Produced by Steve Gebhardt & John Sinclair, Musicus Production with Big Chief Productions, Executive Producer: Robert A. Johnson
With appearances by John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Allen Ginsberg, MC-5, Up, Ed Sanders, Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, Ed Moss, Andre Williams, Bo Dollis and Cyril Neville. Original 16mm footage from the 1960s and ’70s by Leni Sinclair. Graphic design by Gary Grimshaw. Music supervision by John Sinclair. Edited by Tom Hayes. Directed by Steve Gebhardt.
Soundtrack performances by John Sinclair & His Blues Scholars, Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, John Coltrane, Miles Davis Sextet, Detroit Artists Workshop Music Ensemble, Ed Moss & the Society Jazz Orchestra, MC5, Cecil Taylor, The Kingsmen, The Youngbloods, Sun Ra & His Solar Arkestra, Detroit featuring Rusty Day, The Up, Allen Ginsberg, Ed Sanders, John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band, Sly & the Family Stone, John Sinclair & Bill Lynn, Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, Thelonious Monk Quartet, Charles Neville & Diversity, the Wild Magnolias & Re-Birth Brass Band, Ed Moss & His Hot 5.
Steve Gebhardt’s films include Ladies & Gentlemen The Rolling Stones, Bill Monroe: Father of Bluegrass Music, Carla Bley: Escalator Over the Hill and the yet-to-be-released 10 FOR 2: The John Sinclair Freedom Rally (1972) and If I Could Be With You: John Sinclair with Ed Moss & the Society Jazz Orchestra (1996).
20 TO LIFE: The Life & Times of John Sinclair
John Sinclair is a real American character. Poet, performing artist and bandleader, music journalist, radio broadcaster, record producer, educator and archivist, Sinclair first emerged out of his small-town Michigan background to forge a legendary course through the 1960s as a cultural activist, founder of the Detroit Artists Workshop, manager of the MC-5, and Chairman of the White Panther Party.
An early victim of the War on Drugs who faced 20 years to life in prison for giving two joints to an undercover policewoman, Sinclair mounted an historic challenge to the constitutionality of Michigan’s marijuana laws and served 29 months of a 9-1/2-to-10-year sentence before his legal victory on appeal changed the law for good.
The long campaign waged by Sinclair and his supporters in the courts, the legislature, the media and the streets culminated in a massive John Sinclair Freedom Rally headlined by John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger, Phil Ochs, Allen Ginsberg and Bobby Seale that resulted in Sinclair’s release from prison on December 13, 1971—just three days after the event.
For the next 10 years Sinclair persevered as a community organizer and cultural activist, producing the legendary Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festivals, writing for the underground press, founding the Detroit Jazz Center, developing and directing a wide range of projects for community arts organizations.
In 1982 John Sinclair took up his original vocation as a poet, set his verse to music, formed his first band of Blues Scholars and began to pursue a performing arts career that has produced three books, 10 CDs and hundreds of concert appearances throughout the United States and Western Europe with a kaleidoscopic cast of accompanists including Archie Shepp, Marion Brown, Wayne Kramer, Daniel Carter, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Willie King, the late Jimmie Lee Robinson and scores more.
Sinclair left Detroit in 1991 for New Orleans and cut a broad mark there as a popular performing artist, music journalist, award-winning broadcast producer and radio personality on WWOZ-FM. In 1998 Sinclair was invited by High Times magazine to serve as High Priest at the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, beginning a burgeoning love affair with the Netherlands that climaxed with Sinclair’s decision to move to Amsterdam in 2003.
Begun in 1991 and completed in 2004, 20 TO LIFE is the real-life story of this legendary poet-provocateur and American cultural warrior whose exploits have reverberated throughout the international underground for 40 years. The story is told by Sinclair, his family, friends and associates through the years and highlighted by a series of electrifying poetry performances by Sinclair’s contemporary blues and jazz ensembles.
The disparate elements of Sinclair’s unique story have been brilliantly assembled and painstakingly delineated by director Steve Gebhardt and editor Tom Hayes in this multi-layered 87-minute feature film from Musicus Media. The soundtrack was supervised by Sinclair himself and features music by the MC-5, John Lennon, Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Allen Ginsberg, Sly & the Family Stone, Thelonious Monk, Charles Neville, the Wild Magnolias and the Re-Birth Brass Band.