Oklahoma City (Walter Page's Original) Blue Devils
November 8, 2000
Oklahoma is a musical crossroads of sorts. Influences from east, west, north, and south cross in Oklahoma, mingle and combine to provide a platform upon which many a great star has begun their career. To list the many groups, performers, and songwriters who have called Oklahoma their home would take too long. But I have always felt that the Oklahoma City Blue Devils have never been given their proper due. Perhaps because they failed to leave a legacy of recording behind them, or for some other reason; the Blue Devils name is not widely known among fans of Oklahoma music. This Almanac was my small attempt to rectify that situation.
I found the only two known Blue Devil's recordings on the Internet at http://www.umkc.edu/orgs/kcjazz/jazzfolk/pagew_00.htm This site will lead you to other excellent sources for Blue Devil's information.
Pearson, N. W. (1994). Goin' to Kansas City. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Russell, R. (1971). Jazz Style in Kansas City and the Southwest. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Hello, I'm Steven Kite welcoming you to Oklahoma Audio Almanac where we turn the pages of history to bring you the stories of our state's past.
During the nineteen-teens and twenties many of the larger cities in the Southwest were home to jazz, swing and various other varieties of dance bands. These bands, although usually based out of one city, would travel the region making a circuit of the various clubs and halls throughout. One of the better known of these bands was the Oklahoma City Blue Devils, also known as Walter Page's Original Blue Devils after the bass and saxophone-playing front man who formed the band in 1925. The Blue Devils formed out of the remnants of an earlier defunct band and went on to become one of the more popular bands in the Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas areas.
More than anything else the Blue Devils were full of spirit and energy. Many of the clubs in the region would host a battle of the bands in which two or more bands played thirty minute sets trying to out perform each other. Because of their raw energy and forceful nature the Blue Devils almost always came up winners in these events. A scholar of Southwest jazz described the Blue Devils as "rough and ready, wild and reckless, supremely talented undisciplined barnstormers."
While the Blue Devils as a whole were not the most talented orchestra, many extremely talented individuals either got their start or at least played with the band for a period. Among others, Blue Devil alumni include: Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Lips Page, Walter Page, and Lester Young, a veritable Who's Who of Southwest jazz musicians.
The Blue Devils dominated the Oklahoma scene from 1925 to the early thirties. They were well known on the Southwest circuits and always drew a crowd wherever they played. During the late-twenties the Blue Devils began to lose members to other more successful bands and the Depression took its toll on the clubs and patrons. In an attempt to break out of their familiar territory the band booked a series of shows on the East Coast. The ultimate failure of the East Coast bookings, the defection of members, and the dismal economy spelled the end of the Blue Devils in 1933.
Unfortunately, little music survives today from the Blue Devils' massive catalog of tunes. The band never obtained a recording contract and only made one record. It was in this week of 1929 that the Blue Devils journeyed to Kansas City for a recording session with the Vocalion Label. On November 10th, 1929 the Blue Devils laid down two tracks: Blue Devil Blues with the tune Squabblin' on the flip side. This one lone recording is all that is known to remain of the fabulous Blue Devil legacy.
I'm Steven Kite.
The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a production of the OSU Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.