Category Archives: Birthday

Native American Activist John Trudell

Native American Activist John Trudell

Remembering, recognizing, and appreciating

John Trudell

Native American Activist John Trudell

February 15, 1946 — December 8, 2015

I recently watched the documentary RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World. It is about the mostly unknown but impressive role of Native Americans in popular music history. (movie site).

While watching this worthwhile film, I kept thinking, well there’s another person I should include a piece about at my site.

And as a self-described music buff, I am embarrassed to say that several of the musicians featured I hardly knew. (Not to pop my bubble completely, though, I was happy that I did have records of a few.)

John Trudell was one of those featured whom I’d not known.

Native American Activist John Trudell

Early life

Trudell was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and grew up on and around the nearby Santee Sioux reservation. His father was a Santee, his mother’s tribal roots were in Mexico.. She died when he was 6.

He left high school and, as Native Americans had done since the first European wars on Native American land, Trudell volunteered to join the US military. He served in the US Navy from 1963 to 1967.

While there ,  as Native Americans in the military had experienced since those colonial times, he saw the dominant white society’s bias against minorities like Blacks, women, and, of course, Native Americans.

Native American Activist John Trudell

Alcatraz Island

Native American Activist John Trudell
Hopi men from Oraibi, Arizona sent to Alcatraz, 1895. Photograph by Isaiah W. Taber. (Credit Mennonite Library and Archives Bethel College, North Newton, KS)

The island and its use as a prison was a symbol of the US government’s deliberate and ongoing exclusion of Native Americans from becoming self realized within the dominant white society.

As far back as  1895, the government had imprisoned Hopi leaders there for their refusal to send their children to white schools to become culturally white and have their Hopi culture eradicated.

On March 8, 1964 a group of Sioux demonstrators affiliated with a San Francisco organization known as Indians of All Tribes (IAT) occupied Alcatraz Island for four hours.

Native American Activist John Trudell

Out of the Navy

After the military, he became an activist and joined the Indians of All Tribes Occupation of Alcatraz Island (ACT).

September 29, 1969, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a plan to turn the Federal prison site of Alcatraz Island into a monument to the US space program. 

10 days later, on October 9,  the American Indian Center in San Francisco burned down. It had been a meeting place that served 30,000 Indian people with social programs. The loss of the center focuses Indian attention on taking over Alcatraz for use as a new facility. 

After an overnight takeover of Alcatraz on November 9 a permanent takeover occurred on November 20. Seventy-nine Native-Americans seized control. The Indians of All Tribes claimed that the island belonged to Native Americans under the 1868 Treaty of Ft. Laramie, which provided for the return of all abandoned federal property to Native-Americans.

Native American Activist John Trudell

Radio Free Alcatraz

John Trudell ran a radio station called Radio Free Alcatraz from the occupation.

The occupation lasted until June 11, 1970. Although the occupation itself did not reach its goal of returning the island to the Native Americans, the successful occupation did help foster Native American activism which John Trudell would be a part of for the rest of his life.

Native American Activist John Trudell

A life of activism

As a part of the American Indian Movement (AIM) he joined the 1972 Trail of Broken Treaties event when, the week before election day, caravans pulled into Washington, D.C., to present federal policymakers with solutions to the myriad problems in Native America. Within 24 hours, the group took over took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs building and held it for six days.

He was part of the 1973 Liberation/Occupation of Wounded Knee village by AIM as well as becoming the national spokesperson for AIM, a position that he held until 1979.

On February 12,  1979 a fire burned down his home on the Shoshone Palute reservation in Nevada. The fire killed his wife Tina, three children, and Tina’s mother.  The fire was ruled an accident.

Native American Activist John Trudell

Spoken wordNative American Activist John Trudell

In his grief, Trudell began writing and publishing poetry. It became his greatest strength and, to the US government, a threat.

The FBI investigated him.  From Newtopian magazine:  “there is a quote from an FBI memo that says as much about our dysfunctional government as it does about John Trudell: “He is extremely eloquent…therefore extremely dangerous.” John is a great poet, not just because of his eloquence, not only because of his personal history (much of the tragedy of which the FBI caused), but because of the depth of his philosophy and consciousness.”

Trailer to a the Trudell documentary:

Native American Activist John Trudell


Native American Activist John Trudell

Kiowa guitarist Jesse Ed Davis  contacted Trudell and offered to put his poetry to music. They recorded three albums: AKA Graffiti Man was released in 1986,  followed by But This Isn’t El Salvador and Heart Jump Bouquet, both in 1987.

Bob Dylan said that “AKA GRAFITTI MAN [was] the best album of 1986. Only people like Lou Reed and John Doe can dream about doing work like this.”

He continued to release albums even after the untimely death of Davis in  1988 (AllMusic discography).

He continued to release poetry and as a spokesman of the American Indian.

Native American Activist John Trudell

In 2008,  Fulcrum Publishing released Lines from a Mined Mind: The Words of John Trudella collection of 25 years of poetry, lyrics and essays.

His site has a 12 minute video history about him. It’s a great summary.

Native American Activist John Trudell


The Indian Country media site reportedJohn Trudell, noted activist, poet and Native thinker, walked on December 8, 2015,  after a lengthy bout with cancer. His family included some of his last messages to Indian country in a press release. Among them: “I want people to remember me as they remember me.”

Native American Activist John Trudell


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Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

 Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

The genesis for this site began with a request. I was training to be a docent at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts and the group leader asked if anyone was interested in doing a presentation on protest music of the 1960s.

Hubris overflowing, I confidently volunteered. 

As I began to gather information, I quickly found myself spiraling down the proverbial rabbit hole. Not only did I “discover” that protest music had been around long before the 60s, but that it was still around.

The next thing I discovered was that to understand protest music, we have to place it in context. What were times in which the artist wrote the lyrics?

Soon, that expansion led to another realization: that as traditional as protest music, other art forms also have had their revolutions.

 Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

Rudy Van Gelder

According to Steve Huey’s bio of Rudy Van Gelder at the All Music site, “Rudy Van Gelder was, quite simply, the greatest recording engineer in jazz history. He was responsible for just about every session on the Blue Note label from 1953 to 1967 (among thousands of others), encompassing some of jazz’s most groundbreaking and enduring classics.”

Hackensack, NJ

 Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

Living in northern NJ, I was surprised to find that part of that musical revolution happened in my own back yard.

During the counter-cultural decade, jazz musicians were also experimenting with their music and that experimentation coincided with technological advances to record with a quality heretofore unavailable.

Rudy Van Gelder was born on November 2, 1924 in Jersey City. He trained as an optometrist, but always loved sound and had developed an interest as a youth in microphones and electronics. 

While he was still a practicing optometrist his parents built a home in Hackensack, NJ home. He asked if the house could include a recording studio.

They said yes and he recorded there until the complete of Van Gelder Studios in July 1959. There were over 367 recording sessions in Hackensack alone.

Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder


Van Gelder was extremely attentive to the recording process, some might say to a fault. And jazz was his domain. According to a 2012 article in JazzWax by Benny Goldson, “Rudy’s many accomplishments and contributions include inventing techniques for capturing sound naturally in an age when most recording equipment wasn’t up to the job, the creative placement of microphones, the early use of magnetic recording tape, a recording process that wasn’t easily duplicated by other engineers, and turning his name into a brand that has been synonymous with jazz itself ever since.”

And Van Gelder’s answer to Goldson’s first question may be all we need to know: “Some people think I’m a producer. I’m not. I’m a recording engineer. I don’t hire the musicians nor do I come up with concepts for albums or how well musicians are playing. I’m there to capture the music at the time it’s being created. This requires me to concentrate on the technical aspects of the recordings, which means the equipment and how the finished product is going to sound.”

Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

Englewood Cliffs, NJ

 Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

After those years of part-time recording, Van Gelder decided to become a full time audio engineer in 1959. He constructed the now famous Van Gelder Studios (also his home):  445 Sylvan Avenue, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

The Usonian movement in architecture inspired Van Gelder’s vision of the studio. Both utilitarian (simple building materials) and affordable (keep in mind that Van Gelder was still a practicing optometrist to make ends meet). Frank Lloyd Wright was a proponent of the Usonian approach and Van Gelder found David Henken, also a proponent of the vision, to design the building. 

Van Gelder, in his way, described it simply as, “The five walls allow the sound to move up into the rafters and back down without being trapped or muffled.”

In 2001, Ira Gitler wrote in a Jazz Time article: I opened my notes to The Space Book by Booker Ervin with: In the high-domed, wooden-beamed, brick-tiled, spare modernity of Rudy Van Gelder’s studio, one can get a feeling akin to religion.” Rudy didn’t say anything at the time bot in 2000 he straightened me out.  “The wooden beams are in the roof,” he explained, “and the walls are not tiles but masonry.” Duly noted, but “it remains a non-sectarian non-organized religion temple of music in which the sound and the spirit can seemingly soar unimpeded.”


Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

Perform, don’t touch

Van Gelder was fastidious in his approach–only he could touch equipment; he always wore gloves when touching equipment; he set up mics; no food; no smoking.

He rarely spoke specifically about the various techniques he learned to get “his sound.”

To musicians, not generally known for fastidiousness, Van Gelder’s approach  might sound too Puritan, a recipe for failure, but they, loved the Van Gelder sound and flocked to Englewood Cliffs.

Between the studio’s opening on July 20, 1959 to its closing on February 28, 2011, Van Gelder had over 1300 recording sessions.

He also was always looking for audio advances. While he may have started with aluminum lacquer-coated discs that were then reproduced on 78-rpm singles, he was one of the first audio engineers to switch to recording tape because of its flexibility and lower cost.

Today’s audiophiles might be shocked (and disappointed) to hear that in 1989 he went digital. Why? 

“If you just listen once to what it can do within my environment here, you would never want to record analogue again – and I didn’t,” he said to the trade press at the time. (Telegraph article)

Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

Credits Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

One can only imagine the months of music Rudy Van Gelder recorded and left behind. If All Music’s credit list is complete, then it is an astounding legacy. 

Some would say that of the thousands of hours, you only need to listen to one album: John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.

When asked, Van Gelder said, “The most momentous recording of the 1960s for me was John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. It was hypnotic. It was exciting. It was different.”

Yet it took nearly 40 years for him to realize that. “I came to that realization only when I remastered the album for its digital reissue in 2002. You have to understand, I was busy making sure that the work was recorded perfectly. It wasn’t until I was working on updating the orignal master that I listened intently to the music.”

Rudy Van Gelder died on August 25, 2016 in Englewood Cliffs, NJ. He died in his home–down the hall from his studio. (NPR obituary)

Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder


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Howard Buzz Feiten Guitarist

Howard Buzz Feiten Guitarist

Happy birthday
born November 4, 1948
Buzzy Feiten was 21 when he played guitar with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band  the last day of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. The band came on at about 6 AM by the dawn's early light for their 45 minutes set. 

By the time he was 21, Feiten had already played Carnegie Hall. At 18, he had played the French horn with the American Youth Performs orchestra. His attempt to get into Julliard School of Music as a French horn player failed.

Like many musicians, Feiten was also in a local band, in this case on his home area of Long Island, NY with The Reasons Why during the summer of 1966, but his talent allowed him to branch out and back up other musicians.
Buzz Feiten tuning system
Eventually his guitar skills brought him to the attention of Paul Butterfield who hired Feiten to replace Elvin Bishop as his guitarist. From there the road led to Bethel, NY.
Howard Buzz Feiten Guitarist
Buzzy became Buzz and became the guitarist for Felix Cavaliere's Rascals. He played on their on their Peaceful World and Island of Real albums. "Jungle Walk" came from the former.

In 1972, he was part of a project that produced the "Full Moon" album: Buzzy Feiten, Neil Larson, Gene Dinwiddie, Philip Wilson, and Freddie Beckmeier. Dinwiddie and Wilson had both been in the Butterfield band.

His credits are, not surprisingly, extensive as the AllMusic site shows. His own site is more specific and even more amazing.
Howard Buzz Feiten Guitarist

Buzz Feiten tuning system

In 1992 he developed the Buzz Feiten tuning system. According to the system's site:

1. Shelf Nut: our exclusive Buzz Feiten Tuning System¨ (BFTS) Shelf Nut moves the strings closer to the first fret according to our Patented Formula. This eliminates sharp notes at the first three frets.

2. Intonation: your guitar's bridge is adjusted according to our Patented Pitch Offsets, creating balanced intonation over the entire fingerboard - every fret - every string.

Feiten guitar

Buzz Feiten tuning system

In 2012 he introduced a line of guitars: I'm proud to introduce you to... an incredible new guitar line called, "SuperNova/Future Vintage".  The Future Vintage mission is simple... I wanted to take the best elements of guitar and hardware designs from the Golden Era of the electric guitar, (1948-1970) and using those elements, create new designs that would perform up to the very highest standards of the most discriminating guitarists in the world. We all search for an instrument that feels alive, and gives back MORE than we put in. That's when playing a guitar becomes a truly incredible experience. That's been my mission building Buzz Feiten guitars, and the driving force behind SuperNova.

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