Monday, September 22, 2008

Okie Invasion of California

(This entry is guest written by Larry O'Dell, Director of Collections for the Research Division)

I learned much about the California Okie subculture in a recent research trip dedicated to “Another Hot Oklahoma Night.” Not just the artists that we interviewed had Oklahoma Ties, but many people that we encountered, including the Starbucks clerk, restaurant employees, and people on the street. The drive also reinforced to me the travails that the “Dust Bowl” migrants endured, and their cars had no air-conditioning and often broke down. It was a long drive, but the company of Jeff Moore, videographer Beau Leland, and crack audio guy Darren Dunn helped pass the time. Beaux can play a mean toy concertina, especially when Darren accompanies him on a miniature xylophone.

We interviewed several Oklahomans that have transplanted to the West Coast. The first, Shelly Dunn, one of the earliest women DJ’s for the KATT, had several interesting stories about the station’s early days and development. Among the other more interesting personalities included Danny Cooksey, who transplanted from Moore, Oklahoma, to L.A. in the late 1970s as a child performer. You might recognize him from Different Strokes and Salute Your Shorts (look him up on IMDB). In 1992 Steve Vai produced an album for Bad4Good, Cooksey’s band. Danny still performs with his band Arbuckle.

Moon Martin, an Altus native, provided us with another stellar interview. He taught guitar in Norman with Jesse Ed Davis, before he moved to California with his band Southwind. A staple in the music industry, he was the first to write and perform “Bad Case of Loving You,” which Robert Palmer later recorded. Palmer also produced one of Martin’s albums. An interesting fact is that Moon is one of the top-selling recording artists in France, where he still tours.

An integral part of the exhibit is the early years of Rock, especially the great Rockabilly acts that Oklahoma produced. On a ranch near Santa Barbara we talked to one of these early duos, the Collins Kids. If you have the opportunity, look at one of their early performances on youtube. In 1954 Larry moved around onstage appearing like a cross between Elvis and Chuck Berry before those two became nationally prominent). Laura Collins dated Ricky Nelson and appeared regularly on the Ozzie and Harriet Show. Their long career produced many extraordinary stories, which will be told in the exhibit and accompanying documentary. One is their connection with legendary guitar-maker and Oklahoman Semie Moseley of the Mosrite guitar.

The drive back east seemed even longer than the monstrous drive west. But, we survived and no one injured anyone else. All in All our Okie invasion of California turned out to be a great success.

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