Vol. 1, Issue #9 May 26th - June 8th, 2006

Tiger Beat From Hell
By: Wilhelm Murg

A Short Guide to Indian Rock

I grew up around the Osage “reservation” in Northern Oklahoma. Around 1975 a friend of my mothers’ discovered I was getting heavy into rock’n’roll, so she told me about her cousin, Jesse Ed Davis, who was then working on Nilsson’s “Pussycats” album, along with John Lennon and Ringo Starr. I was stunned to find out one of our local heroes made it all the way to playing with two of the Beatles. I started practicing on my guitar more earnestly.

Jesse Ed Davis (Kiowa) was born in Oklahoma and had a very successful career as a guitarist. He appeared on both George Harrison’s “Concert for Bangladesh” and “All Things Must Pass,” on both Lennon’s “Rock n’Roll” and “Walls & Bridges,” on Dylan’s “Hello Old Friend,” in The Rolling Stones’ “Rock and Roll Circus,” and he is probably best known for the guitar solo in Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty.” Like too many masters of “The Tulsa Sound,” Davis was possessed by drug demons and they killed him tragically young.

Around the same time I discovered Frank Zappa’s music, and I was stunned to hear the line “Hi, boys and girls. I’m Jimmy Carl Black, and I’m the Indian of the group” coming out of one of his albums. Yes, original Mother Jimmy Carl Black (Cheyenne) is an Indian from Texas, with family right here in Oklahoma. Many years later I got to interview Black and discovered that we knew a lot of the same people.

Since that time I have discovered many other Indians in rock music, like Robbie Roberson (Mohawk) of The Band, who has become the dean on Native rock. Tori Amos is of Eastern Cherokee heritage. Redbone, of the bubblegum classic “Come and Get your Love” was founded by Pat and Lolly Vegas, who are of Yaqui heritage. The late boss guitarist Link Wray was three-quarters Shawnee; Wray is best known for heavy fuzz-tone instrumentals, like “Rumble,” and “Ace of Spades, ” his growling axe can be heard in “Pulp Fiction,” “Desperado,” “Road Racers,” “Blow,” “Independence Day,” et al. Even Felipe Rose (Lakota,) the Indian of The Village People is a real Indian; Felipe’s disco-Headdress was actually a badly-though-out drag tribute to his Native roots.

There are the singers Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree), Rita Coolidge (Cherokee), and Cher (Half-Breed! That’s all she ever heard). And let’s not forget the superstars who are more noticed for their African-American Heritage, but are actually “Black Indians,” like Jimi Hendrix (Cherokee,) Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, and Prince.

Over the last decade there have been attempts to bring more publicity to Native musicians, especially through the Native American Music Awards, but like all award shows, it was a good idea that went awry; I wouldn’t wish some of the music that gets awards on my worst enemies.

One of the worst is Joanne Shenandoah (Iroquis,) who is so political and humorless that you feel like you’ve been through 500 years of suffering and injustice every time her CD ends. She has a cult following of activist Indians and politically correct white people who fancy themselves as friends to their red brethren…because they support our bad folk music, I guess. While Shenandoah is dreadful in her sanctimoniousness, the worst on the other end of the spectrum is Robert Mirabal (Pueblo) who does Las Vegas-styled shows complete with glitter headdresses for his nearly naked Native dancing girls. I think the low point for Native music had to be a repeated chorus on one of Mirabal’s albums: “War-rior, Hi-Yi-Yi.” When I was writing about music in the Native American press I gave Mirabel the Chief Wahoo award for being the last Indian to perform in a loincloth.

I actually like Mirabel’s female counterpart, Jana (Lumbee,) the Indian princess knockout who performs in a skimpy fringed-buckskin outfit. Jana makes good music, like her techno remake of Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” I have no problem with someone selling sex, and I really don’t have a problem with Mirabel’s lack of clothes; it’s his promotion of a stereotype that makes me sick.

Right now there are four Native American acts that are well worth checking out. Perhaps the most ambitious is Night Shield (Lakota,) whose Night Shield Entertainment label is becoming a meeting place for Native rappers. Night Shield’s hard rap is occasionally angry, and constantly filled with foul words, which is a relief after all the lousy “positive” Native rappers. What is fascinating is that he doesn’t set out to make political statements, they just happen; Night Shield is a rapper who couldn’t write about being Indian without bringing up his present situation - it’s a much more organic style of protest music.

On the political side there’s Shadowyze (Cherokee/Creek,) whose “Guerrillas in The Mix” compilation album features a gunman is a ski mask on the cover and Che Guevara’s portrait on the CD. While his rap style is more laidback than Night Shield, his masterpiece, “World of Illusion,” is an extended metaphor where the government is still the man, the chaos of the world is the spirit of trickster, and the uprising is coming, only this time with bullets instead of arrows. Shadowyse is positive, but that doesn’t make him any happier with the injustices of the world.

Blackfire (Dine) is one of the best punk bands around, and the leaders of the Alter-Native movement. Their first album featured Joey Ramone in one of his last recordings, and Woody Guthrie’s family was so impressed with their activism that they opened the vaults so the band could write music for some of Woody’s unpublished lyrics, which is a major honor. The two brothers and their sister act are one of the few punk bands that has a right to be angry.

On the experimental side, there’s Arigon Starr (Kickapoo/Creek/Cherokee/Seneca,) a sort of satirical, cow punk, Indian version of Bette Midler. No one is ever on the fence when it comes to Starr; it’s either love or unbridled hatred. While she’s known for little political ditties and bizarre experiments - like the Yoko-esque “Salmon Song” - often on the same album, she’s just released an Original Cast Recording to her musical “The Red Road,” a play about Indians done to old school country music. She’s touring this summer and will appear at Tulsa’s Nightingale Theater on June 16th - it will be worth the drive!

Has anyone heard from Indigenous (Nakota Sioux) lately?

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©2006 NONCO Media, L.L.C.