Navajo Peyote Songs Volume 1, by Kevin Lewis and produced by
Millard Clark, is a 1990 release by Indian Sounds on cassette that I picked up
while visiting the Little Bighorn Battlefield the same year (then The Custer
Battlefield). While I don’t understand Navajo, and they are not indigenous to
the Dakotas, I found the recording a nice counterpoint to The Songs of the Seventh Cavalry. The rhythmic chanting provides a meditative space to immerse
oneself in another culture. The full recording is provided
Lewis, according to ALLMUSIC,
is of Navajo/Cherokee heritage and a medicine man trained to sing peyote songs
by his grandfather Bud Lewis, who lived to 116 years. As a result, the lineage
of tradition from the Old West to our ears is only one generation removed from
that era. Herschel Kaulaity, of Cheyenne/Kiowa heritage, provides the drumming.
There are twenty tracks; however, no titles or times are provided, nor are there any liner notes. While this is a missed opportunity to
educate the listener, this does allow us to get lost in music that feels more
like an expression of nature than the typical over-produced commercial effort.
Volume II was released on CD in 1992.
The one break in the spiritual
tone comes about 17 minutes into the recording when Lewis, caught up the
ritual, begins chanting “Happy Birthday” over and over. While it must have some
significance, without a translation it seems a little incongruent with the rest
of the album. Rather than some peyote-induced wordplay, a Native American familiar with Navaho informed me that it is a blessing for someone who
has lived to see another year. It would be nice to see a re-release of this album with translations to allow the non-Native listener to more fully appreciate it.
The artwork below is not from the album, but
from a former student of mine of Apache/Mexican descent who incorporated
Southwestern Native-themed psychedelic imagery in his work. Click on the link below to listen to the full album on the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.
"When Death Comes." art by Michael A. Nieves, July 22, 1994 (author’s collection).
In order to get a fuller picture
of the lives of those who lived before us, listening to the popular music of
the era reveals much about their hopes and fears. Songs of the Seventh Cavalry, a 1989 release funded by The Bismarck Tribune for the benefit of
the Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation, features music that was sung by the
soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry during the post-Civil War period through the
Plains Indian Wars. Of particular interest, some of these songs were sung to
General George Custer by his officers on the eve of his infamous Last Stand.
Both the cassette and CD versions of the recording are available below from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.
Notes (click on image for larger view)
I picked up this recording on cassette at the gift shop of
the Little Bighorn Battlefield (then called the Custer Battlefield) when I
visited in 1990. What strikes me the most about these songs is the melancholy, the
loneliness, and often the humor in the face of a dangerous and desolate
frontier on the plains. View the liner notes above for historical information related to each of the songs. There is a little bit of background hiss, but that
is expected considering it is a 25-year-old tape. Nevertheless, the sound quality
is otherwise clear and offers a full, if frequently forlorn, picture of life in the Old West. The cassette recording is provided below:
Produced by Debi Rogers and David Swenson
Debi Rogers – Lead Vocals
Tom Schafer – Fiddle, Mandolin, Vocals
John Lardinois – Guitars
Mike Hunt – Bass
Chuck Suchy – Autoharp
Following are links to individual tracks from the CD version of the album,
along with the complete album available from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube