Jamie Oldaker, a “Tulsa Sound” music figure whose drumming skills were coveted by some of the biggest names in the music industry, died Thursday. He was 68.
Oldaker was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 2010. In addition to touring or recording with Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton, Bob Seger, Ace Frehley, Leon Russell and Stephen Stills, Oldaker was a founding member of the Tractors and he played an instrumental role at the dawn of Ronnie Dunn’s career.
Oldaker, who had battled cancer in recent years, was surrounded by family members when he passed away at his Tulsa home. Colleagues in the music industry phoned Oldaker in recent days to pay their respects.
“Jamie Oldaker has been my dear friend and brother for over 40 years,” Frampton said in a statement provided to the Tulsa World by Oldaker’s family.
“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. Love you, Jamie.”
Clapton said in a provided statement that he has no trouble explaining or defining Oldaker’s music.
“It’s easy,” Clapton said. “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.”
Clapton said Oldaker was “solid as a rock” and said he could listen to Oldaker talk all night. “Many times I have,” he said. “His knowledge is a wink and a sparkle in his eye, which says everything.”
One of the albums they collaborated on was “Slowhand.”
“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.’ ”
Born Sept. 5, 1951, Oldaker was raised in Tulsa and was inspired by his father, a former drummer, to take up the drums. He knew he had found his calling after seeing the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” One of Oldaker’s earliest thrills was playing on that same stage when performing with Phil Driscoll on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Later, through fellow Tulsa musicians Teegarden and Van Winkle, Oldaker encountered Bob Seger, who hired the drummer to join his band. Oldaker played on the album “Back in 72,” which contains the Seger classic “Turn the Page.”
In Tulsa, Oldaker was hired as a session musician at Leon Russell’s newly formed Shelter Records. Oldaker recorded and toured with Russell and the Gap Band. During this time, Oldaker worked with legendary Tulsa bassist Carl Radle, who played with Clapton in Derek and the Dominos. Radle, trying to inspire Clapton to get back into the studio and on the road again, sent Clapton live recordings of Tulsa musicians, Oldaker included.
Clapton said his life was in serious decline at the time. Substance abuse had taken a toll. He 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, were in Tulsa making incredible, sophisticated music, it had everything. I jumped at the proposition, and we began our momentous journey.”
Oldaker played on 11 Clapton albums. Frampton heard one of the tracks from the “Slowhand” album on the radio and decided the drummer also needed to be playing in his band, according to jamieoldaker.com. Oldaker enlisted for dual duty.
Music took Oldaker around the world, but he championed Oklahoma and its music. Dunn was a local artist when he asked Oldaker for career help. Oldaker entered Dunn into a Marlboro music contest, which Dunn won. Oldaker performed with and managed Dunn during a tour and recorded original versions of “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and other songs.
Oldaker experienced immediate success as a member of the Tulsa-based group The Tractors. A debut album sold more than 3.5 million copies and the song “Baby Likes to Rock It” was nominated for a Grammy.
Oldaker wed the former Mary Billings in 2016. They launched a Tulsa music festival, Mojofest, in celebration.