January 7th, 2014
Last Updated on: January 7th, 2014
Interview by Dr. Dawn Karima, Ph.D.
Gary Small, of Gary Small and the Coyote Brothers, sat down with us to discuss his unique brand of Native Music. A popular Native musician, Small's style has proven to be enduring. Here, he talks Technology, Timing and The Next Step for his celebrated band.
DK: Nice to see you back in business and making music! How has technology made your latest release possible?
GS: Technology is such these days, you can e-mail your buddy the mix and he or she can send their contribution back to you. Actually its been around for a bit but remember that I'm from Wyoming, so give me a break (laughs). It's not as easy as it seems though. Every musician interprets the music and/or your instructions a bit differently. Sometime it's better than you expected, other times its “I know you went to a lot of trouble but could you do this part over?” I still prefer to be in the studio with another musician. But I can't afford to fly in all these people, so e-mailing tracks is the next best thing. I've got a fantastic backing vocalist on the majority of tracks, Pamela Polland. She was with Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen band. I've also got my old buddy from Santana, Graham Lear, contributing on the drums. My long time conguero, Caton Lyles does his magic as well. Technology is great if you use it to create, not so great if you are trying to cover up for bad playing, bad arrangements, or bad songwriting.
DK: Technology is a force to be reckoned with, but so is timing. What is the role of timing in this latest project?
It's a long story, but I'll be as brief as possible. I released Wild Indians in 2002 with an incredible band. They were totally behind me in the direction that I thought we should go. We were all based in Portland OR and had won the Native American Music Awards, “Songwriter of the Year.” We were popular in the Northwest and we had a marvelous two years. Then in 2004, life threw me the proverbial curve ball. My father suddenly was stricken with a life ending tumor in his throat and I was literally knee-jerked out of Portland to return to my home town of Sheridan WY to take care of him until he passed.
At that time, I was also working a very demanding day gig for a Native American health organization as well as holding together a very polished band, basically two full time jobs. 16 to 20-hour days come with a cost: I was burning my candle at both ends and in the middle. And then, taking care of my father until he passed was devastating. Since he was terminal he had hospice care, and what that meant was, that I was the hospice care-giver. I was in charge of things that only a registered nurse would be authorized to do under normal circumstance.
When Dad passed away, I thought my life would resume and I would return to Portland OR to pick up the pieces. Not so, I was not doing well, I started to have serious sleep disorder symptoms, I lost 25 pounds and had unexplained panic attacks. To make a long story short, I realized that the dammed guitar is not worth dying over. I had to slow my pace down, so I moved into my childhood home and sat back in fear of what would happen next.
DK: I'm so sorry. You faced obstacles, but you seem to have overcome them. How so?
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Sheridan is a very small town and it does not have the musical resources of Portland OR. But I pulled together a local rhythm section, Jim Willey (drums) and Jobe Jennings (bass) and once again I found myself with some competent musicians that evidently think that I can steer the boat! (laughs). Jobe is also Northern Cheyenne as well. Our families go way back; his great aunts protected my Dad at Indian boarding school. So in turn, now I have to keep him out of trouble! (laughs).
But there were only three of us, and we couldn't pull off the orchestration of “Wild Indians” that often had six or seven seasoned musicians performing. So we did what we could do as a three piece: I also love rockabilly, surf, Cajun and blues. So that's what we did for six years. We are now on our fourth album and we've done ourselves proud. We won the 2007 Native American Music Awards “Rock Album of the Year” and the 2011 “Best Male Artist” award. Not bad for three knot heads from Sheridan WY don't ya' think?
DK: Don't call it a “Comeback”, I've been here for years!!! HAHAHA! That's tremendous!
GS: HAHAHAHA! Right on! Thanks!
DK: So, what role does your Native heritage play in your enduring career?
GS: What is Native American Music? Is it just drums and a haunting flute melody? Some people think so. I'd rather think of my self as a Native American who has something to say musically and spiritually. To me, that makes more sense. I hope people of all nations love the songs and grasp the spirit of what I call: “life as I know it.” I will continue to try and bring peace of mind to the folks that come to hear us play and I hope they can forget their problems and stress for a while, even if it's only for the length of a song.
DK: Do you integrate your Native identity into your individual songs?
GS: Reservation Town is an example of that because it's heart breaking to see some Indian kids try and prosper with so little avenues presented to them. But again, the fine line is not to preach, only paint a picture. American Icon is a piece describing a Native individual who is so out of touch with the outside world around him, and swims in such delusion while trying to define his existence and desires in this present day world.
DK: What about your personal or family experiences being Native? Do those appear in your songs?
GS: Yes, in the song, Hostiles & Renegades. My father was a young kid on the reservation, when Chief Two Moons and several other brave individuals who fought at the Battle of the Little Bighorn were still alive. Dad mentioned that Two Moons only spoke in Cheyenne. My basis for the song is that I will never be able to converse with my ancestors of that time era. I'll never know exactly how they thought, the importance of the things around them. That would be one of my three wishes, to have an hour with that generation.
DK: I was just going to ask you about your Native heroes. I'd love to sit with Tecumseh, Osceola, Quanah Parker, Dragging Canoe, Lozen and Chief Joseph and just listen. Yet, I'm sure you have musical heroes, too???
GS:I live to play the guitar. I wish I had the abilities of Jeff Beck (guitar) or the soul of Dexter Gordon (saxophone), those cats are amazing. I have two instrumentals on Hostiles & Renegades: All For You and In Life and In Spirit. Instrumentals for me are before language, its raw emotion. So If I move you just a little bit with my playing then I am good with that, what more can be said?
DK: How do you feel about being Native? Down deep in your soul?
GS: I love one thing best about being “Indian”, we are a gregarious bunch and tend to live for the moment. Indian Cars, Indian Bars andChoke Cherry Wine & Indian Frybread certainly portrays that life style.
DK: What Now?
I've always wanted to get back into the Wild Indians format, its a very Bob Marley, Santana, and War kind of vibe, lots of musical parts going on. Recently, I met a rock & roll legend in the business, Jim Guercio. Jim managed the group Chicago and had the Caribou Ranch recording studio outside of Denver where the likes of Elton John and Michael Jackson recorded. Jim said “You have to do another Native recording, its what separates you from everything else.” Then in 2010 we had a Wild Indians reunion concert and did a one time concert at the WYO Theater. I flew some of my main guys in from Portland to do it. I'm still getting compliments about that show. So, in summary, just how many times do you need a kick in the butt to get you going?
DK: What are you doing now to make your dreams come true?
GS: Well, we had material left over that didn't make Wild Indians, as I was out of studio time and money. Since then I bought my own recording gear and we have a beautiful studio to record in, out in the country. It's a great environment to make music. Nothing elaborate, just standard recording tools. But now we have all the studio time in the world.
DK: Thanks for providing us with a window into your world! We'll look for your music at Cdbaby and on your website at http://www.coyotebros.net/
to purchase your CDs!!!