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.
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