You performed a two-hour show for about 1,000 inmates at Rikerís Island back in 1983. How did that come about?
There was a Canadian harp [harmonica] player from Montrťal [Jim Zeller] who had been imprisoned down there. Heíd been caught with I believe a very small amount of cocaine, and they put him in Rikerís Island [where he was facing a potential life sentence].
To be honest with you, it was a bit of a publicity stunt that was orchestrated by my first manager. He had this idea to go down there and play a show for the inmates and try to get the media to come down, and he said it would be good career-wise for me but also the idea was to get the Canadian government to notice that this guy needed help.
They were trying to get him out and up into a Canadian prison where his sentence would be much lighter because horrendous things were happening to him at Rikerís Island. So I went down and did this show, and yes, it was bodyguard time.
How did people treat you?
Believe it or not, very, very respectfully. I donít think the inmates knew what to make of it at first, but it was good music. We got him up and he jammed with us and played his harp, so we got to show his gifts. Hopefully that was a feather in his cap in terms of status in the prison, and we were really appreciated.
It was a treat for the inmates, and in fact it was really a positive thing to do. It was a great experience for me. I like to step outside my comfort zone, and that was definitely outside my comfort zone.
It was good to see that not everybody sitting in an American prison is a terrible person. Theyíre not. Thereís a lot of corrupt stuff and a lot of people getting way intense sentences for things that are not justified.