OKLAHOMA CITY: HOME OF THE WORLD’S FIRST PUBLISHED BLUES
UPDATED OCTOBER 12 2021
|Hart Wand circa 1910
“Oklahoma City looks oh so pretty”, wrote Bobby Troup in 1946, while composing “Get Your Kicks (On Route 66)”. While a hit record for Nat King Cole that same year, “Route 66”, (as the song’s title later became known), is more familiar these days as a Chuck Berry or Rolling Stones classic, from the 1960s. However, we digress.
If for nothing else, Oklahoma City deserves its place in our Great Blues Cities series for being the city where the first blues tune to become available on sheet music, “Dallas Blues”, was both written and published.
Composed around 1909, by the white son of wealthy German immigrants, Hart Wand, “Dallas Blues” was the great game-changer, so far as blues was concerned. With its mystery unravelled on paper for the first time, the instrumental was playing the length of the Mississippi, just weeks after being released in March 1912
|The first published blues
A violinist and bandleader, Wand was around 22 when he wrote Dallas Blues, before taking it to a pianist friend, a Miss Annabel Robbins, who arranged and transcribed it for him.
Home of one of
the blues’ finest singers
Oklahoma City was also the birthplace of one of the great blues shouters ever to be recorded – a blues shouter being someone who could sing the blues while unamplified and therefore heard over the band.
His name was Jimmy Rushing, born in Oklahoma City in 1901. Along with Big Joe Turner, Jimmy Rushing has been pinpointed, by critics as eminent as Nat Hentoff, as the major influence upon the birth of rhythm & blues. Hentoff also called Rushing one of the greatest blues singers. Count Basie, whose band rushing sang with, said Rushing had no equal as a blues singer while jazz pianist-supreme Dave Brubeck called Rushing the daddy of all blues singers. (See archives for
more on Jimmy Rushing).
Home of one of
the 1920s most influential jazz /blues bands
touring the Mid-West and California as an itinerant blues singer in the early
to mid-1920s, Jimmy returned home to join the Oklahoma Blue Devils in 1927. If
you’ve read my book “How Blues Evolved: Volume 1”, you’ll know the blue devils
were the evil spirits blamed for depression which first appeared in print
around 1599 in London and thus became our earliest source of the origin of the
Oklahoma Blue Devils were the leading territory band touring America’s South
West during the
|The Oklahoma Blues Devils: launching pad for many great jazz musicians
1920s. Territory bands were once described by The Village Voice
as the Top 40 cover bands of their day and what a line-up the Oklahoma Blue
Devils could boast. Members, at various times, included Count Basie; the first
recorded electric guitarist, Eddie Durham; sax player, Lester Young; Charlie
Parker’s mentor, Buster Smith. The Blue Devils disbanded in 1933, most of them
joining Count Basie’s orchestra.
was also during a 1937 stopover in Oklahoma City, as a matter of guitar trivia,
that pianist Charlie Christian approached Basie’s guitarist, Eddie Durham, and
asked Eddie to teach him the guitar. “I never saw a fellow learn so fast,” said
Home of two of
the earliest pioneers of rock & roll-style blues
|That’s Joe Liggins on the piano at the back
Born in Oklahoma State, not far from Oklahoma City, were the brothers Jimmy and Joe Liggins. Joe Liggins led the Honeydrippers (remember Robert Plant’s band of the same name in the 80s?). The Honeydrippers track “The Honeydripper” from 1945 has been described as “the earliest runaway hit in the formative R&B combo style”, and an important precursor to the development of rock and roll. Why not give it whirl below:
“The Honeydripper” reached number 13 on the Billboard pop chart in 1945 and spent 18 weeks on Billboard’s Race Records Chart, the forerunner to its R&B Chart. However, I feel Joe’s brother, the guitarist and jump blues bandleader, Jimmy Liggins, recorded an even more important rock & roll precursor, with his “Cadillac Boogie” in 1947. Take a listen to that, and read about Jimmy, a
couple of posts down.
|Joe’s brother Jimmy. he used to be a boxer called Kid Zulu
Finally, if you know anything about rugby football, which you probably don’t if you’re reading this in the USA, you’ll know that the anthem sung by England supporters is the old Negro spiritual, “Sweet Chariot”. For more information on this and its risqué hand actions, take a look at which is by far my most popular post ever, Dirty blues lyrics and filthy rugby songs: the similarities.
But be warned, it is quite filthy.
“Sweet Chariot” was written in Oklahoma, when it was Indian Territory, sometime before 1862, by a slave belonging to a Native American tribe called Wallis Willis. It seems Willis was owned by the Choctaw who sided with the Confederates during the American Civil War. The Choctaw picked up their unsavoury practices from European fur traders who kept slaves and married into the Choctaw nation. When the African-American slaves were freed by the Choctaw after the Civil War in 1866, they became known as Choctaw Freedmen and were adopted into the Choctaw Nation in 1885. Oklahomans probably know all this but I certainly didn’t. It’s amazing what you learn researching the blues. Talking about researching the blues, it’s been a while since I gave my book a plug, so here’s the cover to How Blues Evolved Volume One below. There’s also a volume two.
In the USA, get your free previews on this link: