You might not know the name Jim Keltner, but you’ve probably heard him playing drums on some of your favorite songs for the last 50 years.
Founding board member of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame and author of the Oklahoma Music Guide Dr. Hugh Foley says that Keltner’s status among rock drummers is unquestionable.
“He is the session drummer of the rock and pop era, from the mid-1960s to the present day. That includes an incredible list of artists. It’s one of those jaw-droppers, whether it’s John Lennon or Ringo Starr or George Harrison, with whom he played on all significant tracks by those three former Beatles.”
George Harrison was such a fan of Keltner, he created a fictitious Jim Keltner Fan Club, which was listed on the back cover of his 1973 album, Living in the Material World. Fans were told that more information would be given after they sent in a "stamped undressed elephant" to a Los Angeles postal address.
The list of artists Keltner has recorded with is exhaustive. From almost every era and seemingly every imagined genre, Keltner just keeps reappearing.
“He’s on Bob Dylan’s music, Roy Orbison, Jerry Garcia, Eric Clapton, Barbra Streisand, The Rolling Stones and many of their solo projects, Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello, Neil Young, The Bee Gees, Jackson Browne, Los Lobos, Pink Floyd…”
...you get the point. He was simply everywhere.
Keltner lived in Tulsa from his birth in 1942 until at least 7th grade, when he first learned how to read music. His father was also a drummer and his uncle played bass with Johnnie Lee Wills at the Cain’s Academy. Things were so rowdy at Cain’s then that Keltner’s parents made a conscious decision to move to California to get away from it all.
“This year’s induction is at Cain’s Ballroom – the same place that his parents essentially had moved away from fifty years ago to get away from that environment. He said that if they were still living today, they’d have a big laugh.”
At the age of 72, Keltner’s work continues to appear in popular music and film.
“His most recent projects include working on the recent John Mayer album, two number one Michael Buble albums, the most recent Diana Krall album, he’s done all three Toy Story movies, Cars, Princess and the Frog, Meet the Fockers, Charlie Wilson’s War – I mean, the drums that you hear are his in a lot of that soundtrack music.”
The other drummer being inducted on Saturday is Chuck Blackwell, who began playing drums in Tulsa bars at the age of 13, carrying a permission note from his father since he was underage.
He played early shows with other Tulsa Sound musicians like Leon Russell and David Gates and eventually became the house drummer for the TV show ‘Shindig.’
Dr. Foley says Blackwell’s drumming earned him a high level of appreciation and respect from other musicians, including Jim Keltner.
“When Jim Keltner was approached about being in the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, he said, ‘Is Chuck Blackwell in the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame?’ And we said, ‘he’s not been inducted yet, but he has been selected for induction.’ And he said, ‘I won’t go in before Chuck Blackwell because Chuck was a big hero of mine.”
Blackwell played drums for the Everly Brothers, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, and recorded with Taj Mahal, Freddie King, and Leon Russell. Dr. Foley’s says Blackwell’s style wasn’t flashy, rather steady and always providing the needed bedrock beat.
Keltner and Blackwell have been part of rock fans’ music consciousness for nearly five decades and thanks to the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, their legacies will be preserved for countless decades more.
Jim Keltner and Chuck Blackwell will be inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame on Saturday night at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa. Other inductees to the 2014 class include guitarists J.J. Cale, Lowell Fulson, and Elvin Bishop.