Water Spirit feelin’ springin’ round my head
Makes me feel glad that I’m not dead. – from Witchi Tai To by Jim Pepper
Did you ever hear a song on the radio that reminded you of a specific time in your life?
I woke the other day to Witchi Tai To playing on WXPN in Philadelphia and was sucked into a time machine that dropped me off in the 1970s. I had visions of Gene Shay who hosted a folk music show every Sunday night on the public radio station where I first heard Witchi Tai To. Shay was a founder of the Philadelphia Folk Festival at the Old Poole Farm in Swanksville, PA and the man who came up with the name World Cafe, a nationally syndicated singer/songwriter show hosted by David Dye, a show I always considered successor to Gene Shay’s folk show.
But the Witchi Tai To I remembered was by the duo Brewer and Shipley, not the original version written by Native-American jazz saxophonist Jim Pepper. Witchi Tai To appeared on Pepper’s 1971 album Comin’ and Goin’. In my fascination and curiosity to learn more about him, I found out he was a pioneer of Native-American and American jazz fusion. You can read an excellent history of both the song and the musician at Just A Song.
The video below features a performer in traditional Native-American garb dancing to Jim Pepper’s Witchi Tai To.
Jim Pepper June 18, 1941 – February 10, 1992
The lyrics and spirit of Witchi Tai To reminded me of a morning last year when I woke on a ridge along the Appalachean Trail 1,000 feet above the Susquehanna River. A layer of fog hovered over the water at dawn that looked as if I could walk out onto the clouds. By the time I ate and broke camp the fog cleared and the river and farms below were as clear as could be. I leave you with this:
arise with slit eyes
ear to earth
rock to water
whispers Witchi Tai To