Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Witchi Tai To - Jim Pepper

SONG Witchi Tai To

WRITTEN BY Jim Pepper

PERFORMED BY Jim Pepper

APPEARS ON Pepper's Pow Wow (1971)

This song literally changed my world; when I first heard it back in the early '70s it stopped me in my tracks. I had never heard Native American singing before that, and my knowledge of jazz was pretty much limited to big band and high profile types like Louis Armstrong; I hadn't yet discovered the world of fusion jazz from the likes of Miles and Coltrane and Don Cherry. This song introduced me to all of that, and my musical world hasn't been the same since.

Jim Pepper (1941 - 1992) was of Native American descent, from the Plains tribes of the Kaw and the Cree. He came from a family of "road men", the peyote priests of the Native American Church. He was also a jazz saxophonist, playing primarily tenor sax (but also soprano sax and flute), and as such he was one of the pioneers of fusion jazz, mixing rock, r&b, and jazz into a whole new sound. He played with the likes of Larry Coryell, Ornette Coleman, and Don Cherry. His playing was soulful, very much influenced by r&b, and his tone was incisive and penetrating. His style influenced later saxophonists like Jan Garbarek and David Sanborn. He died in 1992 of lymphoma.

In the mid '60s, encouraged by Coleman and Cherry, Pepper began experimenting with mixing Native American music and jazz, with interesting results. "Witchi Tai To" is a prime example of that blending, taking a peyote song he'd learned from his grandfather and putting it in a jazz setting. The song first turned up in 1969 on an album by the band he was playing with at the time, Everything Is Everything. But it's the 1971 version from his own solo album Pepper's Pow Wow that's the definitive version, starting with the peyote chant plain and unadorned, and slowly segueing into Pepper's beautiful, flowing sax line that sets the tone for the rest of the tune. In a way the song is anthemic, especially the parts based on that sax melody; you can imagine stadiums full of people singing that line with great power. Yet the song remains very simple in all it's elements. It's that simplicity and the spiritual intent behind the words, and the spiritual intent that fuels Pepper's performance, that gives the song it's power. The Kaw words are untranslatable now - Pepper said his grandfather never did tell him what they meant in English - but he sings them anyway, and adds English lyrics which emphasize the roots in the peyote ritual, especially speaking of the Water Spirit, who carries the visions brought by the peyote.
Lyrics

Witchi tai to, gimee rah

Hoe rah neeko, hoe rah neeko

Hey ney, hey ney, no way



Witchi tai to, gimee rah

Hoe rah neeko, hoe rah neeko

Hey ney, hey ney, no way



Water Spirit feelin' springin' round my head

Makes me feel glad that I'm not dead



Witchi tai to, gimee rah

Hoe rah neeko, hoe rah neeko

Hey ney, hey ney, no way



Witchi tai to, gimee rah

Hoe rah neeko, hoe rah neeko

Hey ney, hey ney, no way
This song changed my world because it introduced me to a new way of hearing music. It introduced a new style of jazz I'd never known before, and it introduced me to music outside the Western tradition. I listen to a lot of Native American musicians these days - Primeaux and Mike, Ulale, R. Carlos Nakai, Douglas Spotted Eagle (I just did a Sight & Sound post on my own blog which includes a piece by Doug that incorporates elements of the Diné [Navajo] Beauty Way ceremony), and others - as well as music from other parts of the world, both indigenous artists like Yousou N'Dour and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Western "world fusion" types like Peter Gabriel. All because one day in 1971 or '72 somebody dropped a dime in the jukebox and played "Witchi Tai To" and stopped me dead in my tracks.

This video isn't much visually, just the album cover from Comin' and Goin' (a later compilation album), but the music is that definitive version from the 1971 album. The song has been played by others - Brewer and Shipley, Ralph Towner (both with and without Oregon), Jan Garbarek - but never with the power and spirit of Jim Pepper. Enjoy!

25 comments:

  1. Fascinating!

    I have to admit that I'm not familiar with Jim Pepper. The way that he blends fusion with Native-American rhythms is impressive.

    Thanks for the list of Native-American musicians. Have you heard Indigenous? They're a Native-American blues-rock band. Nowhere near as sophisticated as Jim Pepper, but they have a pretty tough sound.

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  2. And don't forget Harper's Bizarre, which made the song availanble to us AM readio teenyboppers.

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    1. Yeppers! Wait... you REMEMBER that!? ��

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  3. I completely forgot about this song untill I heard it today on WXPN (NPR) in Philly. I was 15 when I first was blown away by this song. That was when WMMR and WDAS were true hardcore underground. Michael Teirson. Dig it.
    Doug Renner

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  4. Jim Pepper wasn't _Cree_, he was _Creek_ (totally different regions of the continent).

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  5. This song has been in my head since I first heard it on WCMF in Rochester in 1972. Thanks and R.I.P. Jim Pepper.

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  6. I've been a fan of Jim Pepper and American Indian culture since I was in high school.
    I have that Comin' and Goin'album and would love to have a CD of it. If you know where I can get a copy, please let me know.

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  7. You can purchase used copies via Amazon, but they are expensive. It doesn't appear to be available in mp3 format.

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  8. i have loved jim pepper's music from the first i heard it. i'm creek/cherokee and we always played coming and going whenever we went to pow wows. unfortunateoly someone stole my only tape and i have not beeb able to get another one.

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  9. INFECTIOUS! I found myself singing loudly with the headphones on.

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  10. I was searching for old Brewer and Shipley sonngs tonight (5/25/11) and found one titled Witchi Tai To and then found reference to JIm Pepper's version. So nice to hear both. Thank you. for posting.
    Don

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  11. Followed various links to here after hearing 'Sweet Jane/Wichi Tai To' (by Michael Stanley) today on the radio. The original as heard here is amazing.

    -Joe

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  12. this song is pure magic
    and i like to think that U2 payed homage to Pepper through "With or without yo"
    f

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  13. Ahhh, Pepper, we all miss your ass, man. For all that are interested, the Jim Pepper Fest from August 5 to 10 of 2013 in Portland Oregon will feature, funding permitting,the reunion of the Free Spirits, the very first jazz-Rock band ever, and the first band to ever play Witchi-tai-to. Should be truly cool.
    Ted Gehrke
    Producer of the Everything is Everything single of Witchi-tai-to"

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    1. Tickets available online!
      http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/416229

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  14. I heard this track on Sirius Deep Tracks about 1 year ago. Seemed vaguely familiar like from my childhood. Immediately fell in love with it and am now expecting Peppers Pow Wow CD to arrive any day now. R.I.P. Jim Pepper. Witchi tai to.

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  15. BBC Radio 2 Sounds of the 60s played the Everything is Everything version this morning. Stooped me in my tracks!

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  16. This, theme I heard first by Oregon, but, while I've been involved in native american traditions (Fuego Sagrado de Itzachilatlán, here in Chile) takes a lot of spiritual depth. Also change my way of musical apretiation! ONE OF MY BEST OF ALL TIME!!!

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  17. Fans of Jim Pepper will appreciate the upcoming, 4-day commemoration festival. Larry Coryell and Bob Moses will reunite The Free Spirits at Jim PepperFest 2013. Both retrospective of this pioneer into fusion jazz, and a showcase of contemporary native music, Joy Harjo, John Trudell and Pura Fé are signed. All are all important performers in a culture that remains under-served by mainstream media.

    Perhaps you know a few bulletin boards that you can use to help get the word out. I think a few will be willing to travel to this 600-seat venue.

    Further information available at
    http://www.jimpepperfest.net

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  18. This wonderful song will always be a part of my life, because I used it as my theme song during my college radio days and also at my first professional job at WCAS Radio in Cambridge MA (a folk and folk-rock station). The Everything is Everything version got some limited airplay, but the record company (Vanguard Apostolic) never really promoted it. Fortunately, I was a music director in college radio, so I could listen to it (and play it) as much as I wanted. To this day, hearing "Witchi Tai Tao" can cheer me up and make me feel glad to be alive. Rest in peace, Jim Pepper.

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  19. Hey, I loved "Witchi Tai To" by Everything Is Everything in the late 60's, but I'd never heard of Jim Pepper (or this version of the song) before today. Amazing! I'm 62 years old, and there's still so much to learn.

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  20. Jim Pepper's sax is on exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington. It's on the ground floor near the south entrance. His nephew, Jim Pepper Henry had been Associate Director of the museum and is now the new director of the Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ.

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  21. This song is a melodic vehicle that takes you back to joy wherever your mind is. And this means a lot...

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  22. I first got introduced to this song from the movie "Sleepers". A very powerful scene if anyone is familiar with it. I watched it a number of years ago, but got drunk a few nights ago & found it again. Since then I started doing my research (which has passed me by this way a few days later). It triggered something very emotional & deep in me & I can't stop listening to it. I'm a bit annoyed that the versions aren't consistent (nor their spelling) but that doesn't really matter. He doesn't say "no way" it's more like"no-wah". Whose to say if he remembered the words exactly, but despite this it touches something Amazing and Spiritual as ****. Timeless, so appreciative it was created, thank you Jim Pepper, RIP. Random Kiwi 11

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