"But my lawyer got the FBI to bring us my file. And of course it's ridiculous"
You might know Buffy Sainte-Marie from her song “Universal Soldier,” her stint on Sesame Street, or songs she cowrote or wrote that became hits for others, like “Up Where We Belong” and “Until It’s Time for You to Go.” But she’s far from a folkie gently strumming on guitar – she was one of the first people to use synthesizers, writing an album that used an early model called a Buchla – or a children’s educational figure.
Sainte-Marie is one of the most creatively restless musicians of of the 20th century (she was also an early adopter of Apple computers as recording tools) and even now, she tours and records according to nothing but her own whims. Her new album, Power in the Blood, contains a reworking of one of her oldest songs, “It’s My Way,” though it’s as laden with electronic sounds as it is with her voice and guitar.
“I’ve been on the road since [2008’s] Running for the Drum,” Sainte-Marie tells PEOPLE from her home in Hawaii. “And when I put the band together for that tour, I told them it was a two-year world tour, and this is like the fifth or sixth year of that. And I had a lot of material that I put together with that touring group that I wanted to record.”
One of the songs is “Power in the Blood,” a song originally done by Alabama 3, best otherwise known for their song “Woke Up This Morning,” the theme song to The Sopranos.
“I’m a big fan of theirs and I found out they were fans of mine and we spent some time in England last year, and I told them that ‘Power in the Blood’ – despite being one of the most violent songs you’ve ever heard – would make a great peace song!”
Sainte-Marie’s activism and advocacy on behalf of various groups is as important to her as her music, and an interesting part of her story. “The Lyndon Johnson administration and the Nixon administration were back to back,” she explains, “and the Johnson administration thought I was a loose cannon because of my outspokenness in my recordings and on television.”
Sainte-Marie says she was blacklisted during the 1970s, with radio stations being told to not play her music. “I found out 10 years later, in the 1980s, that Lyndon Johnson had been writing letters on White House stationary praising radio stations for suppressing my music,” she explained in a 1999 interview.
“I went to my lawyer and he said, ‘Well, let’s find out if you have any FBI files,’ and I just laughed. But my lawyer got the FBI to bring us my file. And of course it’s ridiculous, anything you might want to read has been blacked out by a Magic Marker.”
Sainte-Marie makes sure to mention several causes she’s advocating for or working with. “Fracking we have to find a way to around it. Whether it’s combative or cooperative dialogue. GMO, climate change, poverty – especially among indigenous peoples And Idle No More, a real grassroots collective of people who are concerned with missing and murdered indigenous women, particularly in North America but also all over the world.”
Power in the Blood will be released May 12 on True North records.