I love finding murals in the cities I visit. Not only do they fill streets with color, but they often celebrate local mural artists and teach you about the history of the community. When I noticed there were several murals around Tulsa featuring a man wearing a Mad Hatter-esque hat, I knew I had to find out who he was!
Turns out he is Leon Russell, one of the men credited for developing the “Tulsa Sound” and an Oklahoma legend. What’s Tulsa Sound you ask? It’s described as a comfortable, laid-back mix of blues, rock, and country. Leon himself is as eclectic as the music he helped create. He was often seen wearing his denim jacket, snakeskin boots, and signature hat. Much like Woody Guthrie, he was born in Oklahoma and had strong ties to the state— he even wrote a song about Oklahoma!
Much of the music Russell created happened at the Church Studio. In 1972, Leon was having lunch across the street from an old church, when he noticed a for-sale sign. While climbing the stairs to look at the abandoned, stone church, he realized this would be the perfect place to fulfill his vision of helping musicians create music without needing to go to LA. Since then, countless musicians have recorded here, from Eric Clapton to Kansas, Jimmy Buffett to Willie Nelson, and even Dropkick Murphys recorded their most recent album there (featuring ten songs written by Woody Guthrie).
While we were unable to fit the tour into our schedule, we did make time to stop by the historic studio to take a look, check out the statue in front, and enjoy the street of murals! Right by the statue was an accessible entrance, so don’t be worried when you pull up and see the giant staircase at the front of the church. I’ve also heard that there is a driving tour, which I would definitely do next time I’m in town, since driving tours are one of the most accessible ways to learn more about an area.