Morphing With the Times

Renowned Tulsa musicians from the ’70s and ’80s are “Bangin’ the Groove” on YouTube.

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Jimmy Byfield, Walt Richmond and Charles Tuberville. Photo courtesy Charles Tuberville

Jimmy Byfield, Walt Richmond and Charles Tuberville. Photo courtesy Charles Tuberville

To set things up, let’s take a time trip back to the late ’70s-early ’80s, when the rockin’ sounds of several Tulsa acts reverberated well beyond that town’s city limits. In the forefront, we find a couple of bands recording on the Tulsa-based Pilgrim label: Rockin’ Jimmy Byfield and the Brothers of the Night, and Jim Sweney and the Jumpshotz.

Now fast forward two or three decades, fire up your computer, and search for BRT TV on YouTube. The first result will transport you directly to a YouTube channel that features some of the latest work from three former members of those groups. They are Byfield and keyboardist-producer Walt Richmond from the Brothers of the Night, and guitarist Charles Tuberville from the Jumpshotz. A look and listen to any of the music videos found on BRT TV will tell you that this trio continues to create terrific music, both on its own and working with such veteran Tulsa-connected acts as Scott Ellison, Ann Bell and Doug Ryan, aka Floyd Pink.

According to Tuberville, BRT TV arose out of a songwriting partnership among the three men, all of whom have seen success in penning tunes for themselves and others. Richmond, who went from the Brothers of the Night and other Tulsa groups to touring and/or recording with national acts like the Tractors, Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt, has been especially fruitful as a writer, having had his compositions cut by Bob Seger, the Doobie Brothers, Maria Muldaur and Rick Danko, among several others.

Tuberville began crafting songs with Richmond a few years ago, in conjunction with the long-awaited album by still another famed Tulsa act, bluesman Jimmy Markham. By the time he joined up with Richmond, Tuberville says, “Walt and Byfield had been writing together for 13 or 14 years, and they had a lot of songs. Then the three of us all started writing together a couple of days a week. After a while, I asked them, ‘What are you guys doing with this stuff, other than pitching the occasional song to one of your connections?’ – which they have. Walt’s got some really good connections, international connections. I said, ‘Let’s do something with some of this stuff. Let’s take some of these songs and put them up on YouTube.’ That seemed to be the thing everyone was doing.”

Richmond and Byfield agreed, and Tuberville, who’s spent a quarter-century as a computer-graphics specialist, went to work, taking the faces of the three participants and grafting them onto animated-cartoon bodies, in the style of the digital studio JibJab. With some alien and UFO imagery, among other elements, thrown in, a music video for one of their co-authored compositions, the slick dance tune “Bangin’ the Groove,” became the first release for BRT TV. And while the channel’s initials stand for Byfield, Richmond and Tuberville, the video itself credits the trio as “Dr. Jimmy Love, feat. DJ Walt & Chas T aka Tuberwilly,” which Tuberville says is “just kind of a collective name for the three of us.”

Once the video was up, Tuberville took to Facebook, letting his friends know about the new project and steering them toward a link to the YouTube video. Then, like many creators of online entertainment, he started keeping a close check on the popularity of his new baby.

“YouTube updates periodically throughout the day, telling how many views you got, and it was doing pretty well,” he says. “One day when it was around 900, my wife and I ate dinner and then I went back and checked and it was at 1,500.

“I thought, ‘Whoa, something’s going on here.’ I started scrambling around, trying to figure out why we were getting so many views, and it just kept going up exponentially.”

What had momentarily slipped Tuberville’s mind was that he’d sent a “Bangin’ the Groove” link to his brother Tommy, head football coach at the University of Cincinnati. And Tommy had liked it so much that he’d put it on his Twitter feed.

All we’re trying to do is get some of our songs heard, and the video stuff is a way to do it.”

“I don’t know much about Twitter, but I do know that he has a lot of people who follow his Twitter feed,” says Tuberville of his brother. “We started getting views after views after views, and depending on who liked Tommy and who didn’t, it was either ‘this is great’ or ‘this is the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life,’” he adds with a laugh.

Before it was all over, Tommy Tuberville was being interviewed about the music video on his Twitter feed, with one of the subsequent articles published in USA Today. The result was nearly 10,000 views for “Bangin’ the Groove,” giving BRT TV an auspicious debut.

“That was kind of fun, watching it climb,” recalls Tuberville. “At one point, I thought, ‘Man, we might go viral here.’ But the definition of a viral video on YouTube is like a million views within a seven-day period. That’s hard to do.”

Regardless, with “Bangin’ the Groove,” the new channel was off and running, and it hasn’t slowed. By the time you read this, there should be at least a dozen videos up, including a new one featuring famed Tulsa drummer David Teegarden. Already, the musical styles on BRT TV run from country to blues to dance to torchy ballads to straight-ahead rock, while the visual content ranges from newly shot footage of the performers (including Ellison’s “Holler for Help” and Ryan’s “My Feet Are Itchin’ for You”) to montages of photographs (Bell’s “afterGLOW”). There’s also archival material, including a formerly unreleased cut from the late Tulsa blues legend Flash Terry called “Don’t Let Your Feet Git Cold” (covered vocally by Taj Mahal on Jamie Oldaker’s 2005 Mad Dogs and Okies CD, another Tulsa-connected project). In addition, Tuberville has resurrected a 1983 regional hit single he wrote while he was with Sweney and the Jumpshotz, the reggae-flavored “It Ain’t Right,” giving it a new visual dimension.

“We got some airplay on that in St. Louis and Kansas City, and we reached No. 3 on the new station in town [KELI-FM] that was playing MTV songs,” he remembers. “I think the Police were No. 1 and Huey Lewis was No. 2.”

In the 33 years between the time that single was released and today, Tuberville’s goals have, of course, altered. Then, he was looking to break out nationally. Now, he says, “Personally, and I think I can speak for Walt, we’re not trying to get a record deal. That train’s been gone a long time for us. Byfield’s got probably two albums of stuff in the can he could release, through CD Baby or one of those venues, but that would be his own personal deal. The three of us just wanted to get some of our music out there. That’s what our thinking was. All we’re trying to do is get some of our songs heard, and the video stuff is a way to do it.

“I’m pretty proud of our music,” he adds. “Walt Richmond and Jim Byfield are world-class songwriters.”

Tuberville encourages those interested to consider subscribing to BRT TV. “There’s no charge, and you’ll get notified whenever we put something new up,” he says. “We’ve got almost 300 subscribers now, but some of these [YouTube suppliers] have tens of thousands of people who subscribe to their channel. That would be nice, but we don’t think we’ll get that far with it.”

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