Mar 01, 2014 - Diffident Rebel Debuts New Red Dirt Reggae CD at Jazz Depot


            To hear Paul Rossler tell it, the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame’s Jazz Depot is the perfect venue for launching the first CD from his group Diffident Rebel – a new aggregation that combines the approach of the Oklahoma-grown music known as Red Dirt with a reggae beat.

            “I can’t think of any better place to debut the band’s sound than the Jazz Hall,” says Rossler, Diffident Rebel’s songwriter, lead vocalist, and rhythm guitarist. “While we don’t technically play jazz, it’s hard to cook music without jazz. Jazz is genuine American roots music. And it’s a musical genre that encourages experimentation and innovation. Adding reggae beats and horns to Oklahoma’s Red Dirt sound is in the spirit of jazz’s experimental and innovative music philosophy.”

            Jazz, he adds, influences the group’s arrangements, solos, and chord progressions – quite naturally, since several members of Diffident Rebel are jazz players themselves.

           There is, for instance, lead guitarist Heath Ham, whom Rossler calls his “creative partner” in the group. Ham recently led his quartet in a well-received jazz show in the Jazz Depot’s Sunday concert series. He also works with a rock group, Tornado Allie, and the Jambalaya Jass Band, fronted by his father, the well-known trombonist Steve Ham – who is also a member of Diffident Rebel.

            “Any innovative project that Steve and Heath work on is something you don’t want to miss,” said Jason McIntosh, Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame CEO. “The key to Oklahoma’s stand-out sound is meeting at a musical crossroads. This is an album that will get your attention for its originality, and Rossler’s vocals will keep you hooked.”

            One summer evening last year, Heath Ham was in his Sapulpa studio when he heard his landlord and Rossler jamming in another part of the building. He picked up his guitar, found the two men, and asked if he could join in.

            “What [they] were doing was folky,” he recalls, “and I just started adding a little reggae groove to it. It easily transferred over; [Rossler] was able to do the same things vocally that he was doing with just his acoustic guitar. So I figured if we could take that Red Dirt sound and kind of change the groove, we could get some people dancing to it, maybe.”

            “Playing Red Dirt music as reggae is not all that for from the pick-and-strum pattern of folk and country,” adds Rossler, “but it gives the music an entirely different feel.”

            As Rossler and Ham began working on their new sound in Ham’s studio, other musicians gradually came aboard. The two found guitarist and background vocalist Teddy Soliday working at his day job at a Sapulpa grocery store, and they were both blown away by his talent. “He might be one of the best-kept secrets in the Tulsa music scene,” Rossler says.

            Like Ham, bassist Antjuan Robinson has his own studio, the Kontracktors Music Group in Tulsa, where he works on a genre-spanning variety of musical projects. “He’s kind of my mentor as a producer,” notes Ham. “And his mentor was Wayman Tisdale.”

            After Ham and Rossler cut the first tune for what would become the new disc, they decided it needed some horns. Enter Heath’s dad, Steve, and a couple of his musical cohorts from the Jambalaya Jass Band: trumpeter Mike Bennett and reed player Gary Linde. All three of these veteran players not only appear on the disc, but will also perform Friday with the group, as will another top Tulsa-area musician, drummer Jared Johnson.

            Although he put down both his guitar and his pen for a number of years, Diffident Rebel front man Rossler has some deep roots in Oklahoma’s Red Dirt, even though he grew up in Detroit. A quarter of a century ago, he arrived in Stillwater – home of Red Dirt music – to teach engineering at Oklahoma State University. Soon, he was exploring the local singer-songwriter scene and writing his own tunes, two of which appeared on the influential mid-1990s disc, Red Dirt Sampler.  

            Because of what he describes as “some of the twists and turns that you get in life,” Rossler left Stillwater soon afterwards, putting his music aside. It wasn’t until 2012, after settling in Tulsa, that he picked up his guitar and began writing again. Then came the musical meeting with Ham, and Red Dirt Reggae was born.

            “By calling it Red Dirt Reggae, we just want to let you know that here’s a reggae album organic to Oklahoma,” explains Heath Ham. “We wanted to make some authentic Oklahoma reggae, and it just flew out that way.”

            “Tulsa has always been a musical crossroads,” adds Rossler. “Diffident Rebel is firmly planted at its intersection.” 

            Diffident Rebel’s Red Dirt ReggaeCD release party is set to begin at 7:00 p.m. Friday, March 7, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street. Tickets can be purchased online, in advance from the Depot, or at the door. Cost is $10.

            Food trucks will be on site the evening of the event.

            The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through the preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.