
Over the course of the next several years Seger’s star began to rise thanks to songs like “Night Moves” and “Main Street”.
Seger had been using another Tulsa drummer, Jamie Oldaker, for a time but Oldaker found himself unable to commit to a tour as he had prior commitments to his main gig, working for Eric Clapton.
Seger reached out to Teegarden and asked him to audition. The idea of auditioning felt strange as he'd at this point already had a long-standing relationship with Seger.
“Yeah man, we’re a band, we gotta do it democratically. This is just how we do it now.”
Countless drummers had auditioned for the gig and upon learning this Teegarden felt nervous, but he packed up his gear and dove in.
“We played. Few hours later Seger's manager Punch called. I had the job and I was in the Silver Bullet Band and the rest is history.”
David Teegarden’s contribution to music cannot be overstated. A hardworking, no nonsense, jazz and soul influenced drummer who applied those principles to rock and roll. Walk into any supermarket across the country, turn on any classic rock radio station and you will very likely hear the beat of the man who still calls Tulsa home.
Stay tuned for Part IV: The Rock Star