Amid the array of artifacts inside the Oklahoma History Center's vault, a keyboard that boasts no black keys but more than its share of rock 'n' roll history has been carefully cleaned and stored.
In the 1970s, three-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Eric Clapton commissioned the custom-made Hammond for his band's keyboardist, Tulsan Dick Sims.
“When Dick Sims played, he didn't look at the keyboard. He just played, so there's no black keys,” said Jeff Moore, project manager for the Oklahoma Historical Society's proposed Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture.
“Eric Clapton's band in the '70s was basically core Oklahoma guys.”
As “Slowhand” takes the stage Wednesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, it's safe to assume most of the audience will know about Clapton's prodigious guitar skills, huge hits and enduring legacy as a solo artist and with the bands The Yardbirds, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominos.
It's also a safe bet many Oklahoma fans are unaware of the vital role Sooner State musicians played in Clapton's illustrious career.
“His longevity is very tightly connected to Oklahomans and their music skills: the songwriting of J.J. Cale and then the rhythm section of Jamie Oldaker and Carl Radle,” Moore said.
When Clapton made his eponymous 1970 solo debut, he was just coming off a tour with Delaney & Bonnie, so he recorded with the core of the duo's backing band, including Tulsans Leon Russell on piano and Carl Radle on bass guitar.
The album's biggest hit, “After Midnight,” was penned by J.J. Cale, an Oklahoma City-born and Tulsa-bred singer-songwriter who, like Russell, is considered one of the pioneers of the influential Tulsa Sound.
Also in 1970, Radle was part of the rhythm section for Clapton's new band Derek and the Dominos, which recorded and released that year “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.” The title track became one of the most beloved ballads in rock 'n' roll history.
Clapton's struggles with heroin abuse sidelined him for a few years, and Radle recruited Sims and another Tulsan, drummer Oldaker, to record a demo tape in the hopes of getting the recovering addict back to music.
It worked: The trio played with Clapton on his 1974 comeback “461 Ocean Boulevard” and continued to work with the prolific musician on several subsequent albums, including “There's One in Every Crowd,” “Slowhand” and “Backless.”
Another Clapton commission, a set of Oldaker's drums made in Japan, occupies a shelf several rows over from Sims' keyboard in the history center vault. The drummer recently donated them to the historical society.
“There was a Japanese family that handmade the custom drums for Yamaha. These were tailored to match one of Clapton's sunburst guitars, so these are one-of-a-kind,” Moore said.
Moore hopes to someday exhibit the instruments in the OKPOP Museum, a 75,000-square-foot showcase celebrating the influence of Oklahoma artists on popular culture. The planned museum will be built in Tulsa's Brady Arts District of Tulsa, provided the state Legislature approves a $42.5 million bond issue.
“If it wasn't for the OKPOP project, these collections that have been coming in — the Leon Russell collection, Eric Clapton's band collection — we wouldn't have these,” Moore said.
The historical society has been working on OKPOP plans since 2007, developing relationships with musicians, actors and producers based on the vision for the museum, said Larry O'Dell, director of special projects. After his death in 2011, Sims' estate donated the keyboard, which required extensive cleaning as the black petroleum-based foam inside the case had deteriorated and melted all over the instrument.
The OKPOP collection also includes photos of the Oklahoma musicians and their Tulsa Sound contemporaries. Staffers hope to acquire memorabilia from Radle and Clapton, too.
“We want to document this. This is important as the 20th century becomes more and more part of the history. I mean, every band today — whether they like it or not — is influenced by these guys ... whether they know it or not,” Moore said. “It's a big part of our culture today, and what we want to do is we want to collect it, preserve it and share it with the world.”