Casey Van Beek and the Tulsa Groove
Little Village Foundation
Little Village Foundation has made another discovery, this time not unearthing a new star but a hardened music veteran of six decades. His band, the Tulsa Groove, will inevitably bring back memories of the great J.J. Cale. In fact, play Heaven Forever for a friend and have he/she guess who is playing. Cale will be the prevailing answer even though Van Beek and band only cover one of the icon’s songs. Yet, the story here is both about the sound or the star studded band and mostly about the Holland-born bassist/vocalist Casey Van Beek.
Casey Van Beek was born in Holland but raised in Los Angeles from the age of five, fitting right into the burgeoning local ‘60s rock scene. By his teens he was playing bass and singing in The Vibrants, who opened for The Dave Clark Five and The Rolling Stones’ first L.A. area show and toured with Peter and Gordon. He moved on to backing Linda Ronstadt, along with Don Henley and Glenn Frey. When the duo left to start the Eagles, Casey headed to Tulsa with Don Preston to record with the Shelter People, part of Leon Russell’s Shelter Records label.
Tulsa surprised him—the blues, country, and rockabilly had fermented there into a mellow blend called the Tulsa Sound. It took a while to find his way into the scene, but soon he was in a band with Walt Richmond and Jim Byfield, as he is again here. Eventually, Van Beek joined Tulsa’s multi-platinum, Grammy-nominated band The Tractors, which included Van Beek, Walt Richmond, and the future Tulsa Groove member Ron Getman. Three members of the Groove (Richmond, Byfield, and Steve Hickerson), would back Bonnie Raitt during her tenure in Tulsa, playing shows in the area. Richmond would go on to play on J.J Cale’s Grammy-winning Gold album collaboration with Eric Clapton, The Road to Escondido, so impressing Clapton that he’s played on all his albums since then.
This core of players still plays together when they’re not on the road backing high profile acts. Heaven Forever, produced by Walt Richmond, showcases what they are capable of when they focus their in-demand skills on their own music. Carrying on the legendary Tulsa sound of forerunners like Leon Russell, JJ Cale and Elvin Bishop, the band is adding their own new flavors while keeping that historic tradition alive for current and future generations, helped by the Little Village Foundation.
The title track, by Richmond, is a humorous contemplation of afterlife. The Cale tune is “Since You Said Goodbye” although many are in that same Tulsa groove, hence the band name. “Roberta” is an up-tempo Huey “Piano” Smith tune, complete with the NOLA vibe. Casey and Walt’s “Solid Ground” is a swinging shuffle about the vagaries of romantic life. Groove member Jared Tyler inherited the mournful Willie Nelson-like “Waltzing With My Shadow” on the passing of his teacher and friend, Tulsa luthier Dixie Michell.
They cover a tune from Peppermint Harris, a running partner of Lightnin’ Hopkins’s, “I Got Loaded,” taken at a much slower tempo than the Los Lobos version. “Sugar Bee,” a song Van Beek’s been singing for quite a while, has terrific guitar from Steve Hickerson. Van Beek and guitarist Charles Tuberville combined on “Superstitious,” which uses a dry wit to combine the title topic and romance. The trio of Casey, Tuberville, and Richmond wrote “If You Don’t Love Me,” another tearjerker. “Whatcha Think About That” and “Get On With It” are shuffles, ideal for dancing.
Oklahoma boasts many fine musicians, and these are among its best. They all have very impressive resumes and you can learn more about each here.
Walt Richmond (producer, piano, organ, drums)
Jim Byfield (lead guitar, background vocals)
Steve Hickerson (lead guitar)
Charles Tuberville (rhythm guitar, background vocals)
Jared Tyler (guitar, mandolin, dobro, background vocals)
Ron Getman (acoustic guitar)
Steve Bagsby (steel guitar)
Seth Lee Jones (guitar)
Steve Wilkerson (saxophone)
Clapton fell in love with the Tulsa sound years ago and there’s nary a music fan around who doesn’t like J.J.Cale. Hats off to Casey Van Beek and the Tulsa Groove for keeping the Tulsa sound alive.