Jim Karstein, who toured and recorded with the likes of JJ Cale, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and the Red Dirt Rangers over his long career in music, died Sunday evening in the Tulsa home he shared with his wife, Jackie. He was 78 and had been battling COPD issues for many years.
One of that fabled group of Tulsa musicians who migrated to Southern California in the late `50s-early '60s, ultimately making a lasting mark on American popular music, Karstein worked extensively with the three Tulsans from that era who became major artists:
JJ Cale, Leon Russell, and David Gates. In Tulsa, he was the drummer for Gates' band the Accents; later, he was involved in several projects with Russell, living for a time in Russell's Hollywood Hills house, Skyhill, and recording in its home studio as well as drumming in sessions around L.A. and playing with bands in numerous clubs. When an opening for a drummer came along in the '60s hitmaking group Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Russell, who was arranging for Lewis at the time, recommended Karstein, who promptly joined up.
Karstein also worked with a number of other bands and solo acts, including Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, Delaney & Bonnie and Buffalo Springfield, for whom he did session drumming. He liked to say that his greatest hit was the 1973 recording “Basketball Jones featuring Tyrone Shoelaces,” a Top 20 single done by the comedy duo Cheech & Chong with a studio group that included, in addition to Karstein, George Harrison, Carole King, Billy Preston, Darlene Love, and Michelle Phillips.
It was his association with his longtime friend Cale, however, that brought Karstein his most recognition. The two toured and recorded together for decades, building a resume that includes the 1967 LP A Trip Down Sunset Strip by the Leathercoated Minds – a record that has gained a substantial cult following – along with well-received Cale solo discs and live performances in some of the top rock venues in the world. One of the final times Cale and Karstein worked together is chronicled in the 2005 music documentary from Time Life, To Tulsa and Back: On Tour with J.J. Cale.
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