Gather round kids - it's story time. Back in the 70's, I played with a trio called "Free & Easy". We did the Holiday Inn circuit throughout the Mid-West - a week here; two weeks there, etc. The leader, Tony Carinio, was a Philippino, and I was a big, tall Swede. We did a lot of the popular songs of the time as well as some 50's stuff.
One particular week we found ourselves playing in Rapid City, South Dakota. At the risk of sounding particularly "politically insensitive", in Rapid City, you're either a cowboy or an Indian - excuse me, Native American. Remember this was back in the 70's, in fact, it was exactly the time when Dennis Banks, an Indian activist was barricaded at Wounded Knee, South Dakota - a few short miles from Rapid City. The FBI had him surrounded and tensions were running high.
We, being musicians, were not so much politically insensitive as we were politically unaware. Even though the situation at Wounded Knee was right
around the corner, we gave it absolutely no thought what-so-ever. We were
Remember I said we did some songs from the 50's? Well, one of the songs we did was a song called "Running Bear" by Johnny Preston and written by the Big Boppper. For those of you way too young to appreciate this you can go to:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3meEmDpaDU and listen.
It was a big hit everywhere we went and so we did it all the time.
That, I suppose, would have been bad enough, but did we leave it at that? Oooh nooo - we had to take it a step further. We weren't just musicians - we were entertainers. When we started doing that song, we went to a local dime store (remember those?) and bought Tony an Indian headdress. You know - the kind
that probably cost $1.98 back then. I bought some black yarn and made braids
with a single feather in the back.
You got the picture? Tony, this slight Philippino, played and sang Running Bear complete with headdress, and I, the tall Swede, played Little White Dove - complete with braids and a feather, singing the background - Uum ba chucka, uum ba chucka. All this taking place just a few short miles from where Dennis Banks was fending off the FBI in defense of the Native American Culture and Heritage.
To say it went over like a lead balloon would be an understatement. We finished the song and there was dead silence for what seemed an eternity. The cowboys didn't want to laugh and have a fun time with it (our usual reaction) for being thought racially insensitive and inflaming an already tense situation, and those with Indian heritage thought we were making fun of them. I swear we weren't. We were just having a good time with an old song from our past. Needless to say, we never (even up to this very day) have played this song again. I guess it's always a good thing to be aware of and sensitive to your audience.