Introduction to Devil On An Indian – an opus by The Raptor Trail
by Walter Early
First off, I am a friend of the guys in The Raptor Trail and have been an ardent admirer of the artistry of Matt Mayes since the early 90’s when he was the creative engine of Jupiter Coyote – a band I regard as one of the finest America has produced although it languished in relative obscurity in terms of widespread public acclaim. I am tasked with writing an introduction to this beautiful new recording so that the casual or the active listener can better understand the composition as a whole, the context of each song within the whole, and the spiritual impetus for this musical concept, which has been incubating in Matt’s furtive mind for over 20 years.
Many Jupiter Coyote fans might have noticed references to American Indian culture sprinkled throughout the band’s song catalogue and wondered what interest the band (ie. Matt) must have had in that subject and why. Well, Matt has paternal and maternal Indian ancestry comprised of Comanche, Cherokee, and Choctaw Indian, little discussed during his formative years because he was raised in the adopted white Christian (United Methodist) culture of his family. Frankly a hundred years ago many in the so-called “civil society” would have called them halfbreeds and treated them with scorn and contempt. Nevertheless, although the Native American Indian culture and civilization has largely dissipated, the Great Spirit still speaks.
Indeed, those of us who believe that God is entirely incomprehensible to the mind of man wonder whether the Gods worshipped by the Indian, the Aztec, the Hindu, the Muslim, the Jew, the Aborigine or the Christian are not all the same spirit. Certainly, there are many people who insist that their way of worship is the only valid one and everyone else is pagan…. which is fine if they can prove it.
Anyway, all his life Matt has had a magnetic attraction to his Indian heritage and the dichotomy of its pull against his Christian upbringing has resulted in somewhat of an internal spiritual warfare. That in a nutshell is what this is all about – the dual, often conflicting, value systems at war with one another within the same tortured soul. It has always influenced his thinking and writing although most of his friends and acquaintances have been unaware and he never felt the need to explain himself. He really didn’t want to do it now but I actually insisted that since the narrative of this tale incorporates and references events which actually occurred in his life, the autobiographical aspect of this work is the most essential component of its artistic relevance, credibility, and significance. Otherwise, the work may be regarded as merely a fairytale.
When John Meyer was first introduced to the project it was with some degree of reticence that he agreed to proceed - the concept was arcane and abstract. But once he discovered how important it was to Matt and how long he had been frustrated over how to proceed with it, he and Gene Bass embraced the challenge with their accustomed zeal determined to make this dream real. These are three exceptionally talented people who are selfless in their service to each other and especially the music. Their only interest is the quality of the production. John and Matt are one of the best collaborative songwriting machines ever but each approaches the music from a very different skill set and musical perspective. Normally this situation would result in one person or the other needing his idea to triumph but these two guys’ only interest is to bring all the ideas together and make them work. Their minds are wide open to suggestions and ideas from within and without - anything which improves the music. The entire piece is co-written in terms of the total output. Hence, there is no chief. And having a percussionist who has played probably 2,000 shows with each of them completes the trifecta. Gene Bass is the perfect percussionist to negotiate the many hooks and complex intricacies of Raptor Trail music. Face it – there are probably only a handful of artists all over the globe who could perform this music. Just read the many reviews on the RT website and you’ll see that critics are stumped about how to describe what they are hearing in the first two Raptor Trail cd’s. What on earth will they think when they hear Devil On An Indian?
So, all that understood, this is the story of a man of mixed American Indian / white protestant ancestry riding through the desert on an Indian motorcycle. Raised in a white protestant environment, he nevertheless is drawn by the sights, smells, and sounds of the desert to his Comanche nature. Riding through the darkness he is lost in the rage of thinking about his culture being decimated by the siege of settlers from the east when he suddenly collides with an object in the road.
The story evolves through three movements and each movement contains the following songs:
Part I: Crash Sequence – The background for the story leading up to and ending with the crash.
1. Ten Bears – euphoric in his element
2. How The West Was Won – “progress”
3. Quaker Pets – lost in rage - crash
Part II: The Awakening – The coma/dream state following the crash.
4. Dream Catcher – surreality (a new word by me)
5. Wolf Medicine – awakening from surreality
6. Just A Doorstep – sorting through a stark realization
Part III: Apocalyptic Descent – The fallen nature of humankind descending toward the end of everything.
7. Froth Squelch – religious betrayal
8. Vanishing Without A Trace – a premonition
9. Vanishing Point - damnation
10. Red Giant – spiraling toward destruction and the end of it all