By Leilani Roberts Ott
Songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Scott Ellison of Tulsa calls blues “the real true art form of American music.”
Ellison along with June McKinney, Robbie Mack McLerran, Broadway Jimmy Thomas, Danny Timms and Slugger Trask are being inducted into the Oklahoma Blues Hall of Fame at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Down Home Blues Club in Rentiesville. The Oklahoma City Blue Devils will receive the D.C. Minner Lifetime Achievement Award, according to Selby Minner, co-founder of the Oklahoma Blues Hall of Fame. Several others will be honored for Keeping the Blues Alive through archiving, recording and media.
“This year is a milestone here in Rentiesville for the Oklahoma Blues Hall of Fame — our 10th year of inductions,” Minner said. “We’ll sprinkle the awards through the night.”
Several of the inductees will perform, including Ellison and Timms, during the gala that includes a barbecue dinner and awards ceremony. It is open to the public at a cost of $10. Past hall of fame winners like Baby Ray Mucker, Leon Rollerson and the Production, Jim Davis, and Minner and Blues on the Move with Okahoma Slim will play the blues until about midnight.
Minner and her husband, the late D.C. Minner, started the Oklahoma Blues Hall of Fame after he was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.
“He told me they’re going to miss a bunch of people. He said we’re not big and flashy but when you’ve worked your whole life, you want to be honored,” she said. “So we decided to do it.”
The D.C. Minner Lifetime Achievement Award is going to the Oklahoma City Blue Devils.
“Count Basie produced some of the most blues driven jazz ever created with these musicians from the Oklahoma City Blue Devils,” Minner said. “My favorite Basie quote goes; “If you want the best, get a Blue Devil.”
Inductees are selected by a committee of blues scholars who bring suggestions to a meeting of the Friends of Rentiesville Blues Inc., a non-profit organization. Ellison, McLerran and Thomas said they are “honored” to be inducted.
“It’s a dream come true,” Ellison said. “To be in that group with all those great musicians ... it’s a great accomplishment.”
He said he’ll be “jammin’ and playing” with Timms during the ceremony.
McLerran of Tulsa said he’s honored and surprised. He said he’s still being “Okiefied” since he wasn’t born in Oklahoma. He had a songwriting partner from Oklahoma and came here from Colorado. He has played the Dusk ’Til Dawn Blues Festival in Rentiesville since 1998 with his son, Little Joe McLerran. He and his son will be performing at a festival in Kansas on Saturday but will attend the jam session at the Down Home Blues Club at 6 p.m. Sunday.
Thomas of Los Angeles, Calif., also won’t be able to attend the ceremony but plans to pick up his award when he performs at the Dusk ’Til Dawn Blues Festival on Labor Day weekend.
“It’s a great honor to me,” Thomas said. “I wasn’t born in Oklahoma, but I grew up with it. I know a lot of musicians from Oklahoma. I’ve been doing the festival since 2001.”
He’s been playing the blues for more than 50 years.
“I’m still playing music at 72,” he said. “I play bass and saxophone.”
Ellison believes the best blues musicians have Oklahoma roots.
“Blues is so real,” he said. “Pop music and country music always changes. Blue remains true to its art form.”
He got his start when he saw The Rolling Stones on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
“I got to do that,” he said he thought. “It electrified me.”
Ellison and his band along with a few other musicians just recorded several tracks for a new CD at Leon Russell’s church studio. “Hit It, Get It and Go” will be released in six to nine months. He’ll perform songs from his current CD, “Walkin’ Through the Fire,” at the ceremony Saturday.
2013 Oklahoma Blues Hall of Fame inductee bios
• D.C. Minner Lifetime Achievement Award: Oklahoma City Blue Devils — The early jazz tradition in Oklahoma was more closely associated with the blues tradition than in many other places, Selby Minner said. The Territorial Bands played both jazz and blues traveling to Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. One group was renowned for being the best of these many musicians. This was the Oklahoma City Blue Devils. They would continually win when the bands got together to compete with each other. Count Basie – Bill Moten – followed them and played with them. The story goes, one night when they were back East and did not get paid after a gig and he took over the leadership position.
• Scott Ellison toured in the bands of: Jessica James, who is Conway Twitty’s daughter. Veteran bluesman Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown plucked the energetic guitarist as rhythm player for his own band, she said. A move to Los Angeles during the mid-1980s found Ellison playing and touring with groups like The Box Tops, The Shirelles, The Coasters, and Peaches and Herb. By the 1990s, he formed his own blues band and opened up shows for such legends as Joe Cocker, Roy Orbison, The Fabulous T-birds and Buddy Guy. As a songwriter, he composed enough material to record and release his first two solo efforts, “Chains of Love” on Quicksilver Records and “Live at Joey’s” on Red Hot Records. Returning back to his home in Tulsa, Ellison teamed with longtime friend Terry Lupton to write 10 more tunes for his next release, “Steamin’” on Fishhead Records, which garnered critical acclaim, Minner said. Ellison then co-wrote and recorded “One Step from the Blues” on JSE, a Tulsa sound rhythm and blues record featuring well-known Tulsa musicians. As a songwriter, Elliso has had his songs featured on TV shows “Sister Sister,” “Eye on L.A.,” “Santa Barbara” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Burnside Records is proud to release Bad Case Of The Blues available at all fine record stores, by mail-order through Burnside Records or online at www.burnsiderecords.com. Scott is currently touring across the U.S., Canada and Europe with accompanying radio and retail in-store performances.
• June McKinney — Famed pianist for jazz greats including Count Basie and the Thad Jones Trio, she is also the mother of Michael McKinney, road bassist for Michael Jackson on his world tour, recommended by Nate Watts. Michael went around the world three times playing bass. Credited on the Jacksons album “Triumph” (Epic, 1980), and is the bassist heard on “Jacksons: Live” (Epic, 1981). McKinney was a famed Oklahoma City music educator as well.
• Robbie Mack McLerran — He was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in 2012 along with the other members of the Astronauts, the surf band from Boulder, Colo., who became popular in the 1960s releasing albums on the RCA label. The Astronauts moved their base of operations to California in 1967 where the band realigned with Capitol Records, changing the band’s name to Hardwater and moving in a psychedelic rock direction. In 1970 McLerran teamed with Oklahoma native John Herron forming a songwriting partnership and country rockish band, Boondoggle & Balderdash, releasing two LP records for the MCA record group. In the mid-1970s he returned to Colorado in order to focus on his family. His musical interest moved to the early blues and jazz styles. The family moved to Tulsa in 1998. His son, Little Joe McLerran, following in his father’s footsteps, became a musician and in 2009 won the International Blues Challenge (IBC) representing the Blues Society of Tulsa. McLerran has performed and toured internationally with his son ever since.
• Broadway Jimmy Thomas — He played in 1968 for Taj Mahal and on his album “Taj Mahal” with Jesse Ed Davis. He worked with Johnny Otis in 1967 and spent one year in Hawaii with a band. He also worked with Joe Houston and Jay McNeely and the West Coast Horn Section. He was in the band for Screamin’ Jay Hawkins of “I Put a Spell on You” fame. He played with Phillip Walker, Smokey Wilson and Sonny Rhodes — West Coast blues players. He worked with Phillip Walker for years. Jimmy half way grew up in Wichita, Kan., and he played with Oklahoma Ollie Gaines, Eddie Taylor and Larry Johnson through a booking agent called Aunt Cat and Uncle Bob which booked teenage bands to dances across the Wichita, Kan., and Western Oklahoma area. He was born in Salina, Texas, 50 miles from the Red River. His mother had family in Oklahoma so he spent childhood summers and holidays living and visiting.
• Danny Timms — When he wasn’t writing and touring with Kris Kristofferson, playing keyboards for The Fabulous Thunderbirds or making his acting debut as a hippie band member in a “Married With Children” TV episode, Timms joined a project they called “Little Whisper and the Rumors.” Billed as “the greatest little band you never heard,” they were hired by Bonnie Raitt to join her touring band in the early 1990s. One song he co-wrote, “A Moment of Forever,” became the title track of a Willie Nelson album and was also recorded by several others.
• Slugger Trask — The band received the Best Self Produced Album of the Year for the album “Slugger Trask: Groove Injected” at the 2007 International Blues Challenge. The band also won first in the Bands of the World Tour in 2007. The tour played shows in 12 U.S. cities. Slugger was half Cherokee and hails from the Miami area.