The History of Marc's Prison Bands Behind Bars
It’s December 6 today, I've got 4 months until I get my transfer-back-to-Canada application to the Department of Justice in Washington D.C. It’s 580 days to go if I serve my entire sentence here in the US federal prison system (up to July 9, 2014) with 1,010 days now served – that’s 33 months done, 19 to go (on a 60-month sentence, I'll serve 52 months with my good time credit).
My band, Yazoo, performed its eleventh concert on the afternoon of Saturday, November 24. Our set list turned out to be 20 songs in just over 2 hours. I've been playing a bass guitar just over 18 months now, having never played any instrument in my life prior to coming here to Yazoo City federal prison (one of the inspirations for the name of the band, which I chose, since it’s my band). I remember shortly after my arrival picking up a guitar on May 7, 2011 and deciding to learn the instrument.
I struggled and showed no talent, but on the tenth day, a guy named Grizz who was in this amazing band I had heard in concert in my first weekend here noticed I was giving it a try, and said "Have you ever considered learning the bass guitar?"
"Uh no, should I?" I said.
"Well, I think our band is going to need a bass player shortly, and if you worked on the bass everyday, I'd teach you, and you could be in our band."
I was dumbfounded. "You mean, I could be in your amazing band if I started learning the bass????!!!!"
"Yeah, it shouldn't be too hard."
Rock and roll fantasy overruled my trepidation, and I said yes. So Grizz, a guy who'd been inside 30 years (1982 to 2011) with swastikas and white power tattoos and slogans covering his entire arms, patiently and kindly and expertly taught me bass guitar starting that day and every day for 2-4 hours, always outside, often in 100 degrees Fahrenheit days for weeks on end. Despite the tattoos and Grizz's gruff persona, I never heard him say an insulting word about anyone in all the time I knew him. He said he'd left that confrontation part of his life (the swastika/white power stuff) behind him.
Six weeks later on July 2, 2011, I performed live my first concert, 8 songs, including All Along the Watchtower, Purple Haze, Sunshine of Your Love, Tightrope (SR Vaughan), and Johnny B. Goode. I only was able to do root notes, but I got through it okay, and I was pleased that I was a 'musician' now. Grizz was the bandleader, and a great bassist, but Grizz wanted to be the singer in the band and play rhythm guitar, Terry would be the lead guitarist, and Sapp would be the drummer, so that’s how I got the job on bass. The name of the band was 'Stuck' (as in 'Stuck in Prison').
Oddly, within a few weeks of working together, he made me assistant band leader (though I knew virtually nothing at the time about the mechanics of music or being in a band) and he had the band paperwork amended to say that. "In case something happens to me, you can keep the band going," he said.
Well, by August, just before our second concert, something did happen to Grizz. The prison assigned him a new cellmate, one whom, it was said, has a sex offense. Well, Grizz was very old-school, spending most of his 30 years inside in penitentiaries (maximum security), and he could not be the cellmate of a sex offender. Grizz had actually received an additional ten years to his remaining prison sentence for stabbing a sex offender nearly to death; in this situation Grizz tempered his instincts and merely said to the new cellmate, "you can't be in here with me, you have to roll up." In prison, to 'roll-up' means to turn yourself in to protective custody, which is solitary. But when someone here is forced by other prisoners to 'roll-up', the prison demands to know who pressured you to 'roll-up', otherwise they won't put you in protective custody. So that day both the so-called sex offender and Grizz were taken to the SHU (solitary housing unit), and after several months in solitary for each, both were transferred to other facilities.
Then my drummer Sapp got into a fight, so he went to solitary for two months. So in August last year I was missing my drummer and bandleader/vocalist/rhythm guitarist. The band went through some adjustments, merging with a reggae band for two months, doing Bob Marley songs like I Shot the Sheriff, No Woman, No Cry and Stir It Up.
Then we reformed our original group, as Sapp came back, we got a new vocalist, and the band became Yazoo (because it’s where we met, where I learned bass, and where we practice and play). We got a singer named Victor, who also played rhythm guitar. In that period, we played country songs like Out In The Backwoods, Killing Time, Don't Blink, and Way Out Here and rock songs. By this point I was no longer doing songs in root notes, but full proper bass lines, but my notes weren't ringing out enough and I wasn't always very smooth.
Victor decided to strike out and form his own band about a year ago (he still hasn't ever got a band successfully together, but we're still friends and he's a great talent), so we got soul singer named Trece as our vocalist and went through a period of soul/R&B songs like Sittin on the Dock of the Bay, A Change is Gonna Come, Stormy Monday, Easy Like Sunday Morning. Trece was released from prison at the same time as our rival band 'Out of Bounds' broke-up when their drummer/singer was transferred, so Chap the bass player and Don the guitarist from Out of Bounds joined us back in March, and that’s been our line-up since: Chap singing the vocals, I play bass, and Don and Terry do alternate leads on guitar.
It’s a pretty amazing band now, and I can't believe I'm in it. I've practiced every day for over 18 months and I've really gotten much better. My finger memory is way improved, my notes ring out, and I can be taught a song often in just two or three afternoons. Sometimes, like with Texas Flood (by Stevie Ray Vaughan), or Heartbreaker/Living Loving Maid (Led Zeppelin), it takes me 30 days to get it right though. Just today, in my afternoon practice I was doing Money by Pink Floyd and I sounded so much better than six months ago – it’s been that long since I even practiced it, and I sounded much better just doing it out of the blue after that huge absence than I used to sound, even when I practiced every day for weeks back then.
I practice on an acoustic bass every afternoon, which is kind of largish and a little awkward to set comfortably on one's thigh to play, and then on Monday evenings we rehearse as a group our songs that we've been practicing on independently. Terry and I always practice together every afternoon, and Don and Chap often work together in the evenings, and all five of us put it together Monday nights from 5:30 to 8pm in the wonderful electric band room with amplification and electric bass and guitars. I play with a Carvin bass to a Carvin amplifier on Monday nights and in concert. When I get out I'm going to buy an electric Fender Precision Select bass.
Our set list on November 25 was:
1. Running Down A Dream (Tom Petty)
2. Come Together (Beatles)
3. Black Magic Woman (Santana)
4. Jumpin Jack Flash (Rolling Stones)
5. Blue on Black (KW Shepherd)
6. Heartbreaker/Living Loving Maid (Led Zeppelin)
7. Too Young (Garth Brooks)
8. Turn the Page (Bob Seger)
9. Pride and Joy (Stevie Ray Vaughan)
10. Texas Flood (SRV)
11. Plush (Stone Temple Pilots)
12. Crazy Train (Ozzy Osbourne)
13. Sweet Home Alabama (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
14. Sunshine of Your Love (Cream)
15. Enter Sandman (Metallica)
16. Hey Joe (Hendrix)
17. Purple Haze (Hendrix)
18. Red House (Hendrix)
19. White Room (Cream)
20. Whole Lotta Love (Led Zeppelin)
It was a beautiful clear, sunny afternoon and I was pleased with how the concert turned out, my only real difficulty was a cramp in my right hand (where my index and middle finger alternate hitting the strings) when Terry did an eight-minute lead guitar solo at the end of Whole Lotta Love, and as the bassist I do the riff B-D-B-D-E E-E E-E throughout most of the song, including the solo, and I just had to stop and hit the low E string for a minute before coming back in the riff once the cramp subsided. After 130 minutes of playing, I was tapped out!
Since Terry, Don and Chap are very experienced musicians with 28, 12 and 13 years respectively of regular playing to their credit, we agreed to scrap our existing repertoire for the next concert and develop a new set list, because they are a bit bored of playing the same songs with only three news ones each concert. So for the January concert (we're going to pass on a Christmas show, we won't have the new songs all ready), here's our set list, each of us choosing three new songs plus keeping Running Down A Dream, Texas Flood, and Turn The page, which we've only done once in concert:
Smoke on the Water (Deep Purple)
Stray Cat Strut (Stray Cats)
Beautiful Day (U2)
Your Disease (Saliva)
Isolation (Alter Bridge)
Last Resort (Papa Roach)
All Right Now (Free)
Simple Man (Shinedown)
(Don will sing these three while Chap plays guitar on them with Terry)
Surfing With An Alien (Joe Satriani)
Boys Are Back in Town (Thin Lizzy)
Eruption/Ain't Talkin Bout Love/You Really Got Me (Van Halen medley)
I've already got the bass down for Boys Are Back in Town, Last Resort, Simple Man, and have a grasp on but need to do hard work on Stray Cat Strut, All Right Now, Surfing With The Alien (this is a fast song!!!!!) and the two Van Halen songs (Eruption is just a lead guitar). Then on to the remaining five!
I want to say thank you to the amazing people of Alberta's cannabis community who held their third annual Christmas fundraiser for me in Lethbridge, and raised a record amount of $1,680, which I am extremely grateful for! That will pay for my commissary (food, toiletries, clothing), phone and email, music downloads, photo copies, and postage for two full months. The first fundraiser was organized by Tamara Cartwright and Fiona Doherty, and Fiona is carrying on the work with other local activists. They have all been supportive for years, including my time on the Farewell Tour of 2009. Thanks to Fiona Doherty, Austin and Dana, the sponsors and stores who contributed, and the hundreds of people who came together to make this event fun, magical and so helpful to me. So I promise them that once I get out, I'm hoping to work with musicians, develop a song set list, put together a band and make my first public musical performance outside of Vancouver in Lethbridge, Alberta!
The two things that I'm proudest of about my time in prison is how Jodie has risen to the challenge and become the best she can be in activism and business management, and how I’ve developed as a musician. When this difficult time for Jodie and I is over, we will both have new capabilities and skills that we both otherwise would not have developed. That is the essence of successfully dealing with adversity: showing improvement and advancement as a result of the ordeal.
I can't wait to see that poster in Lethbridge, "Saturday Night! Speech by Jodie Emery, Music by Marc Emery & Friends!"
From Yazoo federal prison,
In Yazoo City, Mississippi,
A note from Lethbridge fundraiser organizer Fiona Doherty on the Facebook event page:
Hi! Just a final post on the Marc Emery Lethbridge fundraiser 2012...
Thank you very much to each and every single sponsor who donated the amazing prizes, please do your Christmas shopping with them as without their support we couldn't have these fun events...
BOBHeadquarters who donated the beautiful bongs and the volcano plenty that were raffled off, and all the silent auction and door prize donors--Charisma, B.C.P.R., Calgary 420, Amy Taylor, HeadWearz, CCHQ...
Thank you to the Lovely Lisa MamaKind for donating books, signing autographs, and sharing her bongslut wisdom...
Thank you DeathPledge, you guys are a kick ass band!!!
Thank you to Damage Inc., you really ARE the best Metallica tribute band in western Canada!!
Thank you Moose Hall for graciously hosting us for the third year in a row...
Thank YOU to everyone who came out, bought tickets, played the raffle and silent auctions, and made sure that you supported something very important--our Canadian sovereignty! Between all of us, we just sent a bank draft for $1,682.50 to Jodie Emery to help make things easier for her and Marc; and to show that we care and can make a difference from our little city!!
Thanks for making this year a success, Lethbridge activists!!!
See you all next year!