R.I.P. Singer-Songwriter Roger Tillison

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Roger+Tillison

Roger Tillison was a singer and songwriter from Oklahoma, and was part of the Tulsa scene that included J.J. Cale, Leon Russell, Jim Keltner, and Jesse Ed Davis.

Sometime around 1970, he moved to Woodstock, New York, and became part of the scene that included such artists as The Band, Van Morrison, Happy & Artie Traum and others.

Tillison was a strong country influenced singer and in addition to his originals, his repertoire included rare Woody Guthrie tunes as well as songs by Bob Dylan and The Band that at time weren’t on albums, such as “Down In The Flood” and “Get Up Jake.”

I was lucky enough to see him one night at a Woodstock musician’s hangout, the Sled Hill Café, where he did a version of Dylan’s “Farewell Angelina” I haven’t forgotten to this day.

In 1971, he released an eponymous album on ATCO, produced by Jesse Ed Davis, who also played guitar and featured a mix of rock ’n’ roll stalwarts such as fellow Oklahomans, Don Preston and Jim Kelter, and also one-time members of Ronnie Hawkins’ Hawks, Stan Szelest and drummer Sandy Konikoff who also drummed for Dylan in early ’66. It was a really good record, but it ended up being one of those albums that only those who knew about it, knew about it.

Tillison eventually returned to Oklahoma, continued to play, and also worked as an illustrator, and would occasionally tour with J.J. Cale who recorded one of his songs, “One Step Ahead of The Blues.”

More than 30 years after his first album, he finally released a second, the more acoustically oriented Mamble Jamble in 2003.

Roger Tillison died Monday at age 72. He was in every way one of the forerunners of what we know now as Americana music.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. FIRST MET ROG IN’68 AT THE CAMPUS CORNER IN NORMAN…HE’D JUST GOT HIS ADVANCE FOR THE CAP LP…WORKED A FEW GIGS WITH HIM IN STILLWATER IN ’73….SAW HIM OVER THE YR’S ROUND T-TOWN…VISITED HIM IN GLENNPOOL AT THE NURSING HOME COUPLE TIMES…LAST TIME I KNEW IT WAS THE LAST…GOD BLESS…JAM WITH YA ON THE OTHER SIDE…SBJ

  2. While stationed at Fort Sill Oklahoma,i found myself in a basement bar in Lawton, Oklahoma, October 1969, listening to a guy pouring out his heart on guitar His bass player friend would soon nod out after getting into some quieting drug of the time. It was a small room with a dingy underground bar attached by a wide and open doorway. My wife Cherrie, Keith and four way drunk locals were the only people there. i had just gotten back from VietNam, was involved in quiet conversation and not really paying attention when from the alcoholic corner comes this dark and threatening voice….”Clap you motherfuckers…” oops…is this one of those situations where you wish maybe for something more in your pocket than a wallet? Would it save the day? Nah. Roger drawled up and said, “Aw, shut up, these folks here are friends of mine,” came over, sat down and spent time just talking about his hopes of recording with Robbie Robertson and other dreams. He had left home cos his dad was severly bent his long hair and desire to play music. This was one of his first forays out and for us It was a great accidental moment (are there really “accidental moments?”) We all agreed he sounded wonderful but the Robbie Robertson thing?….well that was a BIG dream. I left the army in April of 1970 and Keith came to visit in October. We were rummaging around around in a friends independent music store in Rochester, New York when low and behold found two albums of Music Heads. The first was Steve Goodman whom we “accidently” would meet a short time later, the second was Roger’s first album…a big ol grinnin’ headshot of Roger…blew my mind and was a terific album. It was so good. And then “the years just flowed by like a broken down dam..” My record collection evaporated and Roger was but a memory until with the, uh, miracle of iTunes he returned to the fold in my head. How much music stands up to a repeat listening 40+ years later? Roger Tillerson created one of the best albums of modern Americana. A gem of a musician and a guy. God speed and Rest in Peace, brother. See ya soon. jb and friends

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