Tulsan Don White contributes his talents to an album honoring the late J.J. Cale.
Like many of the area’s best players of the time, White played with trailblazing Tulsa rock ‘n’ roller Gene Crose, joining drummer Teegarden, bassist Norman Berg and keyboardist Skip Knape. Eventually, they started their own band, Skip and the Blue Notes, with White returning from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah on weekends to perform.
“Cale would come out to our gigs and sit in,” White says. “I remember one night, he came out and played piano.”
Eventually, White left college and took a job as an accountant at Sinclair Oil Company. But music still exerted a powerful pull on him, and he continued playing, joining legendary Tulsa vocalist Bill Davis’s group, Soul Incorporated.
“‘Well,’ I said, ‘I just left my job at the oil company and I’m going to start my own band.’ I’d never had my own band before. I said, ‘I’m gonna sing country music, but I’m gonna play like we play.’”
For about three years, White, like many other musicians, balanced a day job with nighttime and weekend gigs. Then, finally, he decided to take the plunge and go into full-time music.
At the time, Cale had just returned home from California.
“I saw him in his Volkswagen, and he said, ‘Hey, White. What are you doing now?’
“‘Well,’ I said, ‘I just left my job at the oil company and I’m going to start my own band.’ I’d never had my own band before. I said, ‘I’m gonna sing country music, but I’m gonna play like we play.’
“‘He said, ‘I’d like to play in a band like that,’ and I said, ‘Okay.’”
So, for the next several months, Cale played guitar with White in a group that had a regular gig at Tulsa’s Stables Lounge – prior to its days as an infamous strip joint.
Then, “After Midnight” became a hit for Clapton, raising the profile of Cale, its writer. He left Tulsa and White’s outfit to record his first album in Nashville.
The two stayed in touch over the years, occasionally performing and recording together. And White kept several Cale songs in his repertoire, including one called “The Sensitive Kind,” which he sings on the new record.
“Eric heard me sing it that night [at McCabe’s],” says White. “I’ve been doing that song for 25 years, so I already knew it. When I finished my solos on it, Eric said, ‘That’s great. I think that’s it.’
“I said, ‘Thank you for the opportunity.’ And I teared up and had to go off in the corner for five or 10 minutes. It was all because I had lost my friend.”
Titled The Breeze (An Appreciation of JJ Cale), the new disc also includes contributions from Tulsa’s Markham, Karstein, Teegarden, Oldaker, Richmond and Keltner, with White playing guitar on three tracks. Other guests include such noteworthy musicians as guitarists Preston, Butch Trucks, Albert Lee, David Lindley and Doyle Bramhall II, along with harmonica player Mickey Raphael.