John Trudell - Biography
"My goal is very simple. To communicate the human experience at a level that human beings can recognize and relate to. That may be a personal statement. It may be a political statement. But whatever it is, it all comes from the same point of reference: the experiences we share as peoples of this planet."
On the subject of his extraordinary and acclaimed work as a recording artist, poet and champion of indigenous issues, John Trudell is as direct and plain spoken as the words he puts to music. A people's poet in the truest sense of the term, John Trudell's potent imagery and passionate convictions have established his reputation as a spoken word artist whose international following reflects the universal language of his music...and his message. Simply put, John Trudell is the real deal.
Now, with Bone Days, his brilliant new collection of thirteen original compositions, independently released, John Trudell is poised to bring his stunning soundscapes to a whole new audience. Recorded with his longtime band, Bad Dog, and executive-produced by Angelina Jolie, Academy Award winning actress and Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Bone Days marks a new chapter in the creative saga of one of America's true originals, an artist Kris Kristofferson once called "a crazy lone wolf, poet, prophet, preacher, warrior full of pain and fun and laughter and love...He's a reality check. Justice is a fire that burns inside him. His spirit cries out for it. It makes him dangerous."
The dangerous poetry and visionary music of John Trudell was forged by an extraordinary life, lived out in heart of the land and its people. Born of mixed tribal blood, John grew up in and around the Santee Sioux reservation near his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. The struggle against economic and cultural deprivation would, in time, become the raw material for his uncompromising artistic vision.
Trudell, a Vietnam Veteran, served in the U.S. Navy from 1963-1967, attended college for a while and then dropped out. In 1969, Trudell participated in the occupation of Alcatraz Island by Indians of All Tribes, becoming a spokesman for Indians of All Tribes. After the Indians of All Tribes occupation ended in 1971, Trudell worked with the American Indian Movement, becoming national Chairman of AIM in 1973. Trudell was chairman of AIM from 1973 until 1979. In February of 1979, Trudell's mother-in-law, wife and three children were killed in a fire of unknown origin.
It was through this horrific tragedy, that Trudell began to find his voice as an artist and poet, writing, in his words, "to stay connected to this reality." "The lines were my bombs," he continues, "my explosions, my tears."
In April of 1979, Trudell met Jackson Browne. This meeting led Trudell into the world of music. In 1982, with Jackson Browne's help, John Trudell recorded Tribal Voice, a fusion of poetry and traditional Native music, which was released on cassette. In 1985, Trudell met legendary Kiowa guitarist and songwriter Jesse Ed Davis. Together, they recorded Trudell's debut album AKA Grafitti Man, with Trudell writing and performing the spoken word vocals and Jesse writing and performing the music. Released on cassette in 1986, it was dubbed "the best album" of that year by none other than Bob Dylan. AKA Grafitti Man served early notice of Trudell's singular ability to express fundamental truths through a unique mix of poetry, Native instrumentation and unfettered blues and rock.
Trudell recorded two more albums with Jesse Ed Davis before Davis' untimely death in 1988 and would continue the work the pair had pioneered, this time in partnership with Mark Shark, on such landmark early 90's releases as Fables and Other Realities and Child's Voice: Children Of The Earth. A touring stint with Australia's incendiary Midnight Oil and roles in the feature films Thunderheart and Smoke Signals and the documentary Incident At Oglala helped spread the word of the artist's multi-faceted talents, as did a 1992 rerecording of AKA Grafitti Man, this time produced by Jackson Browne. Released on Rykodisc, the album was dubbed by Rolling Stone Magazine "a moving, shape-shifting rock & roll treatise on the state of the world." Two years later, Trudell would return with Johnny Damas & Me and, in 1999, released the acclaimed Blue Indians, once again produced by Browne. The album, remarked Parke Puterbaugh, in Rolling Stone, "is an affecting marriage of tribal rhythms, traditional chanting, modern musical backdrops and Trudell's penetrating poetics."
With material that spans nearly the whole of his writing career, Bone Days is, indeed, a testament to the essential qualities that put Trudell's art in a category of one. "There are pieces I included here from way back in the early 80's, like 'Crazy Horse' and 'Nothing In Her Eyes.' Then there are pieces like 'Undercurrent' that we finished in the recording studio. I see it all as part of a continuing process. The words and the music all come from the same place. In my mind they exist in their own time."
The proof of Trudell's contention is on dazzling display with Bone Days, recorded over a two-week period earlier this year in Los Angeles. Stirring calls-to-arms such as "Crazy Horse," are contrasted to such deeply felt reflections as "Undercurrent." Which, in turn, yield to the scathing indictment of such key tracks as "Hanging From the Cross" and "Carry The Stone." Throughout, Trudell's alternately haunting, humorous and harrowing poetry is under girded by Bad Dog's apt and able musical settings. Bone Days is, indeed, an album of timely urgency Éand timeless beauty.
"Some people call me a poet," John Trudell concludes. "Others say I'm an activist. Some say my poetry and music is political. Others say it's about the spirit of my people." He laughs. "I don't buy into any of those labels. I may be a little bit of all those things, but I'm more than any of them. We all are. That's what makes us human."
In the case of John Trudell, it's also what makes him an artist.