Thirty years ago in Maniwaki, Quebec a policeman shot and nearly killed a fleeing 15-year-old Indian boy who had stolen a light bulb from an outdoor display. That fateful night inspired an angry young Willy Mitchell to pen his first song, Big Policeman, while recovering from a .38 calibre bullet wound in an Ottawa hospital.
It’s probably not an exaggerated claim to say that most people who have heard Willy Mitchell sing and play have done so only on radio or on one of his recordings. His song Call of the Moose received heavy air play on the northern network when the 1980 album Sweet Grass Music was released. Recordings though, rarely capture the spirit and energy of live performance.
I first heard Willy in 1977 during the first ever Rupert House “pow wow.” The venue was the J.S.C. Watt Memorial Hall. I was a young lad seated in the front row watching his fingers fly over the frets of his acoustic guitar, listening to him play an old song that had a line describing Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ smoking a pipeful of hash together. I was so engrossed in the performance I didn’t even notice the mostly Pentecostal audience walk out in protest. Willy, looking back on it now, didn’t seem to notice either.
Willy is one of those artists you have to see and hear live to fully appreciate. On stage he is full of energy, spontaneous, funny, a true performer and you can tell there’s nothing else in this world he’d rather be doing.
Words you love to hear: War Is Over
Words you hate to hear: Nigger
Epitaph on your headstone: Hey dog, go piss somewhere else!
Who were you in a previous life: The Prophet Handsome Lake.
Most treasured possession: ’69 Fender Telecaster
Greatest fear: Having no friends.
Best words of advice you ever heard: “Go south, Willy!”
Favorite Name: Nikamoon
What do you dislike most about your appearance? My clothes…same old clothes.
Hobbies: Tai Chi
Favorite line from a song: Our home and native land
Most embarrassing moment: A French backup band member asked me what I was going to sing. I knew they wouldn’t know my material so I said I better play by myself. He introduced me and told the audience I would be doing “By Myself.”
Brush with greatness: Shook hands with John Lennon at a protest in Syracuse in 1970.
Choice for honorary native: Don Macleod. He’s an honest guy.
Who would play you in a movie? Buckley Petawabano
What do you hate to be called? At three o’clock in the morning.
Favorite song: “Ugliest Girl In The World” by Bob Dylan.
Favorite quote: “There’s no place like home” Dorothy in Wizard of Oz
Dream job: Aerobics Instructor in some tropical place.
Reason for living: To please my wife.
Best pickup line you’ve heard or used: “I’ve got a status card.”
Who are your heroes in real life? Teachers
Who are your heroes in fiction? Ninja Turtles
On what occasion do you lie? When trying to save somebody from heartbreak.
Worst lie you ever told: That I spoke Cree fluently.
What’s your greatest regret: Not learning more Cree.