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

by

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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