This is the third site for this thing... Needed some fixing... it is an excerpt.
I came to know Sunnyland Slim through Harry Duncan and Paul DeMark. It was through Harry as well that I came to know John Sinclair. John was doing a radio show in New Orleans, and writing and performing what I called ‘Blues Poetry.’ He heard of my book, ‘Sunnyland Blues’ through Harry, and was very generous in compliments.
Years later we were able to hook up, and to converse for magnetic media.
The idea I had was to take John’s commentary on the art of blues poetry, and scribe that into a screed or broadside that he might add to the folio he would peddle as he conveyed his messages in the States and the world beyond. We met up multiple times, but usually briefly and never quite pulled that type of thing together. But I talked to him via email just before he moved to Europe, and he was cool with the idea of me posting whatever it was I’d compiled anytime anyplace anyhow.
Thinking way back - I described my work with Sunnyland as Blues Poetry. I thought, with John, there might be the better part of a school of Blues Poetry ready to brandish its saber. Schools are good for spreading things in the line of poesy, me thought.
When I met John for the first time at a coffee bar in New Orleans [Biff Rose, I think, joined us and sang the National Anthem backwards], I asked him pointedly: ‘Who else is doing this stuff.’
Was surprised by his response. He said: ‘Ed Sanders.’
It was Ed’s Investigative Poetry that influenced me to write Sunnyland Blues as a poem. I was glad but sad, too; because there didn’t seem to be a school ready to assert itself. I still fell now that John should reside on an endowed chair. Then as now, there was no omnibus a’coming. I came to learn that John was influenced by Robert Palmer too. And that prose powerhouse in fact was the last straw that influenced me to write the Sunnyland story as a poem. Since Palmer hit it as prose, I’d better to take a different tact. This is all set-up as it’s touched on in our conversation.
Detroit's John Sinclair gained no mere notoriety in the '60s and '70s as the chairman of the White Panthers party and as manager of the MC5. He had a famous sojourn in prison for pot possession. Today, as he traverses the firma terra, he’s interviewed on these matters to a fare-thee-well But all that represented a digression from his first calling as a poet. He seemed to enjoy our conversations where the poem was king.
In the '80s Sinclair moved to New Orleans, started doing a radio show, and started writing and performing poetry, mostly about blues. He continues to publish and to perform regularly, carrying blues, projective and investigative poetry methods to a growing audience.
Spoke on the porch with John Sinclair with tape recorder rolling haphazardly one cool October eve in 1998. The next time he came to town (September 1999) we picked up the conversation, meeting in the backroom of a local pub. Here goes..
John, do you remember when first started to hear blues music?
Well, I started listening to blues when I was a kid in the '50s. Blues and R&B on the stations I listened to were all the same thing. Jazz was different. I grew up listening to those records by Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Sonnyboy, Howlin Wolf. Out of Flint, Mich. in a little town north of Detroit, the vehiclecity. There was a guy named Ernie Durham, the Frantic One. Frantic Ernie D. He was my idol when I was 11-, 12-, 13-, 14-, years old.
WBBC in Flint was a station that had a lot of different kinds of stuff on it. Ernie Durham was on there and he was definitely black. But he'd be followed by a hillbilly show. And both of them would be pre-empted for the Detroit Red Wings broadcast. 'Lawrence Delvecchiho crosses the blue line' I'm not a hockey fan at all but I can remember laying in bed at night and listening to that radio which was where I got my life from. I remember lying in bed at night when I was a kid listening to this shit and hoping it would be over before Ernie's time was up, so he could come back on after the game y'know ?
One time I was visiting my grandmother down outside of Detroit. In the summertime y'know you stay with your grandmother for a couple of weeks. I was watching the Ed McKensie Dance Party on the local station on a little 9-inch screen and I saw Andre Williams. And he came on and did Going Down to Tijuana, and he had on a turban. He had on a zebra-striped zoot suit. He was a tall man and the coat to his zoot suit of course went to his knees. And the trousers had the high rise and came up right in the sternum.
He was the wildest thing I'd ever seen in my life. And I'd been listening to his music but I didn't really have any idea what it looked like. Three weeks ago I had a chance to spend an entire evening hanging out with Andre Williams and I got to tell him what he had done to warp my life. Cause I was never the same after the day I saw him on there. And I said Man this is what this shit looks like. Goddamn I wanta be there.
The guy who was different that I remember seeing on TV was Jackie Wilson.
Oh, yeah! I saw Jackie Wilson live, man, when Lonely Teardrops was out. Jackie Wilson was the most exciting act I have ever, ever seen in my life. I can see the show I saw in 1958 in my head just like I was there last night. He was the greatest entertainer I have ever known. He was the greatest from Detroit! Ernine D. would bring him down to Flint. He was playing the hell out of his records. So he'd make him come down and do a show at the Flint Armory or the Flint IMA Auditorium.
I think I heard a tape of him performing--I think it was around here in New Bedford or Brockton, Mass-not long before he had his stroke on stage. It sounded like he was in top form even though it was just about over.*
He did? Wow. Well that's the ultimate show business story. Fabulous man. I can see some of the moves he had.
He used to rip his shirt off. On Bandstand that was way out.
When I saw him he used to let them rip the shirt off. When you'd go to a Jackie Wilson show at the IMA Auditorium in Flint, Michigan in 1958 -- I was 16 -- first off, it would be like what they call now festival seating. Open floor.
And pressed to the stage 20 or 30 deep were the finest black women you ever could possibly imagine seeing in your life all dressed up in the most fantastic finery, beautifully made up hair, beautifully done, and they were just pressed in trying to get close to Jackie Wilson. Twenty deep across the hall probably 400, 500 women. Oooooh man, I'm 16-years-old watching this and my mind is aflame.
He had jackets I learned that were tear-away. And he went let them rip his clothes off, his jacket and shirt.
He'd be singing a ballad, like Too Be Loved, or something like that. He'd be on his knees on the lip of the stage, he'd be singing this song, and the beautiful process. And he'd be singing this song and these women would just be clawing at him, and tearing his clothes to shreds. And he wouldn't pay the slightest bit of attention to them.
Where I came from nothing like that could ever happen. It was just way beyond the cultural matrix I grew up in. Everything about this music really was just so far beyond that. It seemed to me so much more intelligent and colorful, and full of energy and thought and feelings
*From a bio of Jackie Wilson in which Anthony John Douglas writes of Jackie Wilson's death (alluded to in John Sinclair interview):
"In September, 1975 Jackie was on stage at the Cherry Hill Casino, New Jersey, performing "Lonely Teardrops" and was on his knees when he was stricken by a heart attack. Dick Clark who headed the Rock 'n' Roll Revue revival tour, recalls him crashing backward and striking his head."
Although he emerged from a full coma, he suffered brain damage and did not reportedly speak in his last nine [all hospitalized] years. He died in 1984.
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