Casey Van Beek and the Tulsa Groove – Heaven Forever

Casey Van Beek was born in Holland but raised in Los Angeles from the age of five, and fit right in to the burgeoning local ‘60s rock scene. By his teens he was playing bass and singing in The Vibrants, who opened for The Dave Clark Five and The Rolling Stones’ first L.A. area show, and also toured with Peter and Gordon. He moved on to backing the wonderful Linda Ronstadt, along with two guys named Don Henley and Glenn Frey. When the duo left to start the Eagles, Casey headed to Tulsa with Don Preston to record with the Shelter People, part of Leon Russell’s Shelter Records label.

Tulsa surprised him—the blues, country, and rockabilly had fermented there into a mellow blend called the Tulsa Sound, and he quickly discovered that the bands in town were playing as much Freddy King and B.B. King as Merle Haggard. Then he realized he was home, a place where the music vibes were right, and where you could get out of town into open country in five minutes. It took a while to find his way into the scene, but fairly soon he was in a band with Walt Richmond and Jim Byfield. And is once more.

Eventually, Casey joined Tulsa’s multi-platinum, Grammy-nominated band The Tractors, which included Casey, Walt Richmond, and the future Tulsa Groove member Ron Getman. Three members of the Groove (Richmond, Byfield, and Steve Hickerson), would back Bonnie Raitt during her tenure in Tulsa, playing shows in the area to (successfully!) protest the construction of the Black Fox Nuclear Power Plant. Walt would go on to play on Tulsan JJ Cale’s Grammy-winning Gold album collaboration with Eric Clapton, The Road to Escondido, so impressing Eric that he’s played on all of his albums since then.

When they weren’t on the road collaborating with people like Clapton, Cale, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, or Bill Medley, they played around town. Casey and Walt Richmond began to get tight, first recording Christmas songs, then writing original Christmas songs, then gathering at Walt’s home studio to record more of their own originals and favorite covers, selecting the best players around to add their touches on a few songs at a time. This wasn’t to satisfy anyone’s record contract or dreams of stardom, but out of camaraderie and an enjoyment of each other’s musical company; music for music’s sake.  There’s a purity to that. This record, produced by Walt Richmond, showcases what they are capable of when they focus their in-demand skills on their own music. Carrying on the legendary Tulsa sound of forerunners like Leon Russell, JJ Cale and Elvin Bishop, the band is adding their own new flavors while keeping that historic tradition alive for current and future generations.

That’s where the Little Village Foundation came in. Little Village is a nonprofit record label which finds musicians who don’t fit the relentlessly commercial values of the music industry and helps them to be heard. It is motivated by a faith that sees in diversity the seeds of empathy, and out of that connectedness the source of stronger communities and a better world.

And here we have Heaven Forever. The title song, by Walt, is a dry, humorously twisted contemplation of the afterlife; “what we gonna do with all that time…is it too late to change my mind?” “Roberta” is an up-tempo Huey “Piano” Smith tune, complete with the requisite New Orleans bounce. In a proper bow to their roots—really, the whole album is a summing up of the Tulsa Sound—they include JJ Cale’s “Since You Said Goodbye.” Casey and Walt’s “Solid Ground” is a swinging shuffle about the vagaries of romantic life. Groove member Jared Tyler inherited “Waltzing With My Shadow” on the passing of his teacher and friend, Tulsa luthier Dixie Michell. Be careful. It could make you cry.

Walt remarked that what really defined the Tulsa sound was the groove, and then proves it with his and Casey’s “Thinking About You.” If it doesn’t make you want to dance, you might consider rhythm surgery. Peppermint Harris, a running partner of Lightnin’ Hopkins’s, gave the band “I Got Loaded”—which seems to have been pretty much required to hang with Mr. Hopkins. Eddie Shuler founded an important outlet for Cajun music, Goldband Records, and wrote “Sugar Bee,” a song Casey’s been singing for quite a while, which interestingly brings out some of the most prominent guitar in the set.

Casey and Charles Tuberville combined on “Superstitious,” which uses a dry wit to combine the title topic and romance. The trio of Casey, Tuberville, and Richmond wrote “If You Don’t Love Me,” which will tear your heart out: “If you don’t love me, sun don’t need to rise. Leave me in the dark, I won’t need the light.” “Whatcha Think About That” is a great dance groove that is the least mushy love song ever written. “Get On With It” is another love song—but it’s the song of someone who’s been around the block two or three times and then some. It rocks.

Walt was right. Heaven Forever is about the groove(s), deep, wide, and frequent. It’s wonderful American music that’s fresh and fine and brand-new and simultaneously honors its Tulsa roots. I suggest you get on with listening to it….

Heaven Forever by Casey Van Beek and the Tulsa Groove is set for release on April 24, 2020, via the Little Village Foundation. It will be available on all the major digital platforms and can be pre-ordered now.

(l to r – Casey Van Beek – Steve Hickerson – Jim Byfield – Seth Lee Jones – Jared Tyler – Charles Tuberville – Walt Richmond)

Casey Van Beek (lead vocals, harmony vocals, bass)

Born in Holland, Casey came to the Los Angeles area at age five. He studied classical piano as a child, then took up the bass guitar. By 1961, he was singing and playing bass professionally in his band, The Vibrants. They did a six-year run at The Cinnamon Cinder in Long Beach, where Bob Eubanks booked popular acts into this young adult night club like The Dave Clark Five and The Rolling Stones in their first LA area appearance. Of course, they had their own band, but The Vibrants also backed The Coasters, ‘Little’ Stevie Wonder and Jerry Lee Lewis among many others. It was the 1960’s! Casey went on to become part of Linda Ronstadt’s band alongside Glenn Frey and Don Henley. After working with Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, he moved to Tulsa in ’75 to work with Don Preston of The Shelter People. In the mid 90’s, Casey joined forces with Steve Ripley, Ron Getman, Walt Richmond and Jamie Oldaker to form The Tractors. Casey continues to write and record with friends.

Walt Richmond (producer, piano, organ, drums)
Walt began playing piano as a teen in Tulsa and went on to have a career as a side man, playing locally with many bands, including Rockin’ Jimmy and the Brothers of the Night. He went on to play with The Band’s Rick Danko for three years and Bonnie Raitt for six years. Working with The Tractors, Walt co-produced their first three albums and toured with them for three years. He also co-wrote The Tractors’ hit single, “Baby Likes to Rock It” on the band’s multi-platinum debut album. He started working with JJ Cale in 2004, touring and recording with him until Cale’s death in 2013. He appeared on Cale and Eric Clapton’s 2006 collaboration, The Road To Escondido and has played on all of Eric’s records since then, as well as joining him for two tours.

Jim Byfield (lead guitar, background vocals)
Rockin’ Jimmy Byfield was born and raised in Tulsa. He studied guitar with the legendary Dick Gordon Sr. and made his way through decades of playing the Tulsa club circuit. In the early 80’s, Rockin’ Jimmy and the Brothers of the Night joined Bonnie Raitt in performances to stop construction of Black Fox Nuclear Power Plant in Oklahoma. Along the way, Jim recorded two albums that were released in Europe. One of Jim’s songs, “Little Rachel,” is featured on Eric Clapton’s 1975 album There’s One In Every Crowd.

Steve Hickerson (lead guitar)
Steve has been actively involved in Tulsa’s music community for over 40 years, including playing with Casey in the late 70’s. He was another member of Rockin’ Jimmy (Byfield) and the Brothers of the Night and has operated a guitar shop that specializes in fretted instrument building and repair work for over 35 years.

Charles Tuberville (rhythm guitar, background vocals)
Born and raised in Southern Arkansas, Charles has worked professionally with many Tulsa bands since the late 70’s. He worked with Jimmy Markham and the Caretakers as a guitar player, writer, and producer. At present he writes and records with Walt Richmond, Jim Byfield and Casey Van Beek. Tuberville released his own album, Somethin’ In The Water, in 2019.

Jared Tyler (guitar, mandolin, dobro, background vocals)
A singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer in both Nashville and Tulsa, Jared Tyler began his professional career as a longtime side man to Malcolm Holcombe before releasing several solo albums, including the national release Blue Alleluia (produced by Russ Titelman in 2006), Here With You in 2010 (co-produced with Chuck Zwicky, mixing engineer for Prince) and his most recent, Dirt On Your Hands.

Ron Getman (acoustic guitar)
A native Oklahoman, Ron worked in New York as a session musician, playing and singing on hundreds of commercials as well as albums for many artists including Leonard Cohen, Loudon Wainwright III and Janis Ian. Tours followed albums, most memorably the Various Positions tour for Leonard Cohen which introduced the legendary “Hallelujah” to the world. Ron returned to Tulsa in the late ‘80s to co-own and operate The Church Studio, co-producing and performing for Roy Clark and Freddy Fender. He also recorded and played with Ronnie Dunn and was a member of The Tractors in the mid 90’s.

Steve Bagsby (steel guitar)
Steve Bagsby was smitten when he heard Bob Will’s “Take Me Back To Tulsa.” He’s been a professional musician in Oklahoma for over 40 years, playing killer steel guitar. Steve has performed with the Texas Playboys, Hank Thompson, Roy Clark and many more. He was inducted into the Western Swing Hall of Fame and stays busy playing ‘Okie Style’ music in the Tulsa area.

Seth Lee Jones (guitar)
Seth is a master luthier, mentored by the legendary Dixie Michell, and a master slide guitar player. He is a highly respected member of the Tulsa music scene.

Steve Wilkerson (saxophone)
A graduate of the University of Tulsa, Steve played in the Stan Kenton band and has performed with seemingly everyone, from Barbra Streisand, Count Basie and Tony Bennett to The Temptations, Arturo Sandoval, Glenn Campbell and Herbie Hancock.