Jackson Browne was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010 and returned in 2017 to induct one of his early heroes and creative inspirations, Joan Baez.
Yet, while he is happy to sing the praises of Baez and such illustrious fellow Rock Hall inductees as Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters and Steven Van Zandt, there are other musicians Browne is just as passionate about. He will be saluting two of them — Quiltman and the late John Trudell — at his Saturday and Sunday concerts at Pechanga Casino in Temecula. Both concerts are sold-out, although a few tickets might be released this week.
Billed as "Honoring Quiltman," both shows are fundraisers for Milton "Quiltman" Sahme. The traditional American Indian singer and drummer lives on the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon. He lost his family home in a wildfire last August. The money from the concerts will help him to rebuild.
Browne and his band will headline both performances at Pechanga, where he'll perform songs from throughout his career. He'll also play July 11 at the San Diego Civic Theatre (ticket information for that show will be released next week).
Saturday and Sunday's Pechanga concerts will also feature Trudell's longtime band, Bad Dog. Its members include Quiltman and his son, singer Teewhanee Sahme, and Joel Rafael, the award-winning San Diego troubadour who — at the request of Bad Dog's six members — assumed Trudell's role in the band after his death in late 2015.
A year later, Rafael and San Diego's Jason Mraz teamed up at Browne's studio to record "Strong." The song was written in support of protesters at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota who opposed the completion of the 1,200-mile Dakota Access Pipeline. Soon thereafter, on Nov. 27, 2016, Bonnie Raitt, Browne, Mraz, Rafael, Quiltman and Bad Dog performed a benefit concert at the Prairie Knights Casino Standing Rock Pavilion. It raised more than $70,000 to help support the protest against the pipeline.
Close your eyes
"Quiltman's beautiful native singing is so soulful. He's on a par with some of the great blues singers and great singers like Bonnie Raitt, somebody who — when they sing — you hear the voice of truth," said Browne, whose commitment to worthy causes has been a constant since even before his self-titled 1972 debut album.
"This will be two great nights of music. The reason Bad Dog can perform John's music so well is because of Joel Rafael. When you hear Joel and close your eyes, you hear John. Joel is gifted with a particularly resonant voice that belies his light physical stature. He's very aggressive when he does John's songs and has steeped himself in Americana and the music of Woody Guthrie. ... And, like me, he's an old hippie who's been around since the revolutionary changes that happened in the '60s. So these concerts will be a great meeting of these two bands."
Browne befriended Trudell — a poet, actor, musician and the chairman of the American Indian Movement (AIM) for most of the 1970s — nearly 40 years ago and Quiltman not long thereafter. Browne was immediately enthralled by Trudell's insights, charisma and tireless devotion, which included being a leader of Indian of All Tribes' 14-month occupation of Alcatraz Island that began in 1969.
"I met John at Mount Taylor in New Mexico," Browne recalled. "I was there with Bonnie Raitt and Danny O'Keefe to attend a meeting — actually, a historic meeting — of Hopi and Navajo elders around the issues of nuclear power and uranium mining.
"We were all blown away by what John had to say, his astuteness, and his magnetism as a speaker. I saw him a couple of weeks later and asked him a lot of questions. When I asked if he was a militant, he said: 'It doesn't make any sense to be a militant when the other side has all the guns.'
"Within a year, his wife, three children and mother-in-law all died in a (house) fire. It was terrible. John was sure it was arson; it was a day after he burned an American flag on the steps of the FBI's headquarters in Washington, D.C. That was the kind of stuff we talked about in 1979."
‘Extremely eloquent, therefore extremely dangerous’
Trudell was a gifted poet whose first book, "Living in Reality: Songs Called Poems," came out in 1982. He was described in his 17,000-page FBI dossier as "extremely eloquent, therefore extremely dangerous."
Not long after their first meeting, Trudell was a guest at Browne's California home and was encouraged to set his words to music. The result was the 1983 album "Tribal Voice," which was produced by Browne and the first by Trudell to feature Quiltman as the lead singer.
"John decided to make a record of his poems, with traditional Native American instruments, and I had just been buying equipment and making a (studio) to record in," Browne said. "Some of the people filming John's memorial service told me that 'Tribal Voice,' was pivotal for them, to hear John and people from various tribes speaking. AIM had re-connected all these tribes again and they found they had a lot of the same songs, with different names."
In 1986, Trudell teamed with Kiowa Comanche guitar virtuoso Jesse Ed Davis, whose previous musical partners included B.B. King, Eric Clapton and three of the four Beatles. Their partnership quickly blossomed and proved to be prolific up until Davis' death in 1988, two years after their first album together.
By coincidence, Browne and Davis first met in 1967 while auditioning for the same band in Los Angeles. Davis was featured in "Rumble," San Diego guitar star Stevie Salas' 2017 documentary film about pioneering American Indian musicians.
"People used to go to the Ash Grove back then to see Jesse play. He'd turn his back on the audience and play something he knew would blow their minds! It was fun for him, I think, to be such a powerful addition to anybody's band " recalled Browne, who is now making a film about instrumental wizard David Lindley, a key member of Browne's band in the 1970s.
Trudell released two potent albums in 1987, "But This Isn't El Salvador" and "Heart Jump Bouquet." His acclaimed 1992 album, "AKA Grafitti Man," was produced by Browne and featured guest vocals by him and Kris Kristofferson. Bob Dylan hailed "AKA" as the "album of the year."
Browne produced several albums by Trudell, who — rather than sing — recited his lyrics, spoken-word style. His strikingly deep voice gave even greater heft to such Trudell classics as "Bombs Over Baghdad," "Rich Man's War" and "Crazy Horse."
Browne fondly recalls a Thanksgiving dinner he hosted in 1982. Attendees included his son, Ethan, Trudell, Quiltman and an array of other American Indians and Anglo Americans.
"It was almost like the first Thanksgiving!" Browne said. "There was something in John and Quiltman that allowed you to reconcile the history of this country and what our people did — and continue to do — to their people.
"John said: 'You're all Indians now.' He would reach out across our collective responsibility for what our government does, whether it's uranium mining or the death squads in El Salvador ... that was what was so powerful about John. His songs reflect a very everyman experience in life and are more timely than ever in reflecting an American experience we're all waking up to.
"John Trudell was never a bandwagon. If anything, he brought Native American issues to the fore, in the context of nuclear power being an issue in the late 1970s. He made the leap between Native American rights, sovereignty and justice and the connections we all have to what's being done to the planet."
Presumably, a fair number of concertgoers at this weekend's two Quiltman benefit concerts will be attending specifically because of Browne. Many of them may know little, or nothing, about Quiltman or Trudell.
Will Browne say anything about them on stage? And does it matter to him if audience members don't know about the person who inspired the benefit concert they are attending?
"That's a really good question," he said. "It doesn't need very much of an introduction, because (the cause) is so clearly stated. But I've only seen Bad Dog play a couple of times in this incarnation with Joel. And, each time, I thought it would be good to have a little introduction. So I'll make some introduction and we'll talk about John and Quiltman. We're all from the same musical neighborhood, so it will be very cohesive for people coming to this event.
"I've spent my life spent being in touch with human rights and environmental issues, and now they are the same issues. We all have a right to live in a healthy and safe environment. And, usually, the environment for Indians is being defiled."
A musician and an activist
Browne has long spoken out for the causes he supports. He has sone so undaunted by the commercial ramifications his activism has had on his music career, which was impacted by his shift in the 1980s from his introspective ballads — which struck a universal chord with millions of listeners — to such overtly political songs as "Lawyers in Love" and "For America."
His eighth album, 1986's "Live in the Balance," was Browne's response to the national and international tumult of the Reagan presidency. It was his first album to sell under a million copies. His next album, 1989's similarly charged "World in Motion," featured such heartfelt laments as "The Word Justice" and the Steven Van Zandt-penned "I Am a Patriot." It was his first album to sell under 500,000 copies.
But it is no coincidence that Browne's name has long been as synonymous with his activism as it has with his music.
"They came at the same time," he affirmed. "First of all, rock 'n' roll is about freedom. Whether you're a teenager who wants to be free, or a person who loves the blues and is beginning to sing, you come to understand what what these (rock and blues) songs are about. They're born of a kind of suffering and the oppression of an entire race over a long period.
"What happened for me is that the first tme I heard R&B, it was being played in a room by a bunch of people who were laughing and dancing. I also heard it on the radio in my own white community and loved it. But the first time I heard it was at a party after a Congress of Racial Equality meeting. It was full of of black people, all older than me. I was 14 or 15.
"My sister went to San Francisco in 1964 to demonstrate against (presidential candidate) Barry Goldwater. When she came back home (to Orange County), she had met all these incredible, wonderful people who then came to visit us, black guys. Marcus, who lived with my sister, was in the San Francisco Mime Troupe. And the troupe was managed by Bill Graham. So I first met Bill in my sister's living room in San Francisco, when I was 15. And he was there to try to find out why his actor hadn't come to a rehearsal!
"But there was not just (a devotion to) Civil Rights in our house. We listened to almost nothing but Jimmy Smith (jazz) organ records and the Staple Singers. So music was very connected with political change in my house. As a kid, growing up, many of our musical heroes were black — with Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald foremost among them— and Django Reinhardt, too, who was a gypsy. So there was a commitment to racial justice in the house I grew up in. If you want to say where it began for me, it began with my father saying how much better the world was because of these great artists and activists."
Will this weekend's joint concerts by Browne, Bad Dog, Quiltman and Rafael be a one-off? Or will it lead to further collaborations?
"It should," Browne replied. "But there isn't a music business anymore, so it's very hard. What we're doing right now is not part of a commercial push. This is a labor of love... I think it might develop. It's good enough that it should, absolutely, have legs. And it's important enough that it should.
"(The question is) whether or not people have the fortitude to venture out into a world that is increasingly digitized and cares less and less abut how well people play music (live). There's a lot of mechanized culture now that wears a young person down. None of us are young."
“Honoring Quiltman,” featuring Jackson Browne and Bad Dog, featuring Quiltman and Joel Rafael
When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: Sold out (guests 17 and younger must be accompanied by an adult)
Where: Pechanga Theater, 45000 Pechanga Parkway, Temecula
Phone: (877) 711-2946