The Norman Transcript

Sound Advice by Doug Hill

March 17, 2014

Paul Benjaman Band reviving the Tulsa Sound

Although well known in musician circles, many in the broader community may be unaware that the Mike Hosty Duo hasn’t been performing recently. They’ve been on hiatus with Hosty recovering from planned surgery earlier this year. Happily Hosty’s convalescence is progressing well and the popular Norman duo should be playing their songs about pterodactyls and Blue Bus Route No. 29 again in short order.

During this down time his band mate and percussionist Michael Byars has been sitting-in as a hired gun with other outfits including the Ramsay Midwood Band out of Austin. Byars will be playing another of these temporary gigs when he takes the stage with Tulsa’s Paul Benjaman Band here in Norman at The Deli on March 27. Benjaman phoned in from the 918 area code to talk about this upcoming performance and his current contributions to the widely acclaimed “Tulsa Sound.”

“I’ve been watching Mike Byars play drums forever,” Benjaman said. “We’ve become good friends just in the last couple of years but I’ve been seeing him since the early 1990s. It’s a big honor for me that he’ll be playing with us and it’s going to be a lot of fun. That’s what’s going to be great about having him behind the kit. It’s something I’m looking forward to and Byars has always been super busy with Hosty so now is a special opportunity.”

The Paul Benjaman Band plays original material that he aims to make cling closely to the Tulsa Sound. It’s a musical tradition that goes back to Rocky Frisco in the 1950s. Dozens of names can be included under the label, most notably JJ Cale (1938-2013), Leon Russell and Jamie Oldaker, a player with non-Tulsan Eric Clapton who is famously associated with the scene. Cale was quoted as saying that they were trying to play blues but didn’t know how. Flash Terry (1934-2004) was a contributor to the T Town phenomena and like Benjaman hailed from the tiny town of Inola.

“We’ll be playing a show at The Deli that falls under the style known as Tulsa Sound which is a specific kind of rock 'n' roll,” Benjaman said. “It has a blues feel to it and there’s a lot of musicianship that goes into it.”

Ever since being old enough to attend concerts, Benjaman started going to Cain’s Ballroom, Tulsa’s storied live music venue. He wasn’t shy about introducing himself to other musicians and began playing guitar at age 13. He played in rock groups such as Rewake as a guitarist but hadn’t been a vocalist or band leader until this project.

“It wasn’t until I heard some JJ Cale records that I got the idea for my present band,” Benjaman said. “That’s what inspired me and I knew it was something I really wanted to do.”

Benjaman’s songs are often ballads about events both real and fictional.

“I follow the guideline of ‘Don’t bore us, get to the chorus,’” he said. “There’s not a lot of long lyrical lines. I like what’s going on now with the great story tellers such as John Moreland and John Fullbright.”

The music follows many different stylistic paths.

“Most of what we tap are blues and 1970s- based rock,” Benjaman said. “Then we branch out and there’s a lot of jazz thought that goes into what we do. There will be a certain groove from one style of music and then a jazzy lick that fits over it.”

Reggae and country aren’t off limits but he advises that it’s the rhythm section doing all the work.

“The core of what gives the song a feel is what goes on between the bass player and the drummer,” he said. “Vocals and every other instrument are just fitting around that rhythm section.”

Benjaman likes the music he’s making these days.

“I feel inclusive and it’s an accessible sound,” he said. “I’m doing some regular shows with special guests every week. There’s no rehearsals. They sit in and I just tell them what key the song is in and I let them play whatever they want.”

Benjaman said to expect the unexpected at his Deli show.

“You never know, Kyle Reid might stop by,” he said. “There’s a lot of good young musicians in your town like John Calvin. When people just show up and sit-in, that makes it a unique experience.”

If You Go

What: Paul Benjaman Band in concert.

Where: The Deli, 309 White St.

When: 10 p.m. March 27

Cost: $5            

Paul Bejaman Band playing a live show.


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Sound Advice by Doug Hill