JD Fox releases Spooner Oldham tribute CD

Note: Spooner Oldham’s contributions to music are noted in Alabama Musicians: Musical Heritage from the Heart of Dixie. For further information on Alabama Musicians, detailing the history of native Alabamians’ contributions to music and featuring dozens of biographies, please visit Amazon.com.

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Casual fans of rock and soul music may not know the man by name, but Spooner Oldham is a star among stars who’s now inspired Belgian recording artist JD Fox to release a tribute CD in honor of the keyboardist and his career. Born in Alabama in 1943, Dewey Lyndon Oldham, better known as Spooner, grew up listening to the usual radio fare for his time and geography, from Fats Domino to Jerry Lee Lewis, from country to gospel. In the late 1950s, he began attending the University of North Alabama but became more interested in the developing local recording industry. Oldham met fellow Alabamian Dan Penn in Muscle Shoals around 1959, and the two men struck up a song-writing partnership while Oldham began playing keyboards as a studio musician for FAME Studio, joining David Hood, Roger Hawkins, and Jimmy Johnson as the early rhythm section that defined the studio’s sound by backing soul artists on songs such as “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “Mustang Sally,” and “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You).”

By the late 1960s, Oldham had moved to Memphis where he and Penn continued their partnership, writing numerous songs that would become hits for the time and standard play even on today’s radio stations, from “I’m Your Puppet” and “The Dark End of the Street” to “Cry Like a Baby” and “A Woman Left Lonely,” among many others. The team wrote, by their estimate, nearly 500 songs, certainly enough to define a career as successful, but Oldham wasn’t finished and moved to Los Angeles to begin yet another phase in his musical life, playing keyboards for dozens of top artists over the years, including Neil Young, Ry Cooder, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, and Bob Dylan, to name a few. In 2009, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Oldham to honor him for his long service as a sideman.

Born in 1957 in Ghent, Belgium, Jan de Vos, professionally known as JD Fox, developed an early passion for southern soul and especially for Oldham’s piano and organ work that became a defining element of music produced in the Shoals. Choosing to pursue a career in music, Fox served as drummer from the late 1970s through the early 1980s for The Machines, Belgium’s number one pop band, which recorded three albums, their first, A World of Machines, cut at the famed Abbey Road Studios in London, England. In 1989, he joined the heavy rock band Derek & The Dirt, recording three albums before his departure. In 1991, he became a singer-guitarist, combining American roots music with French lyrics, recording one album with the band Paris, Texas, and three solo albums. During that time, he developed an even keener admiration and respect for Oldham’s song-writing ability and recorded one of Oldham’s songs in 2004, “Genie in the Jug,” in French, an effort that netted personal praise from Oldham.

In 2007, Fox decided he’d had enough and said goodbye to the music business, but his love for Oldham’s songs led to him to contact Oldham personally. Reenergized by the keyboardist, Fox decided to record one more CD, this one to honor the man who had been such an inspiration throughout Fox’s life and career. The result is the newly released CD, The Roadmaster: A Tribute to Spooner Oldham, the title derived from Oldham’s song, “The Roadmaster.”

On the CD’s first twelve songs, Fox teamed up with Holland roots musicians, the Sunset Travelers. For the thirteenth song, “I’m Not Through Loving You Yet,” Fox lived a dream come true. “The icing on the cake,” Fox says, “was a trip to the Shoals, where I recorded [“I’m Not Throughout Loving You Yet”] with the Roadmaster himself. It was an honor, a privilege, and a thrill to sit next to him at the piano.”

The Roadmaster, Fox says, is a return to basics, celebrating Oldham’s songs by presenting them in their intended forms, with simple arrangements, straightforward production, and unadorned vocals. To hear samples and to purchase The Roadmaster, please visit CD Baby.

Michael G. Allen of Coyote Oldman

In the mid-1980s, I became acquainted with Native American flute music through the instrumental musings of Coyote Oldman, purportedly an Oklahoma-based duo specializing in “new age” music that utilized native flutes backed by electronic soundscapes. A few years later, I played a cedar flute crafted by Michael Graham Allen, Coyote Oldman’s flautist, and I was hooked. The sound that came from that flute was indescribable, a sound that touched something deep in my psyche. On a tight budget then as I am now (some things never change, especially for writers), I couldn’t afford the retailer’s price, but neither could I simply walk away from such beauty of sound. So I began researching Native American flute craft, but little instructive material existed at the time. Through trial and error and by studying various flutes I chanced across, I finally discovered a method for crafting a decent sounding flute—all thanks to the inspiration of Michael’s music and artistry.

Jump ahead nearly twenty years. I’ve spent the last year researching and writing a new book for The History Press, entitled Alabama Musicians: Musical Heritage from the Heart of Dixie, which details the vast influence of Alabama artists on music past and present. In August, I submitted the book’s final draft, which (acceptably) exceeded the specified length by a thousand words. Around the same time, I learned that Michael G. Allen had teamed with David Lanz and Gary Stroutsos to soon release a new Coyote Oldman CD, entitled Time Travelers. Searching the internet for more information, I discovered that Michael G. Allen is not Oklahoma-based as I’d read many years ago, but a resident and native of Alabama—which meant that a book designed to spotlight Alabama’s musical innovators did not mention a word about one of the most influential pioneers of our time, an artist arguably most responsible for popularizing the native flute worldwide. After a few e-mail exchanges, the editor  allowed me to slip in an entry on Michael.

Michael began Coyote Oldman collaborations in 1985 with Barry Stramp, who provided electronic soundscapes for Michael’s flutes. Each album since 1986’s groundbreaking Tear of the Moon has further explored and developed the range of native flutes, each flute used in the recordings impeccably crafted by Michael. Time Travelers, released in October 2011, utilizes Michael’s handmade replicas of ancient desert and Anasazi flutes in extended studio improvisations with David Lanz on keyboards and Gary Stroutsos on Chinese xiao and dizi flutes to create an album that’s deeply contemplative and moving.

Michael’s interest in, research of, and devotion to ancient North American flutes began in the 1970s as he traveled throughout the U.S. to become a primary force in their reintroduction, refinement, and popularization. With few traditional musicians or craftsmen at the time, Michael learned to craft and play native flutes by studying and copying artifacts housed in museums and collections around the country. In 1981, he met and developed a deep friendship with Dr. Richard Payne, another researcher instrumental in popularizing the native flute. Payne had developed much of his ability in the 1930s, learning from Kiowa elder, Belo Cozad, who had been taught by Oldman Turkey in the late 1800s. Collaborating with Payne until Payne’s death in 2004, Michael became and remains one of the world’s foremost authorities on native flute history, craft, and music.

Michael’s handcrafted flutes have introduced a number of musical innovations, from tuned pentatonic, multi-keyed and bass Plains style flutes to double flutes and experimental flutes. His current efforts include the reintroduction of ancient rim-blown flutes to wider audiences both through his music and custom-crafted instruments. He’s available to lecture on the history of North American flutes at colleges and music events around the country. For more information about Coyote Oldman flutes and music, please visit the Coyote Oldman website.

Michael is one of the many Alabama musical innovators featured in more detail in Alabama Musicians: Musical Heritage from the Heart of Dixie. In the coming months, others will be featured here, including Spooner Oldham and Belgian artist JD Fox who will soon release a tribute album featuring Oldham’s music. To purchase Alabama Musicians, please visit Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, or any online or brick-and-mortar bookstore.