TULSA, Okla. — Shirley Durfey never stopped working toward her dream to be a songwriter
The 85-year-old Port City native, who now lives in Oklahoma, started writing songs as a young girl and continued throughout her life with little fanfare, until now. Durfey’s song “Let’s raise the Cain’s again,” which celebrates an iconic concert venue, has recently garnered recognition across the Tulsa region and reached the airwaves of local radio.
Durfey, who was born in Oswego in 1936, said she developed a passion for music and show business in her youth and maintained the interest throughout her life.
She was writing songs as early as the 1950s, and despite nearly three quarters of a century without much recognition, she always believed her day would come.
“I never doubted that someday my music would be something someone would want to hear,” Durfey told The Palladium-Times in a recent interview.
After initially moving to the Tulsa-area in 1970, the southern atmosphere and community left a lasting impression upon Durfey. She left Tulsa to move back to New York in 1972 with her then-husband before venturing back to Oklahoma in 1980 and has been there since.
“It is lovely here but I miss Oswego like crazy,” said Durfey, whose maiden name is Kruchko, adding she still has plenty of family in the Oswego area, some under the surnames of Brown and Rider.
Written in 1996, Durfey’s “Let’s raise the Cain’s again,” which is performed by her friend Lance Hamby, might finally be her big break. The classic country western tune recently hit the local Oklahoma airwaves, and though Durfey always believed people would want to hear her music, the experience is still meaningful and resonates in an unfamiliar way.
“Hearing my music on the radio is fun because the people here who know me say ‘oh my goodness, wow,’ and want my autograph,” she said. “It’s a different experience.”
A classic country western tune, “Let’s raise the Cain’s again,” refers to the historic Tulsa venue Cain’s Ballroom, which served as an incubator for western swing music in the early 20th century and saw stars such as Bob Wills, Johnnie Lee Wills, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, Tex Ritter, Kay Starr and Tennessee Ernie Ford take its stage.
Cain’s Ballroom opened in 1924 and is still hosting concerts. Upcoming acts include Hanson, Umphrey’s McGee, Chvrches and Drive-by Truckers. In the 1930s and 1940s, the venue was critical to the development of western swing, which the Oklahoma Historical Society calls a subgenre of country music influenced by pop, blues, jazz and folk.
“Lets raise the Cain’s again” isn’t Durfey’s first taste of fleeting fame, she said, as her sister — who Durfey said performed under the name Anna Lamb with a group called the Peppermint Twisters up and down the east coast decades ago — performed some of her songs back then.
Asked why the more than 20-year-old song is just making its way to the airwaves now, Durfey said she “knew it was good” and reached out to Cain’s to see if they’d like it as a gift for a promotion (the song can be purchased on Cain’s website in DVD format) and the rest is history.
Durfey said she also isn’t getting any younger and Hamby, the man who performed the song, is not in great health and she wanted to show appreciation for his work.
“I’m getting a little old for fame and fortune,” Durfey said, but there are “plenty of people” such as Hamby who need to be acknowledged.
Hamby said upon first meeting Durfey in 1993, he could tell right away the type of person she was and could see her ambition.
“She was and still is really aggressive when it comes to her passion and I give her so much credit for that,” Hamby said.
Hamby said during a recording session at Drapp Studio in Tulsa, Durfey walked in with a friend and asked him to record a few of her songs. Hamby said “Lets raise the Cain’s again” was the last song the two recorded together and the song left a lasting impression on him that remains more than two decades later.
“I thought it was genius quite frankly, I am a lot younger than Shirley and a lot of the terminology I didn’t understand, but we made it work,” Hamby said, calling it a “kind of pop-whimsy” song. “I love history and nostalgia and saw that and she used terminology and lyrics of that old timey, simpler times. It’s a contrast of natures that should not get along but they did.”
Durfey said Cain’s holds a special place in her heart for its influence on country western music, and the song is a nostalgic glimpse into the venue’s past.
Never having been there before writing the song, she said the inspiration came from friends who spoke of their experiences at the iconic music hall. Durfey formed her own image of the historic venue in her head and got to work on the piece that would go on to be her biggest hit.
“Before I wrote the song, I had never been to Cain’s. (My friends told) me how they would go to Cain’s and celebrate or dance with people. I just had it in my mind and just wrote it.” Durfey said. “My thought was ‘lets raise canes again,’ it’s like an old saying. It’s like dancing or singing or like raising heck you know.”
Since writing the song, Durfey has experienced Cain’s Ballroom herself, and said the venue is “absolutely gorgeous” and holds all the history of country western music she envisioned.
To listen to “Let’s raise the Cain’s again” by Durfey, search for it on YouTube or visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SyR6-6WTqbs