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Anyone who listened to KSHE (94.7 FM) in the '70s and early '80s knows who J.D. Blackfoot is. In fact, if you were young and impressionable back then, like Radar Station, you probably thought he was a big rock star -- maybe not quite as huge as Led Zeppelin but at least as famous as Deep Purple or Hawkwind or Robin Trower. In this age of market surveys and corporate-controlled playlists, it seems ludicrous that a commercial rock radio station would take a chance on a relative unknown with a predilection for 18-minute songs about the destruction of the Sioux people, but it happened (and we can't believe we're actually feeling a pang of nostalgia right now). With his quasi-Elizabethan/Native American stonerisms ("Lain out on the dawn of creation/The king hath named it ground/And he hath given to the earth people/To sit and look profound/But they will be known as love creatures/Born to live on sound, sound, sound, sound"), Blackfoot became, at least in St. Louis, the hoosier's poet laureate, an honor he holds today despite getting next to no airplay on the station that gave him his big break.
"When I was first introduced to KSHE, they had a little cinderblock building in Crestwood, and they had the ticket window right outside the DJs," Blackfoot recalls. "There was this fun feeling -- the jocks would actually talk to you. They didn't see themselves as big shots. The thing that's changed is that most radio people who've been at it a long time abuse the power. [KSHE program director] Rick Balis won't even pick up the phone and talk to me! But they'll put KSHE's logo all over my concert posters and ads. U-Man [KSHE DJ John Ulett] will occasionally play 'The Song of Crazy Horse' or 'The Ultimate Prophecy' on his KSHE Klassics show, Sunday nights. Mostly, though, they're no longer interested in older artists. They weren't saying that when I sold out Kiel Opera House for them in '82! What hurts the most is that over the years I've done everything that radio ever asked me to do -- every interview, every blip-blap -- and not even to answer your phone call now, like you're some kind of rookie that nobody even heard of -- well, that's a humiliation that is really not appreciated."
This indignity doesn't affect his local record sales, however. Although Blackfoot has enjoyed some success in Europe and New Zealand, St. Louis remains his biggest market. According to John Henderson, manager of the Granite City Vintage Vinyl, a vinyl copy of Blackfoot's rare Mercury-released debut, The Ultimate Prophecy, sells for at least $75 these days. "If I get one, it doesn't last a week," Henderson remarks. "People love it. And Song of Crazy Horse will go for, like, $30."
Thanks to a devoted fanbase and canny business instincts, Blackfoot was DIY avant la lettre. He bought back the rights to most of his early albums 14 years ago and now releases them himself on his own Tokala label. "For 17 years, Fantasy had my product, and I never got one dime from them," Blackfoot says. "Over the years, as all of us have been so screwed by about everyone in the industry, I'd rather take much smaller numbers and control it all myself and get paid. It may not be much of a living, but I've been self-employed for 35 years. There have been times when there wasn't food on the table, but I'd do it all again. I've enjoyed 35 years of being J.D. Blackfoot. It's like a race-car driver; it doesn't really matter to him whether he's first or 35th -- just try to take him off the track."
Blackfoot recorded his most recent album -- a double CD with the rather unwieldy title Co-Dependent Dysfunctional You: The Diary of a Bad Relationship -- in New Zealand, at the same studio where he recorded Song of Crazy Horse in 1974. "I see Co-Dependent Dysfunctional Youas my masterpiece. I think it will be around longer and stronger than Crazy Horse or Prophecy. It may take a while for it to get the word of mouth, but let's face it: Worldwide, relationships are the No. 1 topic. Fifty percent of the population is divorced. This will be a CD that people will buy for their ex-spouses."
Blackfoot isn't releasing the album officially until next month, but he's sent a copy to Oprah Winfrey and hopes for some exposure on her program. "I'm really hopeful that Oprah will see the merit in this. Truth is a powerful thing, and I think there's a lot of truth in this CD for a lot of people's lives."
Blackfoot, who suffers from sinus problems and significant hearing loss, tells Radar Station that his performing days are numbered. Fans are therefore advised to catch his appearance at Pop's on Saturday, Jan. 19.
Also on Jan. 19: Sixteen hardcore bands (local and national) perform in a memorial show for Joe Wyatt at the Fairview Heights VFW Hall, 5325 N. Illinois St. The event, which begins at 1 p.m. and lasts into the night, is free, but donations are encouraged. All proceeds go toward Wyatt's hospital and funeral expenses. For more details, see www.stlouishardcore.com.