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Born and raised on the Santee Sioux Reservation, on the border of Nebraska and South Dakota, Native-American poet and activist John Trudell spent the majority of the 1970s as the national chairman of the American Indian Movement (AIM). Trudell left Native-American politics in 1979 after his wife, mother-in-law, and three children were killed in a fire at their home on a reservation in Nevada. The fire, which Trudell was convinced was no accident, came just 12 hours after he had set fire to the American flag on the steps of the FBI Building in Washington D.C.
Trudell began reciting his poetry in public appearances and eventually, encouraged by musician friends like Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt, released a cassette of his poetry backed by traditional Indian chants and drums. When he met guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, Trudell found the collaborator he had been looking for to compose music to back his poetry.
In 1986, with Davis, he put out a self-produced cassette entitled Original A.K.A. Grafitti Man which Bob Dylan called the best album of the year. Trudell's musical career was put on hold two years later, following Davis' death from a drug overdose, before teaming with guitarist Mark Shark to record another cassette of rock & roll and poetry, Tribal Voice (Beautiful Fables and Other Realities).
Rykodisc signed Trudell in 1992 following a tour opening for Midnight Oil. The subsequent record, also called A.K.A. Grafitti Man, features re-recorded songs from his self-released cassettes, saving Davis' preexisting guitar parts. The album also features collaborations with Davis, Shark, and Native-American vocalist Quiltman, and was produced by Jackson Browne. Trudell, with help from Shark and Quiltman, released a follow-up entitled Johnny Damas and Me for Rykodisc in 1994. Five years later, Trudell tweaked his poetic nature for Blue Indians. Nothing short of traditional vocal chants and rhythmic worldbeats, Blue Indians was a critical success. The new millennium saw a continuation of Trudell's deep reflections of his Native-American heritage. In 2002, he issued Bone Days on Amy Ray's Daemon Records and more passionate and inquisitive pieces of work surrounding politics and social issues.