Wednesday, April 29, 2015

‘The Oklahoma Gamblin’ Man’ (Book Review)

While we might associate the gangster era with big names like Al Capone and big cities like Chicago, there were, of course, small-time country hoodlums as well. Oklahoma’s Rex Albert Tanner was one of them, and his son, musician Gary Rex Tanner, has captured his adventures and misadventures in a colorful biography titled The Oklahoma Gamblin’ Man (Two Little Frogs Publishing, 2014).

Born July 4, 1913, Rex Tanner was a bit of a trouble-making kid who developed a knack for gambling. This, we might say unsurprisingly, led to a life of bar fights, clashes with the law, and run-ins with more dangerous criminals. Eventually, Rex moved to California for work – joining the “Okie” migration without really even being aware of it – and later settled down and opened a plumber business.

Gary Tanner doesn’t pretend to be a historian writing a well-cited academic tome. Rather, the book is a compilation of the father’s stories as son remembers them with photos, newspaper clippings, and original song lyrics interspersed throughout. That means a lot of holes and repetition. This format can make it difficult to see the story unfold or to understand it in the broader context of America’s early to mid-20th century. However, it still creates a highly personable read. The dialogue boasts slang; the narration a light casual tone. You can almost hear Rex Tanner laughing as he tells one story after another. The foul language and racism can be a little off-putting, but I was glad that Gary Tanner didn’t try to sanitize it in order to present the characters in a more palatable way. While it does have its flaws, The Oklahoma Gamblin’ Man is a sweet tribute to an earlier generation.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book and music CD through Bostick Communications. There was no obligation to write a favorable review.