by John Sinclair
My first album, Full Moon Night, was released by Alive Records in 1995. I was 53 years old and finally had a full-scale document of my hard-won performance style, developed over a 30-year gestation period which began at the Artists Workshop in Detroit. I was first invited by Charles Moore to perform my verse to musical accompaniment with his jazz ensemble, the Detroit Contemporary 5, in late 1964, and I did this for kicks with a variety of musical partners over the years.
After Full Moon Night came out, I decided it was time to pursue my performing arts career in earnest and began a series of tours which have since taken me all over the United States and western Europe. I had organized a working ensemble, the Blues Scholars, in New Orleans the year before and used it as a model for the kind of bands I would assemble to accompany my recitations wherever my travels took me.
Underground Issues is a compilation of recordings from a variety of sources assembled to illustrate several facets of my work in verse and the diverse settings in which it is performed. The first five cuts feature my regular ensemble recorded in performance at the Howlin’ Wolf club in New Orleans on March 30, 2000, and the “Homage to John Coltrane” suite [12-14] is from a 1997 live radio broadcast on KXLU-FM with a Los Angeles edition of the Blues Scholars featuring fellow former Detroiters Wayne Kramer, Charles Moore and Ralph “Buzzy” Jones.
In between these “live” sets are several guest-artist performances recorded with the Kudzu Kings , Jas Mathus , Little Milton , Ted Drozdowski & the Boston Blues Scholars , Wayne Kramer , and Ed Moss and his Society Jazz Orchestra , plus a “bonus cut,” a duet with saxophonist Marion Brown on “Spiritual” , recorded “live” at the Louisiana Music Factory in 1993. These sides originally saw the light of day on several widely scattered CDs and are now gathered together here in one place.
The Howlin’ Wolf selections are the most recent performances here and feature guitarist and musical director Bill Lynn and drummer Michael Voelker, who have worked closely with me since 1994. Harmonica ace Larry “Rockin’ Jake” Jacobs made an appearance on the first Blues Scholars CD, recorded “live” at the late lamented Kaldi’s Coffeehouse in New Orleans in 1994, and he’s been a frequent guest Scholar ever since. The band is augmented by sousaphonist Kirk Joseph, leader of the Forgotten Souls Brass Band and, as a founding member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the man who pioneered the modern approach to the tuba bass in brass band music.
“When Will the Blues Leave” features Bill Lynn’s guitar with the harmonica of Rockin’ Jake on music adapted from Billy Boy Arnold’s classic VeeJay 45, “I Wish You Would.” The text, composed in 1982, was inspired by an Ornette Coleman song of the same name and is dedicated to my wife Penny.
“Thank You, Pretty Baby” was written in late 1995 to honor my friend Allison Miner, who had just passed away after a long and brave battle against bone-marrow cancer. I had also lost my dear friend Bob “Righteous” Rudnick to cancer of the pancreas earlier in the year. The music is inspired by the Professor Longhair tune, “Gone So Long,” recorded for Federal Records in December of 1951.
The Blues Scholars are joined on “My Buddy,” a salute to my dear departed pal Henry Normile, murdered in Detroit in January 1979, by my frequent companion James Andrews, “the Satchmo of the Ghetto,” on trumpet. James is an important and inescapable element of the Crescent City music scene and has played with the Blues Scholars at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam.
“Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness” was the big underground hit on my 1997 release, Full Circle with Wayne Kramer (Alive Records), and here utilizes Bill Lynn’s arrangement and vocal. The text was updated in 1998 with a reference to President Clinton’s infamous dalliance with Ms. Monica Lewinsky.
“Fattening Frogs For Snakes,” the title piece from my elongated blues work in verse, a “Delta Sound Suite” published in 2002 by the Surregional Press, was composed in 1999 and set to a driving blues riff by Bill Lynn. This is the first time the number has been recorded.
The text for “Down in Mississippi” was commissioned by the Kudzu Kings, a popular Southern dance band based in Oxford, Mississippi. It was recorded in February 1999 in a little studio out in the countryside surrounding Monticello, Mississippi, the home of J.B. Lenoir.. It was released as a hidden bonus track following track 13 on the Kings’ 1999 CD, Y2Kow.
“Some of These Days” is a statement by Roebuck “Pops” Staples as told to the late, great Robert Palmer for his book Deep Blues and set to verse in 1982 as part of Fattening Frogs For Snakes. It was recorded with guitar and vocal by Jas “Jimbo” Mathus for his blues project called Songs For Rosetta, a salute to the daughter of Charley Patton. The gorgeous violin was contributed by Andrew Byrd. This track was released as the final cut on Songs For Rosetta by Jas Mathus & the Knockdown Society (Mammoth Records, 1997).
“Mother Earth” was commissioned by producer Greg Preston to introduce Little Milton on his 1999 Malaco album, Welcome to Little Milton. Greg called me with the assignment on a Thursday, I received a tape of Milton’s performance on Friday, wrote the text over the weekend, recorded my part on Monday afternoon and shipped it to Greg that night. He added it to the album during the final mix session in Jackson, Mississippi, the next day but left it to stand alone as a spoken word piece. I’ve remixed it here to go over the musical intro to the song as originally intended.
"monk in orbit" was recorded with Ted Drozdowski & the Boston Blues Scholars at a church in Cambridge MA in the fall of 2000 and included on the album by the Boston Blues Scholars from TriPup Records called Steady Rollin' Man.
“friday the 13th” is a piece from thelonious: a book of monk, an investigation in verse into the music, life, times and impact of the great African American pianist and composer, Thelonious Monk. Here the text is set to music improvised by guitarist Wayne Kramer and his Nashville rhythm section circa 1994. Wayne sent me the tape of his music and the recitation was recorded at Chez Flames Recording in New Orleans. The cut was originally issued on a 10” LP titled Friday the 13th (Alive/Total Energy Records, 1995) and anthologized on CD on Motor City’s Burning, Volume 2 (Alive/Total Energy, 1997).
“rhythm-a-ning,” another Monk piece, is an account in verse of an imaginary baseball contest between the New York Tenors and the Bebop All Stars for the championship of the world. Dedicated to my friend Paul Lichter and the Detroit Tigers’ Hall of Fame broadcaster, Mr. Ernie Harwell, the poem is set to music by Ed Moss (“Rhythm Changes”) inspired by Monk’s composition and played by Ed’s eight-piece Society Jazz Orchestra at a 1994 concert in Cincinnati. This recording was produced by Steve Gebhardt and Ron Esposito and originally released in 1996 on If I Could Be With You (Schoolkids Records), now out of print.
“Spiritual,” “Consequences”/”Blues To You” and “I Talk to the Spirits” comprise a homage to John Coltrane recorded during a KXLU-FM radio broadcast in Los Angeles in 1997. The music, inspired by the Coltrane compositions “A Love Supreme” and “Tunji,” was arranged by Charles Moore and improvised by my Los Angeles Blues Scholars while we were on the air. The other suite we played that day — for the first time, “live” on the radio — was a completely improvised performance of the White Buffalo Prayer which has just been released on CD by SpyBoy Records (SB 1001).
The “bonus cut” is a reprise of “Spiritual” performed as a duet with alto saxophonist Marion Brown during his brief stay in New Orleans in early 1993. I’d been wanting to play with Brown since the early days of our friendship, back in 1965, and this desire was finally consummated at a free concert at the Louisiana Music Factory. This cut was included on the 10” LP, Friday the 13th, and on The Sounds of New Orleans, Volume 2, a CD I produced for WWOZ Radio in 1994.
Now I’ve got all this music in one place at last, and I’d like to thank Mario Madero and John Bouille of SpyBoy Productions for making this album a reality. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
August 14, 2000
© 2000, 2012 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.
Underground Issues by John Sinclair
(Originally issued as SpyBoy Records SB 1002)
1 “When Will the Blues Leave” with the Blues Scholars (2:20)
2 “Thank You, Pretty Baby” with the Blues Scholars (4:15)
3 “My Buddy” with the Blues Scholars (5:06)
4 “Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness” with the Blues Scholars (4:19)
5 “Fattening Frogs For Snakes” with the Blues Scholars (7:21)
6 “Down in Mississippi” with Kudzu Kings (4:35)
7 “Some of These Days” with Jas Mathus (3:43)
8 “Mother Earth” with Little Milton (0:51)
9 “’Scuze Me While I Kiss the Sky” with Ras Kente (3:23)
10 “Friday the 13th” with Wayne Kramer (3:46)
11 “rhythm-a-ning” with Ed Moss & the Society Jazz Orchestra (4:00)
12 “Spiritual” with Wayne Kramer & the Blues Scholars (5:30)
13 “Consequences”/Blues To You” with Wayne Kramer & the Blues Scholars (8:22)
14 “I Talk with the Spirits” with Wayne Kramer & the Blues Scholars (4:16) >
“Spiritual” with Marion Brown (2:27)
Produced By John Sinclair for Big Chief Productions
Executive Producers: John Bouille & Mario Madero
Production Coordination by Penny Sinclair for SpyBoy Productions
©(p) 2000 John Sinclair
1-5 John Sinclair, voice; Bill Lynn, guitar & vocal ; Kirk Joseph, sousaphone; Michael Voelker, drums; Larry “Rockin’ Jake” Jacobs, harmonica; James Andrews, trumpet . Texts by John Sinclair, music by Bill Lynn (Big Chief, ASCAP). Recorded at Howlin’ Wolf, New Orleans, March 30, 2000. Mixed, edited & mastered by Henry Petras & Greg Troyer at Side One Studios, Metairie, LA, May 25, 2000. Edited & remastered by John Sinclair & Tom Morgan at Elysian Fields, June 29, 2000. Produced by Henry Petras & John Sinclair. Executive Producers: John Bouille & Mario Madero.
6 John Sinclair, voice, with the Kudzu Kings: Tate Moore & George McConnell, guitars; Robert Chaffee, keyboards; Tommy Bryan Ledford, bandobrolin; Dave Woolworth, bass; Chuck Sigler, drums. Text by John Sinclair (Big Chief, ASCAP). Music arranged by the Kudzu Kings. Recorded by Jeffrey Reed at Rte. 1 Recording, Monticello, MS, February 1999. Produced by Jeffrey Reed. Original release: Y2Kow (Kudzu Kings, 1999).
7 John Sinclair, voice; Jas Mathus, guitar & vocal; Andrew Byrd, violin. Text by Roebuck “Pops” Staples, arranged by John Sinclair (Big Chief, ASCAP). Music arranged by Jas Mathus. Recorded by Mike Napolitano at Glennsway Studio, New Orleans, 1997. Produced by Jas Mathus. Original release: Songs For Rosetta by Jas Mathus & the Knockdown Society (Mammoth Records, 1997).
8 John Sinclair, voice; Little Milton, guitar & vocal; Will MacFarlane, guitar; Clayton Ivey, piano; David Hood, bass; George Lawrence, drums; and the Muscle Shoals Horns: Steve Patrick & Jim Williamson, trumpets; Charles Rose, trombone; Harvey Thompson & Doug Moffat, tenor saxophones; Jim Horn, baritone saxophone. Text by John Sinclair (Big Chief, ASCAP). Music arranged by Little Milton and recorded by Kent Bruce at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, Sheffield, AL, 1999. Text recorded by Steve Daffner at the Dream Palace, New Orleans, September 1999. Produced by Greg Preston & Kent Bruce for Malaco Records. Original release: Welcome to Little Milton (Malaco Records, 1999). Remixed and mastered by Henry Petras & Greg Troyer at Side One Studios, Metairie, LA, May 25, 2000.
9 John Sinclair, voice; Ras Kente, guitar; others unidentified. Text by John Sinclair (Big Chief, ASCAP). Music by Ras Kente. Text recorded by Keith Keller at Chez Flames Recording, New Orleans, 1994 Produced by George Clinton. Line Producer: John Sinclair. Original release: P-Funk Guitar Army (Blues Interactions Records, Japan, 1995) and Cutting Edge 1998 (Music Business Institute, 1998).
10 John Sinclair, voice; Wayne Kramer, guitar; Brad Jones, bass; Fenner Castner, drums. Text by John Sinclair (Big Chief, ASCAP). Music by Wayne Kramer, recorded by Brad Jones at Alex the Great Studios, Nashville, TN, 1994. Text recorded by Keith Keller at Chez Flames Recording, New Orleans, 1994. Produced by Wayne Kramer & John Sinclair. Original release: Friday the 13th (Alive/Total Energy 10” LP, 1996) and Motor City’s Burnin’, Volume 1 (Alive/Total Energy CD, 1998).
11 John Sinclair, voice; Ed Moss, piano; Jerry Conrad, trumpet; Clarence Pawn, trombone; Tim McCord, alto saxophone; Arthur Quitman, tenor saxophone; Joe Gaudio, baritone saxophone; Chris Dahlgren, bass; Art Gore, drums. Text by John Sinclair (Big Chief, ASCAP). .Music (“Rhythm Changes”) by Ed Moss (Ed Moss Music, BMI). Recorded by Goeff Maxwell in concert at the Hyatt Regency, Cincinnati, OH, January 15, 1994. Produced by Steve Gebhardt & Ron Esposito. Original release: If I Could Be With You (Schoolkids Records, 1996).
12–14 John Sinclair, voice; Wayne Kramer, guitar, Paul Ill, bass; Michael Voelker, drums; Charles Moore, trumpet; Craig Stuart, alto & tenor saxophones; Ralph “Buzzy” Jones, tenor saxophone. Texts by John Sinclair (Big Chief, ASCAP). Music arranged by Wayne Kramer & Charles Moore. Recorded by Matt “Justin Time” Fitzgerald at KXLU-FM, Loyola-Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA, August 18, 1997. Produced by John Sinclair for Big Chief Productions.
15 John Sinclair, voice; Marion Brown, alto saxophone. Text by John Sinclair (Big Chief, ASCAP). Music by Marion Brown. Recorded by Mark Bingham at the Louisiana Music Factory, New Orleans, February 1993. Produced by John Sinclair. Original release: Friday the 13th (Alive/Total Energy 10” LP, 1996) and Smokin’: The Sounds of New Orleans, Volume 2 (WWOZ on CD, 1995).
The producer would like to thank Mario Madero, John Bouille, Henry Petras, Greg Troyer, Tom Morgan, Bill Lynn, Michael Voelker, Rockin’ Jake, Kirk Joseph, James Andrews, Wayne Kramer, Charles Moore, Buzzy Jones, Craig Stuart, Paul Ill, the staff at Howlin’ Wolf and KXLU-FM, Dave Woolworth and the Kudzu Kings, Jas Mathus, Glen Graham, Mike Napolitano, Greg Preston, Little Milton, Tom Stevens, Brad Sumrall, Steve Daffner, George Clinton, Ras Kente, Rick Cioffi, Bob DeDeckere, Keith Keller, Ross Firestone, Patrick Boissel, Ed Moss, the Society Jazz Orchestra, Steve Gebhardt, Ron Esposito, Steve Bergman, Michael Simmons, Mark Groubert, Marion Brown, Jerry Brock, Barry Smith, the great Diane Wanek and, as always, my wife Penny for her patience, support and understanding.
— August 14, 2000