- Posted December 4, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Weekends in America
Tulsa Guitar Legend Tommy Crook Plays Jazz Depot Sunday
“I don’t know how many times he’s called me and wanted me to do this, and I’ve always told him no,” explains Crook. “He got onto me again after that guitar thing [the Jazz Depot’s Guitar Summit in February, in which Crook, Mark Bruner, Randy Wimer, and Ron Radford each played short solo sets], and he’s called two or three times since then. I finally told him, `Well, all right, if I can get Jimmy Bates to come with me, just so I can have a lot of fun, I’ll do it.’
“That was the whole deal right there. I normally work alone, but it’s fun to have a good bass player with you, and Jim always makes anybody look good. He knows the second verse to every song ever written. I don’t have to tell him a damn thing. I just start playing, and he knows what to do.”
Crook says that he and Bates started playing together in the 1960s, when they were in a band fronted by the jazz and western-swing drummer Paul McGhee and booked by longtime music promoter and bandleader Sammy Pagna.
“Sammy kept a lot of musicians working,” Crook recalls. “He had all the motels and country clubs and for this area, Texas-Kansas-Oklahoma, he had the Holiday Inn circuit. A group came into the club at a Holiday Inn for two weeks, and then they moved on to the next Holiday Inn, and somebody came in behind them for two weeks.
“We’re going back, I’d say, close to 50 years, when you either had to be 21 or with a legal guardian to work in some of these places,” he adds. “Bates was only about 14 or 15 years old then, but he was phenomenal, and he didn’t drink and he didn’t smoke and he was easy to get along with. So Paul McGhee had legal papers to be his guardian. He’d take temporary custody of him, two weeks at a time, for that Holiday Inn stuff.”
Like Bates, Crook started earning his musical reputation early. He was playing a guitar well before he started elementary school, and as a pre-teen he played several times on television with western-swing greats Hank Thompson and Leon McAuliffe. Young Crook even worked dates with country star Porter Wagoner. Although Crook downplays the endorsement, Nashville superstar Chet Atkins is one of many musicians and music lovers who have praised his talent over the years.
Those who come to his Sunday show will hear him play “with a lot more freedom,” he says, thanks to the addition of Bates.
“I got away with doing that one-man-band thing, with electric drums and [two] bass strings on my guitar, for about 30 years. That was neat and cool and it made me a lot of money – well, I’ll take that back. It kept me from having to get a job.” He laughs.
“But it was kind of confining, because I only had four guitar strings. There are a lot of little old tricky fun things that I’ve stolen from Jerry Reed, and Chet – everybody steals from everybody – but I couldn’t do them on a four-string guitar. If I started playing single-string, the melody’s gone, and the rhythm section’s gone.
“That’s the deal with Bates. He’ll allow me to play `Sugarfoot Rag’ because he’ll do all the changes for me, cover up my mistakes, and make me look good,” Crook adds with another laugh. “He knows every tune; I just say, `Bates, we’re going to start this thing in C” – because I never know where I'm going with this stuff. I just make it up as I’m going.”
He does, however, have plenty of material to draw on, and attendees can expect everything from “Mr. Bojangles” to “When You and I Were Young, Maggie.”
“I’m not going to pull any stunts on anybody,” Crook concludes. “I'm going to play stuff that everyone knows and likes and nobody plays anymore.”
Tommy Crook, with bassist Jim Bates, is set to begin at 5:00p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27 at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street.
The show is a part of the Jazz Hall’s 2013 Autumn Concert Series.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.