By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Jacob Fred Jazz Trio
"Live at Your Mama's House"
The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey started out several years
ago with the jazzy name but an overly funky sound. The
improv thing was there in spots, but sometimes the boys
seemed more concerned with being MCs than emissaries. After
the first couple of years and the first thousand Medeski,
Martin and Wood bootlegs, Jacob Fred evolved into a true
jazz odyssey — and never have its members so deeply explored
the innocently psychedelic spirit of improvisation than in
this side project, a trio of keyboardist Brian Haas,
bassist Reed Mathis and drummer Matt Edwards.
The Jacob Fred Trio has been playing weekly at the Bowery for six
months, and this single disc captures a handful of the
band's best moments there, including Haas' invigorating
"Good Energy Perpetuates Good Energy," a meandering
Thelonious Monk medley that morphs into an original tribute
to former Tulsa bassist Al Ray ("The Man Who Adjusted
Tonalities") and a rhapsodic opener, "Pacific," by Odyssey
trombone player Matt Leland's father, Max. All of it moves
in the same impressionistic space, not leaving you with any
lasting tunes but leaving your ears a little looser.
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Negativland is a band of self-described "culture jammers"
whose musical collage art has landed them in hot water
during the last decade.
The band's music is a process of cutting up, splicing
together and warping various sounds and recordings, netting
the flotsam and jetsam of our media culture and fusing it
back together in striking, poignant and sometimes grotesque
new shapes — and often, new statements. It's just like those
art-school collages, only in aural, not visual, art.
It's a less-traveled road which has made all the
difference for Negativland.
Two decades and countless lawsuits into its career,
Negativland is touring for the first time in seven years.
The True/False Tour brings the band's culture blending into
a live and ultimately more bracing setting. The multi-media
show incorporates musical instruments and countless sound
devices, as well as eight film projectors and three slide
"It took us two years to develop this show because we
wanted to be able to do it right and to create something
that very few people have experienced before," said Mark
Hosler, a charter Negativland member. "About 85 percent of
the show, too, is all original material that nobody has
heard before. We actually even collage our own material
from our own records."
Indeed, by 1986 — when a group showed up named Pop Will
Eat Itself — Negativland already had established the recipe
for that meal. Raiding the sonic junkyards of suburban
culture — television, telephones, other people's records --
and juicing up the sounds with occasional keyboards and
percussion, Negativland began in 1980 making records that
were disjointed aural sculptures.
The core members of Negativland met at an after-school
job: conducting telephone surveys about people's favorite
TV shows. Discovering a shared fascination for tinkering
with noises, they followed a friend's advice and assembled
their first collages into a self-titled album.
"The covers were all hand-made, not because that's what
we wanted to do but because we didn't know how you got
things printed, how you turned a piece of artwork into
printed pieces of cardboard," Hosler said. "So I spent my
senior semester of art class making the covers by hand,
using old wallpaper books and such. The covers, basically,
were collages, too."
In the visual arts, this appropriation rarely raises any
concerns, but in music — particularly since the advent of
hip-hop and sampling — the word "appropriation" attracts
lawyers like blood attracts sharks. Negativland has
received more than its share of mail with "Attorneys at Law"
in the return address, starting with 1989's "Helter Stupid"
album, the cover of which featured a photo of convicted
Minnesota mass murderer David Broom. The album was a
disturbing masterpiece on media manipulation.
The most famous run-in with the law, though, occurred a
couple of years later when Negativland picked on someone
much bigger. The band released a single called "U2," which
made fun of Bono's band by picking out the melody of "I
Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" on kazoos and
included tapes of a profanity-laced studio tantrum by
swell-guy radio star Casey Kasem. The resulting legal
battle with U2 galvanized the band as crusaders for
redefining the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. The
battle and the band's resulting theories are chronicled in
a book, "Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral
2," and the group's web site is now a clearinghouse for
discussion of the limits of sampling and collage uses of
other musicians' work — the difference between piracy and
"the transformative re-use of material from multiple sources
to create new, original works . . . Collage is not theft."
"In the visual arts, collage is making one-of-a-kind
pieces, and it's under the label of fine art. Music,
though, is mass produced. It's pop culture. The monied
interests are more involved and they make it into a whole
new ball game," Hosler said. "Nobody cared when we were doing
this back in the '80s. Only with hip-hop becoming a bigger
part of music did things change.
"The mentality has changed. We saw it happen with the
`U2' single, and now it's happening with computers and the
Internet. Napster is a front-page story on USA Today, and
it's all about the issues we started dealing with in '90
and '91. Once it becomes digital, the concept of theft and
property is turned on its head. The original and the copy
are the same. And the way the music industry makes money is
by having tight control over the distribution, so once that
becomes endangered, they freak out. These threats against
Napster are the terrified screams of a dying industry that
wants to stop the future from happening."
Hosler, in fact, sees virtually all art as collage art.
In other words, every new idea is simply the recombination
of other, old ideas into a new form.
"That's the natural creative impulse — it's
transformational more than purely creative, as in starting
from nothing," he said. "We take chunks of actual things and
recombine them. It's not outright counterfeit when you
create something new. But now these businesses want to stop
that, stop people from being creative. Time-Warner and all
that — they want total control of everything and they want
us to sit back and be passive consumers. If you follow that
logic all the way through, it's the death of culture. It's
mean-spirited, and it's just dumb."
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Side, 6906 S. Lewis Ave.
Tickets: $15 at the door
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
The Isley Brothers did OK with "Twist and Shout," but the
Beatles made it a monster hit. Same story throughout the
'60s with "Respectable" (the Yardbirds, the Outsiders),
"Nobody But Me" (the Human Beinz) and "Shout" (Lulu). These
other groups copied the Isleys' blueprint pretty closely
and somehow scored bigger hits with the same songs.
The Isleys eventually got their due — with R&B hits such
as the shimmering "This Old Heart of Mine," "It's Your Thing"
and "Who's That Lady?" — and they look back on those early
days not as struggles but as a time when their influence
helped direct the flow of modern music.
"The Isley Brothers have always been there as some sort
of reference point," said Ernie Isley in an interview this
week. "We're in the fine print, in the details of rock 'n'
roll. Our name may not be called out first, but you always
see us in connection with many of the greats. People talk
about Hendrix blah blah blah — and the Isleys are there.
People talk about the Beatles blah blah blah — and the
Isleys are there ... Now with rap and hip-hop, we're the
most sampled of anybody. We're still in the mix."
Indeed, the Isley Brothers have been there from the
beginning, when the first trio of Isley siblings — Ronald,
Rudolph and O'Kelly — traveled from Cincinnati to New York
City to record a string of doo-wop singles in the '50s.
These first songs didn't take the group far at all, but
during a 1959 performance in Washington, D.C., they added a
line to their spirited cover of "Lonely Teardrops." The ad
lib: "You know you make me want to shout." The audience went
An RCA executive saw the show, and when he signed the
Isleys soon after, he told them to build their first RCA
single around that catch phrase. The song "Shout" was born,
and though the Isleys' debut of it never cracked the Top
40, "Shout" would become an oft-covered classic, becoming a
hit all over again with Lloyd Williams' version in the 1978
movie "Animal House."
"We show up in movies all the time," Ernie said. "That
movie 'Out of Sight' with George Clooney uses (Public
Enemy's Isley-sampling hit) 'Fight the Power' and 'It's
Your Thing' running throughout. I didn't know that when I
went to see the movie. I felt proud and humbled at the same
time. I thought, 'Lord, have mercy. Did we do this music
that keeps pushing these buttons?' "
Ernie Isley joined his older brothers in the family
business just as the group was hitting it big. His first
job was playing bass on the Isleys' No. 2 1969 hit, "It's
Your Thing." He backed up his brothers with bass, guitar and
vocals until he and two other family members — brother
Marvin and brother-in-law Chris Jasper — joined the older
three on 1973's "3 + 3" album, featuring the next huge Isleys
hit, "Who's That Lady?"
"That was my official coming-out party," Ernie said.
The inclusion of Ernie added a new dimension to the
Isleys' lite funk. Trained originally as a drummer, Ernie
found his way to guitar, largely inspired by Jose
Feliciano's cover of the Doors' "Light My Fire."
Not that he didn't have one of the greatest living
guitarists living in his house. During the Isleys' 1964
tour, they recruited a young guitarist from Seattle named
Jimmy James. He played on "Testify," the Isleys' first single
for their independent record label, T-Neck. A couple of
years later, at the Monterrey Pop Festival, the world was
introduced to this guitarist under a modified name: Jimi
"I was 12 years old when Jimmy came around," Ernie
recalled. "All I saw was a very talented musician. I
couldn't understand why he practiced all the time, because
he was already so good. But the thing I saw was more real
than the thing everybody else saw. I saw the unsimonized,
unhyped, real, living, breathing person living in my house.
My brothers bought him his first Stratocaster.
"People used to have conversations where they'd ask,
'Who's the better guitarist: Clapton or Hendrix?' I was
never popular, because I'd say Jose Feliciano. I mean, he
took this song by the Doors and showed how melodious it is --
and he was playing acoustic, and he was blind. I thought
Hendrix was great, too, but not because of 'Purple Haze' or
'Foxey Lady' but because of what I heard him play without
an amp. Nobody wanted to hear that, though."
The Isley Brothers and Jimi Hendrix both were inducted
into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. During the
ceremony, Ernie joined the all-star band to sing "Purple
Haze," even playing the guitar behind his back.
The Isleys have found new life in the era of hip-hop,
too. As Ernie mentioned, more rappers sample Isley Brothers
songs than even James Brown.
"It started with Public Enemy doing 'Fight the Power.'
That was one of the first samples. That was before there
were any ground rules as to how the songwriters and
publishers were going to deal with this. After that, it
seemed we started getting about a dozen requests for
different songs out of our catalogs on a daily basis. We
The current Isley Brothers lineup includes Ronald, Ernie
and Marvin, the same trio that recorded the group's latest
album in 1996, "Mission to Please." That record was the
group's first gold album since 1983's "Between the Sheets."
"We're working on another CD," Ernie said. "We gotta keep
going. This Isley Brothers banner has been flying for more
than 40 years, and I get the feeling there are some people
who are just now starting to pay attention. I mean, what
these guys do seems to dictate which way the wind is going
to blow against the flag. You know, people know what
Britney Spears is doing and what the Backstreet Boys are
doing. But what are the Isleys doing?"
The Isley Brothers
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Brady Theater, 105 W. Brady
Tickets: $40.50 on the
floor, $36.50 in the balcony, available at the Brady
box office and all Dillard's outlets
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
"This Time Around"
(Island Def Jam)
Anyone here heard Mitch Ryder?
OK, let me rephrase: has anyone under 40 heard Mitch
He and his quintet, the Detroit Wheels, did for soul
music in the '60s what Elvis did for rock 'n' roll in the
'50s: introduced it to a white audience. Ryder, the Spencer
Davis Group, the Animals — these groups comprised the bridge
from the underlying groove of Temptations and Four Tops
hits to the soul influences that showed up at the turn of
the '70s in groups ranging from Joe Cocker, Traffic
(featuring Steve Winwood, the engine in the Spencer Davis
Group), all the way to Springsteen.
Ryder, in particular, was an indispensable shaman. With
his frayed, dizzying wail, Ryder led the Wheels'
piston-pumping backbeat through a string of tightly wound
hits in '66 and '67 — "Jenny Take a Ride," "Sock It to Me,
Baby," "Devil With the Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly" --
all of which evoked the pioneers of soul before him while
laying down his own tread on the music. Without Ryder's
shot of energy, it's questionable whether fellow Detroit
rockers like Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, the MC5 and even the
Stooges would have had enough gunpowder to explode out of
The Hanson brothers know a lot about Ryder.
They covered a few of his hits in concert and on the
resulting live album largely because they were raised on
that music. Living abroad and being home-schooled here in
Tulsa throughout their youth (which ain't over yet), they
enjoyed a unique isolation with those old rock and soul
collections and fed on that same high energy — so much so
that when they themselves finally emerged into the musical
world, their own unique gifts transmitted the same power.
On the trio's eagerly anticipated follow-up to its
multi-platinum debut, they finally seize that opportunity,
like Ryder, to divine the hidden glories of American soul
music to a new generation — a new, white, affluent
generation — as well as to define their own sights,
synergies and sound.
In summary, it RRRocks.
"This Time Around" could have been a wreck. Early reports
were not good — initial sessions with former Cars frontman
and producer extraordinaire Ric Ocasek had been scrapped
for murky reasons (translation: the record label didn't
hear another "MMMBop"), and Hanson had been shoved back into
the studio with Stephen Lironi, the producer of Hanson's
smash debut, "Middle of Nowhere." The debut was certainly a
good record, but had Hanson merely retreaded it for the
follow-up, they'd be destroyed. Too many eyes were on them,
too many ears — too many expectations for a great leap
What a leap they've made. Lironi's presence on "This Time
Around" can be heard in the pitiful scratching sounds that
dumb down otherwise solid tracks like "If Only," but the new
record is clearly a committed assertion by three willful
youngsters determined to avoid being written off amid the
boy-band craze they helped to create. There's still not
another "MMMBop" here. One wonders how much they had to fight
the corporate money-changers to take the steps evident here
— the unabashed soul, the high-octane rock 'n' roll — and
whether the marketing department at Island Def Jam is
stymied as to how they'll push the record.
They certainly can't be worried about the record's
potential. "This Time Around" could play on virtually any
radio station — that is, within any confining format. Send
"Dying to Be Alive" to a classic R&B station. Drop "Save Me"
among the silly modern rock balladry of Kid Rock and Third
Eye Blind, or at least send it to adult contemporary. Make
sure to twist the arm of mainstream rock moguls so they
play "This Time Around." Heck, they don't even have to
back-announce it — run it up against a Black Crowes song and
your average KMOD listener probably wouldn't even blink.
The worry is whether or not those other radio stations will
deign to give Hanson a chance this time around. After all,
Hanson's a kiddie band, right? They're like the Backstreet
Boys, they don't belong at the table with the adults.
That attitude is pretty prevalent (especially among the
audience this record could hit the hardest — people my age,
on either side of 30), and "This Time Around" likely will be
a slow burn compared to "Middle of Nowhere." There's plenty
of fuel for the fire, though. The tunefulness and the hooks
they mastered the first time around are still here, but the
tunes are more complex, the hooks more skillfully cast. The
title-track single tip-toes out of the gate with a soft
piano introduction, but by the chorus it's chugging with a
300-horsepower riff and see-sawing between the contrary
powers of Journey and Stevie Wonder. "Dying to Be Alive"
draws heavily on the boys' soul influences and features a
small gospel choir led by Rose Stone (of Sly and the Family
Stone). On "In the City," Hanson dances on the edge of
accessibility, bleeding off the sunshine from the
arrangement and singing a pretty desperate plea to an
adulterous partner. "You Never Know" opens the record as if
the boys have gone to War, brightening a heavy groove and
singing, perhaps portentously, "You never know, baby / You
never know, baby / You judge the song by a lie that was
Or he could be singing "soul." As with all great soul
singers, it's hard to discern the words accurately. Taylor,
the middle Hanson boy and its forthright lead vocalist, is
certainly a great soul singer, possibly one day to be
hailed among the best of Generation Y (though Macy Gray is
going to give him one hell of a fight for that title). His
voice is immensely powerful and dynamic — if that come-back
line "Do you know why I died?" at the end of the title track
doesn't stop your heart, double-check that you're still
actually alive — and when, as he grows older, it becomes a
partner to his passions, he might rewrite the story of
Jericho. It's a SOULFUL voice, too, full of chewy
inflections and gritty, guttural wails. It seems to come
from an unspoken inner drive, a burgeoning catharsis, more
than a heady desire to convey a literate message.
Granted, soul music is virtually dead today — replaced by
slick, machine-driven R&B, which has nothing whatsoever to
do with the rhythm and blues that created the acronym in
the first place — but Taylor's pipes and his brothers'
developing rhythmic chops on this CD could be cracking open
the coffin. (And to the credit of Isaac's and Zac's
instrumental talents, this album's guest players like Jonny
Lang and Blues Traveler's John Popper wholeheartedly fail
to steal the show.) Ryder & Co. translated the music across
lines of color; Hanson could transfer the music across
lines of age and experience. Either way, "This Time Around"
is one teeth-rattling, high-energy rock fest.
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
In 1971, Willis Alan Ramsey cut his first record. The
self-titled debut, released through Leon Russell's
Tulsa-based Shelter Records, sold modestly, but it packed
an influential wallop in Ramsey's adopted home state of
Texas. That one record, it has been claimed,
single-handedly spawned the alternative-Nashville stance
that has made Austin, Texas, the so-called live music
capital of the world.
Just don't ask Ramsey when his next record will appear.
"That's an area I really don't want to go to," he says,
dodging the requisite inquiries about his work since that
first — and, thus far, only — album ("Have you been writing
all this time?" "Has anything been recorded?" "Will we ever see
a second album?").
"Willis Alan Ramsey" remains the songwriter's one-hit
wonder, and nearly 30 years later many musicians still
invoke it as the fountainhead of their inspiration. A
Ramsey show was the first concert a young Lyle Lovett ever
attended, and he has reported that it inspired him to start
writing songs. Lovett also has covered songs from that
"Ramsey" album, as have such artists as Jimmy Buffett,
America, Waylon Jennings, Sam Bush, Shawn Colvin, Jimmie
Dale Gilmore, Kate Wolf, Jerry Jeff Walker and, of course,
the Captain and Tenille, who made Ramsey's "Muskrat Love" a
Top 5 hit in 1976.
Indeed, never has one batch of 11 songs had such
stamina, and rarely does one find a songwriter so humble --
almost insecure — about such influence. While remaining
enigmatic about his affairs during the last 29 years,
Ramsey frequently writes off his initial experience to the
pure luck of youth and happenstance. "I was just a kid
knocking around," he said, in a rare interview last week, in
which Ramsey eked out a tale of time, Tulsa and tenacity.
Born in Birmingham, Ala., and raised in Dallas by his
Georgia-native parents, Ramsey graduated high school and
"got away as quick as I could." He dropped south to Austin
where he explored some of the guitar-picking he'd been
tinkering with. Ray Wylie Hubbard's fledgling band took
notice of his skills and asked Ramsey to open some of its
shows in 1969.
"I was playing the UT coffee house, and I heard that Leon
(Russell) and Gregg Allman were in town playing a festival
and staying at the same hotel. So I walked in, knocked on
both their doors and told them I thought they should give
me a listen," Ramsey said. "It was a pretty asinine thing to
do back then, and I guess they thought I was so cocky they
gave me the chance. I played my songs for Leon and his
roadie, and then for Gregg and (Allman Brothers guitarist)
Dickey Betts, right there in their rooms."
Both musicians heard promise in Ramsey's material, and
both offered him contracts on their record labels — Allman's
Atlanta-based Capricorn Records and Russell's Shelter,
based then in Los Angeles. Ramsey sought Shelter — with
possibly purely personal motives. "I've never really
thought about this," Ramsey chuckled, "but I guess since my
whole family was from Georgia I liked the idea of going to
L.A. better than being closer to Atlanta."
Mad dogs and Southerners
Ramsey headed to L.A. to cut his record in Russell's
home studio, "probably the first professional home studio
anyone had in the world," he said. He was largely left to
his own devices, as Russell had decided to move back to
"At that point, Leon decided he'd had enough of North
Hollywood and wanted to move back to Tulsa," Ramsey said. "He
and Denny (Cordell, Russell's and Ramsey's producer and
manager) had good luck with Shelter, so they took it home.
Leon bought that whole block with a church on it and put in
a studio . . . He left me in his L.A. place, so I got to
learn how to work in a studio — by myself. I learned how to
write in the studio. That's something Leon taught me: how
to use the studio as a writing tool."
Most of Ramsey's record was completed in L.A., with
Russell helping out and adding piano to one track, "Goodbye
Old Missoula." It was that work directly with Russell that
made Ramsey feel every bit the lucky kid just knocking
"I was a kid musically, and I was stretched and stretched
to the point where I was way past my musical abilities," he
said. "Leon would put you in a studio with Jim Keltner on
drums, Carl Radle on bass and Don Preston on electric
guitar, and he'd sit at the piano. He'd say, `Well, this
song needs an acoustic guitar solo. Willis, why don't you
just play a solo here.' I was 20 and not in the space where
I could just do that on the spot yet. I was definitely over
Ramsey's record came out in 1972 and sold moderately --
not well enough to give Ramsey the escape he needed. Ramsey
-- like nearly all Shelter artists, from Russell to Phoebe
Snow — fell out with Cordell, but without big profits he
couldn't get out of his Shelter contract.
"I didn't have enough sales to be able to just leave and
tell my lawyers to clean it up. Tom Petty did, Phoebe Snow
did, I couldn't afford to," he said.
So he sat out his contract — all eight years of it. By
the time it ran out, it was 1980, Ramsey was in the
doldrums of a divorce and had been all but forgotten by
non-musicians. He bought some synthesizers and "fooled
around with those," but he quickly found that there was no
place for a shy, sensitive songwriter in the "Urban Cowboy"
"I just didn't want to play in a place with a mechanical
bull in it," Ramsey said.
I will survive
Since then, Ramsey says, cryptically, he's been writing.
He wants to record again, but he's not sure he'll ever get
to do it on his terms — which is the only way it'll happen,
"My No. 1 goal right now is to have more kids. No. 2 is
to make more records," he said. "But making records these
days requires a record label, and label budgets are small
these days. That record of mine cost $80,000 to make, which
would be about $300,000 in today's dollars. It was a pretty
expensive first-time record in 1972. I'm not the kind of
guy who can make a $30,000 record. It takes me longer.
There's too much I want to do."
He still performs around the region — "some old songs,
some new" — drawing a sizeable cult following. He's even
appeared on a record recently, coming out of the woodwork
to sing on two Lovett records in the '90s, "Joshua Judges
Ruth" and "I Love Everybody."
Last year, Koch Records reissued "Willis Alan Ramsey" on
CD, and the record has begun to find a fresh audience.
"It still gets around," Ramsey said. "It's been a real
work-horse all this time."
Ramsey on Oklahoma
Willis Alan Ramsey recorded his one and only record for
Shelter Records back in Leon Russell's heyday. That meant
hanging out in Tulsa at Russell's many area studios, where
"you'd go to pick up the phone, and it would be George
Harrison or someone," Ramsey said. Here are a few of his
recollections and praise of his Okie counterparts: "I
was in the process of finishing up my record and got to
work with people like Leon and Jamie Oldaker. J.J. Cale
took me in the studio. I was hanging out with guys like
Gary Gilmore and Jesse Davis, both of whom played with Taj
Mahal. Chuck Blackwell, too. Some pretty serious musicians
came out of Tulsa. I mean, Jimmy Lee Keltner — he and
Oldecker . . . if Tulsa can produce two drummers like that,
well, they're the best, in my opinion. Those Tulsa boys
raised me in the studio."
"When I was playing the Cellar Door Club in (Washington)
D.C., this long-haired kid would come sit on the back
steps, and I'd get him in for free. He was going to the
Peabody Institute in Baltimore. When he finally got up
enough nerve to play the acoustic guitar for me, he turned
out this amazing stuff. He said, 'What should I do with
this?' and I said, 'I dunno, but you'd better do
something.' It was Michael Hedges."
"I still say this, and most people I know say it, too:
Leon Russell is a musical genius. He still is. He's so
incredibly talented, and he's a free thinker. Lots of
Tulsans are . . . But I don't think he ever really
scratched the surface of his ability."
"It was in the '60s when I figured out I wanted to write
and say some things. In New York, I found a book called
Born to Win, a compilation of Woody Guthrie's songs,
stories, poems, letters and drawings. It was this fabulous
direct hit from his pen, with his own unique voice. Even
when I think about that book today, it still really does
motivate me. He was another free-thinking Okie. There was
something about the way he could connect with the thought
and deliver it to you totally unvarnished. So visceral, but
so elegant . . . (My song) 'Boy From Oklahoma' is sort of a
romanticized version of Woody."
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.