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John Sinclair -- An old dog (his words) learns new tricks on new album
John Sinclair's latest album falls under the category of teaching old dogs new tricks.
And, no, at 75 the longtime Detroit poet, social activist and writer doesn't mind being called old.
"I AM old -- and you don't get infinitely old," notes Sinclair, who splits his time these days between Warren with is daughter and 15-year-old granddaughter, New Orleans with his other daughter, and Amsterdam. "You just know that you're time is limited. When you're young you feel like there's no limit, but your oldness does come to an end at some point.
"So I try to derive enjoyment from my work and try to get as much of it done while I can."
Sinclair's latest is "Mobile Homeland," a 10-track collection of musical poems recorded for Royal Oak-based Funky D Records. Produced by label co-founder Martin "Tino" Gross of the Howlin' Diablos and Sinclair's Blues Scholars band, the Detroit-centric set finds Sinclair essaying on local and international music legends, Tigers baseball, the city-suburban divide and the area's hard-driving work ethic.
It also marks the first time Sinclair has worked with pre-prepared instrumental tracks rather than live musicians in the studio, using pieces from throughout his more than 50 years of writing.
"I just went over to the Funky D studio and (Gross) had tracks 'cause he's always recording," Sinclair explains. "All of them were very interesting. Some of them he was going to use for other things and gave to me. He'd play me a track and I'd figure out what (poem) would go with it and match it up and then record the vocal part."
Gross' blues- and jazz-flavored tracks feature an all-star assemblage of Detroit musicians, including Blues Scholars guitarist Jeff Grand, Wayne Kramer of the MC5 (which Sinclair managed during the late 60s), drummer Johnny "Bee" Badanjek, Kenny Olson, Mary Ramirez of the Detroit Cobras, David McMurray, Paul Randolph and others. Additional parts, including Harmonica Shah, were added at Sinclair's behest after the vocals were recorded.
"Young Detroit musicians have always looked to John for enlightenment, so I feel he was born with a lyrical sense and a direction of his own that needed to come out," Gross explains. "I wanted to put together musical tracks that inspired John to give a great performance. I was thinking about records by Gil Scott-Heron or the Last Poets, real songs as opposed to just spoken word over a groove."
"Mobile Homeland" was recorded during what Gross calls "two big sessions" in the studio. "It was very inspiring and really flowed in a natural way," Gross recalls. "The heavens lined up and we could see we were hitting on some real special moments."
Sinclair, meanwhile, is satisfied that the result "is not what you hear on a poetry record, generally speaking" and adds to the already formidable musical part of his "so-called legacy." "I'm a music person. My poetry starts with music," he says. "I deal with music in different ways in my work. When I'm writing I can hear music, and then when it's set to music it returns it to where it come from."
If he has his way Sinclair will be delivering more of it, too. Right now, however, he's looking for a publisher for "The Book of Monk," a collection of poems inspired by Thelonious Monk songs, and he's operating a daily two-hour Internet music program, Radio Free Amsterdam. Sinclair is also establishing a non-profit foundation, also in Amsterdam, that will house and administer his work in the future.
"I'm trying to do that while I'm here so when I go I'll have the feeling I left it behind the way I wanted," Sinclair says. "I've always approached each thing I do like it's the last, just like every day like it's the last. I'm kind of a practicing existentialist in that way."
John Sinclair: "Mobile Homeland CD Release Party with Tino G and Linda Lexy
8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9.
PJ's Lager House, 1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit.
Admission is $10.
Call 313-961-4668 or visit pjslagerhouse.com.
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