Rumble: the story of the Native Americans who shaped rock music | Music

For a song without words, Rumble managed to say a lot about the sexiness, swagger, and appeal of teenage rebellion. Released in 1958 by Native American guitarist Link Wray, the track – all dirty chord progressions and blistering guitar – was a harbinger of the impending rock revolution of the 60s, and is widely credited with inventing the power chord. which would become essential to rock, metal, thrash and other tangential genres. Sixty-one years after its release, Rumble remains the only instrumental track to be banned from American radio stations, for fear that it incites violence among young people.

But this wordless call to arms reached the masses, and some members of the audience it was addressed to would internalize the sound and spirit of Rumble and with them create a fantastically ungodly new genre of larger-than-life guitar music.

“Jeff Beck told me that he and Jimmy Page used to hop around the bedroom at his mother’s house playing air guitar to Link Wray,” says guitarist Stevie Salas. “To visualize these guys being like, Mount Rushmore of rock stars playing air guitar to a Shawnee Indian, it just blew my mind.”

Indeed, Link Wray, the leather-clad rocker prowling the stage with mega-bravado, grew up poor in rural South Carolina when the Ku Klux Klan walked past his house in the middle of the night, and when the Klan was just as likely to prosecute you for being Indian as for being black. He is one of many Indigenous artists – Jimi Hendrix, the band’s Robbie Robertson, jazz voice icon Mildred Bailey – whose legacy was largely hidden, even as they shaped the history of the music.

Wray’s most famous song serves as the title of Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, a documentary exploring the presence and influence of Native Americans in popular music. Released last year, Rumble premieres on US television on January 21 and in it, Steve Van Zandt calls Rumble “the soundtrack to juvenile delinquency” while Iggy Pop preaches that the track “helped me to say ‘shit, I’m going to be a musician.'”

But Rumble’s tale goes far beyond adolescent urges, tracing a path from rock ‘n’ roll to jazz to blues and the music of pre-colonial America, before European immigrants and the federal government begin their systematic decimation of indigenous peoples and vibrant music. traditions they carried. Through extensive research supported by the Smithsonian, Rumble demonstrates that the blues, America’s oldest form of popular music, was influenced by even earlier Indigenous playing and singing styles.

In particular, the film singles out Charley Patton – “the father of Delta blues” who is said to have Choctaw ancestry – as a key artist who fused traditional tribal rhythms with the then-burgeoning blues. The scene in which musician Tuscarora/Taíno Pura Fé demonstrates Indigenous influence in Patton’s Down the Red Dirt Road will probably give you chills.

“It’s Indian music with a guitar,” Fé said, her eyes lighting up, “that’s where it happened.”

Patton’s style influenced other blues artists and eventually British rock and rollers like the Rolling Stones, The Who and Zeppelin who would bow at their feet in the 60s. Rumble features a 1965 music video from the American musical variety show Shindig! in which the Stones host a performance by Howlin’ Wolf, who was deeply influenced by Patton. With such images, Rumble fleshes out the DNA of popular music, which has remained incomplete for centuries due to the suppression of indigenous peoples.

“As we started to uncover the depth of it, we were so excited and also felt a huge responsibility to do it right,” said Rumble director Catherine Bainbridge. “It’s a nuanced thing, and it’s not about claiming anything. It’s just about saying there’s a part of this history that’s been buried that you should know because it was important.

Rumble took four years to make and was filmed in 28 cities across North America – from the Deep South to the Mountainous West – with the filmmakers often spending days with the families of the musicians they were investigating, gathering stories and digging in old photo albums. .

Steven Van Zandt Photo: Pedro Ruiz/Rezolution Pictures

Ultimately, they collected over 10,000 archival documents and conducted 178 hours of interviews with musicologists, historians, journalists, poets and rockstars. The cast of Rumble includes Pop, Van Zandt, George Clinton, Martin Scorsese, Steven Tyler, Dan Auerbach, Taj Mahal, Jackson Browne, Slash, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Robbie Robertson, Robert Trujillo of Metallica, Wayne Kramer of MC5, Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas and other musical luminaries speak of each artist in question with unmistakable deference.

“I was completely influenced by Mildred Bailey,” raves Tony Bennett. “She sang perfectly, for me.”

The A-list casting was largely a function of the film’s executive producer Stevie Salas, a venerable rock guitarist who toured with Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones. Salas and Bainbridge felt it was essential for famous musicians to proclaim the importance of Indigenous artists in order to justify their importance and add weight to interviews with subjects such as Fè and the late author, musician and activist Santee Dakota. John Trudell.

“For me, it was important that it wasn’t just Indigenous people who praised these musicians, but the biggest rockstars in the world,” says Salas. “If I was on screen and said, ‘Jesse Ed Davis was the greatest guitarist,’ you’d be like, ‘Okay, whatever. If Eric Clapton tells you that, you’re much more likely to believe him. Salas’ rock Rolodex has also helped open doors in interview requests.

“Everyone,” says Bainbridge, “said yes without hesitation.”

The idea for Rumble came to Salas after working with co-executive producer Tim Johnson at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian on Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians In Popular Culture. Based on Brian Wright-McLeod’s book The Encyclopedia of Native Music, published in 2000, this 2010 exhibit featured artifacts from Native musicians, including Jimi Hendrix, Robertson and St. Mary, and drew record crowds to Washington D.C. and in New York. At this time, Salas spent time on the reserves and had witnessed, he said, “what seemed like a lack of role models. People look up to Native Americans of 100 or 200 years ago, the Sitting Bulls and Geronimos. I wanted to do something to show Native Americans that Native American musicians were truly influential and fantastic. He decided to turn the exhibition into a film.

Collaborating with Bainbridge was an easy choice, as the Canadian director had directed the 2009 film Reel Injun, which documented Hollywood portrayals and misrepresentations of Indigenous people. What the filmmakers and their team found during their research was, for them, nothing less than a revision of history, so much so that a program was developed around Rumble so that it can be taught in schools. Meanwhile, last year, Rumble found widespread play in hundreds of theaters across North America and Europe. (About the use of the controversial “Indian” tag in the title, Salas says, “The goal was to get as many people as possible to understand what the film is about, so that they see it and learn about it. information. If that meant using a word people know best, the end justified the means.”)

In 2017, Rumble was named one of the best Canadian films of the year at the Toronto Film Festival and won the Special Jury Prize for World Cinema Documentary for its masterful storytelling at the Sundance Film Festival. Salas was unable to attend Sundance, as he was on tour in Japan to recoup some of the money he had lost taking time on the road to make the film. Meanwhile, Bainbridge and her husband, who is First Nations, had mortgaged their home to help finance the film.

For the duo, the significant investment of time and money paid off not just in praise, but more so in the opportunity to shine a light on Native American heroes who, until now, have largely been excluded from the mainstream. .

“What makes me so proud of the film,” says Bainbridge, “is that now we can all know this story, and once we know that, we know there are other things we don’t know. No. This is where we are now in our decolonization story – all the stories are told.


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