Osceola Brothers: Three Seminole Kids Singing the Blues
The American government has a long and violent history of enslaving, persecuting, lying to, cheating, and stealing from people all over the world. And it has done an especially brutal job of it right here at home. Just look at the historical roots of our government's interactions with the many tribes of natives who were here long before the stars and stripes. They were hunted down and killed, forced off their lands, and fenced in by barbed wire. But one group was never conquered: the Seminole Tribe of Florida. One of its leaders was Osceola. And today his relatives are still singing the blues.
The Osceola Brothers are a blues-rock band from the Hollywood area's Seminole reservation. They are three real-life siblings under 18 years old. Sheldon, 13, plays drums. Tyson, 15, plays bass, and Cameron Osceola, 17, is lead singer and guitarist.
Says Cameron: "The band was basically my idea. Once I got my first electric guitar and started taking it seriously, that's it. I was gone."
Cameron has been playing guitar since he was 7, going from a beat-up acoustic to a Walmart Starcaster to the ax he rocks today. His first performance was at an open-mic jam on the rez. "Back then, I was into metal. I played 'Master of Puppets' by Metallica. I did the solo and went offstage, and the announcer guy was like, 'Who knew girls could rock?' I had long hair, I was kind of chubby, and my voice was still squeaky."
Today, nobody would dare make that mistake. Like blues great Muddy Waters before him, Cameron is a "Mannish Boy." His singing voice is deep and gruff. And onstage, with a hat pulled low over his eyes, he resembles Texas guitar great Stevie Ray Vaughan.
The first concert he ever went to was when his uncle took him to see AC/DC at BankAtlantic Center. His favorite singers are, he notes, "Elvis, John Lee Hooker, and Johnny Lang... all the old guys." Cameron admires many guitar players, like "Nick Mars from Mötley Crüe, Joe Satriani, and Jimi Hendrix." But without a doubt, his favorite is the aforementioned Stevie Ray.
Like many kids born in 1996, his introduction to rock came via the Guitar Hero videogame. "My mom and dad would also play it on the radio sometimes," he says. "I was listening more to hip-hop then. But once I really heard rock 'n' roll, that was it. I liked the attitude in the music."
The Osceola Brothers play covers and originals, but Cameron reports, "We're trying to write more of our own songs. I'll just be thinking and hum something I think is cool, then sing it into my phone to record it so I don't forget. My brothers think it's silly when they see me do that."
But onstage, they all work together. And there are drum and bass solos too, so everybody gets his time in the spotlight. "We know each other so well," Cameron says. "Onstage, our chemistry just connects. I tell my brothers to be ready for anything. I do a lot of improvising. I never play anything the same way twice. When I was taking guitar lessons, they wanted me to play the same scales over and over in different modes and stuff, but I just wanted to play things off my head. I don't like things to be scripted."
That tenacious drive has been with him since he first picked up a guitar and taught himself the song "Patience" by Guns N' Roses. "I would just sit there replaying it over and over on my CD player. I had a chord book, but I never really used it. I sounded everything out the hard way."
As for lyrics, "I'm working on my songwriting abilities as we speak," he says. "Our heritage has a lot of history and material, from being relocated to being hunted to being taken over to being strong. There is a lot of spirituality in being who we are that ties into our storytelling. I'm two tribes. My mom is Seminole, and my dad is Kiowa, from Oklahoma."
When asked what he is working on now, Cameron says he's got a song called "Leave This Town," about "just wanting to leave the town I'm stuck in and get away and play."
He's also started writing a song "about a Native American warrior hiding in the swamp. The government is after him, but he knows he's gonna win. They call us 'The Unconquered' because we never gave up to the government no matter how hard they came after our people."
Cameron discovered blues music from searching YouTube for the Hendrix song "Voodoo Chile." "The number one or two video that came up was this guy Stevie Ray Vaughan," Cameron says. "For a long time, I thought he was some country guy, so I didn't click it, but one day I got curious and from there I got hooked on the blues. He inspires me the most."
His family took note of his interest, and his uncle Paul Buster from Otter Clan offered him a chance to play his new riffs with him onstage at Hard Rock Live. "I was bad. But he gave me a shot."
And family has always helped shape his musical perspective. "I get a lot of knowledge from my grandparents Marie and Jimmie Osceola. They tell me stories about how they struggled. They teach me language and culture, about the tribe, and how it used to be when they were growing up. They teach me to never give up and to be proud of who you are."
Today, those experiences have shaped Cameron into an awesome musician who speaks through his six-strings. "I don't really talk. I'm not that outgoing. Guitar is the way to convey what I feel. The greatest players are not the most technical players but the ones who can take what they're feeling and make the audience feel it too."
The Osceola Brothers play with so much feeling that even other blues artists give them props. Journeyman musician Derek Miller, from the Mohawk Territory of Canada, has an album with Vaughan's old backing band, Double Trouble, and a track with Willie Nelson. He once shared a bill with the Osceolas, and after they finished playing, Cameron remembers, "he came up to us on the side of the stage and talked to us for a half hour. He said he liked what we're doing and that we're playing music young kids shouldn't know about."
But Cameron does know. He knows all about the origins of the blues. "It originated from African slaves being in pain," he says. "They didn't have a way to let their feelings out, 'cause nobody wanted to hear what slaves had to say. So they sang hymns in the fields and made makeshift guitars out of string and wood. And that led up to the electric guitar. Everything is the baby of the blues: rock 'n' roll, hip-hop, R&B... Everything originated from the blues. Every music we have."
Osceola Brothers: Part of the Fifth Burger Beast Burgie Awards Block Party (see more, page 20) with Los Bastardos Magnificos; DJ sets by Afrobeta and Pinchadiscos. 5 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, February 1, at Esplanade Park, 400 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale. Admission is free. Visit theburgies.com.
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