Oklahoma City Blue Devils

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Oklahoma City Blue Devils
OriginOklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA
GenresBig band
Years active1920s-1930s
Past membersWilliam "Count" Basie
Abe Bolar
Eddie Durham
Jo Jones
Oran "Hot Lips" Page
Walter Page
Jimmy Rushing
Henry "Buster" Smith
LeRoy V."Snake" White
Claude Williams
Lester Young

The Oklahoma City Blue Devils was the premier American Southwest territory jazz band in the 1920s.[1] Originally called Billy King's Road Show, it disbanded in Oklahoma City in 1925 where Walter Page renamed it.[2] The name Blue Devils came from the name of a gang of fence cutters operating during the early days of the American West.[3][4]

Several prominent jazz musicians were members, including Lester Young, William "Count" Basie and Buster Smith. The Blue Devils disbanded in 1933, after which Basie recruited most of the group's members to join his group, which had begun in 1931, but then changed the name to the Count Basie Orchestra.[5]

The 1979 film The Last of the Blue Devils documents a musical reunion with Basie, Big Joe Turner and other figures from the history of southwestern and Kansas City jazz.


  1. ^ Russell, Bird Lives, p. 59: "Before attaining his majority Lester was recruited by the barnstorming Oklahoma City Blue Devils, the scourge of every band in the Southwest. The Blue Devils thrived on battles of the bands. Their reed section smothered rivals under an overwhelming torrent of sound. They were masters of the riff style. Each section bristled with solo talent. They had taken on and beaten the best bands from Kansas City, even Bennie Moten. Had not the Depression intervened, no other band could have touched them. Beginning in 1930 one star after another had left the blue Devils—Basie, Lips Page, Walter Page, Eddie Durham, Jimmy Rushing—all of them to seek employment in Pendergast's Depression-proof Kansas City."
  2. ^ Wishart, Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, p. 531: "Buster Smith's troop began in Dallas before relocating and gaining fame as the Oklahoma City Blue Devils. This legendary group included Walter Page on Bass, the Influential Lester Young on tenor saxophone, blues shouter Jimmy Rushing, and the great Bill 'Count' Basie on the piano."
  3. ^ Hentoff, Listen to the Stories, p. 205: "Many of the musicians at the two gatherings that make up the film were once associated with the Oklahoma City Blue Devils, a powerfully rolling unit started by bassist Walter Page in the 1920s. It was the first big band Count Basie had ever been in. Other alumni have included Lester Young, Jo Jones, Jimmy Rushing, and Buster Smith. Page took the name of the band from the intrepid barbed-wire cutters during the range wars between farmers and cattlemen."
  4. ^ Wolfgang, "The Early Days": " 'Fence wars' began breaking out in 1882-1883. Many times individuals and even organizations of fence cutters with monikers such as the Owls, Blue Devils and Javelinas, cut miles of fence on the midnight rides."
  5. ^ Dinerstein, Swinging the Machine, p. 107: "Ellison grew up in Oklahoma City, the home-base of the influential territory band, the Oklahoma City Blue Devils; he was also a close personal friend of Jimmy Rushing, the band's vocalist, and a regular at their performances and jam sessions. Anchored by the bassist Walter Page, the trumpeter Oran "Hot Lips" Page, Rushing, and the tenor saxophonist Lester Young, the Blue Devils effectively merged with Bennie Moten's band in Kansas City between 1932 and 1935 to form the Count Basie Band."


  • Daniels, Douglas Henry. One O'clock Jump: The Unforgettable History of the Oklahoma City Blue Devils. Boston: Beacon Press, 2006. ISBN 0-8070-7136-6
  • Dinerstein, Joel. Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture Between the World Wars . University of Massachusetts Press, 2003. ISBN 1-55849-383-2
  • Hentoff, Nat. Listen to the Stories: Nat Hentoff on Jazz and Country Music. Da Capo, 2000. ISBN 0-306-80982-6
  • Pearson, Nathan W. Goin' to Kansas City. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987. ISBN 0-252-01336-0
  • Russell, Ross. Bird Lives: The High Life and Hard Times of Charlie (Yardbird) Parker. Da Capo Press, 1996. ISBN 0-306-80679-7
  • Russell, Ross. Jazz style in Kansas City and the Southwest. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971. ISBN 0-520-01853-2
  • Wishart, David J. (ed.) Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. University of Nebraska Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8032-4787-7
  • Wolfgang, Otto. "The Early Days: How the Wild West Was Fenced In", reprinted in The Cattleman (Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association), Aug. 1966, Vol. LIII, No. III.

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