If you ask most Americans about Indians in rock music they will usually point to “Cherokee Nation”, the John D. Loudermilk song released by Paul Revere and the Raiders in 1971. No wonder — it reached #1 the USA and the was biggest selling single for both the Raiders and Columbia Records. Plus, it gave pundits plenty to chew on because it chronicled the cruel expulsion of the Cherokee Nation from its land in Georgia in 1791, it was explicitly political, and Raiders frontman Mark Lindsay was part Native American.
But the story of Indians in American music goes back to the very beginning of Rock and blues, and a PBS SoCal/Independent Lens program, Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World, tells that story in a documentary that is a must-see for any who loves rock, history and American music. Beginning with Native American guitarist Link Wray, who created the rock and roll that we know today when he invented the power chord in his song “Rumble”, the program Rumble uses music, archival film and some of the best interviews on television today to take us through the Native American roll in modern American rock.
Native American music was banned at one time as part of a policy of destroying Native culture. This movement was so rabid at the end of the 18th Century that the US Calvary raided a Ghost Dance gathering and slaughtered 300 dancers and spectators – with public approval. RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World, shows that not only was native culture not eradicated, but that it grew and infused modern American music even while it was under attack. As the film reveals, early pioneers of the blues such as Charlie Patton had Native American roots and one of the first and most influential jazz singers, Mildred Bailey, had a voice trained on Native American songs. When the folk-rock era took hold in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Native Americans such as Peter La Farge and Buffy Sainte-Marie – who are both part of the program — helped to define its evolution.
RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World traces how Native artists like Link Wray, Jimi Hendrix (yes, Hendrix had Native American blood), legendary drummer Randy Castillo and every major band’s goto guitarist, Kiowa/Comanche Jesse Ed Davis, forever changed the trajectory of rock and roll. Without native Americans, the documentary shows us, that it is likely there never would have been a Rolling Stones, a Beatles, or many other iconic bands that both utilized musical forms invented by Native Americans, or whose bands included Native Americans.
Skillfully directed by Catherine Bainbridge, co-directed by Alfonso Maiorana, executive produced by legendary rock guitarist and native Apache Stevie Salas and native Mohawk Tim Johnson, and produced by Christina Fon of Rezolution Pictures, RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World is a tour de force of a neglected history of rock, jazz, country, folk and American music in general. Bainbridge and her team located historical film and photos of not only the past half century of rockers, but the beginnings of the New Orleans and Delta Blues. Working with the editorial team of Benjamin Duffield, Jeremiah Hayes and Jon Kalina, she wove them together using interviews with historians, rock legends, and Native American musicians. The production is shot through with the music that many Americans grew up with and almost every American responds to, keeping the program moving while it delivers a trove of historical details and modern insights.
Bainbridge achieves this not by telling the story didactically, but by letting many of those who were there or who understand how they were influenced by Native American artists do the telling. George Clinton, Taj Mahal, Slash, Jackson Browne, Taboo (a Shoshone/Mexican), Buddy Guy, Quincy Jones, Derek Trucks, Tony Bennett, Iggy Pop, Steven Tyler, Stevie Van Zandt and Martin Scorsese are among her interlocutors. The style is not so much interviews as conversations –there is an intimacy, an enthusiasm, and an excitement to them. They want to be there, they want to talk; they are excited and we are too. Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World will keep your eyes riveted to the screen while your feet are tapping on the floor.
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World premiers Sunday night on the Emmy-winning weekly PBS program Independent Lens Sunday Jan. 21, 2019 at 10 p.m. PST on PBS SoCal. Check PBS SoCal website pbssocal.org for additional broadcasts and viewing on the PBS mobile apps, and via connected TV services Android TV, Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV. PBS SoCal is a donor-supported community institution that is a part of Public Media Group of Southern California and a flagship PBS station in California. The weekly broadcast Independent Lens is presented by ITVS and funded by the non-profit Corporation for Public Broadcasting with additional funding from PBS, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Wyncote Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Patrick O’Heffernan is co-host of the LA-based, nationally syndicated weekly program, Music FridayLive! and is a music reviewer for online magazines Vents, The Hollywood Progressive and MusicJunkie. He has also co-hosted a national political talk show, The Fairness Doctrine, and hosted the “Uplinks” media segment on Saturday All Things Considered on NPR. He holds a PhD in International Relations from MIT, has been awarded an Emmy, four Addy’s, and a Webby-Honors, among other awards. He has published 5 books and ghost-written others. A project he co-launched, the North Asia Nuclear Free Zone, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. He serves on the Board of Netroots Nation.