Drummer Jim Karstein, who toured and recorded with JJ Cale, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and the Red Dirt Rangers during his long music career, died Sunday night at the Tulsa home he shared with his wife. wife, Jackie. He was 78 years old and had been battling COPD for many years.
As part of that legendary group of musicians from Tulsa who emigrated to Southern California in the late 1950s and early 1960s, ultimately leaving a lasting mark on American popular music, Karstein worked extensively with all three Tulsans of this era who became major artists: JJ Cale, Leon Russel 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 at Russell’s Hollywood Hills home, Skyhill, and recording in his home studio, playing drums in sessions around Los Angeles, and performing with groups in many clubs. When an opening for a drummer appeared in the hit 60s band Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Russell, who was arranging for Lewis at the time, recommended Karstein, who soon joined.
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Karstein has also worked with a number of other bands and solo artists, including Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, Delaney & Bonnie and Buffalo Springfield, for whom he has done session drumming. He liked to say his biggest hit was the 1973 recording “Basketball Jones with Tyrone Shoelaces”, a Top 20 single performed by comedy duo Cheech & Chong with a studio band 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 earned Karstein his greatest 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 gained considerable cult following – as well as well-received solo records from Cale and live performances in some of the best rock venues in the world. One of the last times Cale and Karstein worked together is chronicled in Time Life’s 2005 musical documentary, To Tulsa and Back: On Tour with JJ Cale.
In his later years, before his declining health forced him to retire from performing, Karstein was a sought-after musician by bands in the Tulsa area. He spent his longest post-LA period – 12 years – as a member of the Red Dirt Rangers, appearing on their records Starin’ Down the Sun (2002) and Ranger Motel (2007).