Hall of Famers
Thursday at 7 p.m. there'll be four inductions into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in Muskogee. Three of those inductees -- Billy Parker, Tommy Allsup and Toby Keith -- are scheduled to play a few tunes in an 8 p.m. concert. The fourth, however, can't, since it's a venue and not a performer.
By John Wooley & Matt Gleason Tulsa World Scene Writers
Tulsa World newspaper
So, when the Cain's Ballroom's spot comes up in the concert, among those performing will be Tulsa's Don White, doing his self-penned tune "No Place Like the Cain's."
"I wrote that back in the '70s, when I was living in Nashville, coming back to the Cain's and playing -- sometimes with my band and sometimes solo," recalls White, who estimates he's done the number a couple of dozen times at various Cain's gigs. "I've always had a good time playing at the Cain's, and I wrote the song because I love the place."
When the venerable ballroom reopened on Oct. 1, 2003, following a major overhaul by new owners, the Rodgers family, White was the opening act for Dwight Yoakam. Any guesses on what the first song of White's set was that night?
Don White's 'Ain't No Place Like the Cain's' will be first tune played in the new ballroom
Years ago, Tulsa's Don White was traveling back and forth between his hometown and Nashville, doing the Music Row hustle, trying to get his songs heard by people who could get them recorded and released. And in all his wandering, the Cain's Ballroom was his way station, a place where he was always welcome.
By John Wooley World Scene Writer
"This was the late '70s," he recalled recently. "R.C. Bradley and Jeff Nix had it then, and they'd always let me play there and make a little money when I was in town, so I could pay my rent. And (former Cain's owner Larry) Shaeffer has always been so good to me. "One day, I got to thinking about all of that, about how I loved the people who ran it, how I loved the room itself. "I mean, when we were kids we heard so much about it that we knew it before we ever went into it. So I wrote the song, 'No Place Like the Cain's,' and I played it at the Cain's that night.
"I remember sitting down on a chair on the stage and pulling out this piece of paper with the words on it, and telling the crowd, 'I just wrote this song this afternoon, so I hope you'll forgive me if I mess up,' " he added with a chuckle. "They all said, 'No!' That was funny. But when I played 'em the song, they loved it."
That was the first time "No Place Like the Cain's," a swing-flavored number done in White's typically laid-back style, was ever heard in the venerable ballroom.
It was far from the last. In fact, it'll be the first live number the audience will hear when White opens for Dwight Yoakam in the newly refurbished ballroom for Wednesday's grand-opening show. "I figured that had to be the first one in the new place," he said. "It's been all remodeled, and they're trying to hang onto the tradition, so I just thought I ought to do it. I feel fortunate that I can."
White can't say exactly when he first played the Cain's, but he estimates he's been featured on its stage between 15 and 20 times over the years -- beginning with one that didn't work out as well as he'd hoped. "That was when I had one of my first bands, and Dave Boyd was helping Mrs. Myers run it," he recalled. "They didn't like me too much, though. The old folks were still there and I didn't do enough swing."
Things changed soon enough when, as he noted, "The new crowd started coming in." It wasn't long before the Cain's was one of the best-known stops for the outlaws and cosmic cowboys who came along in the '70s to add a new, more hippified influence to country music. White fit right with them, regularly pulling in crowds of 400 and 500 for his Don White and the Honky-Tonk Band shows.
Even after the group dissolved, White kept getting booked. "I used to be the only solo they'd hire over there," he remembered. "The crowd could get a little wild. But I'd just yell right back at 'em."
Meanwhile, he started getting songs cut by other artists, and cut a few singles himself on the ABC and Dot labels. Some of his best tunes from that era accompany newer material on his new disc, "Hillbilly Lullabies," available from his website at www.donwhitetulsa.com or by sending $12 to P.O. Box 580727, Tulsa, Okla. 74158. "The song 'Hillbilly Lullabies' has been cut eight or nine times -- by people who don't sell any records," he said with a laugh. "I've had another one, 'Across the Room to You,' cut nine or 10 times, but the only guy who sold any records was Davis Daniel. He bought me a few groceries.
"I did real well, though, with a tune nobody knows called 'I Gotta Get Over This,' which was the B-side of the Oak Ridge Boys' single 'Leavin' Lousiana in the Broad Daylight.' They don't do it anymore, but back then, for every single the B-side writer got the same as the A-side writer."
These days, White does two weekly radio shows: "Not Necessarily Nashville" runs Wednesday at 1 p.m. on Vinita's KITO, 96.1 FM/1470 AM, reuniting him with Dave Boyd -- the man who was running the Cain's when White first played there. Then there's "The Don White Show -- Music with a Groove," which can be heard over KRSC, 91.3 FM, at 10 p.m. each Sunday.
And White continues to write and perform, even if it's not quite with the same attitude he had back in the '70s. "I remember being down at the Cain's one time, and Asleep at the Wheel was playing," he said, chuckling again. "(The late Tulsa musician) Gene Crownover was sitting in on steel, and I just walked up on the stage and sang a verse of 'San Antonio Rose.' "Gene knew me, but the rest of 'em had no idea who I was. "I was kind of cocky in those days," he said with another laugh.
Welcome back, Cain's
Renovated ballroom swings back in time -- to the future
A little after 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Rosetta Wills and her daughter Renee Diamond helped Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune and other dignitaries cut the ribbon on the House that Bob Built. Hereafter, it'll also be known as the House that Dr. Jim Rodgers Rebuilt. "I knew with a little bit of love and a little bit of money, we could make it last for 80 more years," the Cain's new owner told a cheering crowd. "We wanted to keep the important parts, and make it safer and bigger."
By John Wooley World Scene Writer
After all of that, it was time for the huge crowd to go in. And what they saw was something out of a fantasy, albeit a good one. It may have struck some as a Cain's Ballroom from an alternate dimension, a venue that's existed side by side with the old Cain's for years, a honky-tonk out of time, containing all the same things but slightly different -- and better. "I'm so thrilled about this," said Wills, looking at the high wooden roof, restored from the drop-ceilinged look the Cain's has had for years. "It's amazing. It looks three to four times bigger, because they raised the ceilings. And I love the way they hung the artwork."
Then there was the clock. The old clock from KFMJ radio used to hang just above the entrance rather than behind the bar, where it is now. And Don White liked it in its old location. "I don't think I can see it from the stage anymore," said the singer-songwriter-guitarist, just before taking the stage to open for Yoakam. "I could always look up there and see how much time I had left." Three songs into his solo set, however, he shouted, "Hey, I can see the clock." He seemed pretty happy about it.
For the record, the first thing a performer said on the new stage was, "It's a hell of a deal, isn't it?" That was White, and he also did the first song on that stage, his self-penned "No Place Like the Cain's." He was joined at the end of his 45-minute set by his son Steve White, but not before presenting a nice solo set that included lots of Oklahoma songs, from a neat and unexpected cover of the Tractors' "Baby Likes to Rock It" to a soulful "Never Been to Spain." He and Steve were especially impressive together on J.J. Cale's "Magnolia," which meandered over a groove -- like many other songs in his set -- in classic Tulsa Sound fashion.
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