HISTORY OF IHNFINITY INCORPORATED / SATURN & EL SATURN RECORDS
Below is an overview of Sunny’s early days in Chicago (1947-1960) and how stage one of his music vision began to take shape. A detailed history of Sun Ra during this period can be examined in our 14 CD documentary production “THE ETERNAL MYTH REVEALED”.
THE BEGINNING OF THE ARCHIVE – SUN RA AND HIS RECORDING EQUIPMENT
In the 1930's and 40’s Sun Ra was one of the first Afrikan Americans to own his own recording equipment.
1937 – BRUSH DEVELOPMENT COMPANY'S "SOUND MIRROR" WIRE TAPE RECORDER.
1948 – AMPEX PAPER TAPE RECORDER
Throughout his career, Sunny purchased various modern electronic keyboards and tape recording devices. In 1948 the first documented recordings by Sunny begin with a series of PAPER TAPE recordings. The problem in transferring these recordings is they are very brittle due to age and years of poor storage. These 1948 PAPER TAPES are where the historic DEEP PURPLE recording with violinist Stuff Smith comes from.
At this time Sunny played piano and Solovox. The Solovox is a keyboard attachment to the piano which had a unique cosmic sound like the Theremin. In the 1950’s the Solovox was very popular in the soundtrack to several horror and science fiction films of the day like WAR OF THE WORLDS, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and THE BLOB.
Other tapes from this period include Sunny playing solo piano and church organ. At this time Sunny more likely was part of the church serving as music director and organist which gave him access to the organ. Prior to this time Sunny and his old Jump Blues friend Gatemouth Moore (who had just devoted himself to the church) worked together in the church. Sunny and I talked about this period with Moore at length and I believe I have unearthed a great find of unissued music with Gatemouth Moore’s band with Sunny recorded in late December of 1947 for the KING label. There are (2) Gospel recordings with Reverend Arnold Dwight Moore (Gatemouth Moore) that are being researched for inclusion in the growing early years of the Sun Ra discography.
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF IHNFINITY INC. & SATURN RECORDS
Although initiated in 1954, IHNFINITY INCORPORATED was legally established in Chicago, Illinois in 1957 by Sun Ra, Alton Abraham, James Bryant and Altymer Hayden (Alton Abraham’s sister). The premise of the incorporation and creation of SATURN RECORDS was to serve as an outlet for Sun Ra to release his music to the public. Other activities included performing concerts and creating pamphlets as an educational vehicle for the spiritual upliftment of all people with emphasis to Afrikan Americans.
Although prominent as a musician on the Chicago music scene in the 1940’s and 1950’s, as a musician and arranger, Sun Ra was unable to get a recording contract with the Chicago record labels of the time. Keep in mind that Sunny served as studio musician, staff arranger and vocal coach for many of these record labels. The labels were very aware of his compositional capabilities for their endeavors although they thought his personal music was too advanced. With the incorporation of IHNFINITY INCORPORATED, Sun Ra was able to record and release his music on our SATURN and EL SATURN record labels giving Sunny complete creative control over what was released to the public.
In the making of our classic SATURN and EL SATURN albums, an album consists of tracks which may have come from (3) or more recording sessions. This fact became evident when I discovered the original master and session logger tapes (a reference copy of tracks recorded during a recording session). In this, a discovery of master takes, song alternate takes and unreleased music from the recording sessions. Painstakingly I have restored a majority of the recording sessions and concerts back to their original sequence.
TRYING TO PUT AN END TO THE COSMIC FEUD
Sometime in the early 1970’s Sunny and Alton Abraham had a major disagreement. During my time in the 70’s I overheard angry conversations between the two which for me was very troubling. This is when Sunny decided to create the Philadelphia version of his record label calling it EL SATURN.
In 1989, prior to Sunny first becoming ill, I made contact with Alton Abraham and began working with him to inventory what Sun Ra music that was in his archive. It was time to bring the feud between Sunny, Alton and James Bryant to a close. After making headway with everyone and with my professional music industry experience, I proposed the re-establishment of IHNFINITY INCORPORATED and our SATURN and EL SATURN record labels which never came to be.
Remember, Sunny had been preparing me all along since the mid 70’s and it would be Alton Abraham and James Bryant after Sunny left the planet and prior to their leaving the planet who would give me complete authorization to do what I needed to do to perpetuate Sunny's legacy as I saw necessary via The Sun Ra Music Archive.
FOUNDERS RADIO BROADCAST & SUN RA ARKESTRA HISTORY
NOTE: At each radio station where I worked I would do audio research and transfers for Sunny using the then state of the art studio equipment.
EARLY HISTORY – CHILDHOOD
The story of my life is a unique one as it is strange. Born in California, I was first introduced to the music of Sun Ra in 1961 by my father who was a master sergeant in the Air Force. At this time we lived in Fairbanks, Alaska and one night my father bought home the album THE FUTURISTIC SOUNDS OF SUN RA. As a child I always loved music and it was the sound of Sunny’s music that attracted me to speakers because it was different. Strangely my mother saw how the music took hold of me and she told my father to never play that kind of music for me again.
Also In 1961 my father was the first to play me JOHN COLTRANE LIVE AT THE VILLAGE VANGUARD. Of course the composition SPIRITUAL is what got a hold of my ear. I was just a kid but hip. Being around my father and his friends during their leave (break from service) is how I was introduced to music of all types (Blues, R&B, Country and of course Jazz).
A special memory I recall is when my mother made lunch for me and she would play music by artists like Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Erroll Garner, Shorty Rogers and or course, my Ray Charles and Etta James. These are the good things I recall about my parents. After my parents separated it would turn into the worst nightmare of my life.
After many years of mental and physical abuse, at age 11 I left my family taking refuge with families of my friends. This action taught me self-sufficiency and how to always make accurate decisions about my survival. Music was the main thing that kept me going through this awakening time in my life. Enough said.
EARLY BROADCAST HISTORY AT AGE 13
I began my radio broadcast career in 1973 at the age of 13 as a non-student at Temple University Radio Station WRTI-FM in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1973-1984). At this time WRTI-FM was the “#!” all-Black Jazz format radio station in the country. Earlier in the late 60’s, I was a big fan of their Sunday evening Swing and Big band program hosted by Mr. Bart Tatem. From time to time I would call the station asking for request for Fats Waller, Fletcher Henderson, John Kirby Sextet, Luis Russell, Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford, etc. I was a big fan of this period in Jazz. Unbeknownst to me, Sun Ra was also a fan of the program who I would meet a few years later.
In March of 1973, Mr. Tatem invited me to visit the station and was amazed that for my age I knew so much about this era of Black Jazz. By April of 1974 Mr. Tatem recruited me to be his music programming assistant. In 1975, due to college tuition reasons Mr. Tatem was not allowed to do the program. My having been affiliated with WRTI-FM as a community volunteer, station manager Tom Rosenkrantz asked me to fill-in for Mr. Tatem. I chose the music and back announced the music while an engineer worked the controls. This is how I inherited the program at age 15 in respect to my teacher and big brother, Bart Tatem.
Also in 1975 at age 15 I had a job via friends at WRTI which allowed me to get my first apartment. What else could you ask for? But wait, it gets even better. May of 1975, while still in high school, WRTI offered me a second on-air position for the Wednesday 2-6 PM timeslot. Funny, I would leave high school at 1PM and go to WRTI to do my show. What made it legit was my teachers were big fans of my shows supporting their unique student. Unbeknownst to me, Arkestra members John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, James Jacson and Eloe Omoe were big fans of my shows. John Gilmore brought this to my attention from time to time.
JOINING THE ARKESTRA
I have been a drummer since I was 7 years old. In 1975, then WRTI music director Russ Musto suggested that I contact Sun Ra. I could not believe that Sunny was listed in the WHITE PAGES of the Philadelphia phone book. Right from the start Sunny and I were like kindred spirits musically. This was very important to Sunny to have someone to talk to who understood and had knowledge of Jazz with emphasis to the classic Swing and Big band music of his era. I had my own library of recordings and was very articulate when Sunny and I talked about music.
After talking with Sunny on a number of occasions he offered me the opportunity to join The Arkestra playing drums. I was still in my teens and my record archive soon served as a music recording source in which Sunny was able to write arrangements of Fletcher Henderson and other Swing and Big Band artists that The Arkestra would play.
Having heard these people (ARKESTRA) were from outer space is what frightened me. They were truly different that other people. I first lived with Marshall Allen who took me under his wing teaching me about Sunny’s music. Marshall lived across from the bank off Germantown Avenue. During rehearsals I would sit still in one place and I dared not make a mistake on my drums. I thought Sunny would zap me off to somewhere in outer space. All in all this experience turned out to be one of the best things that ever happen to me and my young artistic creativity.
SUN RA ASSIGNS MY ARCHIVE DISCIPLINE
Due to my radio broadcast association with WRTI-FM, on May 28th of 1977 Sunny gave me an assignment to familiarize myself with the wealth of his recorded work (THE ARCHIVE). THE ARCHIVE was in Sunny’s room at the top of the stairs on the second floor. Sunny never allowed anyone to have access to his room. I spent many a day listening to his records and master tapes. Sadly, there were tapes out of boxes everywhere. Having seen Sunny’s room in a mess for some time, I began cleaning up and organizing things so I could work. When Sunny saw I took the initiative to make some order out of “THE COSMOC CHAOS”, he acknowledged my taking the initiative.
While organizing Sunny’s room (MY DISCIPLINE) I decided to listen to the original 4 track master tape of the My Brother The Wind VOL. 2 album. It was then that I discovered the unreleased (3) minutes of the 6 minute composition WALKING ON THE MOON sung by my Space Mommy, June Tyson. Even the original negatives for the SPACE IS THE PLACE film were in Sunny’s room in canisters. Sunny had envisioned an extended version of the SPACE IS THE PLACE film and began making his own edits. Sunny was no joke.
Months later on October 18th of 1977, someone again trashed Sunny’s room and he approached me sternly saying “IT’S YOUR JOB TO KEEP THINGS IN ORDER. YOU NEED TO GET YOUR DISCIPLINE IN ORDER”. That’s how I became the director of Sunny’s archive at age 17. Sunny needed everyone to take a responsibility so we all could help maintain our livelihood as THE ARKESTRA.
During the 70’s our live performances were a thing to see. The band was on fire and the personnel in the band were impeccable. I always state to people that they can hear parts of our concerts on record but you had to be there to see everything that took place with emphasis to the dancers. What people miss when they hear our concert recordings are the contribution of the dancers on songs like WATUSI. The dancers are just as important as THE ARKESTRA instrumentalists. The dancers added a dimension that brought out the character of the music (ICING ON THE CAKE). Yet still people overlook this important fact.
Sunny’s music was conceptual which is evident in the original session master tapes for the film SPACE IS THE PLACE. The original session tape sequence denotes that the album was designed to be a suite of Sunny’s music.
SOME OF THE 1976-1980 MEMBERS OF THE ARKESTRA
1976 through 1985 was a powerful period for THE ARKESTRA with different musicians coming in and out of the band. It was a time when the band, to me, was the strongest. All our performances, studio or live, reflected this energy. Below is a list of performers I had the pleasure to perform with during this time.
WALTER MILLER (my on the road roommate), AHMED ABDULLAH, KWAMI HADI, AHKTAL EBAH, MIKE RAY & FRED THOMAS
MARSHALL ALLEN, DANNY DAVIS, JULIAN PRESSLEY, & NOEL SCOTT
DANNY THOMPSON, PAT PATRICK, CHARLES DAVIS & JULIAN PRESSLEY
ROBIN UBANKS, DICK GRIFFIN, CRAIG HARRIS & TYRONE HILL
BASS CLARINET & ALTO
WALT DICKERSON, DAMON CHOICE & HARRY WILSON
DALE WILLIAMS & BRUCE EDWARDS
RONNIE BOYKINS, BOBO BROWN (OSCAR BROWN JR.’S SON), CROCKETT & JOHN ORE
LEX HUMPHRIES, CLIFFORD JARVIS, LUQMAN ALI, SAMARAI CELESTIAL, BUSTER SMITH & EDDIE THOMAS
JAMES JACSON, NIMROD, ATAKATUNE & OTHERS
JUNE TYSON, CHERYL BANKS, WISTERIA (JUDITH HOLTON), RHODA BLOUNT, RUSTY (ATAKATUNE’S SISTER), EDDIE THOMAS & T.C. III
JUNE, CHERYL, WISTERIA, TED THOMAS, VERTA MAE GROSVENOR, THE JINGLE BROTHERS & OTHERS
THE JERRY GORDON EQUATION – BROTHER FOR A COSMIC CAUSE
In the 70’s, Jerry Gordon of Evidence Records owned a record store called 3RD STREET JAZZ in downtown Philly. 3rd STREET is where serious music collectors went to buy their music. Jerry knew me as THE KID from WRTI-FM and always made sure I bought the serious music and nothing light weight.
Unbeknownst to many, Jerry Gordon financially was instrumental in assisting Sunny on various music projects. Importantly was his help by covering the cost it took to produce the 5626 Morton Street version of Saturn / El Saturn Records. Due to the growing feud between Sunny and Alton Abraham over production money that should have been available to Sunny, Sunny created the Philadelphia version of El Saturn Records. The feud made Sunny see the need for his independency from Alton and this is where Jerry Gordon comes in. Again, Jerry Gordon funded, helped market and distributed our recordings via 3RD STREET JAZZ.
I recall dire times when work was slow, we had no money, food or heat at 5626 Morton Street and Jerry helped pay the bills with enough scratch left over for food. This is when I first ate Sunny’s SPACE CHILLY. Whew was it hot and delicious.
This is the humanity most people do not know about Jerry Gordon and his association with The Arkestra long before Evidence Records came into being. This credits Jerry as one of us under cosmic law. When Jerry created his Evidence Record label, Jerry was the first to reissue some of our Saturn / El Saturn catalog of albums making it the first time these recordings were made available on the new compact disc media.
REMEMBRANCES OF STUDIO, CONCERT & TELEVISION PERFORMANCES
All through the late 1960’s through the 1970's, THE ARKESTRA was tight playing music from Swing to hardcore Avant Garde. August of 1970 was a major turning point for The Arkestra when they traveled on THE GRAND TOUR which was the first time The Arkestra went to Europe. A year later in December of 1971 The Arkestra would perform in Egypt.
The 1974 through1980 Philly concerts, with emphasis to the "Halloween" shows, were where we truly acted up presenting concerts you had to see to believe. Sometimes the energy from Sunny playing the bass line on the Yahama organ would be so intense that Sunny’s amplifier would explode on stage. Sometimes we would just play energy filled sheets of sound that was so out that people literally passed out or had to be taken out of the concert hall. Through all this energy the audience would be right in sync with us screaming and shouting like being in a church service.
Our Philadelphia and New York concerts were the shows where we felt more at home sometimes playing nonstop 3 hour sets. The most important venues during this 70’s period in Philly were The Foxhole Café, Grendel’s Lair, Ripley’s, The Ethical Society and The International House. Grendel’s Lair located at 5th and South Street was where we first began doing our yearly Halloween Concerts. In New York The Bottom Line concerts were like playing at Grendel’s Lair in Philly.
The music was strong and the atmosphere was filled with good energy and the audience participated as a part of the band. So many times it didn’t matter if we stopped between sets. This made it hard for the M.C. So what the clubs began doing was make us take a break so he could ask people to pay another admission. Then they would admit as many patrons to the club which was more than the law allowed. Most times our concerts were standing room only.
In 1977 during one of our Halloween concerts, I recall our beginning to play the song U.F.O. which I believe Mike Ray brought to the band. We were used to playing Sunny’s music and when this occurred I felt it was an extension of Sunny’s modern vision of his music via Mike Rays’ contribution of the song. Some nights we would funk the snot out of U.F.O. on the bandstand with Dale Williams killing it on funk guitar with a wah wah peddle. When we played Our SPACE FUNK believe me it was no joke. Sometimes I would leave the bandstand and I would sit in the audience just to see the band playing. Sunny asked me why I did that and I said, "REMEMBER SUNNY, I USED TO SEE THE BAND BEFORE I WAS IN".
April of 1978 saw the year of various film productions. First was the taping of our April 27th concert at The Left bank Jazz Society in Baltimore, Maryland which was filmed by Robert Mugge as part of his Sun Ra documentary A JOYFUL NOISE.
I recall on May 17th of 1978 as the beginning of our many performances at The Public Theater in New York. Prior to our performance on the second day we filmed a production for Lincoln Center which I have yet to see.
On May 20th of 1978, at the request of Buck Henry, Sunny and the Arkestra performed on Saturday Night Live. Sadly, due to a family emergency I was unable to attend the broadcast. The SNL gig gave Sunny and The Arkestra its first prime-time television.
June 30th of 1977, THE ARKESTRA performed at The Public Theater as part of our TRIBUTE TO FLETCHER HENDERSON series of concerts which continued until the end of 1978. The band soared through the arrangements of Fletcher Henderson, Jelly Roll Morton, Don Redman and Coleman Hawkins who had been members of Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra. When we played the arrangements it was like we were channeling the spirit and energy of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra hitting it on the money each performance.
July 17th of 1978 would be the first time I recorded in the studio with The Arkestra at Bob Blank studios in New York. This is where we recorded the LANQUDITY. We began recording at 10:30 PM recording an entire recording session of music to discover that something was wrong with the audio. The problem resulted in our having to start recording from scratch. I recall at 1AM our doing a completely different set of recordings for the second set part of our recording session. I have no clue to what happened to the first set of supposed defective tracks. We finished the recording session and were ready to leave by 5:47 AM that morning. The funny thing about this session is that there was enough music recorded for at least two to three albums.
When Lanquidity was released, there were two versions of the LP. Sunny released a version on our Philly based El Saturn record label and the edited version became the PHILLY JAZZ RECORDS edition. The El Saturn version was much longer tracking at almost 25 minutes on the “A” side and 24 minutes for the “B” side. The Philly Jazz version of Lanquidity is compiled from tracks from the second session. Session producer Tom Buchler recently began research to locate the original master tapes.
October of 1978, THE ARKESTRA went on a tour to Canada to perform for a week at The Rising Sun club followed by a week at The Horseshoe Tavern concluding with a performance at The University of Toronto. When we finished the tour, we went straight to New York into the Hotel Constellation to perform. While on the bandstand, John Gilmore gestured to me that trumpeter Miles Davis was in the audience.
Unbeknownst to many, Miles Davis was a big fan of Sun Ra. Miles brother Vernon was a singer who used to rehearse with Sunny back in Chicago in the mid 1950’s. A rehearsal tape of Sunny and Vernon exists in the archive. The following week we performed at the DANCE-A-TERIA, a NEW WAVE music club in New York. Strangely, we opened for the new wave music group DEVO to find out that they were big fans of ours.
April of 1979, we performed the SUN DAY CONCERT performing at 6AM (Sunrise) and performing at 6PM (Sunset). Those were some great concerts. Sunny would spin around fast while playing (3) keyboards and I believe this is the first time Samurai Celestial played drums with us. Samurai was a real cool dude from New Orleans. He had the fire on drums like drummer Roger Blank did when he was in The Arkestra. Samurai played volcanoes of driving rhythms behind the screams of the horns during songs like THE SHADOW WORLD. James brown would have to say… GOOD GOD!
A year later in October of 1979, things started to take a turn for the worst for some of the members of The Arkestra. October 17th of 1979, Ebah decided to go on a 72 day fast and at one point he began to become delirious from malnutrition. Ebah turned on his oven and he got inside. I was shocked because I always knew him to be a quiet, spiritual and real cool person. You would not know Ebah until he started singing with that big voice he had with mommy June Tyson on songs like JOURNEY TO SATURN and SPACE IS THE PLACE. After this episode Ebah was unable to play which was missed in the band. Shortly thereafter his health began to fail and he soon left the planet.
At this same time Little Danny Davis who was diabetic was having major problems with his health still performing when he could. Then Little D became so ill that he went into a comma. Shortly afterwards LITTLE D left the planet. It was too much for me to lose people like that who were the only real family I knew.
Then June Tyson began showing signs of her cancer and still tried to perform. Sadly, there are late 80’s and early 90’s recordings of this troubling time for June. Evidence of her voice cracking while she sang were signs of her becoming frail. When June left the planet I lost my SPACE MOTHER. I cried like a baby when June, then Elo and then John Gilmore left the planet. From day one June looked out for me calling me THE BABY and she made sure to scold me when necessary.
During the 1978 Canada tour at The Rising Sun, I met a beautiful Guadalupe lady who worked at the club. That night after the show I visited with her at her home. We talked for hours and when it was time to go I realized it was close to 5AM. When I got back to the hotel where The Arkestra was staying June was waiting for me at the door and she gave me THE FIRE. She said don’t ever go anywhere unless you tell me first like a mother would and she stood and looked at me. Little Danny Davis and Marshall cracked up laughing. I knew from that point June really did love me like a son. I will forever love my June Tyson for being the mother I really needed at this time.
By 1980 some new folks started to appear in the band which I felt had self-serving agendas and attitudes that I felt were not beneficial to Sunny or the band. It was about Sunny’s name and money which they made sure Sunny would pay them after gigs when the rest of the band knew the financial protocol. So, I decided to step back and I attended less and less rehearsals. I don’t think Sunny understood why I made this choice. I was proud to be a part of his vision and negativities from some of the musicians in the band were unacceptable.
For me, I saw Sunny’s vision of a band performing at its best at all times showing our one mindedness via the music. I’ve seen things work out in the strangest of circumstances and saw shit that had nothing to do with Sunny that just wasn’t necessary. Enough said. Later in a 1989 interview with THE HINDS BROTHERS I discovered Sunny did understand crediting me for being one person that played his music consistently on radio which I have always done.
MY MOVE TO NEW YORK TO WORK IN JAZZ RADIO
After several years of performing with The Arkestra, still working with Sunny, March 27th of 1984 I was offered a broadcasting opportunity to work for Newark Public Radio station WBGO-FM Jazz 88 (1984-1995). From my connection to WBGO-FM I was offered other important music related opportunities. April of 1984 I was hired by Savoy Records (1984-1992) as their Bebop music specialist and by Dr. Bill Cosby serving as pre-recorded music director for his NBC-TV series “The Cosby Show”.
At WBGO Bebop, Hard Bop and Straight Ahead Jazz was my standard Jazz programming format. I also gave equal respect and airplay of course to Sunny’s music plus other Avant Garde artists who I became to know as friends during my travels like Sunny Murray and Frank Wright. After (11) years of fighting for the music and other nonsense, on the last day of my vacation in 1995 I was let go from WBGO-FM at no fault of my own. A year later I was recruited to play music for eclectic music radio station WFMU-FM in Jersey City, New Jersey. The management thought I was going to play Jazz and I opened up and play every style of music I like (Jazz, Blues, R&B, non-classic Rock, Latin, Reggae, etc.).
WHAT CHANGED SUNNY’S HEALTH CONDITION
In 1984, something tragic happened to Sunny which in return began to alter his health condition. It is to be understood that his organ keyboards were an extension of his being with emphasis to the Yamaha organ. The energy Sunny generated from the Yamaha was the fuel that kept him vibrant. It was in the fall of 1984 that I heard that James, a new guitarist in the band had stolen Sunny’s keyboards while they were in Europe. Strangely, I was given information where a rocksichord organ was found in Brooklyn. I went to the seller and saw that it was Sunny’s organ. Sadly, I did not have the money to purchase the organ which would now be a part of The Sun Ra Music Archive.
Clairvoyantly I knew that this was the beginning of a no-return situation. Without the organs, it was impossible for Sunny to re-energize by playing out musically. This is when Sunny began playing more standards on piano during his concerts. It was hard to attend later concerts because of this.
By the late 1980’s, Sunny had purchased some keyboards but they did not have the vast sound capabilities he got from the Yamaha, Farfisa, Rocksichord or the Moog. Shortly thereafter Sunny began to show signs of physical body stress resulting in his first stroke. As my point factually states, this happens to many artists when they cannot do things they have done every day of their lives. It really works on your health and in Sunny’s case the energy was so high that he needed that level of energy to keep him thriving for his age.
THE LAST TIMES I SAW SUN RA
Near the end it was way too much for me to see the man who was like a father to me in the condition Sunny was in. At this time I lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York and from time to time I would go to Philly to bathe, feed and spend time with Sunny. This gave Fatima who looked after Sunny on a daily basis a break for a few hours. Fatima split her taking care between Sunny and her mother who lived in Newark, New Jersey. After the last stroke Sunny could not speak but we always had a way of communicating without speaking a word to each other that began on the bandstand in the 70’s.
One time I had a clairvoyant feeling that something wasn’t right around Sunny and stopped what I was doing and I got a train from New York to Philly. This time I noticed a guy by the name of Curtis who was supposed to be working with Sunny in some type of unclear capacity. I noticed every time he would approach Sunny, Sunny would shake nervously. But because I was there Curtis tried not to let me see what was going on. But my clairvoyance again kicked in and I dug where shit was coming from.
Curtis was a crack head and had been forcing Sunny to give him money. Since I have known Sunny he had a body wallet where he kept his money. When I saw Sunny reaching for it I knew something was wrong and put a stop to it once and for all. I went upstairs and told Jacson and Tyrone what was going on and they came down and just about beat Curtis within an inch of his life. Curtis never returned to 5626 Morton Street.
The last time I saw Sunny, he grabbed my hand for something to write with and he gave me a code that I have since lost but have not forgotten. Before I left Sunny, I thanked him and told him that for me it was never about money. It was about the experience rehearsing and playing his music and all the places I played with The Arkestra during my teens as a professional musician. This is what mattered to me and the responsibility (DISCIPLINE) he left for me via THE SUN RA MUSIC ARCHIVE. Nothing could ever take the place of the many great experiences I had and the people I played with through Sunny.
Shortly thereafter Sunny left the planet and it took me a year to accept the fact that my SPACE FATHER had left the planet. I just could not accept that Sunny was gone. It wasn’t supposed to end like it did as far as I was concerned.
BERNARD STOLLMAN AND ESP DISK’
April of 1996, I met Bernard Stollman and began talking to him about my looking to establish a Sun Ra estate with the cooperation with his heirs. A major concern was how Marshall and the band were going to be able to continue to function and how I could make a financial difference. I had heard, but more so was unaware of the politics behind Bernard’s past business interactions. All I knew he was willing to listen. It would be in 1997 that I began constructing a draft for a legal document to establish an estate for Sun Ra.
The law states that family, if any, have rights over things pertaining to their deceased relative. The master tapes where given to me by Sun Ra, Alton Abraham and James Bryant making me the owner of the material in my possession. I never told Bernard I had such a large volume of Sunny’s music in my archive. Later on my intuition would prove correct.
A year later in April of 1997, Bernard and I met with Sunny’s nephew Thomas Jenkins to discuss forming the estate with Bernard representing their interests. James Bryant was invited to the meeting but due to the arrogance of Bernard Stollman in a conversation prior to the meeting Mr. Bryant declined to participate any further. From the start there were problems of trust with Bernard which jelled when he verbally became control cocky alienating the key parties to be involved.
WORKING FOR SIRIUS SATELLITE RADIO
After a few years of getting nowhere with Bernard and ESP Disk’, in the year 2000 I was offered an opportunity to help establish Satellite Radio Broadcasting via SIRIUS SATELLITE RADIO (2000-2003). There I was hired to assist in the development of Satellite Radio technology and create and hold the title of station manager, program and music director of their Blues and 50's Rock-N-Roll channels.
I had (4) great years of creating great programming for the Blues & 50’s channels, hosting the 6AM to 12 Noon slot including working with Dan Aykroyd as the voice of “Elmer Blues” who voiced brief Blues artist histories. I did hours of artist interviews with people like John Mayall, Bo Diddley, Ike Turner, Buddy Guy and then current performers like guitarist Robert Cray and New Orleans pianist Jon Cleary.
In 2003 Sirius was assigned new management which became the beginning of the end for myself and (8) other important programming managers who shortly thereafter were terminated due to no fault of our own. At this time we were some of the best music programmers in New York City who ushered in the Satellite Radio broadcasting era.
MY 2004 RETURN TO ESP DISK’
First I must say, I did have some great times productively while working as music producer for ESP Disk’. I also had some productive co-working with Bernard who had (2) sides of his nature. One, he could be a very kind and generous man who allowed me to make release decisions for his label. Bernard was there for me and other musicians associated with his ESP Disk’ label on many occasions. I saw him help artists like Frank Lowe when Frank was trying to get to Europe in his last days and giving money and helping Giuseppe Logan get off the street as a homeless person.
The second Bernard could be mean and sharped tongued. On many occasions Bernard took credit for work I had done on behalf of ESP Disk’ to then have to fight over my compensation for my work. So, while at ESP I learned what I needed to learn (the business) to assist me in successfully operating The Sun Ra Music Archive which I was then envisioning. Believe me; I worked below a welfare check building a global radio and press network of affiliations that has benefitted The Sun Ra Music Archive.
In 2004, in need of work, I returned to ESP Disk’ to help Bernard prepare for the new launch of his ESP Disk’ record label. At this time I began producing records and creating the first successful product management division for the label. The first release I produced for ESP was the unreleased Sun Ra recordings from the November 16th, 1965 HELIOCENTRIC WORLDS Vol. 2 recording session. The tracks were released as ESP-4002 – HELIOCENTRIC WORLDS Vol. 3 – THE LOST TAPES. In actuality Bernard had paid for the recording session and I believe it would be not only fair to him but consistent in the HELIOCENTRIC WORLDS OF SUN RA series. There was always a rumor that there was a third volume.
CREATING THE SUN RA MUSIC ARCHIVE
2009 was the year I created The Sun Ra Music Archive as a legitimate way to continue THE SUN RA LEGACY. My responsibilities (DISCIPLINE) include transferring the master tapes, compiling an extensive discography, music productions, documentaries, media corresponding and continually networking to promote the Sun Ra legacy to our fans. Moreover I work as a one man operation with my using my own money to fund THE SUN RA MUSIC ARCHIVE.
NOTE: Alton Abraham left the planet in 1998. In 2009 the City of Chicago decided to demolish his house by first discarding its inner contents in huge dumpsters prior to the demolition. An unknown friend of my friends Billy and Miriam at Norton Records saw the contents and notified Billy and Miriam about this situation. Come to find out it was all the tapes, photographs, literature and other contents Alton had of Sun Ra’s archive that were soon to be lost forever. Due to their going to Europe to perform, Billy and Miriam were unable to retrieve the contents.
With no time to waste, this unknown individual made contact with Mr. John Corbett and he rescued a gold mine treasure trove of rare Sun Ra artifacts. Mr. Corbett donated a large part of this archive to the University of Chicago and some of the master tapes being held at The Experimental Sound Studio. Mr. Corbett and I have successfully worked on a few Sun Ra projects over the years. Sadly, we have no access to the material at the University or ESS.
THE JAMES BRYANT SUN RA ARCHIVE
Prior to Mr. James Bryant leaving the planet in 2005(?), I began paying the storage unit cost where he had stored his portion of the Sun Ra tapes. In an effort to bring some understanding of the contents we agreed to work together and he began sending me large boxes of master tapes to inventory. Sadly, Mr. Bryant would only send odd sequences of tapes like tape 1, 3, 4 and 6 of a (6) tape set. Most of the tapes had little to no information in which I had to identify each tape by ear. By my knowledge of most of the recordings, I was able to accurately reassemble each session or concert and information about each recording.
My interaction with Mr. Bryant came to an unexpected halt when he left the planet. He was living in Tennessee and we were preparing to take things to the next level and then I could not reach him for some time. When I finally was able to reach his wife she said he had passed. Mrs. Bryant knew nothing about the storage unit so there was no way to find a lead to where the tapes were.
The James Bryant Sun Ra tapes were temporarily lost until 2011 when they were discovered and sold on Ebay. Interestingly in 2013, fans who had bought these and other tapes began sending the tapes back to The Sun Ra Music Archive at no cost the archive.
THE NORTON RECORDS RELEASES
In 2009, I began the first of my successful business associations with Norton Records which gave me an outlet to create and release some new Sun Ra music. I was still involved with ESP Disk’ and I felt it was time for me to again leave to focus on getting THE SUN RA MUSIC ARCHIVE established. After many years of no Sun Ra music being released on any legit label, I felt it was important for me to keep Sunny’s music in the ears of his global fans which I was unable to do via ESP.
Billy and Miriam at Norton Records were more interested in doing a series of Sun Ra Doo Wop LP’s and CD’s. At this time I was financially broke and my association with Norton Records helped generate the necessary money I needed to attend to the upkeep of The Sun Ra Music Archive.
a) VOL 1 – INTERPLANETARY MELODIES – NORTON CD CED-352
b) VOL 2 – SECOND STOP IS JUPITER – NORTON CD CED-353
c) VOL 3 – ROCKETSHIP ROCK (BLUES & R&B) – NORTON CD CED-354
In 2011, Norton Records was interested in unreleased Sun Ra poetry recordings for release as “VINYL ONLY” recordings. My research for the endeavor brought forth (3) LP’s worth of incredible unreleased Sun Ra poetry with Sunny and other reciters.
a) VOL 1 – STRANGE WORLDS IN MY MIND – NORTON LP – ED-365
b) VOL 2 – THE SUB-DWELLERS – NORTON LP – ED-366
c) VOL 3 – THE OUTER DARKNESS – NORTON LP – ED-367
In 2014 a fourth LP of Sun Ra Poetry was released including discussion on creating the first book of Sun Ra poetry under the title “THIS PLANET IS DOOMED”.
a) NORTON RECORDS – SUN RA POETRY SERIES – MY WAY IS THE SPACEWAYS
Also, in 2014 I transcribed hours of Sunny’s 1971lectures at University of California at Berkeley. This created an additional (2) volume set of books with the first book being titled “THE PROPHETIKA” with a lot of prophetic text which gives the book its title.
THE TRANSPARENCY LABEL & MICHAEL SHEPPARD
In 2009, it was brought to my attention that Michael Shepard of TRANSPARENCY had been releasing CD’s and videos without any authorization. Having established himself in the Sun Ra underground, in an effort to legitimized TRANSPARENCY, I thought a positive move would be to work with Mr. Shepard on a legitimate project. Another agenda was to make sure Marshall was getting something from those previously produced TRANSPARENCY productions. I knew Marshall Allen needed money for the house and band and a generous portion of the revenue was to benefit him in maintaining The Arkestra as leader.
The first project I agreed to work on with TRANSPARENCY was my documentary production of the 14 CD box set THE ETERNAL MYTH REVEALED which covered Sunny’s career prior to and during his time in Chicago (1930’s-1960). In preparing the production stage of the endeavor I felt it would be more appropriate to have Sunny narrate his own story with my narration leading into each section. I edited hours of interview footage, mastered the music, created the corresponding liner note text, photo graphic research and set everything in panels for the layout of the booklet.
Again, this was my initial mind set in which, after all was said and done, I was never compensated for the endeavor. When Mr. Sheppard passed in 2016, TRANSPARENCY owed The Sun Ra Music Archive approximately $70.000 (seventy thousand dollars).
THE SUN RA REPATRIATION PROJECT DOCUMENTARY FILM – FRANCE
In April of 2009, I was asked to be a part of and assist in the production of THE SUN RA REPATRIATION PROJECT produced by Ms. Kapwani Kiwanga. This was a unique experiment of an experience as NASA sent a satellite into space to try to see if they could reach sound waves from Saturn. Ms. Kiwanga also interviewed members of The Arkestra, Amiri Baraka, John Szwed and NASA personnel.
THE SUN RA MUSIC ARCHIVE & PATTI SMITH
In the fall of 2009 another positive exchange came when rock music performer Patti Smith contacted me requesting authorization to record our SECOND STOP IS JUPITER. The song was used as background for a poem Patti had written titled TARKOVSKY (THE SECOND STOP IS JUPITER) which was released on her BANGA album.
In 2009 I began working with Mr. James Lindbloom and his ROARATORIO RECORDS label. Mr. Lindbloom was a GOD SEND who saw the unsettling situation I was in with various setbacks and assisted by providing an outlet for projects that in turn would help me with the upkeep of The Sun Ra Music Archive. You can view the roster of ROARATORIO RECORDS releases on our SUN RA MUSIC ARCHIVE PRODUCTIONS page.
THE SUN RA MUSIC ARCHIVE & LADY GAGA
More positive interaction came in April of 2013 when management for rock performer Lady Gaga went to Bernard Stollman requesting authorization to record our ROCKET #9. I contacted Sunny’s nephew at SUN RA LLC and had the money intercepted. Lady Gaga utilized our ROCKET #9 as the bridge to her composition VENUS.
For years, due to their being no estate, Bernard had collected money on behalf of Sun Ra to use towards the operation of ESP. This is why I implemented a document for the establishment of an estate to Thomas Jenkins, a legal heir. Because of my association with Bernard, a major problem of trust arose between Sunny’s nephew and I although it was I who safe-guarded Sunny’s music and the reason SUN RA LLC was finally making some real money.
Because I worked with Bernard does not mean I ever stole from Sunny which to date I never have. Sunny was MY FATHER and my discipline as a professional was to perpetuate his legacy. I never received any of Sunny’s money which Bernard had been collecting for years. Even some of the Arkestra members have held that against me when I did everything to put the power in their hands. My money was earned from my working in broadcasting which allowed me to financially master recordings and manage the everyday operation of THE SUN RA MUSIC ARCHIVE.
I finally left ESP Disk for good in early 2014 with the Pharaoh Sanders “IN THE BEGINNING” 4 CD set (ESP-4069) as my departing swan-song from ESP. A note about this time at ESP can be read more in the Jason Weiss novel about ESP DISK' titled “ALWAYS IN TROUBLE”. Again, for no reason Bernard had fired me and I spoke my mind about the fucked up situations Bernard and some of the staff had put me through. I was the one producing the releases that brought in the money also serving as MUISC PRODUCT MANAGER making sure radio, press and retail outlets knew about our new CD releases.
ITUNES APPROACHES THE SUN RA MUSIC ARCHIVE
In the fall of 2013, I was approached by the director of ITunes Digital as asked to be a part of their new MASTERED FOR ITUNES series of digital albums. Months of preparation went into preparing the audio for the endeavor but we have no album art work for the releases in the archive. Mr. John Corbett has some of them in his part of the archive. Having worked for radio station WFMU-FM, I sought out help and connected with Irwin Chusid. After I transferred the audio and worked my magic, Irwin helped me with fine tuning the audio and the creation of high resolution scans of the album art work.
A DISCREPANCY WITH DOCUMENTATION
As owner of a large part of Sunny’s archive, in an effort to do right by Sunny, by law I needed documented authorization so I could continue the work I had been doing for many years prior to and via the establishment of The Sun Ra Music Archive. Remember, I had been trying to create an estate for Sunny since 1997.
In November of 2014, I again drafted an authorization document to be presented to Sun Ra’s nephew under the auspices of SUN RA LLC. The document included (3) lines for the signatures of Mr. Jenkins, Mr. Chusid and myself. When the document was set in stone, I was mentioned in the text but was not given signatory authorization and Mr. Chusid was given full authority to represent Thomas Jenkins and SUN RA LLC. How do you think I feel after all the years of work I had done as designated by Sunny to me in which I used my own money?
EXPLANATION FOR THE DELAY IN CREATING NEW SUN RA PRODUCTIONS
A major part of the delay in producing Sun Ra productions has to do with legalities with his estate which had not been legally established by his family until 2014. The other was my not having a financial stream of revenue to address various productions that I had outlined. A well-constructed plan was in place and I was ready to commence on all fronts. So, I began looking for some professional assistance to help me move in that direction but was side-railed due to no fault of my own.
PROBLEMS WITH PARTNERS & DISRESPECTS
Now, when I ask people to work with me, this means I have a plan. What disturbs me beyond my tolerance is when people assume I have no plan or experience without knowing my professional credentials in the music business. Unbeknownst to many, I have worked professionally in every aspect of the music industry. I even worked in retail as the Jazz music buyer for Tower Records and HMV here in New York. In this I was well assured in the success mechanism of my proposed Sun Ra archive endeavor.
Early on I was honestly told by a European American associate of mine that my professional expertise was so important to the industry but I would have a hard way to go because of the color my skin. He said “Sadly, IT’S A WHITE MANS’ CLUB” and I would pose a threat to the old way things had been going for many years. When I came to New York I thought there was equal opportunity in the music industry which unbeknownst to me I found was very racially biased.
There were many prominent figures of all races who have contributed to the perpetuation of Jazz from Ragtime, Bebop and Avant Garde. I was fortunate in my teens to work with George Wein when he changed his NEWPORT JAZZ FESTIVAL to the KOOL & PANASONIC JAZZ FESTIVALS. Even with the musicians it was never about the color of the person. We all were a part of one cause and that was to get the music to the people. Then I saw the ugly face of how some through jealousy could put unwarranted obstacles in my path. Shit yeah, I have had a hell of a hard way to go.
Sunny always said and I would also see for myself that Black people do not financially support their own creative arts. So as a lone soldier fighting on the frontline for the JAZZ cause I had no cultural support mechanism. Sadly, people of other cultures assume all people in a race are ignorant or unaware of their own history. They feel this warrants their right to tell their side of the story making it HIS STORY.
Even with my accurate information about Sun Ra is second guessed by some people by them stating what some of the published books say. I have the tapes and my life’s work has been to study all of the master tapes which in many cases have an accurate recording date. I was in THE ARKESTRA and a major player in helping Sunny be able to transcribe charts for the band. “BUT THE BOOK SAYS MY ASS! It is like them choosing “ISH” which is a facsimile thereof in view of a factual truth that leaves no question.
Because of my age, there will come a time when I will have to seek the next successors to be the new administration of THE SUN RA MUSIC ARCHIVE. This is why I from time to time I seek assistance and I need to be able to trust who I work with. This is a job you live every day and the people I work with must understand the DISCIPLINE of their place under my direction and leadership. Until that time I will continue working as a one man operation which from my DISCIPLINE I am afforded the benefits which my labor brings.
Listen, there is so much more to say but let me stop here so I can focus on a roster of activities created or co-produced by THE SUN RA MUSIC ARCHIVE. Enjoy all the information you will be able to peruse via our website. Please share the information about our website with your Sun Ra loving friends..
SPACE & FOCUS IN THIS ALTERED DESTINY
MICHAEL D. ANDERSON
Executive Director of The Sun Ra Music Archive