Thirty something years writing for newspapers from Florida to Indiana to New York City and back to Indiana, covering everybody from a United States president to a group of homeless unfortunates lined up under an I-95 overpass in Fort Lauderdale to a couple of cops on federal trial for conducting hits for the mob… and now I find myself on both ends of my own story, me writing about me.
In which case, me, the writer, writing about me, the musician, so I’ll keep it as clear, honest and as briefly weird as necessary:
I was born and raised in Indianapolis to a Kentucky-English mother with blue eyes, and a father of Irish heritage on his dad’s side and Lakota/Wea on his mother’s. My grandmother’s maiden name, ‘Weas,’ means “family of Wea,” a band of the Miami tribe indigenous to Indiana and Illinois. The story passed down through my father was that my grandmother was born Lakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1883, then taken from the tribe and adopted as a baby through the Presbyterian Church to a Wea family in Southern Illinois, where she remained until her death in 1939 when my Dad was only 14.
I grew up in the inner city of Indianapolis, nowhere near a reservation or any other Indians that we knew of for that matter. Indiana may translate to “Land of Indians,” but it’s one of the few states in the country that doesn’t recognize any Sovereign Indian land within its borders. Because of my father, my Indian heritage has been in my heart and soul since I can remember. Dad nurtured me, his only child, with traditional Indian beliefs, usually at night out in the back yard where I was totally in awe of my Dad as he ‘read’ the stars and predicted the weather, sometimes three or four days in advance. My father also taught me the spiritual importance of staying connected with the balance of nature, and he helped me understand the basics of sweat lodge… or as the Lakota say, Inipi, the Lakota word for ‘purification.’
Yet, I only speak as a full-hearted Indian, full-blooded human. The only benefits I have ever sought from my heritage are medicinal, healing and spiritual. Through the kindness and spiritual generosity of my Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi friend Andy Jackson, my Ojibwe medicine man Jake Pine and his amazing wife, Mary, and my spiritual mentor and true kola, Kookoosh, I am able to now live my life true to who I am and pray to my ancestors in the only way I have ever completely understood. And while I haven’t quite found the balance of life that my ancestors found through sacred vision, I’m getting there trying to do what I can to help the brave warriors protecting our sacred water from the greed of big oil, the black snake… Mni Wiconi!
Dad also taught me about the Indian ‘heartbeat of life,’ the sacred drum, although I was 7 when I first sat down on an older cousin’s drum kit and just started playing a rock beat. When I was 10, I heard my first congas on a Marvin Gaye record, and I didn’t know what they were at first, but I knew I wanted to play them. From there I grew up under the influence of a wordly school of percussion fueled by Billy Cobham, Santana, War’s Papa Dee Allen, and Rebop Kwaku Baah of Traffic. When I discovered congueros like Chino Pozzo, Mongo Santamaria and Potato Valdez, it was as if the entire world of rhythm opened up to me.
I hooked into my first money band on drums with Thomas Moore when we were students at Ball State University, although I really began cutting my teeth on a music career setting up and tearing down equipment for my personal heroes, the Allman Brothers Band, during a few glorious weeks over a three-month period in 1980. After spending just enough time learning the basic nuts and bolts of mics and sound and tuning drums from the greatest roadie of them all, Red Dog, I moved to Fort Lauderdale and took that knowledge into the first makings of a music career. I played congas extensively with South Florida jazz singer Toni Bishop, which led to working two shows on the fly at the behest of the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, who at the time also featured an amazing saxophone player in his band, Ron Holloway. I also worked congas for three shows with the phenomenal bassist Jaco Pastorius.
I moved back to Indianapolis in 1990, then hooked up for the better part of a year with Red Beans & Rice, with whom I regularly backed blues mandolin pioneer Yank Rachell at the legendary Slippery Noodle Inn. Back in Florida throughout the better part of the 1990s, I worked with Chicago sax man A.C. Reed, and toured the South from the Florida Keys to New Orleans with JR Drinkwater & the Thirst Quenchers. Together with the Thirst Quenchers, we produced two CDs, including “Like A Mirror” in 1999 that featured record debuts of two songs on “Inipi” – “Fancy Pants” and “Mississippi Hoodoo.”
After moving to South bend in 2011, I reunited with my compadre Thomas Moore to record “Conspirement” with The Moore Brothers, a record that also featured a remake of “Mississippi Hoodoo,” and the debut of “You Crazy” before it returned to its original form of “Bitch You Crazy” on “Inipi.”
I met Billy “Stix” Nicks in 2012, and I’ve been performing on percussion with The Motown Machine since March 2014. In early 2015, I, along with Billy and South Bend hip hop producer Ricki David, recorded “Junghetto’s Call,” a blend of hip hop, jazz and old school rap based on Billy’s 2012 release, “Junghetto.”
Which brings me to the making of Inipi…
I’ve had this record in my head for longer than I care to admit. But on Sept. 16, 2015, a whole ball of life passing me by hit me square upside my head when I lost my best friend in life, my most trusted soul brother, Neil Raabe. Life became real short, real quick. So after long hours wrestling with my grief and inner spirits through smudging, tobacco offerings by the handful, and a sweat lodge at Andy’s place where I had a long healing session with Jake and Mary, I finally grabbed Milky and went into Chris Szajko’s beautiful recording studio in the basement of his home on April 16, 2016, and began laying down rhythm tracks from scratch with the first cymbal splashes of the intro to “Master Midnight.”
And the rest, as the spirits of my ancestors only know, is yet to come.