Boyd rides wave of Native music

Number of Native recordings has jumped from 60 in 1996 to hundreds last year

Posted: Thursday, January 30, 2003

Working at his modest home in Spokane, Wash., Jim Boyd is recording a seventh album and preparing to leave for gigs in Switzerland. He's also planning a tour with his new band.

His album, "alterNATIVES," won record of the year at the 2002 Native American Music Awards (the Nammys) and is part of a rising wave of contemporary American Indian music.

Yet, Boyd said in an interview in his living room: "I am a low self-esteem guy from 'the rez' who is surprised that people relate to what I am saying."

A member of the Lakes Band from the Colville Indian Reservation, Boyd has built an international following. A big, soft-spoken, 47-year-old man with long black hair, Boyd has been a force on the American Indian music scene for 20-plus years - initially as a member of XIT (pronounced "exit"), one of the biggest acts in Indian country.

Boyd, who runs his own label, Thunderwolf Records, also has written music for the movies "Smoke Signals" and "The Business of Fancydancing."

"Jim was just overdue," Ellen Bello, president of the Native American Music Awards, said, adding, "'alterNATIVES' is a stunning, beautiful record."

Contemporary Indian music has never been a big seller, as Bello notes: "These are definitely not Britney Spears or Eminem numbers."

The number of recordings by Indians released nationally totaled just 60 in 1996, Bello said, and the Nammys started just five years ago. Now there are hundreds of albums each year, and the Grammys added a Native American music album category in 2001.

Still, there are few places where the music can be heard (although some Indian casinos are starting to book Indian bands), and many retailers aren't quite sure what to do with Indian music. Sometimes it's listed under New Age, folk or world music categories.

On The Web:

Thunderwolf Records Web site:

Native American Music Awards Web site:

Boyd was born at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California, where his father was in the service. His family moved around the country, living in Nebraska and Tennessee before arriving in Washington when he was in the seventh grade.

He began playing in bars at 16, influenced by Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and Motown. He enrolled in the University of Washington, but dropped out his first year and returned to the Colville Reservation. He spent the next five years working in construction and playing bars.

Then XIT called. From 1979 to '81, Boyd toured Europe and lived the life of a rock star. In 1981 he joined Winterhawk, an Indian heavy metal band that opened for Motley Crue and the Tubes.

In his early 30s, Boyd decided he needed to write his own music rather than singing covers of other people's songs. He went back to school for degrees in music and in small-business management.

He met Indian writer Sherman Alexie in the early 1990s, and when Alexie wrote "Smoke Signals" - a film by and about American Indians that was honored at 1998's Sundance Film Festival - he asked Boyd to write the songs. The music Boyd recorded for the movie was recorded in his home studio, and that album also won a Nammy.

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