Willie Dunn deserves as much acclaim as some of the most revered singers and songwriters of folk and Americana music, he was a true one off and his acoustic guitar playing is also some of the most soul stirring ever heard.
There are some beautiful songs here via Light In The Attic’s next chapter in their ongoing Native North America series, Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies: The Willie Dunn Anthology. This unique compilation highlights the songs, poetry and stories of an artist as essential as Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young – but without the industry backing required to become as famous. Though always nearby such peers, Dunn was also a grassroots activist and direct action radical, without misplaced ambition or vain interest in showbiz.
To this day, Willie’s art, poetry and societal awareness has continued to inspire, influence and undoubtedly inform new generations since he performed. Even with this much needed anthology by LITA, the artist is still without widespread commercial acclaim.
Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies… honours the trailblazing life and music of the late, great one, remastered by GRAMMY®-nominated engineer, John Baldwin, as well as the double vinyl being packaged up with liner notes by GRAMMY®-nominated, Willie Dunn Anthology producer, Kevin Howes (Voluntary In Nature) – including interviews with Dunn, his family, collaborators and a long list of peers including Bob Robb, Jerry Saddleback Sr., Jeannette Corbiere Lavell (OC), and Métis rights leader Tony Belcourt (OC). Also included are letters from the Dunn family, a poem by Alanis Obomsawin (OC), poetry transcriptions, as well as rarely seen archival images.
Musically, the Willie Dunn Anthology contains songs previously commercially unavailable from the vaults of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), including the quintessential 1968 NFB recording of The Ballad of Crowfoot, plus a career spanning overview of Willie’s songbook. All songs and compositions are officially licensed and approved by the Dunn estate.
Alongside this new release, Light in the Attic announces a much needed and long overdue repress of the GRAMMY®-nominated Native North America (Vol. 1) compilation, also available this month. Nominated for the GRAMMY® for Best Historical Album in 2015, Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985 features 24 Indigenous artists and groups from across the northern half of Turtle Island – including John Angaiak, Willy Mitchell, Eric Landry, Willie Thrasher, Duke Redbird, Sugluk, alongside Willie Dunn. The seminal Light in the Attic title raised the bar for archival releases upon its release in 2014, placing it alongside the Anthology of American Folk Music and the influential Nuggets collection, as a lasting musical and cultural influence.
Along with Buffy Sainte-Marie, A. Paul Ortega, and Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Willie Dunn is the most important singer-songwriter to emerge from the Indigenous communities of Turtle Island in the turbulent 1960s. With a strong, and beautiful voice, Dunn honored personal heroes such as Crowfoot, Crazy Horse, and Louis Riel through song, as well as William Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, and T.S. Eliot, expressing the multiplicity of his deep-seated passions, interests and understandings.
Willie was born in Montreal in 1941 to Mi’gmaq and English/Cornish parents, connected to both the city and the land, he strived to connect with his people and did just that, affecting generations of Indigenous artists and musicians to the present day and anyone else lucky enough to have heard him.
Dunn’s first film, The Ballad of Crowfoot, produced for the National Film Board of Canada in 1968, utilised a selection of hand-picked photographs from the National Archives of Canada paired with a powerful song, colonialism from the Indigenous perspective, not to mention a celluloid “music video” offering well before their prominence in the 1980s, revolution from within the system. Crowfoot, emulated by the likes of notable US filmmaker Ken Burns and still screened in classrooms across Canada is simply unforgettable. In the subsequent film, Charlie, Willie Dunn set the harrowing story of residential school genocide victim Chanie Wenjack to music, almost 50 years prior to The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie and his much acclaimed Secret Path, but with little-to-no radio play or media support.
Speaking to The Guardian newspaper in the UK in 2017, Willie Dunn Anthology associate producer and son, Lawrence Dunn, said: “The longer he’s gone the louder his words get…”
“Anyone who has heard I Pity the Country… will understand, a song as profound as any in existence.”
“It’s like the reason you are supposed to make music,” enthused Kurt Vile about the tune to MOJO Magazine. Sideman, friend, and guitar picker, Bob Robb, said: “If you want to know who Willie Dunn was, listen to his songs. And don’t forget to share.”
Unfortunately, Dunn passed on to the spirit world a year before the release of the GRAMMY®-nominated Native North America (Vol. 1).
Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies: The Willie Dunn Anthology is available in three editions: the standard is pressed on black wax; an exclusive online color edition is pressed on opaque red wax; and an exclusive retail color edition is pressed on translucent red wax – available at LightInTheAttic.net and independent record stores.