Friday November 06, 2015

Brown Town Muddy Water documents Winnipeg's early indigenous music scene

The Feathermen were a mainstay in the indigenous music scene in Winnipeg, and launched the careers of people like Billy Joe Green (second from the right).

The Feathermen were a mainstay in the indigenous music scene in Winnipeg, and launched the careers of people like Billy Joe Green (second from the right). (Facebook)

Listen 7:16

Back in the 1960s and early '70s, along the Main Street strip in Winnipeg, music flowed from every hotel doorway.

Friends gathered, sometimes lining up to get inside to see the forefathers of indigenous rock and blues.

Brown Town Muddy Water examines the burgeoning indigenous music scene back then, and the barriers that indigenous musicians experienced — in every day life, and on stage.

"The reason I wanted to make it was to honour and pay homage to these pioneers who created the aboriginal music industry as it is here today in Winnipeg," said film director and producer Jesse Green.

Jesse's dad, Billy Joe Green, was one of those musical pioneers, and is considered an elder blues statesman.

Brown Town Muddy Water poster

The poster for the music documentary Brown Town Muddy Water by Jesse Green. (Courtesy of Jesse Green)

He came to the city straight from residential school.

"He joined the Feathermen and slugged it out here on Winnipeg's Main Street, battling all the stereotypes and bad times. But that was where all our people were so that's where they all flocked and had a good time together," said Jesse.

The Feathermen were a mainstay in the indigenous music scene and launched the careers of people like Billy Joe and the late Reverend Percy Tuesday.

One of the themes to come out in the documentary is the articulation of resistance through music, said Vanda Fleury-Green, writer and researcher.

"That was both in the lyrics and the expressions of music but also in the people who were frequenting and participating in the Main Street scene," said Fleury-Green, Jesse's wife.

All in the musical family

Jesse is a musician in his own right. He has travelled the world as the guitarist in Buffy Sainte-Marie's band. He credits his father for instilling that musical gene not only into his DNA but his soul.

"There was music all around the house. I started tinkering on the guitar when I was five."

But Jesse admitted there were challenges growing up with a father who was a full-time musician. He said long hours in bars and the trauma of the residential school experience lead to alcoholism and family violence at home. Still Jesse said he wouldn't trade his childhood for the world.

"It was a great childhood and I was listening to Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Muddy Waters — in the womb."

When Green turned 18, his dad sobered up.

"In his quest for finding himself, trying to come to terms with his life, we dealt with all of our family issues too. We really became friends again and I could put all of the past behind me," said Jesse

"I think Brown Town is really a celebration of that reconciliation of their relationship," added Fleury-Green.


Brown Town Muddy Water is screening at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco on Nov.10 and at the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival on Nov. 21.