John Trudell and the Music of Urgency

“What already happened is or isn’t
Balanced with what happens next
With everything that is lost
There’s something that might be found”

“Waiting for Yesterday,” John Trudell

John Trudell has led an interesting, full life, to say the least. From the American Indian Movement (AIM) reclaiming of Alcatraz Island to its occupation of Bureau of Indian Affairs HQ in Washington thru the loss of his family (wife, four children and mother-in-law) to a suspicious fire on the Duck Valley Reservation just hours after John, himself, burned an American flag at FBI HQ to his emergence as an acclaimed actor and one of the most insightful poets of his generation; Trudell has stayed true to his Earth-centered/life-affirming vision of just what it means to be human in our maddening times. It’s all there in the movie of his life and times: “Trudell.

While dealing with yet another loss, the immanent succumbing of his sweetheart Marcheline Bertrand to ovarian cancer, John and his band, Bad Dog, went in the studios of LA and put five years of new songs into a new double CD–“Madness & The Moremes.”

The poetry is superb: a mix of laments as to what has happened to us–our planet, our beings, our humanity–and righteous defiance about it to good-natured humor and love of life.

The music on this one is the best to come from Bad Dog. The great collaboration between the band and John is obvious. Mark Shark provides some solid guitar licks, as does Billy Watts. Ricky Eckstein serves as Jack-of-all-musical trades – playing drums, keyboards, signing vocals and overseeing various instrumental arrangements. Quiltman, as usual, provides complementary traditional Native chants. Various guest musicians also contribute, including some fine background vocals from the great singer-songwriter Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde.

Last February, I was able to attend a benefit concert that John and his good friends Jackson Browne and Willie Nelson held in LA for the Women’s Cancer Research Institute. Despite the Benefit’s inspiration Marcheline’s death just a few weeks earlier, the concert honoring her went on with a packed house. Some of the songs on the new CD were played for the public the first time. The haunting “How Does Tomorrow Dream” ended with a hushed, teary-eyed crowd which then livened up to the hilarious, yet poignant, “Teddy Bear Tears.”

The CD also has two tracks with the legendary Kiowa guitarist Jesse Ed Davis One of them, “Baby Boom Che” is a tribute to the real cultural awakening at the bottom of the Elvis phenomenon:

“The first wave rebelled
I mean we danced even if we didn’t
Know how
I mean Elvis made us move
Instead of standing mute he raised
Our voice
And when we heard ourselves
Something was changing”

Here on “Madness & The Moremes,” John, himself, gives voice to the losses and hopes of another time of cultural change. Despite all John has been through, he remains just another good-hearted seeker of Truth and Love in a world where, as John often notes, we’ve forgotten how to be human.

MICHAEL DONNELLY feels honored to be friends with Bad Dog and John Trudell. He can be reached at




MICHAEL DONNELLY has been an environmental activist since before that first Earth Day. He was in the thick of the Pacific Northwest Ancient Forest Campaign; garnering some collective victories and lamenting numerous defeats. He can be reached at