John Sinclair & His Blues Scholars
Featuring Wayne Kramer
Liner Note by John Sinclair
You could call this record a Motor City Reunion, as I thought of it going into the sessions with some of my oldest and dearest pals from Detroit in the 1960s, now re-settled in Los Angeles. But by the time we were done with it, five days later, it was clear that we had come full circle—both conceptually and in real life—and that title seemed to be perfectly appropriate for this project.
Wayne Kramer and I had been talking about making this album for a couple of years before it came to fruition. We had collaborated (by mail) on one piece, "Friday the 13th," which was issued by Alive Records as the title track of a 10" LP in 1995, and we had made a couple of efforts to get together in a studio in New Orleans to cut some tunes with my band, the Blues Scholars, but the dates fell through due to scheduling difficulties.
In July 1996 my drummer, Michael Voelker, and I left New Orleans to barnstorm our way to the West Coast, playing dates at the Kansas City Blues & Jazz Festival, in Denver, Lewisville (CO), San Francisco and Santa Rosa (CA) using different musicians at each stop. When we got to Los Angeles on August 1st, a special ensemble featuring Wayne Kramer on guitar, Wayne's bassist Paul Ill, and a four-man horn section led by Charles Moore was assembled. Charles brought along the great Detroit trombonist, Phil Ranelin; tenor man Ralph "Buzzy" Jones, another fellow former Detroiter; and saxophonist Craig Stewart; they called themselves the "Brother-In-Law Horns."
After one very productive rehearsal, this L.A. edition of John Sinclair & His Blues Scholars played a Sunday night concert at the House of Blues and then went into the studio on Monday to cut the material for this album. Wayne, Paul, Mike Voelker and I laid down our tracks the first two days; then Wayne brought in his own drummer, the amazing Brock Avery, for the more experimental selections recorded on Wednesday, before the horn section reappeared to add its parts to the mix that evening.
Charles Moore—A native of Sheffield, Alabama, Charles Moore came to Detroit in the early 1960s to study music. We met one spring night in 1964 through the poet George Tysh and became inseparable companions for the next two years and the closest of friends forever. Charles, who resettled in Los Angeles in the late 70s and now works with the great Detroit reedman Yusef Lateef, first suggested that I set my works in verse to music and invited me to perform with his ensemble, the Detroit Contemporary 5, at the Artists Workshop, almost 32 years ago. He recorded with the MC-5 on their "High Time" album (1971) and assembled and directed the horn section for this date. My artistic and personal debt to Charles Moore is incalcuble.
Wayne Kramer—I met Wayne on August 6, 1966, the day after I was released from the Detroit House of Correction upon completing a six-month sentence for marijuana possession. I soon became a big fan of his band, the MC -5, and later managed the band for two years (9/67-7/69) until I was incarcerated at the State Prison of Southern Michigan at Jackson on a 9-1/2-to-10-year sentence for possession of two joints. Wayne and I renewed our wonderful friendship while he was staying in New York City in the 80s, but this was the first chance we'd had actually to work together since 1969, and the ten days we spent gigging and recording together in Los Angeles this summer was a beautiful reunion full of smiles, laughs and great music—just like the old days.
Michael Voelker—For the past two years-plus Mike Voelker has been my drummer of choice with the Blues Scholars and an almost inseparable musical companion. A native of the Denver area, Mike came to New Orleans around 1992 with a band called Mustang Lightning; they invited me to perform with them and became the nucleus of the Crescent City edition of the Blues Scholars. Mike plays on my first album, "Full Moon Night," and has toured the Midwest, Northeast, and West Coast with me. His playing on these dates was strong and beautifully musical throughout.
Paul Ill & Brock Avery—These imaginative gentlemen are members of the Wayne Kramer Band and brilliant players by any definition. Ill contributed the unwavering bottom line to these sessions and was a constant joy to work, play and hang with. Brock Avery is one of the finest young drummers I've heard anywhere and, at Wayne's insistence, came in to add his wildly creative intelligence and drive to the more "experimental" numbers—"monk in orbit," "Fat Boy" and "I Talk with the Spirits," where his drums come in after the text to take the music to a whole new level of musical and emotional intensity.
Phil Ranelin—I met Phil, an Indianapolis native and former Freddie Hubbard sideman, when he was working in Detroit in the early 70s as a member of the Tribe band/collective with Wendell Harrison and Harold McKinney. I always loved his great Tribe Records album, "Vibes from the Tribe," and when Charles Moore and I were first discussing these sessions, I asked him if Phil was still in Los Angeles. It really gassed me to have him on the band for these dates.
Craig Stewart—Charles brought Craig Stewart to the rehearsal in case I wanted two saxophone players, which he knew would be the case, and I was knocked out by his playing both in section and in solo. He got the heavy rhythm & blues solo spots and contributed mightily throughout.
Ralph "Buzzy" Jones—I've known Buzzy since he was a teenage alto player hanging on the forward jazz set in the Motor City in the 60s. He relocated to L.A. when Charles Moore left Detroit and has been associated with Charles in bands like Shattering Effect, Eternal Wind, and now with Yusef Lateef as well. He handles the deep jazz roles here on "Fat Boy" and "I Talk with the Spirits" and joins with Craig to provide the bedrock reed parts for the horn section. It was big fun having Buzzy on board.
"Doctor Blues"—The text by Roosevelt Sykes was adapted from an interview with the pianist by Barry Lee Pearson in the book "Sounds So Good To Me" and set to verse in May 1986. The music was devised by Wayne Kramer from the traditional Delta piano boogie figure popularized on the guitar by John Lee Hooker, a native or Clarksdale, MS and long-time resident of the Motor City. Wayne played Hooker's "Motor City Is Burning" on the first MC-5 album, recorded "live" at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit in 1968. "Doctor Blues" is dedicated to my dear friend Jerry Brock, proprietor (with Barry Smith) of the Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans.
"Shake 'Em on Down"—The text by Bukka White was adapted from an interview with the guitarist by Samuel Charters in "The Legacy of the Blues" and cast into verse in March 1982. The music by Wayne Kramer, based on a riff devised by Blues Scholars guitarist & musical director Bill Lynn, is propelled by a brisk New Orleans street beat provided by Michael Voelker. The horn parts were created by Charles Moore.
"The Street Beat"—This poem was written in October 1988 as an obituary for drummer J.C. Heard and was printed in "City Arts Quarterly" (Detroit, Winter 1988/89). The Dizzy Gillespie text was adapted from a newspaper interview. Wayne Kramer and Mike Voelker came up with the music, which was inspired by a riff played by saxophonist Ralph "Buzzy" Jones while the band was warming up for our rehearsal. The guitar solo and horn lines recorded for this piece were stripped away by Wayne Kramer in the final mix so that the drum part would predominate as a tribute to the great James Charles Heard.
"Cow" was the issue of a trip with Charles Moore to the Berkeley Poetry Conference in 1965. Charles set the poem to Sonny Rollins' arrangement of "I'm An Old Cow Hand" from his 1957 Contemporary Records album, "Way Out West," and we first performed it with the Detroit Contemporary 4 in the fall of 1965. It was revived 30 years later by the Blues Scholars and recorded here in anticipation of the 1996 Republican Convention in San Diego, where Wayne, Mike Voelker and I played an Anti-Censorship/Free Speech rally at the Brick By Brick Club on August 10th. The horns give just the right feeling, and Phil Ranelin contributes a pithy trombone solo, while "Cousin" Wayne Kramer kicks a little shit on guitar. My vocal on the melody is a tribute to Bing Crosby, who had a hit with this song for RCA Victor Records in 1936.
"monk in orbit"—I can't remember where I first read this anecdote about Monk and Allen Ginsberg, but the poem was composed in September 1987. I had it a little wrong the first time and was corrected by Ginsberg after I had the opportunity to read it for him in 1991, before I left Detroit for New Orleans. I didn't have the music for the verse until it was created at the session by Wayne, Paul Ill and Brock Avery after I suggested that they come up with something "sort of angular and Monkian." Unlike most of the texts in my elongated work in verse titled "thelonious: a book of monk," "in orbit" (#91 in the book sequence) was not inspired by a specific Monk recording but instead pays tribute to the fine album Monk cut as a sideman for Clark Terry on Riverside Records in 1959. The players display their improvisational brilliance in this high-energy setting.
"Double Dealing," dedicated to my wife Penny, was inspired by the Percy Mayfield composition of the same name (recorded for Chess Records in 1955) and was written in 1982. The verse is set to a version of Ray Charles' recording of the Doc Pomus composition, "Lonely Avenue", cut for Atlantic Records in 1956. I think it was "Showtime" Johnny Evans who devised this coupling for the original Motor City Blues Scholars in 1983, and when I ran it down for Charles Moore in rehearsal he came right back with the classic Ray Charles horn arrangement. The tenor solo by Craig Stewart over the chanting horns on the out-chorus is exactly what I heard in my head during the composition of the text. A very different reading of "Double Dealing" can be heard on "IF I COULD BE WITH YOU" (John Sinclair & Ed Moss with the Society Jazz Orchestra on Schoolkids Records), where it is set to original music by pianist Ed Moss.
"Ain't Nobody's Bizness" is titled after the great blues classic which was a hit for Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Jimmy Witherspoon and others. The verse was inspired by a conversation held late one night in August 1988 around a fire in a front yard west of Trumbull Avenue in Detroit, where the poet Mary Ann Cameron was expressing her anger at friends of ours who had taken their own lives or put themselves in risk of murder. I went home and wrote this piece, which is dedicated to my late friends Henry Normile, Bradley Jones, and Bob "Righteous" Rudnick. The music came out of a conversation Wayne and I were having in the studio about our pal David (Was) Weiss and the way he sets the most demented lyrics to the most innocuous pop grooves. Craig Stewart got the idea at once and improvised the breezy tenor solos at the beginning and end of the piece. Paul Ill suggested that it might well be called "Just Say Yes"; I've always regarded it as sort of a libertarian national anthem. Note to fellow deejays: playing this selection on the air is likely to bring your radio career to a shuddering conclusion.
"The Screamers" is a poem from 1965 inspired by the LeRoi Jones short story of the same name, which chronicled a wild Lynn Hope concert in Newark in the late 40s. The piece celebrates my teen-age years as a rhythm & blues fanatic in the 50s and, along with an elongated quote from Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love", contains references to "Earth Angel" by the Penguins; the suicide by Russian roulette of singer Johnny Ace backstage at a concert in Houston on Christmas Eve, 1954; Atlantic recording artist Ivory Joe Hunter; covers by the Crewcuts of "Sh-Boom" by the Chords and by Pat Boone of "Two Hearts" by Otis Williams & The Charms, both of which well outsold the original recordings; "You Send Me" by Sam Cooke; "Long Lonely Nights" by Lee Andrews & The Hearts; "For Your Precious Love" by Jerry Butler & The Impressions; and "I Asked For Water" by Howlin' Wolf on Chess Records. The music, obviously inspired by "Green OnionsÓ"by Booker T & the MGs, was devised by Charles Moore when I first performed this piece with the Detroit Contemporary 4 at Wayne State University in 1965 and has been used since the Blues Scholars were formed in 1982. Wayne's supersonic blues guitar is displayed to perfection, and Craig Stewart adds a searing alto saxophone solo in the middle. All my life I have wanted to hear a horn section like this chanting behind my text, and here it is at last. A completely different reading of "The Screamers" can be heard on "IF I COULD BE WITH YOU," where the text is set to "The Unexpurgated Blues" by Ed Moss.
"Decoration Day" is a funeral poem for Rice Miller, professionally known as Sonny Boy Williamson, and inspired by a visit to Sonny Boy's gravesite outside of Tutwiler, Mississippi, in 1984. My friend John Hall, who was with me, was later murdered outside the Carnival Bar on Detroit's southwest side, and I had the honor of reciting this poem at his funeral service. The verse is set to "The Old Rugged Cross" in homage to the New Orleans dirge tradition which can still be heard today in the streets of the Crescent City. The text is underlined by the trombone and saxophone obbligati played by Phil Ranelin and Buzzy Jones, and the melody sections are played in the style of the Treme Brass Band parading up the middle of Ursulines Avenue on a hot Saturday afternoon in September.
"I Talk to the Spirits" is titled after a Rahsaan Roland Kirk song and was adapted and cast into verse in August 1982 from the Los Angeles Times article by Leonard Feather cited in the text. The words are those of Alice McLeod Coltrane. The music was adapted by Wayne Kramer from the John Coltrane composition "Tunji" (Impulse Records AS-21, 1962), which was in the MC-5's performance book in 1968. Following the text Brock Avery takes the piece to a whole different level under the dual tenor saxophones of Craig Stewart & Buzzy Jones and Wayne Kramer's all-out guitar in the manner of "Black To Comm."
"Fat Boy" is another poem composed in 1982 that was one of the first things I thought of doing with Wayne & Charles for this record. I couldn't find the manuscript in my files and finally remembered that I had sent my only copy to Michael Mikolowski in Detroit for publication in his magazine "Meat City" some years back. When I was in Ann Arbor in June to celebrate the release of "IF I COULD BE WITH YOU," I was drinking coffee on the sidewalk at State & Liberty streets one evening when Mike walked up! He promised to dig up the text and had it delivered to me before I left Detroit a couple days later. Wayne, Paul and Brock created the musical setting for the verse, and Charles & Buzzy helped bring it all the way to life. A nøte on the text: Actually there were two atom bombs dropped on Japan, affectionately titled "Fat Man" and "Little Boy" by the people who nurtured and exploded them. The poem, inspired by the classic Fats Navarro recording of "Fat Boy," had already been written by the time this information came to me, so I left the two bombs fused into a single weapon of mass destruction called "Fat Boy."
Wayne and Mike Wolf, proprietor & chief engineer of Music Box Studio (and a wonderful asset to these sessions), mixed the album in the next two days, finishing up in time for Michael Voelker and me to make the gig in San Diego with Wayne and Mick Farren and then head back to New Orleans on schedule. We had to get back in time to meet the Blues Scholars and pianist Ed Moss, who was heading down from Cincinnati, for a performance at the Insomniac-A-Thon at the Contemporary Arts Center and a spot at the Cutting Edge Music Business Conference—but that's another story.
Casting about with Patrick Boissel for ideas on the album package, my wife Penny suggested that we try to get a painting from the great Detroit visionary artist Howard Weingarden, who had shared a house with Charles Moore and myself at The Castle on the John C. Lodge service drive back in 1964, even before the Detroit Artists Workshop was established. Howard was more than agreeable, and we got together to look through his slides while I was in Michigan to perform with Ed Moss at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival in mid-September.
The mystical spheres and stairs you see on the cover seemed to work quite nicely with the reality of this record, which brought us all together to measure the distances we had covered since the mid-60s and the closenesses we have achieved: Wayne Kramer, Charles Moore and myself, still intact, still crazy after all these years, and still right in the motherfucking pocket with each other and with the music. There's a full circle here for sure.
—On Amtrak from Boston to New York City
John Sinclair & His Blues Scholars
Featuring Wayne Kramer
John Sinclair, voice; Wayne Kramer, electric guitars; Paul Ill, electric & acoustic basses; Michael Voelker or Brock Avery, drums; Charles Moore, trumpet; Phil Ranelin, trombone; Craig Stewart, alto & tenor saxophones; Ralph "Buzzy" Jones, tenor saxophone. Horn arrangements by Charles Moore. All texts (C) 1996 John Sinclair.
Recorded at Music Box Studios, Hollywood, CA, August 5-6-7, 1996 by John Newkirk & Mike Wolf, assisted by Joe Tingle. Mixed by Mike Wolf & Wayne Kramer at Music Box Studios, August 8-9, 1996. Mastered at Digiprep by David Schultz. Front cover art (C) 1996 Howard Weingarden. John Sinclair photos (booklet & card) by Michael P. Smith. Band photo by Jim Coke. Other photo, design & packaging by Patrick Boissel.
PRODUCED BY WAYNE KRAMER & JOHN SINCLAIR
for Alive Records
Executive Producer: Patrick Boissell
Special thanks to Patrick Boissel, who made it happen; to Charles Moore, who came through in every possible way; to Michael Voelker, my drummer, ace traveling companion, & musical director for our West Coast trip; to my daughter Celia, who came along for the ride; to our dear friend Rosalie Minken, who gave us her house in Los Angeles for the duration, and to Jill & Dave Hershorin, who hooked us up; to the staff at Alive Records—Suzy, Chelsea, Sabrina & Sean—who gave us such great support; to Lori Hehr Public Relations and Neil Gorov at Groov Promotions; to all the people who helped us out on our way, especially to Harry Duncans, Dawn Holliday, Johnny Ace, and Chinner & Barbara Mitchell in San Francisco; Nels Cline at the Alligator Lounge, Greg Ginn at the Idea Room in Long Beach, Harvey Kubernik, Louie Lister, the Zero One Gallery, Jim Coke, Dean Kuipers, Mick Farren, Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain in Los Angeles; Steve Rowe at Pasquallie's in Louisville, CO; Emil Bacilla in Sebastapol, Dan Kirby in Santa Rosa, and David & Liz Sinclair in Healdsburg, CA; Roger Naber & George Myers at the Kansas City Blues & Jazz Festival; and all the musicians who made our performances possible: Memphis Mike McDaniel & Joe Whitfield in K.C.; Eli Whitney, Rex Mosier, & Doug Kauffman in Colorado; Black Mike Henderson, Tim Wagar & Sonny Lewis in San Francisco; and Charles Moore, Buzzy Jones, Craig Stewart, Phil Ranelin, Paul Ill & Brock Avery in Los Angeles. My most profound thanks to Wayne Kramer for everything he means to me and the way he made the music happen, and to my wife Penny for her understanding, patience and support throughout it all.
FULL CIRCLE is much more than a mere poetry album: Sinclair has managed to create his own music, and this record is as enjoyable for the music as it is for the poetry.... This guy was cool before you were born. —James Marshall, High Times
A spoken-word blues album this perfect....The breadth of Sinclair’s music- history interest is astounding, and his straightforward Captain Beefheart ramble makes him sound like the kind of dirty old revolutionary the youth can deal with. This is a spoken word album recited by a poet. There is musical accompaniment by a cast of very capable, proficient and gifted players. There are blues themes dealt with. There are jazz players praised. There is a burning energy at work. This is brilliant.
—Mark E. Gallo, Detroit Blues
Sinclair turns rasty, unctuous jams into musical history lessons, activist outbursts, and a consistently on-point celebration of freedom. This is no mere nostalgia—-Sinclair means every last fucking word. The energy and timeliness of the Blues Scholars’ history lessons is astounding. This is about the love of the music, which leaps from every second of the disc.
Full Circle is among the most rocking spoken word discs I’ve heard yet. The music itself is performed with a combination of artistic integrity and improvisational energy by Wayne Kramer and a full jazz/blues band....If you are a jazz or blues fan, interested in the history of American music, or just want to hear new experiments with spoken word/music collaborations, I cannot recommend John Sinclair and His Blues Scholars highly enough.
—G. Murray Thomas, Next
Full Circle is a spoken word tour de force. It’s too wild and on the money for most of the lame ass masses, but it’s a wonderful starting point.... —Loafing The Donkey
A real winner of a record.... Sinclair swings like the hippest raconteur you’re ever gonna find....One of the best investments a hipster would want to follow through a town’s red-light district. —Steve Knopper, Blues Access
One of the most musical spoken word albums ever made. An inspired reunion of Detroit alums. Sinclair and MC-5 guitarist Wayne Kramer take Motor City’s down ‘n’ dirty attitude and pump it with a New Orleans heart.
—Mic Holwin, Smug
Full Circle is an evocative, provocative mixture of beat poetry and jazz- blues-rock. Whatever it is, it’s not stale or predictable. —PJK, Living Blues
...Garrulously charming. Sinclair sets his own poetry and assorted texts to classic R&B grooves—and Sinclair’s groaning, lisping, snarling hipster voice memorializes blues legends, shouts freedom manifestos, recounts history, and maybe makes some, too.
—Rock & Rap Confidential