"I'm just getting warmed up," says John Sinclair. "I just got a record contract." The signature '60s radical is talking by cell from the Memphis Amtrak station, about to board a train to Clarksdale, Mississippi, to perform at the Delta Blues Museum and a club called Ground Zero. His mission: promoting Fattening Frogs for Snakes: The Delta Sound (the John Sinclair and the Blues Scholars album) and his like-titled blues history book. The album is the first of what Sinclair hopes is a four-disc history of the blues and a sonic theatricalization of the first part of his book. It's a damn good album; Sinclair vocalizes blues history over a rocking band, crafting didacticism you can dance to.
Sinclair first made headlines in the late '60s and early '70s as founder of the White Panther Party, as manager of the radical rock group MC5, as a marijuana martyr sentenced to 10 years for possession of two joints (he served 29 months), and as the hero of a song by John Lennon. Nearly 61, Sinclair is spearheading an Amtrak-sponsored, two-month, 19-city tour behind Frogs. The tour, by rail, aims to re-create the migration of the blues from the Mississippi Delta to the upper Midwest.
"I'm always active," Sinclair says in his gravelly, impish voice. "Been active for 40 years, and I ain't stopping now. You heard me?" He laughs. "I've been busy all my life. I write liner notes."
A New Orleans blues disc jockey when he's not on the road, Sinclair says he wanted to do a reading at the Old Erie Street Bookstore in Cleveland, but its owner told him the place on East Ninth was closed, and "It's not worth the time. You got to go to a Borders now," Sinclair says. "It's like when you're in Detroit, you've got to go to the new stadium, because they're not playing at the old stadium. It's not your choice, but there it is."