By Todd Whitesel
Jamie Oldaker is one of rock ’n’ roll’s great journeyman drummers, having played with Freddie King, Leon Russell, Bob Seger, Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton, and Ace Frehley, among others.
Oldaker’s formative years were spent in Tulsa, Okla., learning his craft working with Leon Russell at Shelter Records. Those Tulsa times were the inspiration for his latest effort, Mad Dogs And Okies, a tribute to the Sooner State’s musicians and those with ties to Oklahoma.
Goldmine caught up with Oldaker to get the story on Mad Dogs, about producing Willis Alan Ramsey’s long-awaited second album, working in the studios of Atlantic Records and forming his own record label, Mint Blue Island Records.
Goldmine: You started this project a few years back, wanting to get in the studio and have fun with some people you’ve played with in the past and celebrate Oklahoma music.Jamie Oldaker: Yeah, kinda of being selfish a little bit on my own part. Going back — there was a certain time in my life when I was living in Tulsa when I worked for Leon at Shelter and all those people. Most of these people were in my life during the time I lived there. So I kinda limited the record to that area of my life in Tulsa growing up.
So I got this idea to get a bunch of guys that I knew or grew up with and played with or knew over the years that went on and had other careers. And I said, “Hey, do you want to go in and make a record like we used to when we were kids? Set the mics up and play the music.” They said, “Yes!” [laughs]
This was a tough project to get underway?Yeah. I couldn’t even raise $5 for this project. I went to every record label in Nashville.
What was the resistance?
They just didn’t think I could do it. I said, “I’m going to try and do this project and get these people,” and I had a little wish list of people. Said, “I want to get Eric Clapton,” and they looked at me and said, “You’re going to get Eric Clapton to come here and record?” I said, “Yeah.” And I did. [laughs]
He decided to do it, then all of the sudden he sent me an e-mail about 10 days before we had to do his session. I didn’t have any timeline for anything. He said, “OK. I can do it on this date.” I went, “Uh oh. I better get some money together to pay everybody and fly everybody in.” Luckily I got some private funding from people that weren’t even in the music business. I called Taj Mahal and told him about the idea. He said, “Oh man, I’m in.” I got to thinking about getting his old bandmates together from the ’60s. So I called Chuck [Blackwell] and [Gary] Gilmore — neither of those guys hardly play anymore. They said, “Sure.” I told Taj, and he was just tickled to death. He hadn’t seen those guys since 1969.
Sort of a reunion.That track you heard [“Don’t Let Your Feet Get Cold”] is like the second take.
They hadn’t played together in 35 years plus, and two takes into it, it’s recorded?!They sat down, and boom, there it was. It was like they never left. It was really interesting to watch it unfold.
And Eric’s thing was the same way. He showed up; we cut the track; and he came in the studio. I said, “What do you want to do now?” He said, “How ’bout milk and cookies?” He actually wanted some milk and cookies! So I told the person who was helping me out to go to the store and get some milk. Luckily, Walt’s — the piano player — girlfriend was there, and she had brought a whole bag of homemade chocolate chip cookies with her. They came straight from the airport, so she went into her bag and got the cookies. And he sat there and had milk and cookies! [laughs]
Did you pick all the songs for this album?
Yep. I picked all the songs; I picked all the players, and I picked the songs for the artists themselves — what I thought they should do. Cale brought his own to the table, but I picked Eric’s. Vince came over the night before Eric showed up to fool around with everybody. We actually cut that track [“Wait Til Your Daddy Gets Home”] that night. I had my engineer roll the tape machines, and at the end of the session Vince said, “OK. We’ll get together again and record this right.” I knew in my head we already had the track. The next day I had Eric put a guitar part on it, and in my mind I thought, “How can you not use the track now?”
There’s a nice mix of the softer songs with the straight-ahead material with Vince Gill and Ray Benson.I love Vince’s tune [“Wait Til Your Daddy Gets Home”]. That’s a song he had years ago at MCA that they wouldn’t let him cut — didn’t think it was radio friendly or something. Eric’s on that track, too.
Some of your old bandmates from The Tractors are on that tune.Yeah. Walt Richmond and Casey Van Beek are on there. You assembled a great group of musicians. The name that jumped out at me is Willis Alan Ramsey. How did he get involved?I knew Willis back when he was on Shelter, when he made his one and only record of his whole life. I’ve been in contact with him over the years. He had an affiliation with Oklahoma; he used players from Oklahoma; he was on Shelter — that was an Oklahoma-based label.
I’ve also been working with him here in Wembley; I’ve been coproducing his infamous second record, [laughs] which is all, by the way, not done yet. [laughs]
When might that be out?
Hopefully by the end of the year or first of next year. We’ve got 10 tracks down. People call me and laugh and go, “You still working on that Willis record?” [laughs] I say, “Yeah,” and they kind of just snicker. My answer back is, “Hey, I’ve managed to get 10 more tracks out of him than anybody else has been able to get out of him in 31 years.” It may not be out yet, but at least I got him to put 10 tracks on a piece of tape. [laughs]
Is his track on Mad Dogs And Okies, “Sympathy For A Train,” going to be on his new one?Yeah, and “Positively,” the one Eric cut, is going to be on there as well.
He sang that the way I think Willis would sing it.Eric didn’t even know who Willis was. When Eric agreed to do this project he said, “Start sending me some material.” So I sent a bunch of stuff. Most of it he went, “Naa, naa, naa. Don’t like that, don’t like that.” So I sent him a few songs of Willis’, and he sent me an e-mail back and said, “I think we’ve got it. This is great. Who is this guy?” So he’s been introduced to Willis now.
He’s one of those guys that if you don’t know him… but if you heard that first album…That’s one of the main reasons I’ve hung in there for the past two years producing this record. He’s one of those rare artists, as you know, and is really quite exceptional in his songwriting.
Is Mad Dogs And Okies the first record you’ve produced?I’ve done some other stuff in the past but nothing that I’ve really gotten out and had any notoriety at all.
It’s a great-sounding record, and I hear the Oklahoma/Tulsa sound running throughout these songs.During the period I was growing up in Tulsa, working at Shelter in the early ’70s, there was a certain thing that went on around there. We had to kinda learn to play all types of music, to play at clubs and stuff. Luckily I got introduced to listening to country music, to blues, to jazz, to bebop, to rock, to everything. So what we’d do when we’d work up songs by other people, we’d kind of listen to the record and then play it the way we would play it, instead of copying the record.
After a while, you’d start gaining all those influences. That’s my take on what that sound is. If you listen to that record [Mad Dogs] you can tell there’s a little bit of country in there; there’s a little country flavor; there’s a little blues flavor, a little rock — it’s all kind of mixed in there. I think that’s just because we were confused about what we were going to play. [laughs]everything in it.Yeah. I think that’s because we grew up listening to different music.
J.J. Cale’s “Daylight” has a little bit of Tony Joe White has one of the most compelling voices and does a great job on Cale’s “Magnolia.”Yeah. He’s great. We originally were going to have Ronnie Dunn — I grew up with him — from Brooks & Dunn, and worked with his trio a little bit over the years. We did a track with “Magnolia,” but then his label wouldn’t let him do it — refused to let him be involved. He wanted to be, so that was kind of disappointing. But Tony Joe did a wonderful job.
Have you played with him before?I have not. He just came into the picture because I knew he was a big J.J. Cale fan, and he used to play that song growing up. He fell right into it perfectly.
Steve Pryor plays a mean solo on “Can’t Find My Way Home.” Was that a first take?Yeah it was, actually. He’s a guy that I’ve kind of played with around Tulsa; he’s a local Tulsa artist — guitar player, wiz guy. His band had done that song in Tulsa, and someone had mentioned to me, “You need to get a couple local people on this record, too.”
I went and listened to him play that song, and I thought, “Yeah, that’s a pretty good rendition of that.” So we went in and cut it like that, put a cello player on it. It’s a little different than the original.
He’s a really good player. So there’s a few unknown people on the record. Wiley Hunt is from Tulsa; he’s an old cowboy singer. And then Jo & Ellen — they’re a brother and sister, young duo from Tulsa. They do a “Song For You.”
I wanted to get Leon, but Leon refused to do it.
Wasn’t he interested in the project?It took me about a year to find out why he wouldn’t do it. He finally said, “I’m not doing this project because Jamie deserted me.” Which goes back to 1973 when I was in his band and we were getting ready to go out on tour. That’s when I got a call to go out and start playing with Eric. So I had to make a decision between Leon and Eric. Carl Radle was in the band with Leon for a while; he was also in Derek And The Dominos. He’s from Tulsa, and he got me the job with Eric. He called me up and said, “Well, Eric just called and said he likes the tapes I sent of you guys playing — you kids from Tulsa. And he wants to know if you want to come do a record named 461 Ocean Boulevard.”
I was like, “Well, I’ve got to go on the road with Leon.” I was like 22 years old. I thought about it and went and talked to Leon’s manager about it; I actually went to Leon, and knowing of Eric’s past drug problems, he said, “If it would have been anybody else I would be upset. But you should go do it because it will help get his career back going again.”
Come to find out he’s held that grudge for 30-some years. So that’s why I put “Song For You” on there — I’ll get him on there anyway. It was disappointing, because he was one of my — and still is — one of my heroes.
When did you record the track, “Sending Me Angels,” with Peter Frampton? Keyboardist Bob Mayo is on there. He died in 2004.That’s actually Bobby’s last recording; that’s the last time he was ever in the studio recording. It was unfortunate about Bobby; he was a great guy.
I started with Peter back in the late ’70s. Bobby was still in the band, and Stanley Sheldon was playing bass. Then a friend of mine, John Regan, came in to play bass. He’s also on that track with Peter.
The track with Willie Nelson and Cale singing together, “Motormouth,” sounds like it’s one person singing when they’re on the chorus.J.J. mixed that song; that’s probably why it sounds like it’s J.J. and Willie right together. It’s a great track, “Motormouth.”
I had the idea. John had sent me the song we could do for this record. I got to listening to it and thought, “You know, I want to put Willie on — I kept hearing Willie Nelson singing it with him or singing the track. So I pitched it to Cale. He said, “Well, I never thought of that.” And I said, “It makes sense to me from a production side.” And it worked. I think that song came out wonderful.
Any interesting stories about making this record?It was all wonderful, and we filmed everything. I have like 90 hours of video.
It would make a great DVD.I think so, but it’s difficult to sort through 90 hours of stuff and make any sense of it. But I’ve got it and I’ll probably try to put a 45-minute to an hour together. The original concept was to give a promotional DVD away with the album. We may put it out later.
There’s a lot of great stuff in there.
Studio tapes often have some of the most interesting things — watching the way a track develops.I think so. That’s why I wanted to video the whole thing. People don’t know what goes on in the studio, and they may find it interesting — to see Eric Clapton working in the studio or Vince.
You’ve played with so many big-name artists. It’s quite a contrast of styles to play with Freddie King, Bob Seger, and Peter Frampton and then jump to playing with Ace Frehley.I’ve always wanted to experience all those different things, and they were all fun. I did a couple years with Dave Edmunds; I did the stuff with Stephen Stills — that was fun. The Ace thing was a hoot.
I’ve had a fairly colorful career. [laughs] I’ve done three stints with Eric over the years — the Albert Hall stuff, mid-80s and early ’70s. We’re still great friends. I just saw him a couple weeks ago in L.A.
What do you remember about playing with Freddie King?It was great. I did a couple shows and an album with him, Burglar. It was for RSO. He was great — “Texas Cannonball.” He was the kind of guy — he opened up for us with Eric for about a year — and he could actually go out and sing without a microphone. You could hear him through the whole arena. He was a big, huge guy, and he wore these sequin suits with rhinestones on them.
I’m glad I was a part of that whole era, and they still keep taking and drawing from it. It was a really cool time, and it was about music. We had fun.
The quality was there, too.Yeah, the quality was good. Those old Atlantic days were great with Ahmet [Ertegun] and Jerry Wexler and Tommy Dowd and those guys. I did two records with Tommy Dowd, 461 Ocean Boulevard and the one after it. He was part of that whole Criteria. Atlantic kind of kept that studio booked the year-round with Atlantic acts back in those days. When we were cutting 461, in studio B there was Crosby, Stills & Nash; Joe Cocker was in another room; down the hall was Aretha Franklin — all Atlantic acts! I’m a little kid running around, going, “Wow. Look at that. Who’s that?”
I remember I was out in front of Criteria Studios back in the early ’70s, and this big Rolls pulls up and Ahmet got out and this really suntanned guy with his shirt open. I said, “Who’s that guy?” The engineer said, “That’s some guy they just brought back from South America named Julio Iglesias. I don’t know if he’s any good!”
We were cutting the record, 461, and there were three guys sitting in the control room listening back to what we just cut. They had suits on, ties and everything. I bent over to Tommy Dowd and said, “Who are those guys?” He goes, “That’s Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler, and Maurice DeVoe.” And I went, “What do they do?” [laughs]
Talk about your record label, Mint Blue Island Records.
Well the Mad Dogs thing is on that, in cooperation with Concord and Universal. I’d like to find some new acts and build a small, independent label. I’m old enough now and know enough about it to find the right talent and let them go out and work. There’s a couple acts I’m working with — Joe & Ellen that did “Song For You,” are like 19 and 20 years old. They write great songs; they’re a brother and sister act — he plays guitar, she sings and plays bass. Kind of like modern-day Carpenters. I think they’ve got a shot.
Get a little roster of solid, good quality acts together. That’s my goal.