Twenty musicians, two engineers, four days and a lot of pinball. That’s what it took for a group of notable Okie musicians to recreate seventeen of the most famous and, at times, most obscure songs written by some of Tulsa’s finest. Their goal was simple; create Back to Paradise: A Tulsa Tribute to Okie Music.
Simple. Not easy.
With marching orders in hand, that gaggle of musicians went and blew the dust off of Leon Russell’s famed Paradise Studio at Grand Lake in Oklahoma and fired her up once again. Dormant for years, this musical mecca has hosted recording sessions by some of the biggest names in the music like it’s captain Leon Russell, Bob Seger, and Freddie King. Bob Dylan has driven that studio road. George Harrison has walked through that studio door. Now they were here. New Okie’s to rekindle the vibe and the revive the energy. They were there to restore the musical heartbeat within those grand walls.
They loaded in their gear, talked, tuned, and flittered about. Then for the first time since 1978, the light went on and a finger pressed ‘record.’
Paul Benjaman, one of the core band members on the project playing guitar and at times taking over vocal duties, is a Tulsa Sound guy from way back. For him, this project was right in line with everything he loves.
“My adventures in Tulsa Sound began with my first J.J. Cale record,” Benjaman recalls. “From studies of his rhythms and production, then later archeology of Leon’s material when I was asked to direct the tributes at Cain’s Ballroom and elsewhere. Add in the guitar explorations I learned playing alongside Steve Pryor and many other real deals still living in town.
“The Tulsa Sound is at once a simple and economic vibe, but also is expansive enough to include all forms of American music. I’m somewhere in there trying to do right by the masters yet add elements from other places I’ve been to make something my own. I’m not interested in creating museum pieces. I’m trying to get people to groove by any means to that end.”
While Benjaman takes the lead on a handful of tunes, one magic moment in particular comes in the form of the J.J. Cale tune “I’ll Make Love to You Anytime,” which American Songwriter is proud to premiere. Written by Cale and released in 1979 on his album 5 on Shelter Records, Eric Clapton also recorded the song for his album Backless. Seventeen songs in less than a week is a tall order even for the most experienced session cats, but somewhere along the way the vibe took hold. It was almost as if Leon had foreseen this exact situation decades earlier and had everything ready for it.
“I’d never been to Paradise Studio and wandered out there on session Day One with a long list of songs to track, a lot of musicians to include and four days to do it. What I discovered was a wonderland Leon had ingeniously designed for just that kind of thing. Everything flowed easily with a spirit and a vibe that kept you pushing 10+ hour days all in fun.”
The entire album Back to Paradise: A Tulsa Tribute to Okie Music will be available August 28th on Horton Records. Horton Records is a volunteer-based, non-profit 501(c) (3) Tulsa music organization whose mission is to provide services that develop and support musicians in the Tulsa area while fostering community with other creative partners and building on the rich musical heritage in the region.
If you dig what you hear, go ahead and pre-order the project.