After listening to some of Chicago singer/songwriter Ryan Herrick’s music, a couple of things stand out: He plays with a lot of passion for the material he sings about and he’s a gifted guitarist who can manipulate the strings to his will. His chosen subject, the plight of the Native Americans, is well-known, but nobody ever seems to want to talk about it unless it has to do with the name of a sports team.
Whiteclay is a small town on the border of Nebraska and South Dakota that is home to almost as many liquor stores as people. The liquor stores do great business since there’s no alcohol allowed in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It’s a truly American story: making money off of people while also keeping them down.
The song was originally written by Carl Hakansson, a professor at Framingham State University who has been working with Native Americans for over 20 years. Herrick studied under him and has continued to fight for the rights and dignity of American Indians. The music Herrick has added really elevates the material.
The guitar work and vocals immediately stuck in my head. To me, he sounds like Stephen Stills, which is something I think we could use more of these days. One of the things that stands out is an organ part that doesn’t do a whole lot, but somehow just being there adds a great depth to the song.
The best line gets repeated many times throughout, and it says “Sometimes I wonder what would Jesus say…” a nice reminder that this country was built by people who claimed to be Christian and then went on to slaughter anyone who stood in the way of manifest destiny.
If you’re interested in pre-ordering his new EP Sagitta, you can check out Ryan’s Indiegogo campaign here. There will be a fundraiser campaign launching on August 1st. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Conscious Alliance, a 501 c3 that runs hunger relief and youth empowerment projects on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.