In The Beginning, There Was Music: Larry Shaeffer’s Legacy

Author: C.L. Harmon
Category: People
Date Published: March 9, 2018

In The Beginning, There Was Music: Larry Shaeffer’s Legacy


PUBLISHER’S NOTE:  Due to the expanse of Lar­ry Shaeffer’s career, we have opt­ed to release this sto­ry in three posts. The first seg­ment cov­ers the begin­ning of his career and his rise to suc­cess. The mid­dle and final seg­ments will touch on his own­er­ship of Cain’s Ball Room in Tul­sa, pro­mot­ing con­certs and the growth of Lit­tle Wing Productions.

Music Life & The Best Music in Oklahoma

There is a good chance you nev­er met this man or have even heard of his name for that mat­ter, but odds are that this man was prob­a­bly part­ly respon­si­ble for some great mem­o­ry in your life. This, of course, is con­tin­gent upon you grow­ing up in Okla­homa in the 1970s 80s or 90s and lik­ing music…and who doesn’t like music? If you are one of us who have met him, it’s a sure bet that you wouldn’t for­get him. Once you meet, it becomes clear as to how this man from the Key­stone Lake area became syn­ony­mous with enter­tain­ment in Oklahoma.

Rhinestone Revelation 

Grow­ing up in rur­al Okla­homa in the mid-fifties, wasn’t exact­ly a breed­ing ground for the type of dream that would become Larry’s career. There was, how­ev­er, one “win­dow to the out­side world,” back then and it was tele­vi­sion. Music tele­vi­sion at that time was in its infan­cy, but it did pro­vide enter­tain­ment such as the Lawrence Welk Show, Ed Sul­li­van Show and Dick Clark’s Amer­i­can Band­stand. These pro­grams struck a chord in the pre-teen Sha­ef­fer and an inter­est in music began to cul­ti­vate with­in him. 
A spe­cif­ic inci­dent on a day trip to down­town Tul­sa in 1955 or 56’ would fur­ther his desire to grav­i­tate toward the music indus­try. He and his par­ents were walk­ing along Den­ver Avenue one after­noon near what used to be the Cimar­ron Ball Room when he saw what he said was, “the most unbe­liev­able vision he had ever seen”. At that moment he was blind­ed by these beams of sun­light that were reflect­ing off the rhine­stones from the suit that Leon McAu­li­ffe of Bob Wills & The Texas Play­boys band was wear­ing as he exit­ed the ballroom.

Let’s start from the begin­ning, shall we?

“I was so zapped by that event that I asked my mom who that man was.  She said that was Leon McAu­li­ffe, ‘take it away Leon’. McAu­li­ffe was Wills’ steel gui­tarist and he was famous for the song Steel Gui­tar Rag,” which just hap­pened to be a song Lar­ry knew well. Wills would intro­duce the song with the phrase, “take it away Leon,” which became every bit as pop­u­lar as the song itself. That moment would always stay with him. Years lat­er the two men would become friends and Lar­ry would even acquire McAuliffe’s steel gui­tar which he still owns.
This would be the first major event in Larry’s life that would guide him toward the music busi­ness. He would even­tu­al­ly take his first active step down this path by acquir­ing a gui­tar and tak­ing lessons.  The path ahead would be one that would shine on in Okla­homa his­to­ry as bright as any rhine­stones in the sun ever could.

The Day Rock n’ Roll Came To Town.

For Lar­ry, every­thing real­ly got rolling for him on Feb­ru­ary 9, 1964, when he wit­nessed the sec­ond event which would fur­ther his path along the long and wind­ing road into the music busi­ness. That was the night the Bea­t­les played the Ed Sul­li­van Show. The fol­low­ing day in the cafe­te­ria at school, he and a few friends agreed that rock n’ roll was the life for them. Their eyes had been opened to an oppor­tu­ni­ty that had nev­er before seemed real, let alone attain­able. Already play­ing steel gui­tar at this time, an art that he quipped he was not very good at, it wouldn’t take long for him to form a band.
“The Bea­t­les’ per­for­mance that night is when my inten­si­ty for my involve­ment in the music busi­ness start­ed,” he said.  He explained that Man­n­ford High School where he attend­ed had maybe 40 stu­dents in his class.  The major­i­ty of these kids had an old car or at least access to their par­ents’ cars and thus had a life if you will.  The remain­ing stu­dents, of which group he was in, are what Lar­ry called the “school bus boys… the guys with no girl­friends, future or even rea­son to live,” he jok­ing­ly quips, were the ones most affect­ed by the Bea­t­les’ performance.
“The Bea­t­les’ per­for­mance that night is when my inten­si­ty for my involve­ment in the music busi­ness started.”

Taking The Stage

From that came the cre­ation of their local band the Under­tak­ers. It was a way to cre­ate an iden­ti­ty for these school bus kids and make a few bucks to buy an old Thun­der­bird, Chevy or anoth­er car to cruise around in. So it wasn’t so much about fame and for­tune back then for the wannabe musi­cians as it was about girls, cars and a few more dol­lars than work­ing at a gro­cery store or gas sta­tion could provide.

“We were gig­ging on week­ends and going from school bus kids with three dol­lars in our pock­ets to hav­ing $100–150 on Mon­day morn­ings after the shows.”  That was a lot of mon­ey in the late 60s. He said, “it changed the way we saw life.” Being able to afford cars and per­form songs in front of live audi­ences at sock hops and local func­tions fanned the flames of desire with­in these young rock­ers. It was just fun and excit­ing for a bunch of kids to be on stage and get paid for it. Hav­ing mon­ey to ditch the school bus prob­a­bly felt good too for these teens.

But for Lar­ry, there was more to it than just play­ing gigs. He saw an oppor­tu­ni­ty, the writ­ing of song lyrics on the wall if you will. There could be a real future in music. Since that per­for­mance by The Bea­t­les, young musi­cians began pop­ping up every­where. This was not a fad that was going to fade away.

Calling Dr. Shaeffer…

Nor was it going to fade to black after he grad­u­at­ed high school, but col­lege, not rock n roll seemed to be in his future as far as his par­ents were con­cerned. They want­ed him to go to med­ical or den­tal school and so North­east­ern State Uni­ver­si­ty in Tahle­quah, Okla­homa is where he wound up…for a while any­way. It wouldn’t take long for the 17-year-old Sha­ef­fer to real­ize that the pre-med class­es were of absolute­ly no inter­est to him. Nor was pulling teeth and treat­ing ear infections.

“Wait a minute,“  he thought.  “I don’t want to be a den­tist, doc­tor or sell life insur­ance. I don’t want to be a school teacher either…I want to be in the music busi­ness,” he told him­self this back in the late 1960s.  By his own admis­sion, he didn’t even know what the music busi­ness was, but he knew that what­ev­er it was, he had to be a part of it. How­ev­er, it would still be a while before he could make his pitch into the music busi­ness world.

Unwillingness To Adapt 

By mid-Decem­ber 1970 he had grad­u­at­ed from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tul­sa. The day after grad­u­a­tion, he was on a bus head­ed to the induc­tion cen­ter for the US Army hav­ing received his draft notice. Although he was will­ing to serve his coun­try, in his heart, he knew that he marched to a dif­fer­ent drum­mer than most oth­ers. 

“They wouldn’t run the [email protected]& !^%n army the way I want­ed them to,” Lar­ry joked. He and the army’s prob­lem of not see­ing eye to eye soon led to an ear­ly hon­or­able dis­charge for Unwill­ing­ness to Adapt to Mil­i­tary Life. (For more of Larry’s opin­ions and thoughts on the late 1960’s polit­i­cal sta­tus, the Viet­nam War and his col­lege degree, tune into the upcom­ing pod­cast due out soon.)

By June of 1971, he was out of the Army and it was “real­i­ty time” as he called it. He had a col­lege degree which was not worth the paper it was print­ed on as far he was…and is still con­cerned. So with col­lege and the Army behind him, he began haul­ing hay for a com­pa­ny out of Terl­ton, Okla­homa receiv­ing three cents per bale.

It’s Elementary My Dear Larry 

“At this time, I had no idea as to how I was going to get into the music busi­ness. All I knew was that I was not think­ing about hay bales. I didn’t have any desire or hopes that I could be a pro­fes­sion­al musi­cian either.”  With pres­sure from his par­ents and oth­ers ask­ing about his future plans, the winds of fate blew an idea his way. An ele­men­tary school friend reached out to him after hav­ing moved back from Texas. His old friend David Miller was now a bar­ber work­ing in Prattville, Okla­homa. He had been a rock n roll singer in Lub­bock, Texas with a band called The Trac­ers and was inter­est­ed in keep­ing a foot on the stage in the music business.

After return­ing, he had heard that Lar­ry had had the band The Under­tak­ers. Larry’s band would per­form until 1969 when the draft­ing of mem­bers and oth­er issues forced them to quit. So with no band, no prospects and a job bal­ing hay, Lar­ry was eager to hear what David had to say. Miller tells him of a man he had met while in Lub­bock who had been a friend of the famous musi­cian Bud­dy Hol­ly. What he tells him about this man was just what Lar­ry need­ed to hear…his way into the music busi­ness. Miller told him how this man he met had become a local con­cert pro­mot­er and made trun­k­loads of cash.

Long Distance Longing 

“That con­ver­sa­tion with David was the first sign of light of me tak­ing some seri­ous direc­tion toward any­thing musi­cal­ly ori­ent­ed. We part­nered up and decid­ed to pro­mote a show,” Lar­ry said.  Lar­ry start­ed call­ing agents in New York and Los Ange­les but was not hear­ing any­thing that was music to his ears. The two were using Miller’s bar­ber shop as an office using a show­er cur­tain to sep­a­rate two of the six bar­ber chairs as an office and the out­side pay­phone as their busi­ness phone.

For an entire year, not one sin­gle book­ing agent would take his call. Although frus­trat­ed, he kept pump­ing dimes and quar­ters into that pay­phone. Final­ly, an agent named Bill Elson from Pre­miere Tal­ent in New York City did take his call. More than that though, he lis­tened to Larry’s pitch and agreed to take a chance on him. Although Elson had some of the biggest names of the time on his ros­ter, he found one band to offer him. After that call, both men bor­rowed some mon­ey, had posters print­ed up and called them­selves con­cert pro­mot­ers. Elson had agreed to let Lar­ry bring Black Oak Arkansas to Tul­sa. And with that came Jim Dandy to the res­cue and the birth of Lit­tle Wing Productions.

Please check out part two of this story. Thanks for reading!

C. L. Harmon

Lead Author

C.L. Har­mon a jour­nal­ist and author.

He Has worked for sev­er­al news­pa­pers as a reporter and was the man­ag­ing edi­tor for a dai­ly before start­ing his own paper, The Man­n­ford Reporter in Man­n­ford, Oklahoma. 

The Man­n­ford Reporter came with many life lessons and expe­ri­ences that I may share one day. For now my focus and my love is Uniquelahoma!

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C.L. Harmon

C.L. Harmon

C.L. is an award-winning journalist who spent many years in the newspaper and freelance fields. In addition to holding reporting and editing positions throughout his career, he also owned and operated a newspaper for several years. He was born, raised, and continues to reside in Oklahoma.


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Uniquelahoma is an online magazine showcasing what is unique, beautiful, and positive in Oklahoma. Started by...

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Doing what is right costs. It costs something we value; something which hurts to lose. As such, it becomes easier to hold onto what we give worth, than to let it go and invest in the greater good. And within the good that is lost is the cost we ultimately pay for placing more value on ourselves than on others. Holding onto to more in hopes of losing less only has true worth if others see that value. And no one places worth on selfishness and arrogance because they gain nothing from it. They value what is gained more by others’ humility and sacrifice. - C.L. Harmon