Tim Giago: Starting off another new year with some favorite songs

The late Floyd "Red Crow" Westerman, left, with Gary Farmer. Photo by Orpheum

Don’t be mean in seventeen
Notes from Indian Country
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji – Stands Up For Them)

As the headline reads I pondered about how to start off the New Year with my first column of 2017 when I saw the slogan that makes up the headline on a television ad. Wow; sounds good to me, and so with that attitude in mind I sat down at my computer to kick off 2017.

First let me digress here: I have written a column since 1981, and that makes 36 years of sometimes good and sometimes not-so-good columns. I will endeavor to make my columns beginning in the New Year better. One year my column won the H. L. Mencken Award from the Baltimore Sun. It was a column about my now deceased friend Enos Poor Bear and a Lakota Christmas.

Over the holidays my wife Jackie went to visit Jim White at the Sound Pro in Rapid City and bought me an old fashioned turntable record player and a professional sound system to accompany it.

She knew I had a box of old vinyl records I had packed in a box. I had been carrying that box around for more than 40 years and most of the millennials would probable snicker or laugh out loud at some of the records I have stored away all of these years; but to me they were all tied to memories.

I sorted through them on Christmas Day and the memories did indeed flood back. The first one I chose to test out my new sound system was one that was given to me by a guest on my old weekly television show on KEVN-TV in the 1970s called The First Americans.

The vinyl record was a gift to me by a Lakota song writer and singer named Buddy Red Bow. I invited Buddy to be on my show because he was just starting his career and needed a boost. He sang many of his songs for my audience that day including one of my favorites “Run Indian Run.”

His songs on Wounded Knee and the Buffalo are classics and should have been played on every radio station in America, but as Buddy said on my show that day, “My songs are protest songs that tell it like it is and the white-owned radio station won’t touch them with a ten-foot pole.” Well, Buddy made a lifelong fan out of me that day. He passed away much too young, but his songs live on.

The next record I played was from another guest on my show named Lloyd “Red Crow” Westerman. Lloyd and I had been friends for a long time and when he gave me one of his records I knew our audience had to hear this Dakota man who sang with the combined voices of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Charley Frank Pride all rolled into one.

His rendition of “I Still Love Someone” tears right at your heart strings. Floyd passed away a few years back. I visited him on the set of Dances With Wolves many years ago and then I saw him one last time at the American Indian Film Festival in Los Angeles several years later. He was in a wheel chair then and he shook my hand for the last time.

At that same film festival I met a young Indian lady named Rita Coolidge. I have her record and it is one of my very favorites. I don’t think there is a song on either side of her record that is not beautiful. Her version of “All Alone” is fantastically mesmerizing.

My wife and I listened to all of these great Native American musicians and artists all afternoon with snow falling and with a fire going in the fire place and a good bottle of McMurray Pinot Noir. What a wonderful way it was to spend Christmas listening to the songs of my old friends.

Tim Giago was the founder of the Native American Journalists Association and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. He can be reached at unitysodak1@vastbb.net