J. D. Blackfoot - The Song Of Crazy Horse
After Mercury released The Ultimate Prophecy in 1970, J. D. Blackfoot went through many changes personally and professionally in a relatively short time. He parted ways with his band. His relationship with Mercury Records ended. He formed a new band and moved to Athens Georgia. He recorded and released some singles independently. He got married. He also had a vivid dream that would ultimately manifest itself as the title track of J. D.’s second album, The Song Of Crazy Horse.
J. D. Blackfoot
The Song Of Crazy Horse
Fantasy – F-9468
In 1970, 26-year-old Blackfoot had a nightmare that he’d never forget. “I witnessed the Battle of the Little Bighorn,” Blackfoot recalls in his website bio. “In this nightmare, I was sitting on a spotted horse and the horse was leaning up against a pine tree on a steep hillside. I was stretched out across the neck of the horse and a pine branch was digging into the back of my neck. I heard the screams of the dying cavalry horses, saw Custer get killed and woke up. That was the first time I ever thought about the Native American.” That morning, Blackfoot scribbled down the first lines of what would eventually become “The Song Of Crazy Horse.”
Despite positive reviews and the benefit of Mercury’s international distribution, the label provided little promotional push for The Ultimate Prophecy. The expected touring dates didn’t materialize. By September 1970, the band had left Mercury and broken up. Jeff Whitlock, Dan Waldron and Sterling Smith formed the band Osiris, while J. D. and bassist Phil Stokes moved to Athens, Georgia with guitarist Michael Shortland (Strongbow) and drummer Clarence McGirr.
After a few weeks of jamming, Stokes decided he wanted to go back to Columbus, where he’d help form Pure Prairie League with Craig Fuller. John Durzo (Strongbow, The Muffs, Money) went down to Athens to replace Stokes on bass and the trio named themselves Uncle Billy. This lineup would go to Musicol in Columbus to record a single for J. D.’s Peace label.
Uncle Billy would also be short-lived, although Durzo notes in Buckeye Beat, “I recorded "Almost Another Day" with J.D. at Rome Recording after the demise of Uncle Billy. It made it onto the Song of Crazy Horse LP.” The single mix is significantly different from the one that ended up on The Song Of Crazy Horse and is worth a listen. The ultra-heavy flip side, though, is an embryonic version of what would become “The Song Of Crazy Horse.” “Savage” sounds like a cross between Mountain and Captain Beefheart and despite gaining some airplay in Columbus, it’s an overlooked gem.
By 1972, Blackfoot was ready for a fresh start. He and his wife, a native Kiwi, went to New Zealand to recharge their batteries. They hadn’t planned on a long stay, but Blackfoot ended up taking a job as promotion manager for Pye Records. He talked the head of Pye’s New Zealand division, Tim Murdoch, into recording a J. D. Blackfoot album. He gathered the best musicians around, mostly jazz fusion players, and went into Stebbing Recording Studios in Auckland. What resulted was a stylistic departure from the first album, but it did contain another sidelong epic in the title track. The band is tight and the production excellent.
With the album completed, Blackfoot returned to the States in March 1974. Pye released The Song Of Crazy Horse the following month in New Zealand and no expense was spared. A poster and ten-page insert of lyrics, photos and illustrations were included. The production values are top-notch with strings and woodwinds finding their way into the mix. Side one is the category defying19-minute lament about the fate of the Lakota Sioux Chief. It would prove to be influential, with both the subject matter and narrative style finding their way into The Toll’s “Jonathan Toledo” fourteen years later.
If the subject matter on side one seemed too dark, levity could be found on side two with the country pastiche “Flushed You From The Toilets Of My Heart.” Side two includes some much more straightforward rock, kicking off with “I’ve Been Waitin’” and its sax solo, which Pye released as a single. And the psychedelia hadn’t completely disappeared, with “Almost Another Day,” which includes an additional drum track not on the original single version.
Now back in America, Blackfoot needed to find distribution for his new album in the US. In July, he signed a deal with Fantasy Records, who then assumed rights to The Song Of Crazy Horse outside of New Zealand. Meanwhile, the Recording Arts Talent Awards (RATA) were held on August 30th at Christchurch Town Hall in New Zealand. The Song Of Crazy Horse was awarded Album Of The Year for 1974. Blackfoot wasn’t there to accept the award and wasn’t even aware of it at the time.
Fantasy released The Song Of Crazy Horse in the US in October 1974. Like Blackfoot’s first album, it received favorable reviews and received airplay on KSHE in St. Louis, which had also been playing The Ultimate Prophecy. This led to a November gig with Tom Rush at St. Louis’ Ambassador Theatre. Stations in Jacksonville were also playing the album, but once again help from the label didn’t materialize. Fantasy seems to have been baffled about how to market the album and ultimately didn’t bother. “Either the company’s promotion staff didn’t know how to break a pop artist or decided that such an act on their label was an aberration and would go away if they just ignored him,” Blackfoot’s website bio notes. Despite the Pye singles Ride Away/Part Three From The Song Of Crazy Horse and I've Been Waitin'/Hey Johnny D.J. being nominated for the APRA Silver Scroll Award back in New Zealand, no singles were released by Fantasy.
The Song Of Crazy Horse has been reissued several times on the Sisapa and Yonder Music labels. The version currently available on J. D.’s website includes a live version of “The Song Of Crazy Horse” taken from the Live in St. Louis — July 16th, 1982 album, as a bonus track. The notes indicate a plan to reissue a vinyl version. It would be great to have the Savage/Almost Another Day single recordings as a worthy bonus if they'd fit.
With a roster consisting of mostly jazz artists, there were no labelmates for Fantasy to package on a tour. And of course, the musicians on the album were back in New Zealand. Blackfoot was building regional fan bases, however, and played a well-received set for a couple of thousand people in Jacksonville on a bill with Emmylou Harris and The Ozark Mountain Daredevils. He still had another album on the Fantasy deal, so there was hope yet for that big break. But if anyone doubted his sincerity with The Song Of Crazy Horse, Blackfoot became an advocate for Native American causes for the rest of his life.
A2 Ride Away
B2 Miss Sally
B3 One Man's Story
B4 Almost Another Day
B6 Flushed You From The Toilets Of My Heart
B7 Comin' Down
Distributed By – Fantasy Records
Phonographic Copyright ℗ – Fantasy Records
Recorded At – Stebbing Recording Studios Ltd.
Recorded At – Rome Recording Studios
Remastered At – Fantasy Studios
Published By – Parker Music
Acoustic Guitar, Vocals, Bells – J. D. Blackfoot
Arranged By, Conductor – Tony Baker
Art Direction – Phil Carroll, Tony Lane
Backing Vocals – Sue Moore (tracks: B4)
Bass – Billy Kristian, John Durzo (tracks: B4)
Cover Painting – George Catlin
Drums, Percussion – Frank Gibson, Jr.
Electric Guitar – Bob Jackson
Engineer – Jack Casey (tracks: B4), Tony Moan
Remastered By – David Turner
Lyrics By – J. D. (Ferlin) Blackfoot (tracks: B6), Johnny (Merle) Durzo (tracks: B6)
Management – C. Randolph Nauert
Pedal Steel Guitar – Sonny Manahera
Trash Can – Daniel Waldron (tracks: B4)
Photography By – Bill Walker
Piano – Mike Walker, Sterling Smith (tracks: B4)
Producer – J. D. Blackfoot, Tony Baker
Saxophone – Jimmy Sloggett
Saxophone, Organ – Tony Baker
Violin – J. Huff (tracks: B4)
Written-By – J. D. Blackfoot