Music has long been a lifeline for Anishinaabe guitarist Billy Joe Green
Billy Joe Green has been thinking about school a lot lately.
The Anishinaabe blues guitarist, who says next year he will be â698 years old; this is my spiritual age, âis a member of the Manitoba Aboriginal Hall of Fame. On Thursday, he will host the opening night of the Manitoba Indigenous Music Weekend at the Pyramid Cabaret.
Despite all of this, he says one of his pandemic plans was – get it – to learn to play the guitar.
Manitoba Indigenous Music Weekend
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July 29-August. 1:20 p.m., Cabaret Pyramide
â¢ July 29: Billy Joe Green, the Bloodshots, Saved by Dragonflyz, Shades of Dawn ($ 20 in advance on Showpass.com / $ 25 at the door)
â¢ July 30: Tracy Bone, Desiree Dorion, Kimberly Dawn, Frannie Klein, Kristen McKay, Lachelle Reanne ($ 25 / $ 30)
â¢ July 31 : Jerry Sereda, Gator Beaulieu, Fred Mitchell, the Resilience, Lucien Spence, Band of Brothers, Martin Desjarlais Band ($ 30 / $ 35)
â¢ 1st of August : C-Weed, Eagle & Hawk, Keewatin Breeze, Mosquitoz 2.0, Darren Lavallee, Rhonda Head ($ 35 / $ 40)
âI went online and got guitar lessons from this young man who is probably 19. I’m finally learning to play the guitar well,â he says. “I’ve played badly all these years.”
Green has a lot of great stories to tell from his three decades in the music business, but he gets a lot more serious when asked where he first learned to play guitar: the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School. near Kenora.
âWe had a (guitar) sitting at the boarding school. We were arguing over it; everyone wanted to play. But every once in a while I would get my hands on this Stella guitar and find out how this guitar sounded in my own hands. “Green remembers.
The Cecilia Jeffrey School is familiar to Canadian music lovers as it is the institution where Chanie (Charlie) Wenjack was taken in the 1960s. The story of the Ojibwa boy and his death in the Northwest from Ontario as he ran away from school were brought to the attention by Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, whose solo album Secret path – which led to an animated TV movie – detailed the tragedy.
Green knows the story well because Wenjack was one of his classmates.
âIt was an impossible task,â Green said of Wenjack’s attempt to find his way home. “We’re still hurt by this situation with Charlie Wenjack. It was 1966 – we were all just young boys.”
Music is about the only fond memories Green has of school, which he says despiritualized and dehumanized the children who were forced to live there.
âIt was a really terrible place, but the only thing I learned from there was that they were playing a stack of records on the sound system,â he says. âThey were playing Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Johnny Horton and the British Invasion, The Yardbirds, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, so I had a great musical taste while I went to sleep.
“It would be the only good thing I could say about this hell.”
It has been about half a century since Green was at Cecilia Jeffrey School, but recent finds of unmarked graves at other former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan have brought back bad memories and difficult emotions.
âWe’re still in pain because of this situation with Charlie Wenjack. It was in 1966 dash; we were all just young boys. – Billy Joe Green
âWe were already aware of what was going on, but when it made headlines like that, it was like another slap in the face,â he says. âI literally cried in my chair where I am sitting now. I cried uncontrollably.
“I’m an old man, I shouldn’t cry at my age, but I did.”
Green took the chords he learned and his childhood memories of his father David playing and singing country blues songs made famous by Jimmie Rodgers and Wilf Carter to try his hand in the music business.
He “turned pro” in 1968 and traveled across western North America, wherever his guitar could give him concerts. Stops in Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon and San Francisco, among others, were interspersed with stops in Winnipeg, including a short but memorable stint with the C-Weed Band.
Errol Ranville, the man behind the C-Weed nickname, achieved mainstream success by covering the band’s song Evangeline and needed another guitarist for a tour of eastern Canada, and enlisted with Green. The concerts were great but the bus rides were too much.
âAll I could take was five weeks,â says Green, adding that his alcoholism was also a factor in the difficult times he went through. âThese guys were so used to traveling, but they had a little trick. As soon as they got on the tour bus, they would fall asleep straight away and they would be rested by the time we got to our destination.
“The music was the easy part, the fun part, but I was at my end of the line.”
Green says he spent the next four years battling the disease and even gave up playing the guitar, but says he got a second chance, and he’s run with it, clean, ever since.
âFinally, in 1991, I sobered up and gave it all up,â he says. âA year later what they call ‘the higher power’ gave me back my career and I started my own blues band. I became a conductor of all things. It was totally unexpected. . ”
He won Juno Award nominations for his 2000 album My Ojibway experience: strength and hope, 2004 Muskrat of blues and rock & roll and 2008 First law of the land. The Indigenous Music Awards and a Western Canadian Music Award would follow.
Green’s latest record, a collection of collaborations with artists such as Don Amero and Sol James titled The Feathermen Family: Keeping the Circle Strong, Vol. 1, was released in 2019. Any chance of promoting it in 2020 is gone due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
âWe’ve been tied up for two years,â he says.
Green says Thursday night’s show at the Pyramid will be the first time he has performed in front of an audience since June 2019, when he was part of the Freedom Road concert at Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, where he grew up . The concert celebrated a century-long struggle to build a permanent route to the community that had become isolated after the construction of an aqueduct in 1919 to transport water from Shoal Lake to Winnipeg.
Alan Small has been a reporter for the Free Press for over 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.
Read the full biography