HALL OF FAME GUITARIST TOMMY CROOK RETURNS TO JAZZ DEPOT STAGE
Tulsa guitar legend Tommy Crook, honored as an inductee into both the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, returns to the Jazz Depot Sunday. Scheduled to appear with him is the veteran bassist Jim Bates.
“I hardly do anything without Bates,” Crook says. “He makes me look good.”
If that’s true, then he’s been making Crook look good for quite some time. The two began playing together back in the mid-1960s as members of a dance outfit led by the nationally known western-swing drummer and nightclub performer Paul McGhee. Crook, who’d already been playing for years, was then holding down a day job at Tulsa’s Guitar House.
“I’d just turned 20 years old, and my wife was pregnant,” he recalled. “Since we were going to have our first child, I needed a way to supplement my income, so I started playing six nights a week with Paul McGhee’s band, which had Paul on drums, Bates on bass, Tommy Lokey on trumpet, Gayle Williamson playing piano, and me on guitar. We also had Ken Downing on saxophone and, sometimes, Kenny Quinn, who played trombone.
“We started at 10 o’clock every night. Through the week, we’d play until two, and until three on Friday and Saturday. We spent several months playing at a place on south Cheyenne called Mr. Kelley’s, which was also known as the 518 Club. Then we were at the Don Quixote Club at the Quality Motel at 51st and Harvard. We worked there for almost three years.”
At the time, Crook remembers, he was getting home from the gigs at three or four in the morning, sleeping for a few hours, and then getting up and going to his Guitar House job, where his shift started at 9 a.m.
“I was young, and I was learning, being around a bunch of people older and wiser than me,” he says. “Paul McGhee was the first drummer to play on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. He’d spent five years with Hank Thompson. So he had a lot of stories. It was all real exciting. Bates and I were a couple of youngsters, and we really had a good time learning all that stuff and being a part of it.”
The McGhee jobs went on for years, even as the quality of the gigs lessened.
“Things kind of changed as far as entertainment around town, so we had to play some beer bars and places like that,” he explains. “Because the places we were playing couldn’t afford the kind of money that those nightclubs downtown paid, we had to start eliminating people. Finally, Paul and I were just playing as a duet four nights a week, and then we’d bring in a bass player on weekends. It was usually Bates, but by that time he’d started doing a lot more Philharmonic stuff.”
In 1968, Crook began performing solo, and a couple of years later he signed a two-week contract to play in the Inkwell Club at the Sheraton Hotel near Tulsa International Airport. The job lasted some 13 years, and it helped cement Crook’s stature as a major Tulsa star.
Since then, he’s played many other club jobs, but, he says, “now I’m doing funerals, and weddings, and private parties – and I’m doing quite a few of ’em. And I just realized a year or two ago that I’m now getting to do something I’ve never been able to do: playing anything I want to play. Old tunes I learned when I was a kid, old country & western tunes, Stephen Foster melodies, things that I never could get away with in a nightclub atmosphere, because you couldn’t dance to it. So I’m just getting to play anything I want, any kind of music, and I’m just having a ball.”
That’s the approach he plans to bring to the Jazz Depot Sunday.
“I don’t know what tunes I’m going to do,” he says, “but I’m going to do stuff that everybody knows.”
Tommy Crook, with Jim Bates on bass, is set to begin at 5 p.m. Sunday, September 21, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First St.
Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from www.myticketoffice.com, or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5. Refreshments will be available for purchase.
The show is ta part of the Jazz Hall’s 2014 Autumn Concert Series.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.