“We were like Coca Cola, we were the real things.”
Billed as “Canada’s All Indian Band,” the Tsimshian Nation garage band The Chieftones stormed the U.S. in the mid-’60s with their own brand of native rock n’ roll. Led by guitarists Billy Thunderkloud and Albert Canadien, the band was filled out with Jack Wolf on lead guitar, Barry Clifford on bass, and Richard Douse on drums. Their repertoire was a heady mix of guitar instrumentals; Chet Atkins, Les Paul, Duane Eddy, and Brazil’s Los Indios Tabajaras, but through the lens of the American sock hop.
After a brief stint at Edmonton’s Alberta College, The Chieftones hit the road, eventually setting up a home base in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, where they reportedly worked as ranch hands in between tours. “From Sheboygan we made our way to Madison, Wisconsin, La Crosse, Cedar Rapids and on over to down south, like that. Indianapolis, Peoria, Illinois, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend, Indiana back to Chicago,” Canadien told Pat Braden. “We had a circuit like that. We played two weeks here, one week there, like that. And finally after a year of doing that, we weren’t going anywhere.” It was in this nascent state that they tracked a single and an album’s worth of material with Jim Kirchstein.
More Buddy Holly than Link Wray, The Chieftones lone Cuca single—1966’s “Do Lord” b/w “I Shouldn’t Have Did What I Done”—expressed the group’s radio-friendly ambitions. The rest of their Cuca recordings, however, explore their indigenous roots. Tribal drums keep time under a wash of surf-y guitars. Ceremonial dance numbers are reimagined for the Elvis generation. When the single failed to light up the phones, the album was shelved, discovered only recently by Numero’s crack team of magnetic tape sleuths.
The New Smooth and Different Sound collects 12 unreleased demos and their sought after Cuca single, all recorded at the Sauk City recording mecca. The group’s time in the Dairy State was short-lived—they set off on a decade-long road run shortly after. Performing in their traditional regalia—white buckskin outfits and head gear—The Chieftones dumbed nothing down for The Beach Boys’ screaming fans at various sports arenas on the east coast. “After a while we got to speak in our own language, like when we started the show,” Canadien said. “I would just speak to them in Slavey and then we’d start our playing. The boys I had talked in Gitsan and Nisgaa, they spoke these languages from northern B.C., that’s what they spoke. They introduced themselves in their own language so that people understood that we were for real.”
Pre-order: Release date October 13, 2023.
- The Chieftones Don't Let It Bother You
- The Chieftones Don't Dare
- The Chieftones Indian Wedding
- The Chieftones You're My Angel
- The Chieftones I Need Your Lovin'
- The Chieftones I Won't Be Around
- The Chieftones Do Lord
- The Chieftones I Shouldn't Have Did What I Done
- The Chieftones The Sun Is Shining
- The Chieftones Ebony Eyes
- The Chieftones Just A Closer Walk With Thee
- The Chieftones Cutie From The Beauty Shop
- The Chieftones You Don't Need Me Anymore
- The Chieftones Don't You Leave Me Behind