Jamie Oldaker, Legendary Drummer, Dies at 68

Legendary Tulsa-based drummer, and former Eric Clapton band mate, Jamie Oldaker, sadly lost his courageous battle with cancer on Thursday, 16 July. He was 68.

He was an integral part of Eric’s “comeback band” in the mid 1970’s, through 1979, providing a formidable, yet sympathetic, rhythm section with bass player and close friend Carl Radle. He retuned to the band again in 1983, playing at Live Aid on 13 July 1985 and yet again in 1990-1991. During those stints, Jamie played on Eric’s legendary albums 461 Ocean Boulevard and Slowhand plus nine others.

Having grown up as part of the famous “Tulsa Sound”, Jamie played alongside Leon Russell and Bob Seger, with Ace Frehley and Peter Frampton, and appeared on recordings with artists as diverse as the Bee Gees, Stephen Stills and the Bellamy Brothers. A founder member of the Tractors, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 2010.  Jamie was a guest at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in Dallas last September and had lately been working with organisers on the building of the OKPOP museum in his hometown of Tulsa.

Peter Frampton – who had a decades long friendship with the drummer – told Tulsa World in a statement provided by the Oldaker Family that, “Jamie Oldaker has been my dear friend and brother for over 40 years. He was a very warm, caring, true friend with a gentle heart. He cared about us all almost more than he did himself. Most will know him as the drummer on Eric Clapton’s albums. His playing was unique; a laid-back style of drumming with an incredible feel. We traveled the world, played many wonderful shows and great recordings together. He was a much loved person and I will miss him for the rest of my time here.”

The Oldaker family also provided a statement to the press from Eric Clapton:

My life had been in serious decline when I was introduced to Jamie, the hard drug had taken its toll and I had lost interest in pretty much everything….

Carl Radle, the wonderful man who played with me in the Dominos and knew about my predicament, sent me a message along with a cassette, saying “you have to hear these kids”, I listened and something woke up in me, I wanted to play again…

‘The kids’ of course were Jamie Oldaker and Dickie Sims, who along with Carl we’re in Tulsa making incredible, sophisticated music, it had everything…

I jumped at the proposition, and we began our momentous journey…

We went as far as we could go, (with me as the annoying burden most of the time), but on the way we made incredible music, sometimes cool, sometimes crazy, but always with a supreme pocket thanks to those guys, all I had to do was float along on top and sometimes just try to stay conscious…

Then another crisis, which separated us all for a while, and I was finding it hard to get back in the saddle, I called Jamie, and for the second time, he saved my bacon…

I have no trouble explaining or defining jamie’s music, it’s easy; to begin with it’s his sound, he has the best snare sound I’ve ever heard, he has the best restrained fills I’ve ever heard, and his bass drum is as solid as rock, he is unique, and the pocket is always perfect.

The kind of man he is, matches his drums.

He is as solid as rock and I could listen to him talk all night long, many times I have, his knowledge is a wink and a sparkle in his eye, which says everything…

I listen to ‘Slowhand’ now and then to try and remember what it is I’m supposed to be doing. And I end up listening to Jamie and saying to my wife “did you hear that ?”

What more can I say…

Much love and respect to ‘the man’ xxx

Eric C

Where’s Eric! interviewed Jamie Oldaker last September in Dallas. The below was published in the most recent issue of Where’s Eric! Magazine.

For many Clapton fans, the fluid drumming of Jamie Oldaker, alongside the solid bass lines of Carl Dean Radle, represented their favourite EC rhythm section. Having developed their chops in the burgeoning Tulsa Sound with Leon Russell, both would go on to work with Eric from his comeback period in ’74, firstly with 461 Ocean Boulevard. Reunited with Eric between ’83 and ’86, and again between 1990-91, Jamie has also worked with the likes of Peter Frampton, Bob Seger and Stephen Stills.

How did you get into the Tulsa Sound scene?

Right place, right time really. I’m probably the youngest of that food chain now, that’s left from that “sound” – I don’t know who named it that, it wasn’t us! Everybody had their own definition of it. I started playing around Tulsa, then started working for Leon Russell, JJ Cale was around, and Carl Radle of course and it just went from there.

Your father was a drummer?

He flew aeroplanes and designed aeroplanes but he played drums for fun.

So how old were you when you sat behind the kit for the first time?

Nine. I auditioned for the school band, 6th grade. I’d seen Jack Benny playing violin so I wanted to play violin, but they had no chairs available for that. Alright, I’ll play trumpet, but they had no chairs for that. The whole idea was to get girls! So the band director gave me some sticks and a practice pad and I thought, “What am I going to do with that?” So, when I got home, my dad went and got a pair of his sticks (I didn’t know he played drums) and he said there’s two records that you need to pay attention to – one was John Philip Sousa, the composer of American military marches, and the other was a 1937-38 Carnegie Hall jazz concert with Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa and Eric James. He was giving me a choice of different structures musically. I chose the non-structured one because I was a big Gene Krupa fan; that got me started. Then I saw the Beatles in ’64 on TV and I said “I want to do that!” And “I want to be on that show” – and I was, in 1971.

You were on the Ed Sullivan show?

I was, playing with Phil Driscoll, the trumpet player.

With your father working in industry, was there any pressure to “get a real job”?

No, my parents were real supportive. They cleared the whole living room out so I could have band practice. And my Dad knew – “he’s got something, let him keep going and see how far he goes”. So I was locked in at a very early age, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and I’ve been blessed with a wonderful career.

And it’s still on-going…

Yeah, I just do things I want to do. They say this to athletes too – when it stops being fun and it becomes work, you need to back away from it. Touring is not fun for me anymore but I like to do certain specific projects that I will enjoy doing. My career is what it is; it’s already there. 

There was one part of your CV that surprised me somewhat – Ace Frehly of KISS; how did you get that gig?

When I was with Peter (Frampton), the bass player was a friend of mine, John Regan, a lovely wonderful player, and he called me and asked if I’d like to go and a couple of shows with Ace Frehley. I said I’d see, to me it was a challenge. I’d managed to learn most every type of genre of music there is, on drums. To me I don’t play any of them great but I play them all good enough. To me, great drummers are like Elvin Jones, Tony Williams.

You were part of Eric’s “comeback” band, to record and tour 461 Ocean Boulevard. What did you know about Eric at that time?

Well, I knew he’d been in Cream but I didn’t know him. Nobody knew Eric, except Carl Radle and Tom Dowd. He was probably thrown into that thing quicker than he should have been, by (Robert) Stigwood, because of the health condition he was in. People say he didn’t play so well, but if you listen to some of the live tapes, the playing was fabulous. That was a pretty good band there for that first tour, but the press, they killed us.

I guess one of the iconic things you did with Eric was Live Aid; do you have much recollection of that show?

Oh I remember everything; I’ve got it all (laughs). We were in the middle of a tour, in Denver, playing Red Rocks and we didn’t even know about doing Live Aid until less than a week before. So we had to cancel one gig and take a flight from Denver all the way out to Philly. We got there and it was complete chaos, nobody had ever done anything like that before.

It was a huge football stadium that they were going to tear down, made out of wood, the only place they could find that would hold 100,000 people. Everybody was helicoptered in and helicoptered out and every body had a pass with a different letter on it; A, B, C, D and so on, and it only got you into a certain section at certain times. Say the A pass would mean you were playing between 3pm and 5pm. After 5 that pass was no good anymore and you’d get thrown out and we had to leave (laughs).

But it was pretty mad, I remember looking out and thinking there’s a lot of people out there (laughs), but it was over so fast and then we were back in Denver!

How did your solo album, Mad Dogs & Okies, come about?

I was bored, not doing anything, so I thought I’d create some project to do. It would all be with people who were Oklahoma based, or something to do with Tulsa music over the years, either songwriters or people I’ve worked with. 

The idea was to just come into the studio, in Nashville, set up and play, just like when we were kids, just play a song and have fun. So I said, ok, who’s the most famous rock n roll guy I know, that I could call, which was Eric, and who was the most country style player that I knew, and that would be Vince Gill. So I got hold of both of them and, to my amazement, they both said, “sure, sounds like a good idea”. I went shit, they said yes! Then I had to raise the money to do it (laughs) and think of who else to put on it.  It’s a good little record and still sounds good today.

And you’re still pretty tight with Eric…

We go back and forth, meet up once in a while. I guess I’m one of his favourite drummers otherwise I wouldn’t be on this thing here. He knew all about my cancer stuff, he’s been very very supportive of that. Every day he would send me emails, “how are you doing, what can I do to help?”

Are you ok talking about that?

Sure. It’s been less than a year since I finished my treatments. I went completely bald, lost 10 pounds, had 4 rounds of chemo and 25 of radiation. It was lung cancer, even though I quit smoking before I was diagnosed. My wife saved my life basically because she’s in the healthcare business. I’d never been in a hospital in my life but she persuaded me to go and get a CT scan. So I went, under protest, and sure enough, this thing popped up. The doctor said “there’s a 90% chance you have lung cancer”, so I said well there’s a 10% chance I don’t (laughs). She said, “do you want to play those odds”?  I went in with the right attitude, I named my cancer Bobby, I made a story out of it, you talk to your body and make it into something real. I’ve got my name on the side of an aeroplane, American Airlines. They were asking people to send in stories, cancer survivors, and I’m on the side of an A320 Airbus! It’s to help promote Stand Up for Cancer Awareness. I’ve made the big time (laughs).

Where’s Eric!
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