Monday, October 27, 2014

Navajo Peyote Songs

by G. Jack Urso 


Navajo Peyote Songs Volume 1, by Kevin Lewis, is a 1990 release by Indian Sounds that I picked up on cassette 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 below.

Lewis, according to MTV.com, 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 Kaulity, of Cheyenne/Kiowa heritage, provides the drumming. No titles or times are provided for the songs, which allow the listener to get lost in music that feels more like an expression of nature than the typical over-produced commercial effort.

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. At that point, the listener realizes this dude must totally be tripping. Well, they’re not called peyote songs for nothing!


"When Death Comes." Inmate art by Michael A. Nieves, July 22, 1994. Author’s collection.


Songs of the Seventh Cavalry

by G. Jack Urso


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. For more information on that momentous event, visit the Aeolus 13 Umbra article The Mystery of the Little Bighorn Battlefield 

Liner Notes

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:



Musicians:
  • Debi Rogers – Lead Vocals
  • Tom Schafer – Fiddle, Mandolin, Vocals
  • John Lardinois – Guitars
  • Mike Hunt – Bass
  • Chuck Suchy – Autoharp
  • Produced by Debi Rogers and David Swenson
 
Following is the CD version for audiophiles: