Thursday, December 18, 2014

Five Questions With... Andy Fleming of Brother Trucker (Or Actually, Four)

Andy Fleming playing at the Fire Trucker Brewery in August
(Photo by Bonita Crowe)

I spoke with Andy Fleming briefly outside of el Bait Shop a couple of weeks ago on a Wednesday night. His band, Brother Trucker has been in the habit of playing there on the first Wednesday of every month, and coming into December, it had been announced that this particular night would be the last go-round for this monthly tradition. 

Jeff Bruning, or Bruno as he is known as publicly, is an owner of el Bait and the driving force behind the establishment's marketing genius. On KXnO's Morning Rush show several weeks ago he said that the music gets too loud, and in the winter time people don't have access to the patio like they during the summer. Bruno is a regular guest on the Morning Rush show, where once a week he goes into the KXnO studio and discusses everything that's new and exciting in the national brewing culture.

He went on to explain that when el Bait opened, there wasn't a hotel downtown, and his clientele wasn't as based on that fact as it is now. "We've had bands in that have been too loud and we've had people leave," he said. "We decided to just stop having bands play. At least for now."

Thankfully, he had a change of heart. Before Brother Trucker played a single note, Bruno announced that he was going to keep the first Wednesday of the month tradition going into the new year. Great news for fans of Brother Trucker. The fact that the place was absolutely packed might have had something to do with that. When I arrived shortly after 8:00, I didn't see too many people who weren't there to see the band. The place was feisty and jubilant.

After the band's initial set, Andy made his way outside for a moment, where I bumped into him at the entrance on his way back in. We stood in the frigid December air for about 10 minutes talking about this latest success and the music scene in general. People were walking in and out, and most everybody who passed by stopped to shake Andy's hand. 

He is highly revered in the local music scene, and people are automatically drawn to him. He calmly smiled and spoke to every single person that approached him. 

Andy Fleming is a troubadour on the stage, but he is a pioneer in other ways. I emailed him the next day because I had always been curious about why he had put the letters FUBVP on his yellow Strat underneath a sticker of the US Flag.

Andy Fleming has a message for Bob Vander Plaats
(Photo by Bryan Farland)
What FU stands for is obvious... but for those who don't know, BVP refers to local headache and anti-gay spokesman Bob Vander Plaats, who's annual Family Leader Summit gets way too much notoriety and fanfare among the ultra-right wing political class. Fleming has always championed the little guy and taken the side of the underdog. A song called "Downtown" that he wrote tells the story of a kid who, after his parents discovered that he was gay, was pushed out into the streets. The teenager was forced to make a new life for himself on the streets of Des Moines.


What exactly is the story behind the FUBVP on your guitar? 

About the same time my dear friend/musical mentor Bejae Fleming (no relation) and her partner Jackie Blount were tying the knot… legally, Brother Trucker was booked at the State Fair. I wanted to use our larger moment of visibility to convey - in the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Joe Strummer as well as Mike Cooley of the Drive By's - a message of solidarity behind those who deserve equality.

What kind of guitar is it exactly?

American Fender Telecaster purchased at Dirk Netwon’s Guitar Shop. Proudly. Dusty from Stuttering Jimmy/Slopcycle/Johnny Reeferseed and the High Rollers… bought the other blonde Tele hanging next to it at Drik’s… we’re kind of guitar kin in that way.

What would you like to say to Bob Vander Plaats if you had a chance to meet him? 

To go fuck himself. I’m kinda kidding. “Would (he) let Mike Huckabee’s son dog sit for him?…"

What drives you so hard to respect people's individual personalities? 

Mostly out of desire for giving what you hope to get back…the do onto others – value. – I honestly, seriously need to do a much better job in being able to articulate a true respect for those individual personalities I disagree with most. I’m really under-performing in that area.

As a husband, a father, a musician and a friend, Andy Fleming is a highly respected voice. I for one find it refreshing that he has chosen to use his guitar as a billboard to push back against Vander Plaats and the rabid message he preaches. Woody Guthrie played a guitar that has "This Machine Kills Fascists" written on it. It's nice to see Andy is in compliance with his hero.

Catch Brother Trucker at Wooly's tonight (Friday, December 19) where he'll be playing in support of David Zollo's CD release party along with BFD faves King of the Tramps. Doors open at 9:00.

And of course Brother Trucker will play el Bait Shop on Wednesday, January 7th. See ya there. 


Brother Trucker Official

Brother Trucker on Facebook

Monday, December 15, 2014

Grant's Tomb: The Forming (And Reforming) of Panthallasa

Forming a band can be one of the most stressful experiences to go through. A bold statement maybe, but I've found it to be true nonetheless. Finding the right people with the right chemistry, even though individual tastes may differ significantly, takes a lot of patience. I am not a patient person.

In 2012 I had sworn off playing in a band ever again. Past experiences had left a bitter taste in my mouth, some of it my own doing, others not so much, but I was content to close the chapter and move on with my life. I was engaged, had a steady job and was happy enough. Its funny, looking back, how routine and “normal” my life became. All of that changed in an instant.

I’ve always looked to music as a way to vent and exercise whatever was troubling me, be it playing music or just listening. One tragic event and everything that I had taken for granted had been ripped away. Where do you turn when something like that happens? I picked up the guitar.

I’ve always been a bass player, my fingers were too fat and too short to play a guitar and any time I tried people would smile and shake their heads. Better luck next time. At the suggestion of a close friend and former band mate, he said I should play guitar in a project I had been discussing starting up. At that point it was all talk, mostly over several cans of PBR, but once the idea had been planted I couldn't shake it. I was going to have to go back on my word and form a band.

Now, how does one go about forming a band when they have a reputation for quitting or getting fired from every other project they've been a part of? How do they convince other people to spend their time (and money) on something that the person asking them to do it might not even see through to the end? 

Fortunately enough, I already had a couple people on board, a bassist, and another guitarist.

The earliest rehearsals were without a drummer. Just the guitars working on half-baked riffs I had been compiling over the last few months. During one of those rehearsals, the singer and guitarist from the band No One (we were sharing a rehearsal space with them) stopped by. He came in to the room, looked around and immediately asked if he could sing. Sure. Crazy thing was, it fit. It was raw and visceral but still carried enough melodic undertones to keep it interesting. One down, one to go.

Our initial drummer try-outs were not the greatest. One guy barely had a kit, another guy showed up for an audition, told us he didn’t like metal and never called us back. The third guy who showed up had a full kit and a good attitude but couldn’t seem to play in any time signature beyond 4/4, which was going to be a huge problem. Things seemed pretty depressing, but I had an idea. I contacted an old band member who I knew could play and he agreed to check it out. 

Things… didn't work out.

Finally, Shane Mills settled in as Panthallasa's drummer.
(Photo by Bigfoot Diaries)
After nearly 6 months of looking, we finally convinced No Ones drummer to play with us, the rationale being “Hey, we share a rehearsal space, we already have your singer, we like you, you like us, lets boogie.” 

A few line-up changes later and we were ready to start playing shows. We had already recorded three songs with Griffin Landa at his Establishment recording studios to offer up as singles/demos for people to come check us out and to say “Yeah, we’re serious.”

With several shows under our belts, the time to record a proper release was at hand. We initially wrote four songs to record an EP’s worth of material with Griffin at the helm again, but in the 11th hour I sprung a fifth track on the guys, thereby increasing the cost of the recording sessions.

When you release a song, you’re making a statement. Not just this is who we are as a band, but this is who I am as an individual. Every person who contributes towards a recording is putting their name on it, be it the engineer, the bassist or the guy doing the artwork. “I am proud of this.” But what if people aren’t getting what you’re putting down? What if the reception is weak? What if they can’t neatly classify you as this genre or that? What if they think you suck? Yeah.

One thing I’m very fond of is sharing my opinions. On everything, but especially music; I have no problem telling someone why their favorite band is garbage or how much better the music I listen to is. I guess that makes me a jerk, but I think the intentions are good. When someone tells me about their new favorite hardcore band, I’ll suggest someone similar who (in my mind at least) delivers a better experience. 

When someone asks if I've caught the last episode of a program like “The Voice” or “American Idol” I’m quick to tell them they shouldn’t support that corporate waste and instead invest their time and listening into a band kicking it in the local circuit. Different strokes I suppose.

So, what happens now? What if every negative thing I’ve ever said about another band gets said about mine? “Yeah, the music is okay, but the singer is awful,” or “I don’t know, they sound pretty generic, I’m sure I’ve heard that guitar part somewhere else before.” 

It’s a scary thought and it makes you sympathize a bit more with a band or group you don’t necessarily enjoy.

Panthallasa takes a break during studio work
(Photo by Bigfoot Diaries)
My band is getting ready to release our EP “Care” here after the New Year and I’m anxious to the point where I feel sick about it. We’ve played most of the songs in front of an audience, but anyone who is involved with recording can easily tell you how different a studio track can sound from hearing a song live. 

Over the next several weeks, I’m going to be spending a bit of time detailing the process of creating it, from the individual songs to the ideas and themes behind the lyrics and sounds that were incorporated into them. This will all be from my perspective and I am only speaking for myself, nobody else in the band. I have put my soul into these recordings. I’ve also burned some bridges with people to keep my band and ultimately my vision on the correct course, and I’m going to be as honest with you and myself about it as possible.

My goal for this is to give you a glimpse inside my thought process, and show not just the triumphs but also some of the difficult decisions that are involved while recording and releasing a body of work. I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

BFD Review: Aquamarine Dream Machine's The Abyss Stares Back...

"Once you look into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you." - Steve Quayle

The Abyss Stares Back... is the latest release from Aquamarine Dream Machine. I put the CD in my portable stereo about ten days ago, and I haven't taken it out since. For good measure, I don't really plan to anytime soon. It's become as much of a part of my nightly ritual as brushing my teeth and falling asleep to Coast to Coast AM.

While ADM has been a favorite local band for several years now, I was a bit skeptical about how their music would translate from it's live performance to a recorded product. As it turns out, I had no reason to worry. The album sounds amazing, and to be honest I was surprised to learn that it was mixed, mastered and produced by the band's guitarist Daniel Wipf in his home studio. 

It's extremely crisp, with none of that behind the scenes white noise that you sometimes hear on home recordings. The instruments are layered perfectly and it's obviously been tweaked to bring out the ultimate sound.

Dan Wipf in his psychedelic glory. (Stolen from his FB page) 
Dan is a great guitarist and I have felt for a long time that he often gets overlooked when local musicians are brought up in comparison to one another. He belongs at the forefront of that conversation - not at the back. He delivers with the best of 'em, and his Robert Fripp/David Gilmour style leave most in the dust. He has no ego - something I love about him personally - just this egalitarian way of making huge power chords that shift like beach sands in strong winds. 

His voice has come a long way. Once perhaps a weakness due to vocal insecurities, he now delivers on point, singing at full throttle. And the way he bends his guitar around his vocals... he methodically spins you further into the abyss.

The album contains six tracks, all originals. The music transpires from the bluesy "Long Time Coming" to the heavy riff oriented "Feed the Beast" to the noisy propulsive "Divines" from which the opening seems to have been borrowed from The Who (think "Sparks."). The six songs flow freely in and out of each other with meticulous design - another aspect to the album that obviously took a lot of thought.

The tracks:

Long Time Coming

Chasing Ghosts

Feed The Beast


Good as Gold

Under the Gun

Dan and Justin sounding off. (Photo by Sarah Cartwright) 

Justin Kurtz's bass lines are especially noted on "Feed The Beast," where his snappy motoric rhythms propel the song into a kaleidoscopic rabbit hole. There's such an encompassment to his style that it's easy to forget that he's playing until all hell breaks out. By then it's too late to duck, because not only are the walls caving in, the ground is opening you up and swallowing you whole. 

Duly noted, Joe Antleman's piano work is outstanding on this recording. While Kurtz is creating sonic sink holes, Antleman is taking you over the mountains and far into the sky. His style is that of a surgeon, articulate and sound, flawless and precise. As a musician, he's one of those guys who can play anything, and each time he settles into an instrument, he becomes it's master. On The Abyss Stares Back... he captures each song with spirit-driven figurations that slide on a scale from classical Baroquean style to bluesy smoky piano bar. He takes the lead on "Long Time Coming" and never relents throughout the rest of the album.

Joe Antleman performs at 2014's 80/35 concert. Photo stolen from FB. 

Nikoali Charikov provides the beat jam for ADM. His rhythm sails on auto pilot as he criss-crosses the fast changing melodies with relentless physical geometry. As the walls cave in around him he constantly rebuilds them, as much as an architect as he is a musician. As the newest member of ADM, he doesn't leave any voids. One great musician surrounded by others, he is the accelerant that drives the pistons on this well-oiled dream machine. 

With Aquamarine Dream Machine, the songs always come first. They don't rely on a shtick or gimmicks to feed their nest, they let their music paint the portrait of who they are. They are a foghorn in the empty sea, an essential cog to the local scene. 

The Abyss Stares Back... is as substantial and significant as any record I've heard this year. It's a must for my collection, and it should be for yours.

You can catch Aquamarine Dream Machine at Vaudeville Mews on January 2nd.


Aquamarine Dream Machine on Facebook

Aquamarine Dream Machine on Reverb

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Electric Jury and Strong Like Bear Converge to perform Pink Floyd’s “Animals”

Two Ames bands will join forces and perform Pink Floyd’s dark and critically acclaimed album 'Animals'. The show will take place in Ames at DG's Tap House on this Saturday night, December 13. Electric Jury and Strong Like Bear will each perform individual sets before joining to play 'Animals' in it's entirety.  

To enhance the experience, a light show will accompany the performance, provided by Entertainment Lighting Company.

"We won't necessarily have a flying pig," said Dylan Boyle of Electric Jury, "but a friend is making one to have on stage." Of course he is talking about the infamous flying pig that Pink Floyd featured at their concerts during the late '70s into the '80s.

Pink Floyd Animals

Although 'Animals' might not rank as high as 'The Wall' or other Pink Floyd releases, critics consider the 1977 release to be one of the band’s darkest and most harsh releases, lyrically. It remains one of just a handful of albums that have been given 10/10 by Pitchfork.

The album consists of three main songs – “Dogs,” Pigs (Three Different Ones),” and “Sheep,” and two short songs  - “Pigs On the Wing 1” and “2,” that bookend the album.

While the short “Pigs On the Wing” tracks convey an idea of a romantic escape from the struggles of life, the three longer tracks heavily dissect different classes and types of people in society through an Orwellian paradigm – business people (dogs), politicians (pigs) and the idiot masses (sheep).

"I think, for all of us involved, 'Animals' is our favorite Floyd album," Boyle explains. "There's so many progressive and interesting things happening in the music and a lot of really challenging parts." 

"Personally, I really enjoy the songwriting and concept of the album," he explains further. "The album's songwriting dissects humanity very well, and is driven by a kind of nihilistic view that political and economic systems are cyclical and nothing will really change, and your life will never really change, no matter how much propaganda business people, politicians and media personalities dispense."

Upon it's release in 1977, New Music Express called the album "One of the most extreme, relentless, harrowing and downright iconoclastic hunks of music to have been made available this side of the sun."

Also in 1977, Melody Maker’s Karl Davis called 'Animals' an “uncomfortable taste of reality in a medium that has become in recent years, increasingly soporific.” Interestingly, this medium has now gravitated to be the norm, and 'Animals' is as relevant today as it was when it was released.

Boyle agrees. "If you look at contemporary American society, especially the right-wing of our country - but also supporters of President Obama - the lyrics of "Sheep" are invigorating and describe my observations about our current political system exactly. The last line of the song, Have you heard the news, the dogs are dead. You better stay home and do what you're told, get out of the road, if you want to grow old is as telling then as it is now."

Strong Like Bear. (Stolen from their Facebook page.)

Strong Like Bear has been a staple rock act in Ames for the past five years and has released two full ­length albums. Strong Like Bear consists of Bryon and Rachel Dudley, Greg Bruna, and Jordan Mull.

Electric Jury is a surrealist blues experience from Ames, consisting of Adam Brimeyer, Caleb Swank, Vedran Surlan and of course, Dylan Boyle.

Boyle finishes by saying, "Doing this, for me has been musically challenging, inspiring as someone who tries to write songs, but mostly it's been therapeutic.

Fun fact: Roger Waters wrote Animals in part as a sneer to the punk rock movement, most notably Johnny Rotten who smeared Pink Floyd when he wrote "I Hate" in ink above their band name on a t-shirt he wore publicly. As a result, "Animals" was written in response to Rotten's nihilistic attitude.

Electric Jury on Facebook

Strong Like Bear on Facebook 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Bigfoot Diaries Review: "Shark Attack" EP By The Maw

The long awaited Shark Attack EP by The Maw came out last weekend just in time for the band's final show at the House of Bricks which closed it's doors for good on Sunday, November 23rd.
The Shark Attack EP
We said good bye to an institution of Des Moines music. For 14 years HOB has been the go-to place for live shows on any given night of the week. It showcased local music more than any other venue in Des  Moines, and while it was indeed a safe haven for metal bands, Bricks regularly featured live music from other genres including Country, Blues, Americana, Folk, Rap, Latino and R&B. It was a place that felt like home, and it's presence is going to be missed in the city.

In a Lemony Snicket kind of way, it seemed fitting that was the night that we celebrated The Maw's long awaited release of their Shark Attack EP, a project that has been in the works (at least talked about) since my introduction to the band in October of 2010. Since then the band has evolved from it's tadpole incarnation to the fierce Great White that it is today. That's not to say that their music wasn't outstanding then - they've always blown me away - but through the sands of time, some minor turbulence, and a couple changes in the band's lineup, The Maw has persevered like no other band in the city. Rarely does a band lose it's foundation (bass player and drummer) and still maintain viability. The Maw have done just that.

The four song EP is a small taste of what The Maw bring to the stage, but it's still a solid half hour of brain-twisting prog that will keep your head swimming. Forrest Lonefight's melodic genius on the guitar is ever-present and Erik Brown's voice is sharp as the razor edge notes he hits on the electric piano. 

To say that he and Lonefight know each other musically would be the understatement of the year. Onstage, they appear to be guided by an unseen force and this translates into this recording, especially on the EP's title track, "Shark Attack." 

The song is a soundtrack to death by shark. It takes you through the entire journey - from the initial violent attack through the calmer moments when the shark lays off and you are floating in and out of consciousness. Then, without warning the shark returns and you are jerked through a spiraling wheel of death as you are shredded to the bone... 

Sounds lovely doesn't it? Trust me, it is. 

Interestingly enough and in perhaps a tribute to the band's former members, the final track on the EP, "Call To Arms" was recorded live* at the House of Bricks when former drummer Justin Bristow and former bassist Joe Antleman were the heads of the band's rhythm department. It's an admirable nod to these two considering the timeline from when this EP was being planned.

Current drummer Shane Mills is as articulate a drummer as you will find, and with Jeff Stone who now handles the bass duties, they guide the ship fearlessly. The arrangements that the Maw create are intensely complicated, and it takes serious musicians to recreate the sounds that were lost when Antleman and Bristow left the band. Not only are Mills and Stone capable of doing this, but their personal styles and improvisations seem to bring a new and welcome element to the band's sound.

The tracks are:

Buddy System (6:48) - with excerpts from the Jonestown 'Death Tape.'

Shark Attack (4:55)
Interlude (4:17) 
Call To Arms (13:48)

The Maw have always had the ability to balance focus and disillusion while keeping a choke hold on the listener's subconscious. They take you on a journey to places where it's unfamiliar and dark, and while that's a strong quality of the music they create, it's also somehow exalting and awakening.

As one person mentioned to me at the Maw's final show at the House of Bricks, "They never get old, and it's better every time."

You can see for yourself. The Maw are playing Dec. 6 at the Kum and Go Theater inside the Des Moines Social Club. It is the FFN Burton Ball and it is a night of music, art, performances and costumes themed towards your favorite Tim Burton films. Proceeds benefit the John Stoddard Cancer Center Compassion Fund. Aside from The Maw, the night will feature performances by Rumble Seat Riot, Switchblade Saturdays and The Spartan Blue. 

While you are at it, pick up the Shark Attack EP. If you dare.


The Maw on Facebook

*"Call To Arms" recorded at House of Bricks, documented in Greg Waldrop's Beyond The Stage series.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Rumpke Mountain Boys Return To Des Moines To Play The Hull Avenue Tavern

The Rumpke Mountain Boys are on their way to great things. Widely respected in the bluegrass community as one of the tightest and most energetic bands in the country, they have been in almost constant tour mode for most of this year, darting across the country like a vagabond circus of acoustic mayhem. They played a 5 hour set atop the famous FURTHER bus on the west coast this summer, a set that was originally slotted to be a 40 minute quickie. As you can imagine, things got weird and nobody stepped in to tell them to stop playing, and as if they were on auto-pilot, the Rumpke Mountain Boys just kept doing their thing until the sun came up in the eastern sky. 

Of course, nobody seemed to mind.  

If you saw the Rumpke Mountain Boys at The Bigfoot Ball, then you need no convincing that these boys know how to throw a party.

Artwork by Jason Boten

Hailing from Cincinnati this  band is legendary on the festival circuit. Take their set at this year's Dark Star Jubilee at Buckeye Lake in Ohio: "They are like the devil," one fan told me prior to their set. "They'll play all night long without taking a break."

You could see the exodus down the hill from the campgrounds to the stage when RMB came on and they were the first band at the Jubilee to garner an encore. However, time was short and master of ceremonies Sam Cutler had to cut them off due to time and schedule restraints. The next morning, stories were abundant about the Rumpke Boys and their late night soiree through the campgrounds. They showed the same vigor and tenacity when they played the Bigfoot Ball at the Briar Patch in August, playing a virtual non-stop 4 hour set. (That doesn't count the three-plus hours they jammed together in the parking lot before taking the stage.)

The Rumpke Mountain Boys will be making a rare stop at the Hull Avenue Tavern on Friday. The show is FREE and will start around 8:00ish and they will play until the very end of the night. And by the end of the night, I mean put on your muck boots, because it'll be time to feed the cattle. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bruce Katz, formerly of the Gregg Allman Band to Play Fremont Tonight

The Bruce Katz Band is releasing their first album in 6 years--"Homecoming" is a beautiful slice of American blues and all the many music forms that grew from it. And they are planning one very special Midwest CD release party for Des Moines!

In addition to playing new tunes and familiar classics, the BKB will give everyone a little early Halloween magic--by paying tribute to the Allman Brothers Band! A set of ABB favorites in honor of Bruce's touring and performing with the Brothers as they retire, this night promises to be one for the record books.

It all goes down at The Fremont tonight, Saturday, October 25th. Do not miss this night--there's no repeating this kind of magic. To get you all in the mood, enjoy a couple of appetizers!

World-renowned organist, keyboardist, and bandleader BRUCE KATZ will be bringing his long-time trio to Des Moines for a special one-off show on Saturday, October 25th. Fresh off the road from touring with the likes of DELBERT McCLINTON, JAIMOE’S JASSSZ BAND (of the Allman Brother Band), and others, Katz, recently inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame, will be on a national fall tour in support of his new studio release, Homecoming, which features a number of special guests including the legendary JOHN HAMMOND, JR., as well as The Band’s RANDY CIARLANTE, and will be the group’s first release in nearly six years. 

The trio features fellow NYHOF member, guitarist CHRIS VITARELLO, and inimitable percussionist/Berklee College of Music veteran RALPH ROSEN. 

In addition to serving as a CD release event for the new album, for this special one-off show, a Lonely Orphans Production by Des Moines locals Kim West, bella soul’s Brandon Findlay & Tina Haase Findlay, and Dan Dahle of the Fremont, the BKB will perform an extra special set of music for their Des Moines audience. 

As a touring keyboardist with the GREGG ALLMAN BAND for several years, Katz went on to join the touring ensemble for the ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND for a number of dates after Allman suffered an injury in 2010, and has sat-in with the band a number of times before and since. 

In honor of his love for their music and his personal connection to the band, the BKB will perform a set of their favorite Allman Brothers Band classics, which promises to be the very definition of a “can’t-miss occasion.” 


Bruce Katz Official

Monday, September 29, 2014

Now, An Intimate Conversation With John Sinclair

John Sinclair might not be a household name, but his story may be as relevant as Abbie Hoffman's or Allen Ginsberg's. While he is best known as the one time manager of proto-punk rockers the MC5, he was an active political voice during the counter-culture era of the late 1960s. 

Detroit was ripe with music during this time and the Motor City produced some of the best music ever made. The Amboy Dukes, Frijid Pink, Alice Cooper, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels,The Stooges, MC5, The Fugitives, The Bob Seger System, and The Flaming Ember were all bands that were part of the Detroit music uprising during the mid '60s. Each of these bands had a definitive role in carving out an anti-authority attitude for the generation.

The MC5
Sinclair was a revolutionary during the '60s, and it was one of America's most tumultuous eras, when young men were being yanked off of their family farms and thrust into a world of violence to fight the North Vietnamese Army in stretches of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Most of these men didn't think twice about being drafted to serve their country. They assumed their duty with a sense of pride, only to return home years later scarred and broken. 

America had become worn down by the chaos of the times didn't seem to have a plan for welcoming it's soldiers home. The glory days of returning home from war to a ticker tape parade were a thing of the past. This was a new era, and things had become strikingly different than they were during the end of World War 2. 

The country was reinventing itself. Amid organized war protests on college campuses, several fronts were in the making. The Black Panther Party, the Hippie and the Gay Rights Movements and the Sexual Revolution began to whip authority into a paranoid panic. Rock and roll, as it made it's leap from sock hop to the psychedelic blues, was the common denominator to the madness

John Sinclair was at the forefront of this cultural change in Detroit: As somebody who spoke out against corruption, violence and racism, he was targeted by the federal police in 1969 and  was caught up in a sting operation where he was set up and busted for selling two marijuana cigarettes to an undercover FBI officer. Now, face to face with the corruption he so gallantly spoke out against, he was sentenced to an unprecedented ten years in prison for selling the two joints. The unfairness of this harsh sentence caused a ripple along the noisy protest movement and it got the attention of John Lennon. The ex- Beatle performed at a benefit in Detroit to bring awareness to the unfair sentencing. For the event, Lennon penned a song called "John Sinclair.".

In 1971 Sinclair was eventually released from prison after serving 2 years, but his case remained in litigation. His case against the government for illegal domestic surveillance was successfully pled to the US Supreme Court in 1972. He has since moved to Amsterdam and isn't as vocal about the government as he used to be. Now his main focus is poetry and music - mainly jazz - and he often performs his poetry alongside jazz and blues collaborations. He currently resides in Amsterdam and he regularly hosts a podcast called The John Sinclair Show on a website called Radio Free Amsterdam where he delves deep into the jazz and blues catalogs. He is also a strong advocate for the legalization of marijuana.

I actually caught up to John Sinclair a year ago and haven't published his interview until now. It's timely in the sense that John Coltrane just had a birthday and that's basically where the interview starts off. So when reading, please note that this interview is a year old.

John Sinclair in the late '60s,

Hi John. How are you doing?

Hi Troy. Everything's good.

Did you do anything yesterday to celebrate John Coltrane's birthday?

Yesterday... I made a radio program for my radio station.

Can you tell me about your radio station?

Well, my radio station is called Every Monday I do the John Sinclair Radio Show. I'll be going into my (eleventh) year in November. I just posted number 514, a tribute to Ray Charles and John Coltrane on their birthday.

Very nice. 
What time is your radio show on?

Well, it's online so you can listen to it anytime, night or day. But the new ones come on at 4:20 AM on Monday. My shows. Then I've got shows by Tom Morgan of Virginia, I've got a blues show by Bruce Pingree of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, I've got shows from a woman named Leslie Keros in Chicago - blues and jazz... and different people, you know?


I put shows up every day. Sometimes two a day. There's an hour or two of different music every day. Then you can push the (link) that says "Listen Now" and you can play them one after another, going back for a year.

John Sinclair at work. 

John, what drives your passion? 


Any particular music?

Blues and jazz. African American music.

In 1968 you introduced the equation that "Music is Revolution." Given today's music, do you still feel that way?

Well you know, I was wrong about a lot of things in 1968. Nothing more wrong than when I said that Rock and Roll is a weapon of cultural revolution. Today it's a weapon of oppression.

Why do you say that?

Because it's so horrible. The access to the music is completely controlled by the rich people. You make some interesting music and they'll give you a million dollars to make you less interesting. Nobody wants to hear what a millionaire has to say... (Laughs).

So would you say as a people that we have retracted, or just musically?


You would say that?

Totally. It's worse now than ever. It's twice as bad as it was ten years ago. 

Is there any hope for it?

I have no hope. The people, you know... The people are always going to be OK.

I've noticed a trend that the roots are coming back... Like you mentioned, the blues and jazz, and the folk scene seems to be growing again, and I wonder if it reached a point where it's just re-creating itself.

Well there's always going to be folk. It's... They continue to exist, it's just that they took them off of the radar.


It's like poetry, you know. They just don't let the people know about them. I mean you have to dig. Now they have the internet, the wonderful Google and the Wikipedia, and you can find out about a lot of things you didn't know about but you still have to somehow develop a curiosity to look for them. Because if you look in the mainstream media as they call it, you won't find anything.

John Sinclair as he appears today.

I wonder why that is. 



Well this system is dedicated to making people dumber and dumber so they'll buy more and more products and pay more and more money for them. Duh! (Laughs.) 

I think you nailed it, John.

That's what  it's all about in a nutshell. So intelligence of any kind is scorned and spurned except for military intelligence which isn't all that good ever. They didn't even know the Soviet Union was going to collapse (laughs). So the military intelligence isn't so good you know but generally speaking they used to reach art and music and stuff like that in the schools in all the cities of the country. Now they don't and (the kids) don't know anything about music. 

Well, it's nice that people like you are still making an attempt to keep it alive, and dedicate radio shows to it. 

Well, it's all I can do. I don't have any money. If I was part of the zero point one percent that controls everything in our country and owns all the media, I'd like to do more (laughs). 

Well yeah. I think we are all getting by just doing what we can. 

Yeah. And of course you are, or we wouldn't be talking right now.

Fred Smith of the MC5 with John Sinclair, in custody in 1968.

Absolutely. John, would you say that racism is worse now than it was in the '60s? 


You would...

Yeah. It's a different form. But it's worse. Just take the music. I mean in the '50s before they even knew that this stuff existed they had the greatest music in the world of all time. Coming from black people in America. Blues, jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues and soul music. And now they have this anti-music and it's kind of like a modern day minstrel show and they give them a million dollars. Stick a black face in there and they call it black music. That's what I call it. 

Yeah. Crazy. 

If you take the music of John Coltrane and put it against the music today it's immediately apparent how far it's degenerated.

I agree! You'll get no argument from me.

Well no. There's no arguing! You are either for it or against it (laughs). The reality is the reality.There's no arguing with anything, If you listen to it, it's right there in your ear.

How were you able to get the MC5 to play at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago?

Well we drove there in our van.

Was there a bunch of red tape to jump through?

We were the only ones who showed up to play!

Well, was there a stage set up, or how exactly did it go down? 

No. They had no permit, they had no stage... We borrowed electricity from a hot dog stand with a long extension cord. We didn't have it together at all, because they wouldn't give them a permit. They played on the grass. We had our own sound system, we set up in the grass and we played until the police came swarming in with their batons. We had just finished our set so we packed up and split before they could beat us up.

The MC5 

When is the last time you spoke with Wayne Kramer?

Oh, a couple weeks ago. 

And you guys are obviously still good friends?

He's one of my best friends. Yeah. 

What did you think of the later incarnation of the MC5 with Handsome Dick Manitoba?

Well, I didn't see that one but I saw him with different people singing. I enjoyed the hell out of it. It really made me realize how great their tunes were. There's a woman from Los Angeles from a band called the Bellrays... Lisa (Kekaula) or something... I could never pronounce her last name. But she sang with them sometimes when I saw them and also Mark Arm from Seattle. Mudhoney, I think he plays with - I saw him sing with them. I saw the legendary Evan Dando sing with them. But none of them were Rob Tyner. Rob Tyner was a brilliant one of  a kind genius guy. A great singer and a great front man. You'll never see that again.  But they sang the songs well. I really liked Mark Arm. And Lisa was great too.

What would say are the three most essential albums one can have right now?

Well, Kind of Blue with the Miles Davis Sextet with John Coltrane and "Cannonball" Adderley, Oh I don't know... Crawfish Fiesta by Professor Longhair, and A Love Supreme by John Coltrane. That's three... Lady in Satin by Billie Holiday. I could name you 500 off the top of my head.

 If you could go back and do it all over again, would you change anything? 

Well sure! (laughs.) Of course! Wouldn't you? 

I think that's an easy answer. Yes!

I'd try not to make the same mistakes! The point is of course that you CAN'T go back and change anything ever. You can only change the future. I think a lot of people are hung up on what they can do to change what happened. They look at the future like it's something that's destined for them, and it's the other way around, really.



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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Photo Blog: The Inaugural Bigfoot Ball at the Briar Patch on September 20

Many thanks to all the people who came to the Briar Patch this past weekend and attended the Inaugural Bigfoot Ball. I can't think of a more perfect way to put a cap on the summer. Thanks to Charles Van Elsen for the wonderful artwork and photos, to Jay and Elinda for creating the live masterpiece, to everybody who helped out with chores prior (and after) the event, and to those who sold merchandise. 

Also, a big THANKS to Johnny Reeferseed and the High Rollers, King of the Tramps, The Maw, and The Rumpke Mountain Boys for making the Bigfoot Ball so musically incredible! There were times throughout the night where the sounds seemed impossible. Thanks for blowing me and everybody else away.

Lastly, thanks to Bob for being the coolest host in the world! Much love.

(All photos by Cveckian. Click to enlarge.)

An unusual number of turkey vultures circled the sky as the gates opened.

The Rumpke Mountain Boys played hours before they actually played.
Then they played for several more hours. 

Elinda and Jay work on their masterpiece as Bob works on sound.

The Maw. 
Johnny Reeferseed (R) and a couple of the High Rollers. 
King of the Tramps and a swirling crowd. 
The Rumpke Mountain Boys played until 4:00 AM.
Justin Snyder of  King of the Tramps with guest star Jacob County. 

The infamous Joe Mcguire of JR Seed.

A friendly flower hands Todd Partridge of KOTT a friendly mushroom. 

J.D. Westmoreland and Ben Gourley of RMB. 

Johnny Reeferseed and Jacob County 
The Maw in their Briar Patch glory.
Jay and Elinda making progress... 
John P. Reeferseed and the High Rollers.
Lots of smiling faces...
As far as we could tell, everybody had a wonderful time. 

Now we have the monumental task of making it even better next year!


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