Volume 3, June 2020

Buenos Dios, buckaroos and buckarettes!

I'm Bob. You may know me from the band Big Medicine Head or daytime television.  This monthly missive from the land of tumbleweeds and the lonesome six string guitar features news from the frontier, music and prose.  Each issue will have a downloadable track and lyrics, along with the backstory of the song.

If you'd like to revisit past issues of Tales of the Western Hemisphere you can find them at bobgemmell.com

Troubled times...

I'm thinking about these troubled times we're in. It's as though God took a day off and left an apprentice in charge. Are we being tested? What will this all add up to? Is there light at the end of the tunnel or merely darkness at the bottom of the well? 

I'm thinking about these troubled times we're in, and I'm thinking about race. I belong to the Suquamish Tribe in Washington state. Our greatest leader, Chief Seattle, had to navigate race relations during the time after first contact with Europeans - a period which culminated in the signing of the Treaty of Point Elliot in 1854. No small task.

I'm thinking about these troubled times we're in. Growing up, race was a persistent murmur, an uneasy ripple in the water. My great-grandmother Julia was a black woman, adopted into the Tribe. My grandmother was the gift of her union with my great-grandfather Charles Alexis, a Suquamish Indian. My mother was born in Indianola, and suffered a triumvirate of indignities: second citizen status in the white world because she was Indian, antagonism from some Indians because she was black, and subjugation by everyone because she was a woman.  

I'm thinking about these troubled times we're in. When I was in fifth grade my teacher was teasing me in front of the class because I was Indian. He asked me what Indians did for fun. I replied, "mostly we sit around and smoke banana peels".  He became enraged at my insolence: I was showing him up. He grabbed me by the throat and threw me against the wall. I crumpled to the floor. There were no smart ass remarks after that, and it was a long time before I played cowboys and indians again.

I'm thinking about these troubled times we're in. I'm thinking about the shameful victimization of people at our southern border. I'm thinking of the vilification of those people, and the persistent insinuation by some that they are here to harm, that they harbor ill will toward us. I'm thinking about the undocumented cooks and kitchen staff at a restaurant I worked in. They would bring in a goat on Sundays and cook it up for all of us. We'd eat it in the back, and bond over the experience. They were kind and generous; they worked and sent money home to their families on the other side of the fence that separates Us from Them. 

I'm thinking about these troubled times we're in, and I'm thinking real hard about the trauma visited upon  my ancestors, upon the kitchen staff and their families, and on George Floyd and his family, who are all of us.

There was a movie produced a few years ago called Crash. It was the truest meditation on race that I've ever seen committed to film. I'm thinking about all of us just now, and I know that if each of us could take a few hours out of our life to watch that movie we might be able to navigate these troubled times.

Songs From The Bunker

Each month we spin up a new song from the foxhole we find ourselves in. Sometimes it's a reimagining of a Big Medicine Head song. 

This months bunker song is offered in the spirit of comfort. I wrote it as a lullaby for someone I love; now it can be a lullaby for you. 

The song is Better Days - may they come soon.  Just click here or anywhere on the photo of me and Rex!

Three fine gentlemen

We have to give it up for the outstanding effort of Jared Williams, Paul Gilbert, and Bruce Rockwell.

Jared Williams

Jared was the producer of the very first album from the band that brought me so much fame: Big Medicine Head.  Jared has been pinned down at home on the east coast where the pandemic was so horrendous. During his time in sequestration Jared has tooled at his favorite hobby, modifying microphones. Jared was kind enough to make me the recipient of one custom Jared Williams King Hell Destroyer ribbon mic. This thing will make anyone sound like Elvis.  Thank you, Jared. Did I ever pay you for the shipping?

Paul Gilbert

Paul and I go back to the days when the sun shone it's brightest, when Big Medicine Head swaggered through Santa Cruz like a rolling calliope of mirth. Paul and I were chatting recently about the time we first met, back stage at a Beat Farmers/Big Medicine Head show in that rummy beach town. Paul is now a frontline nurse taking care of Covid-19 patients. He works a lot of shows as a rockmed.org volunteer RN. If Aftershock in Sacramento goes down this October he'll be in the medical tent. If you're going, stop by the tent and give him a virtual hug. I get a little choked up with gratitude when I think of the sacrifice Paul and others are making, and the personal risk they've opened themselves up for.

Bruce Rockwell

Bruce, Bob and Jeffy DMy fellow Big Medicine Head alumnus Bruce Rockwell is a true genius. When I'm writing a song and I get stuck with some weird guitar chord I invented, I call up Bruce and describe for him where my fingers are placed. He does a little math and tells me what chord I've come up with. 

In times like these we share whatever gifts we have to make the world a little brighter. Bruce did so, and then some. He created a virtual choir piece, in which he gathered voices of youth from all over to record vocals. Bruce offered me the opportunity to write the lyrics, which I did. They are dedicated to a mutual friend who recently passed. As I wrote I was thinking that the sadder sound isn’t the church bells at a funeral, but the silence in between, and the forever silence after the bells have stopped ringing. Bruce's contribution to the sum of light in the world is called Between The Bells.


Song of the Month 

This month's Song From The Bunker is Better Days. This years Song of the Month - another selection from the Big Medicine Head catalog - is also Better Days, but this is the version that appeared on the album Queen of the Western Hemisphere

The download and stream below are the electric rendition of the song. It's one of around 17 songs that we cranked out at Lucky Dog studios for the Queen sessions. This is an excellent example of the tremendous engineering of JeffyD, the Sonic Lord.

I hope you dig it!

Better Days

Close your eyes
go to sleep my darling
close your eyes and go to sleep
weightless fields I’ll never walk my darling
but I’ll
try try try all night
try try try all night
night ascending into day
let’s dream of better days

There’s a ladder at my bedroom window
someone puts it there each night
14 steps that separate the shadow
from the
light light light light light light
light light light light light light
night ascending into day
let’s pray for better days

Tired dogs, crazy road
new morning
dream of unfettered sleep
birds on wires sing
and wires are humming
and they’ll
cry cry cry all night
cry cry cry all night
night ascending into day
let’s dream of better days

To stream this song, follow this link

To download this song, follow the instructions below - see you next month!