The show won’t be Chris Henson’s first time to play inside Tower Theatre, but the Vibro Kings’ chance to open for rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson will be a significant upgrade over his last gig at the historic venue.
“I played there in, like, ’98 when there was water falling through the ceiling and stuff,” Henson said. “We thought we were going to get electrocuted.”
Of course, Tower Theatre has seen a significant overhaul since the late 1990s. After the venue’s current ownership group took over in April, they wasted little time transforming the space into a premier destination for music and movies in Oklahoma City.
Maud-born Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jackson is arguably the biggest name to grace the stage since that reopening. The last few months have been busy for the 80-year-old. In November, she released a new autobiography Every Night Is Saturday Night: A Country Girl’s Journey to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In January, it was announced the music pioneer would be named an Oklahoma Cultural Treasure at the Governor’s Arts Awards ceremony Feb. 28.
Jackson starts the party just over a week in advance Feb. 17 at her Tower Theatre gig, 425 NW 23rd St.
Those packing into the venue to see Jackson are likely to notice her opening act, distinct suit-and-tie-clad rockabilly trio Vibro Kings. The OKC band includes guitarist and vocalist Henson, bassist Jeremy Burgin and drummer Jeff Wilder.
Speaking recently with Oklahoma Gazette, the band was still coming off the rush of opening for Jackson during her Jan. 21 show at Tulsa’s Cain’s Ballroom.
“The place was packed, and they were very responsive to us,” Henson said, “and also, of course, to Wanda.”
The opportunity to play at historic Cain’s Ballroom was an honor for Henson in and of itself, but to share a bill in the venue with Jackson seemed like a dream.
“You’re going around looking at pictures of Hank Williams and all these people and you’ve got Wanda Jackson in the background, singing ‘Funnel of Love,’” he said. “It was very surreal because there’s not many legends alive still.”
The Vibro Kings’ trademark look, with a white shirt and black tie under a black suit and bowler hat, is sharp and full of contrast. On stage, they look as if they just wandered off the set of Reservoir Dogs.
Henson doesn’t want the aesthetic to end at their look.
“Our music could be in a Quentin Tarantino film,” he said. “That’s the kind of vibe we like: obscure, old-sounding stuff.”
The Vibro Kings, founded in 2015, are an older band relative to the many younger groups that make up most of OKC’s local music fabric. Wilder said the suits not only give the band a distinct look, but show that they’re serious about showmanship and their craft.
“It’s more of a respect thing, what we’re doing here, instead of show up in cargo shorts and T-shirts,” the drummer said.
The band’s members come from a wide range of musical backgrounds, having previously played in nearly every type of genre as members of separate projects. That breadth of influence perhaps plays into The Vibro Kings’ eclectic sound, which is mostly a blend of rockabilly and surf-style rock.
There are hints of blues mixed in and, as Wilder says, “just a touch of Motörhead” gives them a slight edge. Henson has known Wilder and Burgin for many years. The Vibro Kings grew organically out of the simple desire for Henson and Wilder to play together, with Burgin joining in later.
Ron Reichel, the band’s manager, was attending a music showcase at Anthem Brewing Company when he heard The Vibro Kings for the first time. He was immediately struck by their look and musicianship. When the show was over, he struck up a conversation with the group and told them he had worked with a few other bands in the past. The conversation snowballed into a professional relationship and, eventually, a friendship.
The Vibro Kings tries to fit as much music into its set as possible, not taking much time for on-stage banter. The manager said the group lets its talent speak for itself.
“When they start playing, people start catching on real quick,” Reichel said. “They get the same response that I got the first time.”
Henson said the band’s music and sound is by far the most important thing to the members. They want to deliver the best product they can each time they go out on a stage.
“It doesn’t matter if there’s 10 people in the crowd or 1,000 people,” he said. “We’re going to play the same show.”
Burgin said The Vibro Kings have always been able to lock in with their playing, always finding a perfect sync to their rhythm and timing. That is not something to be taken for granted.
“That’s a really magical thing,” he said. “It’s really unique and doesn’t happen very often. It’s just our personalities, the way we fit together. It just happens, and I think people can see that.”
Vibro Kings is currently preparing its debut studio album, which should be released later this year. Henson said this band is the least forced he has ever been involved in. Things seem to come together really naturally. Egos are regularly tossed aside for the sake of the music. Everyone seems to be on the same page.
“For the most part, if something doesn’t sound right, we all know it doesn’t and we know it needs to be worked on,” he said. “That’s really refreshing. We work very well together.”
Wanda Jackson w/ Vibro Kings
8 p.m. Feb. 17
425 NW 23rd St.
Print headline: Tied together, Wanda Jackson’s Tower Theatre opener Vibro Kings dress to impress.