Thursday, November 1, 2012

Billy ThunderKloud and the Chieftones
"Indian Nation"

March 26, 1972: I was eight years old, and my Daddy took me to my very first rock concert. The headliners were the Jackson 5, but the opening act was Billy ThunderKloud and the Chieftones. That night was actually my second time to see Billy and his krew, as they'd performed at a variety show my Mommy had taken me to see at the state fair a day or two beforehand.

The only things I really remember about either show was the band's long-ish name, the fact that they wore Native American garb (though we called it Indian back then), and they played today's song. For many years after, in fact, I associated it with them rather than The Raiders, who'd originally written and recorded it in the early '70s (video below). While researching for this post, I discovered that Billy and the boys actually were full-blooded Native Americans from the Tsimshian Nation, heralding from what is now British Columbia, Canada. Sadly, the linked Wikipedia article does not consider Billy to be one of the notable Tsimshian people.

I had no idea Billy ThunderKloud and the Chieftones had released records until nearly a quarter-century later, when I stumbled upon a copy of their album All Through the Night, also released by Superior Records, at my favorite local store. Boy, oh, boy . . . it turned out to be fairly cheesy lounge-style versions of country and easy listening favorites.

Naturally, when I found a copy of Off the Reservation, I snapped that one up, too! Tragically, however, neither had their version of Indian Nation.

I finally discovered that Indian Nation was on their album Where Do I Begin to Tell a Story. I bought a copy off eBay recently and was crushed when it turned out to be in horrible condition. I mean, practically unlistenable. I ripped the song, though, and cleaned it up as best I could for your enjoyment. It still sounds pretty rough, though.

As always, liner notes from the '70s and earlier are often a treat. Check out these from the back cover. The writer seems astonished to have discovered that, whoa!, Native Americans are just like real people!

I had never had a close relationship with any full-fledged Indians until Billy Thundercloud and the Chieftones. I have, however, kept myself aware of the Indian's plight through the years. I must admit I expected that they would have deep hostilities in their music. As one of the musicians on the session I had to get my head together to portray this expected feeling. To my surprise it didn't happen that way.

At the recording session, these beautiful people put out nothing but good vibrations. Their music reflects their strong heritage, simply with its feeling, but the amazing thing is they use modern, popular material to reflect their attitudes. When you listen to Theme from Love Story, think about Billy Thundercloud not only speaking about a love for a woman, but his love for mankind. Where do I begin to tell the story, . . . this is actually what he thinks. Their lives have been twisted and confused since childhood because of their race, yet they have managed to overcome hate and hostility. They can still love.

This album is filled with that deep feeling of goodness, warmth, and compassion for their people and all people. Listen and feel the vibrations. Feel it like we felt it at the recording session. It is there.

My thanks to the Chieftones for allowing me to be a part of their music and their spirit.


NOTA BENE: Where Do I Begin to Tell a Story was later reissued with a different, and much uglier, cover. It's the same photographs, but rearranged and with a huge, overly bright, cyan border added plus different, super-cheesy type fonts.

Addendum: I have never owned a Jackson 5 or Michael Jackson record in my life.