Tulsa punk chronicles
‘Oil Capital Underground’ shares subculture history
N.O.T.A., a pioneering Tulsa punk band, playing the Crystal Pistol on North Sheridan Avenue
You might not think Tulsa would have a punk/new wave music scene worth mentioning. But in the new documentary “Oil Capital Underground,” filmmakers Bryan Crain and Dave Cantrell shine a light on an overlooked facet of Tulsa’s cultural underground heritage. The scene was built from the ground up through talented local bands that drew diverse and loyal crowds of misfits, longhairs, and weirdos. These outcasts gravitated to every ramshackle venue in town and created a community that still thrives.
It began in the late 70’s when the Sex Pistols played Cain’s ballroom. Later, local bands like Los Reactors and N.O.T.A. played with legendary punk bands Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, and The Circle Jerks. Many of these shows happened at the Bleu Grotto, 424, T.U.C.C.A., Nitro (later Eclipse), or The Crystal Pistol.
Greg Sewell, whose mother-in-law owned the cowboy themed bar Crystal Pistol, brought in bands once or twice a week, sometimes angering the regular clientele.
Black Flag front man Henry Rollins remembered about Tulsa: “Cowboys tried to beat us up.”
Although steeped in local lore, Crain and Cantrell keep their focus broad, ignoring some of their own bands in favor of more popular choices. They also avoided using too many inside jokes from the interview to avoid alienating people who were not part of that scene. There are over thirty-five interviews, mostly from locals, with a few bigger names like Keith Morris of Circle Jerks, Black Flag and OFF!, who said “Tulsa had the most beautiful women.”
When asked about the dearth of female musicians in the Tulsa scene, Cantrell referred to a quote by local drummer Jo Foster, who called it a bit of a “sausage fest.” Cantrell joked that, as far as diversity goes in the interviews, they have “one Lebanese guy, three women and a whole lot of middle aged white dudes.” In all seriousness, Crain mentions that the actual scene itself was a lot more diverse.
If the trailer is any indication, Crain has a good eye for interesting angles and locations. His twenty-five years of filmmaking experience show, although Crain had some graphics/illustration assistance from Terry Waska (Asylum, P.B.O.C.), the third member of the filmmaking crew. Crain and Cantrell, who started working on the film in 2011, admit it has been a labor of love. They’ve submitted to several film festivals, with South by Southwest being at the top of the list.