TULSA — Jim Halsey needs someone to step up. The legendary Tulsa music agent and manager has a collection of country and western music memorabilia he believes could be one of the largest in the country — second only to Nashville — and it needs a home.
His archives include raw footage, some taken by his late son Sherman, a famed video music director, that would be ready-made for a documentary or feature film. Jim also has stacks of files, including thousands of contracts with musicians, waiting to be digitized. They sold the booking part of the business to the Philip Morris Agency, but the memories are secured with stacks of signed guitars, concert-worn costumes and platinum albums that fill the Tulsa office he shares with Roy Clark. His passion project is a video education series that would take students through multiple interviews of people in the music business.
“We were the largest country music agency in the world," Halsey said. "There are 123 people in the country music hall of fame. Twenty-seven of them are my former clients.”
A big portion of his collection he removed from the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in Muskogee after the exit of former director Jim Paul Blair. That collection could go anywhere in the world. He’s just waiting for suitors. Tulsa tops his wish list, but Oklahoma City, Stillwater, and even Muskogee once more, would be in the running, although he’s considering Los Angeles and Nashville.
Stillwater has Halsey interested because his priority for the collection is to educate future generations. He counts among his priorities education, funding, security and an Oklahoma location. He’s thoroughly impressed with Guthrie Green and the Brady Arts District, but would enjoy an academic tie-in that could be achieved with Oklahoma State or OSU-Tulsa. He helped launch a program for Music and Entertainment Business at Oklahoma City University.
“Almost everybody that took my course at OCU is involved in an important part of the music business,” he said.
He mentioned OSU’s bachelor program for Music Industry as a possible partner, but is still putting together a presentation. He has a pitch to make, and any number of interested parties could pitch to him.
“I think OSU would be a natural partner. And I really think that they should look at the campus in Tulsa, because where they’re located is where it’s all happening. Tulsa in the last few years has become the epicenter of intellectual property for the music business, not just country music, but they have the Bob Dylan archives, the Woody Guthrie archives … The George Kaiser Family Foundation, they’re practically rebuilding down there.”
He could envision OSU or other entities partnering up like Gilcrease Museum has with the Kaiser foundation to store the archives.
“It’s the education component. It’s the financial component that buys the archival component that we have. It’s about interest. Tulsa has the interest in music and arts. There’s a good vibe here,” he said.
Halsey told the Tulsa World he was hoping for a museum to house his treasures, and that was before he moved a lot of his collection out of Muskogee. A recent News Press editorial got Halsey thinking that his collection could find a permanent Oklahoma home as long as it meets his criteria.
“Wherever this is built will have traffic,” Halsey said. “My goal is to find the right location for this. That could be in Guthrie Green as one of the counterpoints to the Woody Guthrie Center, the soon-to-be Bob Dylan center and OKPop (The planned Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture). All of it put together has a magic energy to it that you don’t see anyplace else.
“Stillwater has a history of the Red Dirt and that. Everybody has a history of some kind, but there is deep DNA here in Tulsa. Bob Wills is responsible, and then Leon Russell came in here.”
The twist is that very few people have reached out to Halsey since he pulled the collection from Muskogee. He isn’t in too much of a hurry. He’s got his hands full managing the Oak Ridge Boys, who just had a single “Pray to Jesus” listed as a top 10 country song by “Rolling Stone.” The group’s newest album will be released within a few weeks and they have a fully booked touring schedule.
“The Oak Ridge Boys have become so hot again in the last two or three years that that’s been 100 percent of our focus.”
Still, with the right players making the right moves he’s willing to listen. And he’s willing to do more heavy lifting on building an exhibit, not just from his collection but adding things from all the different artists and management teams he’s rubbed elbows with through the years. It was only a few minutes after explaining that when world class fiddler and Hee Haw star Jana Jae popped in for a visit.
“I just need someone to step up,” he said.