“My father used to say ‘You stupid bastards, you can’t play! That’s no music!’ But what am I gonna say? Before I got the bass, I had a Buescher 400 tenor saxophone, I’d just bought it from a guy. One day Albert came by, he had his Selmer Mark IV, and he said, ‘Let me see your horn, man.’ He looked at the horn and stuff, started playing it. I said, ‘Well... that’s the end of that!’ You dig? I went and sold it back to the guy. And then I got the bass.”
Pierre Crépon and Richard J Koloda speak to the bass player and poet who worked with Albert Ayler and Black Unity Trio, among others
One could drive around Cleveland, Ohio forever trying to find a street named after Albert Ayler, but there is none. Regardless, amid the empty winter streets and boarded up buildings, the late saxophonist’s presence can be felt in the city’s eerie echoes of the ghosts and spirits populating the titles of his compositions.
In Cleveland lives the former bass player Mutawaf Shaheed, who can be heard on the third and fourth discs of Holy Ghost, the ten CD box set of rare Ayler recordings released by Revenant in 2004. Shaheed’s other 1960s associates included Charles Tyler, Norman Howard and Black Unity Trio’s Yusuf Mumin, Abdul Wadud and Hasan Shahid.
Born Clyde E Shy Jr on 10 April 1943, he began to teach himself the bass in 1964, when his friend Don Ayler took up the trumpet to join his older brother’s band, making them both part of the first generation of musicians who started out in free playing.
Ohio did not provide the parameters needed for a scene to thrive, but in the 1960s, high level avant garde jazz activity did take place in Cleveland as evidenced by the scene’s short recorded legacy, which notably includes Black Unity Trio’s Al-Fatihah.
Shortly after taking up the bass, Shy became part of the Muntu Poets Workshop, a group of writers mentored by poet Russell Atkins. Politically, he embraced black nationalism. In April 1969 Shy took the shahada oath of conversion to Islam, becoming Mutawaf A Shaheed. He stopped playing in 1970 and, the same year, was elected imam of Cleveland’s Masjid al-Mu’min mosque, a role he continues to fulfill today.
Excerpted from an interview with Shaheed conducted by Pierre Crépon and Richard J Koloda on 2 January 2019 at the Urban Kitchen & Deli in Cleveland, the following conversation offers a personal perspective on the Ayler brothers, intertwined with glimpses of the unique history of one of the US’s lost early free jazz scenes.
Pierre Crépon: What I was interested in would be to get a bit more of your personal history with the music, how you got started and go from there.
Actually, what happened is that Albert [Ayler] really was the one who got me started. He never said ‘You should play this, you should play that,’ it wasn’t that. When I went to Europe, in February 1963, it was at the urging of Albert. I was headed to India, and Albert told me, ‘No, you might want to go to Sweden, I just came back from there, it’s very nice there, you don’t have any racial problems, plus I think you could get in school free’, that kind of thing. So I bought a one way ticket, went there and none of that was true, but I still enjoyed myself. When I went to the airport – it was called Idlewild, it wasn’t JFK yet – there was a snowstorm, and the flight couldn’t leave. So we had to stay at this hotel in Long Island, and so on and so forth. I only had $40 when I landed in Sweden. I stayed there initially for three months, got a job, and they had this place called Nalen, where all the musicians would go after the clubs closed. It had such natural acoustics, you could go in there to have individual rooms where you could practice. One day I went and I saw a bass sitting over in the corner in this room. I didn’t know whose bass it was. It was there. I knew all the positions, how to hold it and stand, so I started fooling around, I didn’t know what I was doing, first time. And a guy came in, a musician from Trinidad or from the Caribbean. He walked up to me and says ‘Do you want to play a gig?’ I said, ‘I sound that bad?’ He laughed and said, ‘No! What do you mean?’ I said, ‘This is the first time I ever touched a bass,’ and he said, ‘It doesn’t make no difference, you sound OK to me!’ But I wouldn’t do it. That was just too much of a sudden. So what I did, when I got back here in the States, I went to this department store called Higbee’s, they had a Kay display bass, and I purchased it. I started practising, and then Donnie [Don Ayler] and I started practising. He still was playing saxophone. He got a trumpet later. It was in 64.
Crépon: OK, so right before Donnie joined Albert’s band?
Right. It was before that. We used to go down to this place called Pizza Projects, on 75th and Kinsman. [Saxophonist] Charles Tyler lived there. We would go to Charles’s house and we would play, we jammed, and [trumpeter] Norman Howard lived about a block and a half away. He would come over and we would all jam there. We would also go to my parents’ house, and I still can’t figure out to this day why they didn’t ever kick me out, because they got to go to work, and we’re down there playing all this music, man! My father used to say ‘You stupid bastards, you can’t play! That’s no music!’ [laughter]. But what am I gonna say? Before I got the bass, I had a Buescher 400 tenor saxophone, I’d just bought it from a guy. One day Albert came by, he had his Selmer Mark IV, and he said, ‘Let me see your horn, man.’ He looked at the horn and stuff, started playing it. I said, ‘Well... that’s the end of that!’ You dig? [laughter] I went and sold it back to the guy. And then I got the bass.
Crépon: Was it Albert’s sound that made you think that…
Yeah, I was like, man, I’ve got too far to go. My father asked him to play something. So he played “On The Banks Of The Wabash”, a standard. That was it. My father said, ‘He can play, the rest of you guys can’t play nothing, you sound like a damn train wreck!’ We were like, yeah, we don’t care, we just kept on playing.
Crépon: When was it that Donnie joined you in Sweden?
I actually went to Sweden twice, I went again in November 1964, and Donnie joined me in Stockholm later on. But this time the police was looking for me for having received stolen property. They caught up with me in Stockholm. Donnie and I had just come back from the Arctic Circle. Donnie thought Albert’s ex-girlfriend was gonna be his girl, since Albert was gone. She got tired of him and told him, ‘You wanna get a nice job? Well, listen, my uncle’s place is up in Jokkmokk… ’ And Jokkmokk is above the Arctic Circle! I knew that the police was looking for me, so I said this is good, let’s go! We hitchhiked all the way there, went through the forbidden areas, Boden, a military town. We got picked up on the other side by a policeman. He told us we could stay at the jail. It was so cold we didn’t care where it was. So we went, and he said, ‘I can close the door.’ I said, ‘No no no!’ So I slept with my leg outside the door.
Crépon: Just to be sure.
Right. Then we got back to Stockholm, and that’s when it all came to an end, I had to come back to the States because the police was there waiting. The guy at the desk called them, because they had already been there once before. I had about $9 in my pocket, I gave it to Donnie. About three days later, he came back to the States. I knew he couldn’t make it over there by himself, because I spoke the language, I could read it and write it. I used to do short clips for a photographer, who sold pictures to the newspapers and magazines, and I would sometimes pose and write the little snippets for the pictures, what they were and all the rest of that.
Crépon: [Drummer] Larry Hancock said that one of the first groups he was in was playing avant garde with you and Donnie. Was it the same group as with Charles and Norman? Were there some gigs?
Yeah, when I finally got back from Sweden, the musicians I began to play with included Larry, Charles, Norman, and Donnie. We played gigs here in Cleveland a few times. I’d also go to New York. I remember we went over to [drummer] Sunny Murray’s house with Albert, [violinist] Michel Samson and Donnie [in 1965]. I didn’t have a cover for my bass, I was walking around New York with a butt naked bass! Once, there was a gig with [drummer] Norman Connors and we had a rehearsal at Norman’s house. Norman Connors, a conga player named Idris Sahdeeq and Donald Strickland – Mustafa [Abdul Rahim] – a bass clarinet player. I wasn’t living in New York, but when I went there, I stayed up on 141st and Amsterdam Avenue, it was so hot in there you couldn’t close the door, and the roaches had some kind of manoeuvre they would make where they would fall off the ceiling and they’d run on the table. The place was just one step from being homeless. So we go by Norman’s house to practice, I’m looking at his house, beautiful waxed floors, beautiful furniture, man, you’d look outside there’s Central Park... After we rehearsed he said, ‘Why don’t you come on up here, you can play with me, I can get you a gig.’ And I said, ‘Will I be able to stay at a place like this?’ And he was like, ‘Well... you know... ” I said, ‘No, I’m good, I’m on probation, I can’t move in.’ I could, but for what? I couldn’t deal with that, that lifestyle. It wasn’t something that I was brought up dealing with. It wasn’t OK with me, living with mice and rats, and somebody else is making all the money off of your stuff? It wasn’t worth it to me. So the people who made the sacrifices, to do that, they got the fame. And that’s OK, you dig? They should have it because they made the sacrifices I definitely wasn’t prepared to make.
Koloda: I was telling Pierre about the time John Coltrane was there.
Oh yeah, we were at the [Jazz] Composers’ Guild, Trane was downstairs at the...
Koloda: [Village] Vanguard?
Crépon: Yeah, it was the Vanguard downstairs, and a dance studio upstairs [the Contemporary Center] that the Guild used.
Right, Carla and Paul Bley were playing up there [probably in early 1965] and they let us have the bandstand for maybe 45 minutes. It was Albert, Don, Michel, Sunny and me. And while we were sitting in, we saw [bassist] Jimmy Garrison come upstairs, you know. I was right at the front of the stage, playing my bass and stuff. I started going up under the bridge, bowing under the bridge, and then Jimmy was standing there, very close to the stage, just like that. Then Trane came upstairs and heard us, that’s what Albert said later.
Koloda: I think you said [trumpeter/flügelhorn player] Alan Shorter was there also.
No, Alan Shorter was at … When the clubs closed, at night, everybody would go to LeRoi Jones’s loft. That was before he became Amiri Baraka.
Crépon: On Cooper Square?
Yeah. Everybody would go up there, and they would play until the sun came up. Everybody was there. That’s where I saw Pharoah [Sanders]. It was good times, man. Just real carefree, the music fit right in with the times.
Crépon: Do you remember Marzette Watts at Cooper Square?
I don’t remember him.
Crépon: Because, in the building, there was Archie Shepp living at one time, Marzette also, and LeRoi Jones.
OK, well, we only went up to his place. Whatever else was in that building... If somebody would just show me that building right now, I don’t even remember, I was so high, I was high every single day. If somebody walked up to me and told me I owed him $10, I’d had to pay him, cause I don’t even remember that deal! [laughter] The only thing I remember, we went there a couple times when I was in New York. It was nice, you had bass players up there, you had tenor players, saxophone players, trumpet players. And, man, it was something.
Crépon: I guess they kept a drum set there?
Yeah, so whoever was gonna play the drums, they were there. Of course Sunny would have to rearrange it, you know what I mean? [Laughter] When we were up at the Composer’s Guild, playing that gig up there, I remember Sunny was playing [imitates the way Murray hummed while playing], and all of a sudden [crashing sound]. ‘Oh, that’s a new sound I have never heard…’ And he had fallen off the bandstand! [laughter] With the drums! Everybody was young, so you could stand a lot of stuff, self-abuse mainly, but you could handle it. I was in my twenties. Albert would have been maybe 30, something like that. Sunny was a fun guy, man.
Crépon: And so, did you go to LeRoi Jones’s Black Arts Theatre in Harlem, or to Spirit House in Newark?
Oh, yeah, yeah. When I became a nationalist. We used to go there, they had a group called The Spirit House Movers [And Players]. That was the group LeRoi Jones would write for, and they would do these plays, black art plays. They used to call Newark ‘New Ark’, you know? I remember when the riots took place here in Cleveland [in July 1968], we went up to New York and tried to hook up with LeRoi. And, he wasn’t gonna meet… He didn’t know us. Because I never met him, even when we went to his place and played, I just was about the music. So we went up there to meet with him, and it was a lot of turmoil, nobody knew who anybody was, so I could understand why he wouldn’t meet with us. Because we came there right after the riots that took place here.
Crépon: How did your gigs with Albert come about?
I had this one particular way to play, sometimes we’d practise with Albert, it was like a flamenco thing. So one day he said, ‘Get Clyde, because I want to play this gig, and I want him to play that Spanish background.’ And we started playing together, we played at La Cave [in April 1966], right up around the corner, it used to be, and then at the WHK Auditorium [in February 1967].
Koloda: I showed Pierre the block where La Cave was yesterday. You know, supposedly, the entire La Cave gig was taped. The owner did it surreptitiously, anyone who played there was recorded. A friend of mine had access to the archive, but the tapes are totally disorganised. I don’t know if he would have done the jazz thing, because that was the only jazz concert that was done at La Cave.
Crépon: The rest of the music was more …
Folk. There were a lot of clubs on Euclid [Avenue] at the time.
Crépon: So how come Albert ended up playing there, since it wasn’t a jazz place?
I mean, they just tried to keep music in the club. Because in this town, he was a pariah. Nobody liked him. Usually, when you want to make it some place, you go, make it, and then come back. They were trying to tell me that Charles Tyler said that he met Albert walking down the street. He knew him through Donnie. We all played together.
Koloda: Tyler told Val Wilmer he was Ayler’s cousin, which is not true.
No, that’s not true. And then, the same thing, the reason he didn’t play the gig at La Cave was because of Michel Samson being there. He told another story, but he told me directly, ‘I don’t want to play with this white dude, man.’ He was a Black Muslim. That was his religion. He followed Elijah Muhammad, him and his whole family.
Crépon: Was it a big thing, the Nation of Islam, at the time in Cleveland?
At the time, yeah, it was the only form of... That’s not Islam, that’s understood? But he was a follower, and so was Norman Howard, they were both followers of Elijah Muhammad. But Charles was definitely not a true practicer of, you know, not drinking and smoking, because we did all of that.
Koloda: You also told me how Norman Howard wrote “Witches & Devils” and what the real meaning of that was.
That was from the Nation of Islam, that was about white people. [In Nation of Islam mythology, evil scientist Yakub created white ‘devils’ through genetic experiments around 6000 years ago.] That’s what it was about. And what happened is, Albert, according to Charles, took it. And he did whatever he did with it [the composition was credited to Ayler on his Spirits LP]. Charles was adamant about it. But I know it was, because I was there when he composed it, we played it at Charles’s house, when Norman came over there.
Crépon: Did the fact that they were followers of the Nation of Islam have to do with the period when Malcolm X was at the forefront, or was it from before?
At the time, Malcolm X was still in the Nation. He was just getting ready to leave. A lot of people converting to Islam then, the true Islam, was because of Malcolm.
Crépon: After the hajj, Mecca?
Yeah, that was the main reason people started to convert to the true religion of Islam. Because of Malcolm. And there was a national trend that was headed in that direction anyway. What happened is Elijah Muhammad and the Black Muslims lost all their credibility when the riots started taking place, because everybody in the black community felt they would be the first ones on the front lines if something ever happened, because that’s how they used to talk. Then Elijah Muhammad told them, ‘Don’t do nothing, stay out of it.’ When they stayed out of it, that was the end of it. All their credibility, everything they had to say about the white man, and all of that. Plus they weren’t allowed to carry guns. At the time when I started playing professionally, I was a black nationalist. I still played and I always wrote. All of my poetry and my music were centred around nationalism. We used to have these summer art festivals [for instance, in 1968], we’d go out and play music, and recite poetry, talk about the police like dogs, you know. We did all that, we were young and we were militant. There’s a book out – I’ve been on a book tour with the guy who wrote it, James Robenalt – and it is dedicated to me and a police officer. It’s called Ballots And Bullets: Black Power Politics And Urban Guerrilla Warfare In 1968 Cleveland [Lawrence Hill Books].
Crépon: What do you think about the ways Albert has been claimed over the year?
Albert is his music. His music is everywhere, touches everything. Everybody can claim a piece of it, you dig? Albert, he grew up in a church. So a lot of his music was oriented in that direction and beyond. That was the base he always left from. He always had this base and then he would move out. But then he would come back to that base. And that’s why it was easy for him to make the transition back to the rock ’n’ roll piece, because he never strayed that far from it anyway. But he could. And he did. And he proved it. But in terms of somebody trying to say he was this, he was that... no.
Koloda: Something else Donnie told me, he always thought he was the guy in charge of everybody, Albert…
At one point in time, when he first started, when Albert gave him the break to play with him, he was like humbled. And he would practice all the time. All the time, man, like 12 hours. Albert told him what he wanted him to do, where he wanted him to go. He had a goal to work toward, and he worked toward it till he got it. What happened is that after a while, he started saying that he was better than Albert. But I blame all that on his mental condition. You don’t pay no attention. It’s like you go to a mental hospital, to visit a friend who’s in there somewhere, and on your way to the elevator a guy stops you and says, ‘Hold on, I’m a tell you something... You know I’m George Washington?’ You just keep it moving, ‘OK, that’s good, George.’ But Donnie was always was like that. His parents knew it. Nobody knows a kid better than his parents.
Crépon: Would you say that when the parents pushed to get Donnie in Albert’s band, it was because they were thinking they would make it big in the music business?
I mean, for real, no, I think that what his parents wanted was just to get him stable in something. And they looked at Albert as his big brother, and they felt that he should look after him. There were other people around Albert that were like, ‘Come on, man, come on.’ But Albert would never argue with anybody. He would always agree with them until they left. He wasn’t like a confrontational kind of guy. If he was gonna do something, like when he cut Sunny out, he didn’t tell him. He just said, ‘Ain’t nothing happening.’ All his confrontation was in his music. I remember we were playing a gig at Antioch [College], down at Yellow Springs [in February 1967], Michel Samson was there, the harpsichord player, Call...
Koloda: Call Cobbs, Samson and the drummer was Beaver Harris.
Right. We played for four hours. In fact, my bass broke, the bridge came loose. I still had the mic there, so I’m beating on the bass while trying to fix it, hitting it like a drum. I remember Albert getting behind me, and the force that was coming out of his horn, man, it was pushing me in the back. That’s the kind of energy that expelled from his horn. He could drive you. If he felt that maybe you wasn’t getting where he wanted you to be, he’d get behind you with that horn and you had to get with it [laughter]. He was a heck of a dude.
Crépon: Do you remember why he decided to cut Sunny out of the band?
No, I wasn’t in contact with him at that moment. But he did stuff like that. If he had a certain sound in his mind that he wanted, he was just looking for that musician who could bring that sound. To formulate that idea, to make it real. Sometimes, when I would play with him, he would want me to play this particular kind of way, not in a structured sense, but in the meanings that he wanted me to… To lean in that direction, to play that kind of thing. And you had to really have a good mic on your bass, man, if you wanted to be heard. At WHK [Auditorium], the acoustics were so bad, man… What’s the other bass player’s name?
Koloda: Bill Folwell.
You couldn’t hear even one of us. But in terms of the music, there was a confluence of reasons why I just had to stop. Number one, I was getting older and I had a child. Then the philosophy started changing. It’s like people got so desperate for the money – which makes sense, you’ve got to survive – that they were ready to play anything. I said, that’s cool, I can go get a job at the steel mill, I’m gonna do that. So I just kept writing. I remember, toward the end, in 1970, we went to play a gig, me, [drummer] Hasan [Shahid] and [saxophonist] Hasan Abdur-Razzaq. My ex-wife, she was a schoolteacher at this high school, she didn’t know nothing about no music, man. There was the prom, and they was gonna have us play at the prom.
A crazy guy who couldn’t do anything on the trumpet he had come to the gig, wanting to get paid! At that time, there was a lot of white students still going there. So then we started playing music, and I had all my Muslim garments – I used to wear it back then – all them garments, all them beads. And those kids were sitting there like [shocked blank stare]. So the counsellor said, ‘Look, man, I’ll tell you what…’ They went and got a record player and they paid us. The school counsellor asked my ex-wife, ‘Do you understand that music?’ She said, ‘Well, not really!’ [laughter] It was wild, man.
Crépon: It could have made a good record title: Live At The Prom!.
Live At The Prom!. Oh, man, those kids were sitting there like, ‘What in the world is this!’ They were highly upset. We were like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re disturbing them!’ [laughter]. When I was growing up, I couldn’t dance, I couldn’t play basketball, all the stuff that the blacks are supposed to be able to do, I couldn’t do none of it [laughter]. So when I started playing music, I said, ‘OK, let me see you dance to this!’
Crépon: Regarding the places where some gigs took place, do you remember some names?
Cleveland wasn’t a place for artists to grow, and because of the kind of music we played the gigs were rare. The Kabango Village, the Doan Club, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Florida A&M... One gig we had in Cleveland, that was the end of it for me. I had just become Muslim, and then I got elected to become the imam [in 1970]. So we go to this place, a bar, we set up and get ready to play, and we couldn’t have been playing 20 seconds, the owner comes running out, ‘Oh my god, you can’t do that!’ We were like, ‘What is this cat talking about?’ He said, ‘The police will put me in jail!’ I said, ‘That’s a sign, that’s it for me.’ Cleveland wasn’t no place for that. Albert couldn’t make it here, as good as he was. This is a meat and potatoes town, they want to be fancy and they want to have all this, but it ain’t that, it’s just not the place.
Crépon: And the other musicians from that time?
Many musicians from here moved to other places to be accepted. Sydney Smart, the drummer, Charles Tyler on saxophone, Norman Howard on flügelhorn and trumpet, Bobby Cunningham, the bass player, Jim Hall on guitar, Albert and Donnie, David Durrah and Bobby Few on piano. They were some of the people who played on the Cleveland scene, especially the avant garde music. Everybody left except Norman. I think he went some place and then came back. He’s in a nursing home now. I knew his brother all the time but didn’t know he was his brother. One day, I’m going to the mosque, his brother is there, and he asks me, ‘You know Norman Howard?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I know Norman Howard, what about him?’ He said, ‘That’s my brother.’ I said, ‘What, man?’ All these years, I’ve known him and I didn’t know that was his brother. I said, ‘Where is he, man? People looking for him.’ And he was right up the street here.
Koloda: I’ve talked to his brother, but Norman never wanted to do an interview.
No, with nobody. His thing is he still has that basic fundamental mentality of the Elijah Muhammad movement. That’s fixated with him. So he’s not gonna do anything, and specially with that “Witches & Devils” thing with Albert. Charles also said something similar about some tunes. I stayed out of all that, because I couldn’t write any music anyway, so I didn’t know one way or another, who stole what. All I did was play what I heard, you know? And as it turned out, I got out just in time, really, because the music was changing. Albert used to always say one thing, ‘When the music changes, the people change.’ I remember when this tune came out by the The Watts 103rd Street [Rhythm] Band, and the lyrics were like “Do whatever you wanna do, anything you do is alright”. I mean, it was absolutely amoral, any kind of activity, just go on and do it. Then they started going back to the structured music. Which I called slave music, you know? It was structured, the creativity was starting becoming peeled off, and you see where Albert wound up, singing the blues and rock ’n’ roll. Right now, when I hear Spiritual Unity, and I hear Gary Peacock, I’m thinking about what I could have done with that. Where I could be with that. So I keep looking at this cello that I’ve got sitting over in a corner. I’ve got to get on this thing sooner or later, man. And I tried it, I fooled around with it a little bit.
Crépon: Speaking of cello, what about Abdul Wadud?
Are you familiar with this album called Al-Fatihah?
Crépon: Yeah, yeah, The Black Unity Trio.
Yeah, Black Unity Trio. They had a place where they used to practice and play, it was up here on 124th, 127th and Superior [the Cosmic Music record store]. You know we did another album together, but nobody can find the tapes? It was done at Boddie [Recording Company], you dig? Hasan [Shahid] told me there was a place downtown, [Thomas] Boddie’s daughter, when he died, she sold all the masters. I remember it was myself, Abdul Wadud, Yusuf [Mumin] and Hasan. I think there was another guy, he was insane. I think he was playing the flute on there, he killed himself at his mother’s house on her birthday. But nobody can find the master tapes. There was a pressed record.
Crépon: OK, a test pressing.
But, hey, that’s gone. Like Eric said, that music is gone, it’s in the air.
Crépon: You never know, sometimes things do show up after a while. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing?
We need to mention Russell Atkins. Russell was a composer, and he had pieces that were played by the orchestra, he was a good friend to Langston Hughes. He’s in a nursing home now. He was like our mentor with the poetry. Because we were like morphing from the poetry to the music, to black nationalism, you know, the [Glenville] shootout [in 1968 between police and black nationalists, which left seven people dead]. I wasn’t involved in that, but I’m just saying we were the poets of that time. When Martin Luther King got killed [in April 1968], myself and three other Muntu poets were with Archie Shepp at Smith College [in Northampton, Massachusetts]. They had a gig up there, it was Roswell Rudd, Archie Shepp, and Grachan Moncur III. We were all in the room getting high, after the gig, cause we did our poetry, they were playing their music, and we got together afterward. Now, Roswell, you know, was a white dude, who played trombone. He made some kind of out of place crack and got checked by Grachan. He said, “Man, these cats will kill you, you dig, talking about all this stuff.” We were on the way back to Cleveland, going to all these cities where these riots were going on, all the way, going to all these places. And Cleveland was still cool. They made up for it later that year. 23 July 1968 was when the shootout took place. King had been coming back and forth to Cleveland, because he was changing directions.
Crépon: When did you first start to publish poetry?
I started writing when I was in junior high school. When I got out of high school, I was getting ready to go to Sweden, and I got a job at this place called White Motor [Company]. They built trucks. I talked to the editor of their little plant paper to put a poetry column in there, called “The Poets’ Corner”. There was me and a girl at the office, doing most of the stuff in there. Too much meat and potatoes in that plant. I’ve been writing under a pen name, you know? CE Shy. It’s novellas, short stories, I got what they call flash fiction. I got three volumes of flash fiction, about 51 stories altogether. What we’re doing, this is relaxing to me, this is enjoyable, because it brings back a beautiful time in my life, where there was creativity, and the people were free, and the music was free. There were no restrictions, and actually the entire society was in a flux, in a change. From the white part, black people... The Students for a Democratic Society... White people were rebelling too. So the music fit the time, it was perfect. The black nationalists in Cleveland – the Republic of New Libya – the black nationalist theme song was Coltrane’s “Olé”. That was the call to battle. The night that things jumped off, “Olé” was playing, you dig? In my house. All the poets were together there that night, well-known poets. Somebody came in my house and said, ‘The pot is on.’ That was the plan name for this rebellion: ‘the pot’. [Fred] Ahmed Evans was the guy who was the leader. I got a picture in the book when I was with him in the penitentiary. I was a minister there, for the Muslims, and he was on death row with other inmates. When you’ll read the book, you’ll see.