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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 7, 2004 - Issue 106


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My Good Friends-BR549

by Richie Plass

In these times of trying to be, "politically correct," "sensitive ," or, one of my favorites, "be fully aware of diversity," what do you do to relax? Go golfing? Play cards? Spend time with your children and grandchildren? Or, listen to music? You see, being a musician and performer for many, many years, I really enjoy music, but more so, see a live performance. If you've never seen them live, please, if you ever get a chance, go see my good friends, "BR549." Here's our story.

Back in the summer of 1995, some fellow Menominee friends of mine and myself attended a NIGA (National Indian Gaming Association) conference in Nashville, TN. Our second night there while we were being shown the sights and places on lower Broadway in downtown Nashville, our "host," Mr. Donnie Summers of Nashville told us, "They say there's a real good ‘honky-tonk'band playing across the street at "Robert's," you might want to go check them out. So, off we went. When we walked into "Robert's Western World," we knew we were ‘home!'Man, the band was great!! They played all the old style honky-tonk music we all grew up with back home on the rez! Hank Williams, Don Gibson, Faron Young… just to name a few, they played whatever you requested. Matter of fact, that was their whole gig. They were playing for tips, so you went up, dropped in some, "green," and they'd play your song. Believe me, me and my buddies put a lot of "green" in their tip jar over the next few nights.

Little did we know how close we'd become from that first night. Like I said, the place is jammed, people are dancing up a storm, making request after request and good times are being had by all. Then, their lead singer, Chuck Mead says, "Well, ladies and gentlemen, we've got a lot of requests to catch up on, so please bear with us." He then starts running down a list of songs they're going to play, when he announces, "Kaw Li-Gaw" by Hank Williams. I look at my buddies and they all say, "Ok Plass, YOU go tell ‘em!" My buddies gave me a handful of money and I went up to the stage, waved it at Chuck and told him, "This is all yours if you DON'T play ‘Kaw Li-Gaw." He says, "Why is that?" I told him, "Well, you see, a few of my friends over there get upset when that song gets played, because all of the white people jump up on the dance floor, start dancing in a circle, doing the ‘Hollywood'Indian yell and it's not very pretty. Matter of fact, some of us get offended." He told me, "Tell you what, we've got to do it, but we'll never do it again." I said, fair enough, but watch what the crowd does. Sure shootin, as soon as the song started, here come the white folks. But, just as he said, when the song was finished, he said over the mic, "Well, ladies and gentlemen, out of respect to my Native American friends, we'll NEVER do that song again!" And you know what, they have stayed true to their word. Matter of fact, on their first trip to Europe, they were doing a show in London, England, and someone requested, "Kaw Li-Gaw." Chuck told the crowd, "I'm sorry ladies and gentlemen, but out of respect to my good friend, Richie Plass and all our other Native American friends, we no longer do that song." This all sounds like the end of a good story of someone showing respect and honor, but this story is just beginning.

In the Fall of '95, Chuck called me and told me they had just gotten signed with Arista Records. Wow, that was so cool! Plus, I thanked him for calling me at work on the rez and sharing this news with me, but he said, "But wait, there's more. Our first release will be a CD recorded "Live At Robert's," but our first studio recording is why I'm calling you. We're going to do an old Moon Muuigan tune called, ‘Cherokee Boogie,'but in the original song, he uses the word, ‘squaw.'Now, I know that this is not a good word to you and your people, so I re-wrote some of the lyrics and I'm going to send you a copy, and if you think it's still offensive in any way, let me know and we won't release it." I told him,, "Man, Chuck…I ani't the one to be asking! Hell, I'm just a chubby ole drummer from the rez." He said, "No, my friend, you and your people are more to me than that. Give it a listen and let me know, ok?" So, a week or so later I got a copy of their first studio recording and I listened to "Cherokee Boogie." I called him right away and said, "Sounds good to me, my friend, sounds good to me." That song turned out to be their first big recognizable song and to this day is one of their best songs they still play on stage.

Please don't take me wrong. I am in no way truing to say that my saying what I did helped them with their first major hit. Here's what I'm REALLY trying to say. I am one of the people who doesn't like Tim McGraw's song, "Indian Outlaw." Matter of fact, I have made several phone calls, sent numerous e-mails and letters to try and get a discussion with Tim and his people, but because I may be one of the people on the "short list" of people against "Indian Outlaw," I have been given my just do….NOTHING!! But then here's our friends, "BR549" making sure they don't offend our culture by using the word, "squaw," and making an effort to have sensitivity. But then they took it even a step further.

At that time I was the drummer for, "The Wolf River Band," back home on our rez. All of a sudden, we're asked to be the opening act for BR549 on several shows because of our friendship. Probably one of my most honored times on stage occurred when at one of these performances, as we were out doing our set, all the members of BR549 came to the stage and took OUR pictures!! They stayed for our whole show, took us back on their tour bus, which was always the case, and our friendship continued. Then, during the 4th of July weekend of 1998, as they were performing at our casino in Keshena, Wisconsin, they actually filmed a music video of their song, "Wild One" from their CD, "Big Backyard Beat Show." I had the honor of assisting with the production of this video and I got to be in it. Then, two years ago, when they released their, "Live Across the USA," they thanked ‘Wolf River'on the CD jacket. Once again our friends made an effort to acknowledge us. Think Tim McGraw knows or CARES about us? I think not!

Now it's 2004. BR549 has made a couple changes in their line-up, but the music, performance and attitude are still intact. This past Sunday, Monday and Tuesday they played at the Oneida casino. Their shows were great!! But, just as we've always done, we hooked up with the guys in the band. On Monday afternoon they came out to our place for a meal. We had Hopi beans, fry bread, wild rice and chili. A good time was had by all. Matter of fact, you can read an article on our get together at:, then look for the headline, "Band on the run settles down for Oneida feast." To me, this is what it's all about….good ink about good people sharing life. Like I was saying, in these times of turmoil, war, racism and other barriers to our lives, it's good to know there ARE good stories out there. Like I was saying, if they ever get close to you, go see "BR549" and tell them, "Richie said you guys are cool…" But then again, if you don't like honky-tonk, rockabilly, cry-in-your-beer music that a lot of us grew up on, you may not like them. But if you like GREAT live entertainment, a good time, GREAT music and a GREAT show, by all means, go see my friends.

…then let me know what you think.


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