Not many people can say that John Lennon wrote a song about them, but John Sinclair is among that select bunch. Viewed by the powers-that-be as a dangerous revolutionary for his involvement with the White Panther Party, Sinclair was handed a ludicrously harsh sentence – “they gave him ten for two” – for marijuana possession after a police sting. In 1971, Lennon, along with Yoko Ono, Stevie Wonder, Phil Ochs and Archie Shepp played a freedom rally in Michigan and three days later Sinclair was freed.
Sinclair is probably best known in the music world for managing riotous proto-punks The MC5 and imbuing them with a radical zeal. But Sinclair is a beatnik at heart, a poet and an ardent jazz fan, who’s combined those two loves on more than 20 albums of his own down the years.
Art Yard and Strut present the culmination of a 7-year project researching the archives of author, DJ and activist John Sinclair with the first ever retrospective of the influential Detroit Artists Workshop spanning 1965 to 1978.
“In the mid-‘60s, Detroit was nowhere,” explains Sinclair. “A decaying jazz scene, no community of poets, painters or writers so a group of young Detroit artists, most of us students at Wayne State University, got together in the late Summer of 1964.” Led by Sinclair and trumpeter Charles Moore, the Artists Workshop Society was formed as a co-operative community, drawing upon the resources of every participating individual in order to perpetuate itself. They began to provide spaces in Detroit for musicians to rehearse and to promote live concerts showcasing a range progressive jazz artists across the city.
Between the mid-‘60s and the early ‘80s, Sinclair amassed a huge archive of recordings from the Workshop concerts featuring Detroit residents like Moore’s Contemporary 5, Ron English and Lyman Woodard alongside many other US jazz luminaries including Donald Byrd, Sun Ra Arkestra and Herbie Hancock. Dormant in the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit for many years, Strut and Art Yard began their research into the archives in 2015.
This first compilation of Detroit Artists Workshop is a revelation for any fan of jazz, featuring previously unreleased recordings by Byrd, Moore, English, Woodard, Bennie Maupin and Teddy Harris accompanied by extensive sleeve notes from John Sinclair, Robin Eichele and Herb Boyd. All tracks are remastered from the original tapes by Technology Works.
His latest release is a revelatory trawl through the archives of the Detroit Artists Workshop, an organisation Sinclair co-founded with jazz trumpeter Charles Moore in 1964. Released last month on Strut/Art Yard, the album features exhilarating live performances from Donald Byrd, Lyman Woodard and Bennie Maupin, with a warm intro from Sinclair himself.
So what do you want to ask a lifelong believer in the revolutionary power of music? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and John will answer the best ones in the next issue of Uncut.
Listen to more John Sinclair Releases on Iron Man Records Here: