Tulsa, OK

Non-Country Songs That Highlight Oklahoma's Modern Music Scene

Aimée Gramblin

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St. Vincent is Tulsa born and raised until age 7. She has returned to Tulsa to play local venue Cain’s Ballroom.“St. Vincent 10/29/2018 #7” by jus10h is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Tulsa, Oklahoma has a vibrant music scene. When you think of Oklahoma musicians, I bet for non--Oklahomans, Woody Guthrie pops to mind first. And, why not? He’s an integral piece of Oklahoma history. Thank god the “This Land is Your Land” singer is from my home state, which is so red you’d think we’re all conservative gun-toting libertarian/republican conspiracy theorists hailing from the 1950s.

We’re not.

Without further ado and in no particular order, here are 10 songs from Oklahoma musicians who are rocking the modern music scene.

Kaylyn Fay

Kaylyn Fay has a voice like honeydew and wild-foraged passionfruit, with the scent of Oklahoma dirt mingling with an oncoming and gentle thunderstorm.

My husband found Kaylyn Fay over the past couple of years. First, I fell in love with her song “Tulsa.” Now, I’m kinda falling in love with her. She’s a badass, beautiful, indigenous Cherokee from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Fay’s voice has a depth and grit that is Oklahoma.

When I consider how to describe Fay’s music, I come up with: memoir as song.

“Tulsa” resonates with me as a Norman-born Oklahoman who now calls Tulsa home. There’s a pull to and away from Tulsa that Fay nails in this song. She’s also a visual artist.

Annie Ellicott

Oklahoma produced Jazz musicians Charlie Christian, Chet Baker, and J.J. Cale, who had a great impact on Eric Clapton’s career with songs like “Cocaine” and “After Midnight,” which Cale wrote.

It’s said Count Basie was influenced by the Tulsa jazz music scene:

In 1928, Basie’s touring schedule took him to Tulsa, Okla. where one morning he was awakened by a local band called the Blue Devils, led by bassist Walter Page. Their bluesy sound captivated him and, a few months later, vocalist Jimmy Rushing invited Basie to sit in with the band. It proved a transformative experience, and Basie began to incorporate the blues-based styles he heard into his own playing. (Source)

Annie Ellicott is another jazz musician from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She’s played with Jeff Goldblum (yes, the actor) and all across the world. I wouldn’t be surprised if she is huge on the jazz scene at some point in the future. For now, get acquainted with the surprisingly soulful voice emanating from Ellicott. She’s sure to shock you with her fierce passion.

When you watch Ellicott’s “Blue Skies” in-studio performance, you’ll hear what I mean.

Steve Liddell

Go to a Steve Liddell show when you’re in the mood for reggae. You’ll likely find yourself smiling a lot. Liddell's music is groovy, happy, and chill, as in “Goodlove,” from the album of the same name. In his own description, Liddell draws on Blues, Jazz, Americana/Roots, Folk, and Rock. He’s toured all over the world but seems to be currently playing solely locally.

Liddell’s music lights me up when I cross his path, like a few summers ago when he was playing at the Tulsa Farmer’s Market, and I stopped in my tracks to soak in the summer groove vibe.

John Moreland

Texas-born turned Tulsan at age 10 to present, John Moreland made it to The Rolling Stone when Miranda Lambert fell for his way with words.

That Stones writer compares Moreland’s voice to Bruce Springsteen.

Moreland is Roots and rasp. Oklahoma grit and hope.

There’s something about “Hang Me In The Tulsa County Stars” that gets me every time. The synth-sounding organ that transitions to a quiet Roots song is almost a sorrowful lullaby. I love melancholy from time to time. I think this song nails melancholy.

As I compile this list to share with you all, I realize one thing Oklahoma musicians have in common: soul.

Passion, soul, grit, and red dirt.

Another favorite song is “Big Bad Luv, " the title song from the album of the same name.

“Cherokee” resonates. Moreland, like many Oklahomans, has Cherokee roots, and in an interview with GQ, he explained that the song “Cherokee” grapples with the feeling of loss. My husband and children are very diluted Cherokee. For me, this song hits. I want to know more about their heritage, and there's not a whole lot of information to go off of. It sounds like this song hits for many indigenous people.

The song “Claim Your Prize” debunks the “American Dream.”

Hanson

Why am I throwing the “MMMBop” boy band from the 1990s in the mix? Well, they happen to still live in Tulsa. They are advocates in the Tulsa community. Taylor Hanson founded Food on the Move to address hunger, a huge issue in Oklahoma.

They also throw a local annual festival, briefly disrupted by COVID19, called Hop Jam. I learned about this from a former supervisor who grew up in Tulsa around the time the Hansons did. She loved and loves the band.

Hanson’s sound has changed over the years. If you’d like to hear their grownup music, check out this Tiny Desk concert from 2018 featuring both new and old songs.

The All American Rejects

I love singing “Gives You Hell” at the top of my lungs. This is probably the most mainstream popular, and “big” band on my list.

The band formed in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in 1999, and frontman Tyson Ritter was born and raised there.

Still, this is a peppy-rage breakup song. It makes me cheery when going down memory lane of relationship regret. To me, it’s tongue-in-cheek. I don’t wish hell on anyone, but yay for toxic relationship catharsis.

The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips hail from the Oklahoma City area. They made human-sized “bubble pods” to continue performing throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

The band came together in OKC in the early 1980s and continues to evolve with their experimental--and experiential--music.

“She Don’t Use Jelly” is probably The Flaming Lips most popular hit. They also have quite a large and loyal following.

Genre? Well, The New York Times calls them psych rock.

They’re also in The Rolling Stone. “Look ma, I made it!”— me imagining frontman Wayne Coyne when he found out they’d be in this rag.

Branjae

Branjae is the birth child of Classic Soul, Funk and R&B. (Source)

Branjae is hard to describe. She does her own thing. She’s a skilled musician and performance artist. To check out her social commentary, look at her video for “Free Facts.

She was born in Detroit but calls Tulsa home. On her website, she refers to her hometown, where she was born, as the Home of Motown, and her current and long-term digs in Tulsa as the Home of R&B The Gap Band.

Branjae’s fearless and energetic showcase, encourages elevated consciousness by connecting with her audiences for the soul purpose of creating unity and harmony. (Source)

Branjae has played SXSW and won multiple local awards. She’s been on cool collaborations. “Your Land” is a collab with Gangstagrass that made the Billboard top 100 and was featured in The Rolling Stone.

Branjae is a social justice advocate. “Street Light” celebrates survivors of abuse.

Wilderado

Wilderado can be found playing The Vanguard and Cain's Ballroom.

My favorite Wilderado song is “Stranger,” but I can’t find a video. In a word, it’s catchy. Get ready to sing along while grinning big.

“Surefire” is a close second.

Listening to “Stranger” earlier today made me so happy and lovestruck. If “Gives You Hell” is the best breakup song, then “Stranger” is one of the best lost love songs.

LA gets a callout in the lyrics for “Stranger.” I swear there’s a weird Tulsa-LA connection. Anyone, anyone?

St. Vincent

St. Vincent was born in Tulsa, raised there until age 7, and then moved to Dallas, although I see some sources pegging her as Texas-Born. I’m going with my research which states she was born in Tulsa.

Oh, she’s a Grammy winner, too.

It’s a loose connection, but damn, it’s a cool connection. And, if you feel the ferocity of women enraged and want a way to express your passion, anger, and agency, check out St. Vincent’s work. A prime example is “Los Ageless,” as seen below. One of her lyrics calls out unwritten memoirs. I’m here for it.

Her newest album, released in 2021, is called Daddy’s Home.

I’m impressed with Oklahoma's musical range and diversity. I’m glad to have found indigenous artists in the past several years. I love the experimental music. The emphasis on the power of creativity. How most of these artists glide from art through music to art in other areas of their lives.

Yes, I still listen to Garth Brooks from time to time, but the country genre isn’t my favorite. And, there’s plenty to choose from that’s not country when you’re in Oklahoma.

Do you have any favorites on this list? Are there Okies you wish I’d included? Let me know in the comments.

Originally published July 14, 2022, in The Riff

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