Native American music icon Nik Winterhawk Alexander—lead singer and guitarist of the San Francisco-based group Winterhawk, who led his all-Native heavy metal band to opening for big names, including Motley Crue, in the 1980s—walked on July 5 after battling with cancer.
Nik Winterhawk Alexander and his metal band Winterhawk were known for hard riffs and powerful lyrics, and for the donning of Native attire and regalia during live performances that embodied a Native activist’s spirit.
The band opened for such musical icons as Tina Turner, Santana, Country Joe and the Fish, Steve Miller and Van Halen. The band formed in 1978 and separated in 1984, according to Spirit of Metal. Alexander’s fellow bandmates included Alfonso Kolb, Doug Love, Gordon Campbell, Frankie Joe, Jon Gibson and Frank J. Diaz de Leon and Jim Boyd.
Nik Winterhawk Alexander was a Cree musician who believed his band’s music presented a valuable message to the world.
“Music is a very sacred part of Native American lifestyles,” he said prior to his death in a statement on the Discogs music website that features his music. “If a person of a tribe possesses a rattle or a drum or a stick to beat the drum, those articles are treated with great respect. [The band] Winterhawk carried that same reverence toward music, because the ability to play music is a gift.”[text_ad]Nik Winterhawk Alexander’s son, Nigel K Alexander, a skateboard video artist with more than 700,000 followers on Facebook, posted news of his father’s passing on July 6.
“He made me the man I am today. He taught me so much about the world and the universe and installed a really good sense of wonder into me that will never fade. He lived an awesome life as a rockstar when he was younger and I got to go on tour with him when I was a little guy. They were some of the best times of my life.”
Winterhawk debuted in 1979 with its Electric Warriors LP.
The following year it released its second album, Dog Soldier.
In addition to wearing pieces of regalia during shows, accompanied by lyrics and statements embracing his heritage, Nik Winterhawk Alexander also believed in sharing a positive message with young people.
“I believe in setting an example for young people,” Alexander said on the Discog’s site. “We carry high the values our forefathers did: keeping our environment clean, taking care of the creatures, including ourselves. If there’s any music that is close to traditional Native American music, a war dance beat, it’s straight rock and roll.”
In 1987, Alexander spoke in front of 600 at the Yellowhead Tribal Council’s youth conference in Canada, stating “Look at me, I’m a rock musician… and I don’t do drugs, drink or smoke.”
In 1992, he attended a Los Angeles protest of the Rose Parade, which featured a descendant of Christopher Columbus as the grand marshal. “Red children,” he said, who already suffer low self-esteem should not have to turn on their televisions to see the Rose Parade glorify the man who helped destroy American Indian culture.”
In 1995, Alexander got into film with roles in Cheyenne Warrior and God’s Army. In 2000, he took part in two more: Red Letters and Escape to Grizzly Mountain. And in 2017, he appeared in You Have a Nice Flight.
Albuquerque-based Mother Earth Records and Tapes studio owner John Wagner remembered helping the band get off the ground in an editorial post on Amazon.com. “Many years ago I watched an old broken down car with a small band of musicians pull into my studio drive. Out steps a striking young man [Nik Alexander] with a confident air about him. I did not know what to expect from these young men who were going to make their first recording for Mother Earth Records and Tapes. I am amazed to this day how great the music of Nik Alexander and Winterhawk was … and still is!”
Nik Winterhawk Alexander passed away July 5 after battling with cancer.
Cary Rosenbaum (Colville Confederated Tribes) is a correspondent with Indian Country Media Network. Follow him on Twitter: @caryrosenbaum