Black Wolf's Blues" is the third album to be released by Menominee singer/guitarist Wade Fernandez, Wiciwen Apis-Mahwaew. The album is a journey through the many styles of virtuoso guitar work, from the slow burning blues incorporated with Native chant in "Funky 49," the classic rock tinged ballad "Black Gold," the Texas roadhouse stomper "Reservation Line," his rockabilly anthem "Rez Runner (Indian Car)" and an untitled jam that begins with Native flutes in an ambient soundscape that slowly turned into a Santana-inspired Latin-jazz jam.
Fernandez teaches music on the Menominee Reservation and also appears as a youth motivational speaker on reservations to promote music education. "I just consider myself a musician," the guitarist said. "When I grew up my parents were playing their records of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Johnny Cash, so my ears were getting that, but there was also pow wows and other types of music. One of my uncles played in a group that moved out to Los Angeles and he picked up a lot of R&B and jazz, so I picked up on a lot of those influences as well. As a teenager I was going to the library and trying to fill my ears with all of the different styles, even if I didn't like it at the moment; I was just trying to see what other people were seeing in it. Even if I didn't know what was going on, my ears were eating it up. It helps you to appreciate all music and it is a diet; you're feeding yourself with a lot of different things instead of just eating potato chips."
The first time Fernandez sat down with a guitar was as a child. "When I was five years old my dad got out this record, 'Apache,' and it was like 'Hey! It's an Indian tune!'" The song was a hit for the British band The Shadows in 1960 and became a standard surf instrumental. "I liked the tune, so my dad got a guitar out and put it on my lap. It seemed twice as big as me. He put the record on and said 'Figure this out.' He left me alone for about a half-hour, and that's a long time for a kid. I pretty much came up with nothing, because I didn't know how to do it," Fernandez laughed.
Undeterred by his early experience, Fernandez went back to seriously study the guitar at the age of 11. "My dad gave me some money for a couple of lessons from a folk guitar player. He gave me a few other chords, and he knew one pentatonic scale, then I just kept going with my ears, watching people, and by jamming with people on the rez. One time my uncle was coming over and I was excited to play a Blackfoot tune for him, 'Highway Song'; I knew a couple of the fast licks. But he brought over his bass and said 'Here, Wade, you play bass, I get to play guitar.' I was like 'Oh, man!' But that was good too because I learned how to keep the bass rhythm going, and also his songs had a lot of changes because they were coming from an R&B/jazz influence. Even though I was gritting my teeth I was getting more training."
As a music teacher, Fernandez sees a pattern in all musicians in how they approach music, which mirrors his own journey. "When you first start out on guitar you go for all the flashy, fast playing, from Van Halen to Hendrix, then you go into a stage where you almost become a 'jazz-Nazi' once you get into jazz," Fernandez laughed. "Then you come back to the roots and you start to appreciate Johnny Cash and some of the real basic folk stuff, like Muddy Waters. You keep going through stages and every time you come back you pick up more. I have a jazz collection that I stopped listening to for about five years, and I'm sure they are going to come out again in later years. It's the same with playing music; I had to play country in order to play in the rez bars, but I didn't really like it at the time. But when I look back I enjoyed a lot of musicians on the rez, and I respect them a lot more now than I did when I was growing up. Now, when I listen to them, compared to what I hear on the radio, there was definitely a soul going on there. I would much rather hear a few bad notes than a bunch of syrup. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't ever get to appreciate that, and don't get to open up to that because they are so fed with everything that is mass marketed that they never take the time to see how much it can enrich them."
Fernandez gets frustrated at the poverty he sees when he teaches children on the reservations, but he never loses hope. "I teach a music program on the reservation in the summertime and it's neat because I see so much talent, but the frustrating part is that a lot of them can't afford a guitar in the house. I come in for six weeks, then when I leave they may not touch another guitar until I come back the next summer. That's frustrating, but the good part is that I can sit down with them and say 'You can do this if you want to, or you can do whatever you want, it doesn't have to be music.' Music is a way to get there; you just have to watch out for all those distractions. Growing up on the rez can be pretty hard, but you can rise above it."
Fernandez's two in print albums "Black Wolf's Blues" and "Music for the 7th Generation" are available at his Web site wadefernandez.com.