Various Greetings From Oklahoma
Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooookkkkkkk!!!!!! Lahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain…
To many Americans of a certain age, these lines, along with a few other verses by Rodgers & Hammerstein, are the sum total of what they know about the state of Oklahoma.
It’s understandable. Oklahoma is just one of 50 states. It’s far from the sophisticated and intellectual east; it seems flat, hot and dry to the fun-loving west; and it is more than eclipsed by its neighbor to the south, whose name happens to be Texas. What’s an Okie got to do to get a little recognition, much less, respect?
The answer came from an unlikely source. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein were not the kind of guys to spend time punching cattle, but they did manage to write one of the most successful Broadway musicals of all time. Titled simply, 'Oklahoma!,' their show opened in 1943 and was still being performed all over the country when a movie version appeared in 1956. To date, there have been more than 30,000 productions of 'Oklahoma!' in more than a dozen languages. Barely a season goes by when somebody doesn’t stage a major revival of 'Oklahoma!' for a whole new audience generation. Together, shows, film, soundtrack albums and even a postage stamp – the US issued one in 1993 to commemorate the Broadway show – have brought more fame and attention to the state than anything since 1907, the year Oklahoma officially joined the US of A.
Needless to say, this CD is not about show tunes and Broadway visions of Oklahoma. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. No sir. This collection of 25 tunes looks at the real Oklahoma, as reflected in the state’s dance floors, bars and honkytonks. As with other CDs in this 'Greetings From…' series, we weren’t necessarily looking for big hits. Rather, we were looking for vintage recordings (typically 1940s through 1960s) that convey the sounds and styles of the State. A lot of Oklahoma music is dance music: boogies, shuffles, polkas and waltzes. It was meant for Saturday night, for kicking back and getting out on a dance floor once the week’s work or the daily chores were done. Like most songs in this series, this is basically working class music. The maxim that folks who work hard, party even harder is nowhere more evident than on this collection of tunes.
Some of the artists like Bobby Barnett, Sheb Wooley and Jack Guthrie were native Oklahomans but, for the most part, this collection features songs about Oklahoma, recorded by artists from all over the US and, in the case of Wilf Carter, even Canada. Jack Guthrie, represented by four tracks on this collection, brings us one of the most assertively rural voices on this or any compilation. Jack and his cousin Woody Guthrie co-wrote Oklahoma Hills. The song may have faded from memory, but it was a major hit in 1945 and was one of the most frequently recorded tunes in country music. We present three versions of it here: the original by Guthrie as well as covers by Hank Thompson and Marvin Rainwater. Jack Guthrie died in January, 1948 from TB.
Few of these tunes cracked the national charts although in Merle Haggard's Okie From Muskogee we have a certifiable mega-hit that became a political rallying call for folks on both sides of the great divide. Some of these tracks, while not chart-toppers in their day, are still quite memorable. Charlie Walker – a survivor of many styles and seasons in country music - presents a clever and less than thrilling portrait of regional pride in Moffat, Oklahoma. Similarly, Marvin Rainwater draws a picture of limited leisure-time activities in Henryetta, Oklahoma. Just check out these lyrics: "If you want to mix the sexes/Then you'd better go to Texas." It’s a song the local Chamber of Commerce won’t be broadcasting any time soon. Wilf Carter’s wonderfully dated rendition of My Oklahoma Rose offers us another slice of musical time-travel, as does Ella Mae Morse’s Oakie Boogie, a 1951 track dating from the same session that produced her biggest hit, The Blacksmith Blues. Finally, there’s Bobby Barnett’s Oklahoma’s OK – a candidate for official state anthem if we ever heard one.