He’s known to some as the “Matador of Metaphor,” a “Tribal Troubadour,” or simply “The Buckskin Poet.” But no matter the title, Jack Gladstone’s calling is to breathe life into Native American history.
The Kalispell-based musician and songwriter, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, has just released Buffalo Republic, his eighth commercial recording. In 1999, he was nominated as Native American Songwriter of the Year.
Don’t try putting Gladstone in a musical box, though. You could call him a balladeer, but that overlooks his country swing. Or you could dub him an oral historian, but that doesn’t cover the breadth of his musical talents. A more apt description might be an eclectic Renaissance Man who deftly blends his traditional Indian past with the many contradictions of the New World present. “What I’m trying to do is rearrange the thinking processes of my audiences.” he says. “I feel real lucky. I know there’s no one in the Native American field who can do what I’m doing like I’m doing it.”
Born in Seattle to a Blackfeet father and a German mother, Gladstone has been faced with a multicultural schism all his life. “As a kid I always wanted to play the cowboy, because the cowboy always won,” he says. “It took me a long time to resolve the conflicting realities of the American West and American Indians.” After high school, he completed a football scholarship at the University of Washington, where he played as an offensive lineman. Football, he said, was the perfect venue to vent his anger and frustration about the “tidal wave of Manifest Destiny” that had flooded Indian nations across the West. His fervor, once unleashed on the gridiron, helped his team secure a Rose Bowl championship in 1978. He graduated with a degree in public communications.
As he learned more about the plight of fellow Indians, Gladstone says he also realized the related ties to persecuted animals, especially the wolf, the bison and the grizzly bear. This medley of connections to the human and natural world is deeply interwoven in his work today.
“I want to reflect the humanity of our people, which essentially means the humanity of all people,” he says. “Being a mixed-blood, I’ve got to look at it as a human being. It’s not fast-food history. What I want to afford the listener, though, is an economically fulfilling trip where they say, ‘Wow, I haven’t looked at things like that.’” Along with profiling epic historical events, Gladstone showcases such legends as Indian athlete Jim Thorpe and the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. Interspersed are songs about tradition, love, wilderness and diversity. He even has a song about a bear who wants to have spots. Despite his national allure, Gladstone remains humble, and he and his wife, Linda, keep their company, Hawkstone Productions (www.hawkstone.com) a modest affair.
Gladstone hopes to complete the last leg of a historical trilogy on the Northern Plains by the end of the year. From there, he doesn’t know where the road will lead.
“There’s still stories out there,” he says. “I will continue to attach myself to them.”
Jack Gladstone plays venues throughout Glacier National Park throughout August. His next Glacier show will be Friday, Aug. 11 at Lake Macdonald Lodge at 8:30 p.m.