Little Big Men
Though they may not be all that well known outside of record shop beardo circles and flashback chat groups, psychedelic rock group the Hobbits deserve a prime spot in the American music annals for defining a more “grown-up” take on the era’s free love ethos, and for somehow straddling that greasy balance beam separating the Poppy Family from Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross.
Actually, the credit really belongs to Hobbits front-man and all-around tireless troubadour Jimmy Curtiss. Like his show biz colleagues Dion and Bobby Darin, Jimmy Curtiss rose from humble doo-wop beginnings to the astral heights of counterculture commentator during the turbulent ‘60s. Transitioning seamlessly from his teenage David and Goliath–ode “Five Smooth Stones,” to the weightier fare like “Let Me Run My Fingers Through Your Mind” and “Psychedelic Situation,” Curtiss never let AM deejays catch him sleeping. By ’69 young Jimmy had raked in enough scratch from Jimmie Rodgers’ version of his surprisingly-depressing-for-a-hit-song, “Child of Clay,” that he up and started his own vanity label… Perception Records. . . and put out a pretty decent solo record under the mysteriously familiar initials of “JC.”
Besides featuring one of the nicest four-color labels in rock history (a non-exclusive prism with the color brown in it), Perception gets credit for bringing the world great records like Back from Middle Earth by the New Hobbits (not to be confused with the Old Hobbits), as well as a peculiar collection by Tom Sullivan, a blind rock and roll pianist (who’d of thunk it?) with a penchant for bombastically apocalyptic environmental songs and perfectly combed hair.
Around the turn of the decade, Curtiss fell heavy for the Native American trip. Where his motivation came from is unclear. Posited one German fan on his blog, “His real name might be Curtiz or Cortez or something like that, because the rare photos of the man, that I’ve seen, point to a Latin-American or Spanish origin.” That dubious sleuthing aside, there just may’ve been some new world blood a’mingling with the old, cuz Jimmy turned out to be one helluva scout.
14919.jpgHis first discovery was Teina, a dark-skinned fox of indefinite ethnic descent and the treacley voice of a sure thing. Teina’s sole offering, Touched by the Sun, showcased the young beauty, decked out in beaded garb and cradling what appears to be a stuffed (maybe it’s just sleeping) eagle against a Santa Fe sunset backdrop. The music was smooth, vaguely psychedelic soul dealing with themes of abandonment, unfairness towards her people, and stuff like that. As impressive as it was, the Teina LP was merely a warmup for the indigenous dirty bomb that Curtiss was about to drop on the handful of record-buying young people that actually followed Perception’s sporadic release schedule.
When the sun rose on the morning of June 12, 1970 and record store clerks threw open their doors, the shelves were lined with shiny new copies of Custer Died For Your Sins by a real-life American native with the pretty-unhip name of Floyd Westerman. Though some of you might recognize “Red Crow” Westerman from such roles as “Uncle Ray” on Walker, Texas Ranger, or “Shaman to Val Kilmer’s Jim Morrison” in Oliver Stone’s Doors tell all, it’s clear that the Dakota-born Sioux owes his success to the one man who really believed in him way back in the day. . . that’s right, ex-Hobbit Jimmy Curtiss. Sure Westerman would go on to pal around with Willie Nelson; become a tireless advocate of Native American causes; and even help Kevin Costner with that movie that came out before Waterworld, but the buck all started when our favorite Detroit shire-dweller drug ‘ol Red Crow into Perception Studios, Room A on that fateful summer morn.
Though musically much of the album’s not worth the energy it’d take to navigate Ebay for it, it’s certainly got its charms. “Goin’ Back” clips along with funky country rock rythmn that’d make Phil, Mickey, and Bill proud. But it’s Westerman who’s in charge, and he does his Lakota Sioux best to tear America a new one, dishing it out over and over on songs like “World Without Tomorrow,” “They Didn’t Listen,” and “Where Were You When,” wherin our man RC confronts Indian wannabees who “claim to be part Sioux or Cherokee” on their welfare applications, but weren’t around to help out their brothers back in the day.
When our land was being stolen you just stood by
When we were being massacred you didn’t even cry
When we were put on reservations you didn’t lose any sleep
When we were starving half to death you had enough to eat
With a great baritone, not unlike Johnny Cash, Floyd sounds pretty good doing just about anything with heavy message and shuffle beat—case in point, track 2, side 2, “Here Come the Anthros”—a big shame on you to all those bespectacled professor types who come out “to study the feathered freaks with funded money their hand.” The record’s most intense moment by far is the closing track, “B.I.A” (Bureau of Indian Affairs)—a field recording of drums and chanting about how Floyd and his peeps “don’t wanna be your Indian no more.” Think Jim Pepper meets Cro Magnon.
Surprisingly, it turns out just about all the songs were penned not by Westerman, but by Curtiss himself. All fired up after reading Vine Deloria Jr.’s 1969 book on the subject, Curtiss must’ve sequestered himself long enough to kick out not just a Concept album full of anti-White Man tunes, but the decade’s first Conquest album. And to top it all off, he and Perception spared no expense in sheathing his vitriol in a gatefold cover featuring an oil-painted scene of the shit hitting the fan at Little Bighorn—knife-wielding maidens, bloody scalps—you name it.
(For those of you who’ve never stopped by the Little Bighorn National Monument that now lies at the battlefield, it’s definitely worth the detour on your way to Evel Kneivel’s Snake River jump site. And bring the kids. The sight of retrieved bones, arrow-punctured costumes, and crusty tomahawks will have them glued to the display cases. Outside, a hillside of white crosses commemorates a dubious achievement on us Americans’ part—pride for a guy imprudent enough to agitate a whole mess of already-pretty-pissed off Indians in their home stadium and then get himself and his boys all killed. As a result any Indian found afterwards was either killed outright or thrown into something like a low-security prison camp for the rest of their lives. God Bless America.)
Floyd_Ami_b.jpgThough Westerman has been savvy enough to turn this attention into a career—for a while the buckskin clad senor citizen could be seen on late night television hawking ‘Lakota’ brand pain reliever—he’s also been pretty busy plugging German-bred attack dogs that his grandkids raise. “Hello, I am Floyd ‘Red Crow’ Westerman,” he says on his family’s website. “And I want you to know that the presence of a Schutzhund-trained dog in your home isn’t just a loving companion— he’s a powerful deterrent to any criminal or harmful intent towards you, your family or your business.” (Translation: We could’ve used a couple of these sons of bitches down at Sand Creek.) As for Curtiss, no one’s heard much from him since he came up with that Bumblebee Tuna jingle back in the ‘70s.
GeorgeCuster_Scouts.jpgOf course both gentlemen ended up far better off than the subject of their opus. Half-naked with a rump full of arrows isn’t exactly a glorious end for a decorated Calvary officer, but it does keep the kids glued to their history books. For the real scoop on the red haired ranger, direct your library browsing to Evan S. Connell’s 1997 tell-all, Son of the Morning Star. Better know for his award winning Babbit update, Mrs. Bridge, Connell reinvented himself as a historian late in his career and produced the definitive account of Custer in his glory and ultimate demise, along the way digging up all sorts of weird details—i.e. Custer traveled the plains on horseback with a pet pelican, or Custer flew a hot air balloon during the Civil War.)
And while you’re at it, Netflix Dustin Hoffman’s kinda funny/kinda really sad Little Big Man and Richard Harris’s fine portrayal of A Man Called Horse from 1970, wherein Harris, an English nobleman kidnapped by savages, becomes one of them and submits himself to the painful Sun Dance in a sequence that makes nowadays screen toughs like Bruce Willis and Michael Madsen look like straight up wusses.
This just in: While browsing the celebrity endorsement page for Westerman’s dog company, who do you think I saw as the first two Hollywood actors cuddling with trained killer canines? Why it’s Frodo and Merry! Yes, it’s true, Elija Wood and Dominic Monaghan are “Famous Friends” of the Westermanns. Hobbits and Indians—frndz 4evr. Respect.