Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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Western-swing guitarist and band leader Henry Alfred "Al" Clauser, born in Manito, Illinois, on February 23, 1911, began his musical career while a student in high school, when he organized a trio that played at clubs in Illinois. They soon performed on radio station WMBD in Peoria and grew into a five-member band. He hired musicians who could alternate between two or more instruments, creating a sound larger than the band's real size. Clauser took pride in the jazz sound of his predominantly string band and claimed to have been the first to use the term "Western swing," as early as 1928.

Although Clauser had never been in Oklahoma, he named his band the Oklahoma Outlaws. He later recalled that the brand of string swing music they played had needed a Western tone and a name to express it. In 1934 the band moved their base of operation to WHO radio in Des Moines, Iowa. In 1937 Gene Autry called Clauser and the band to work in the movie Rootin' Tootin' Rhythm. While in Los Angeles, they recorded twelve sides for ARC Records. In 1938 the Oklahoma Outlaws moved to WCKY radio in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the next year they changed to KHBF radio in Rock Island, Illinois, where their show was carried over 272 Mutual Network stations.

In 1942, during World War II, the band moved to Tulsa, and the men found regular jobs in airplane defense plants. By the end of the war the group had expanded to nine and competed with Johnnie Lee Wills and Leon McAuliffe for Tulsa dance crowds. Clauser's songs included "Goin' Back to My Little Mountain Shack" and "When the Sun Goes Down (On an Old Western Town)." In the late 1940s Al Clauser and his Oklahoma Outlaws broadcasted daily over station KTUL radio and introduced twelve-year-old Clara Ann Fowler from Claremore, who became known professionally as Patti Page. In the 1950s when television and rock music slowly killed the large dance bands, Clauser and the Outlaws separated. Clauser continued his broadcasting career, working for Tulsa's KTUL television, where among his other duties he played "Uncle Zeke," a children's show character. Al Clauser died in Tulsa on March 3, 1989.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Guy Logsdon, Mary Rogers, and William Jacobson, Saddle Serenaders (Salt Lake City, Utah: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 1995). Tulsa (Oklahoma) World, 3 March 1989 and 7 March 1989.

Guy Logsdon

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