Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World—The “Rumble” in the title refers to the classic, greatly influential instrumental single of 1958 by Link Wray. Iggy Pop claims to have decided to pursue music in earnest after Wray’s thundering power chord air, as did Pete Townsend and other rock giants.
But this documentary by Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana, which screens Tuesday night at Third Street Theater in Phoenix as part of the “No Festival Required” film series, isn’t just about the influence of Native Americans on rock. It’s also about their influence on jazz, blues, roots, folk and heavy metal. There are episodes on Charlie Patton, Jimi Hendrix, Pete La Farge, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jesse Ed Davis, Mildred Bailey, Howlin’ Wolf, Robbie Robertson and Randy Castillo, among others. The talking heads include Robertson, Iggy Pop, John Trudell, Steven Van Zandt, Taj Mahal and Martin Scorsese, among many others.
This smoothly made, graphically engaging movie makes a really convincing case, not only that many individual artists of Native American ancestry made a profound impact on popular music, but also that their contribution was itself heavily influenced by indigenous musical traditions, often in combination with African-American traditions. We see footage from Mardi Gras in New Orleans, or ensemble singing from Native communities in the southeast, that startlingly demonstrate the connection between these styles and pop forms. We even see Redbone on The Midnight Special back in the ‘70s, staging native dances before striking up “Come and Get Your Love.”
But while the case feels persuasive, Rumble isn’t a dry piece of ethnography. It’s a lively collection of show-business stories, some funny, some heartbreaking, all of them memorable. Music and cultural history buffs are strongly advised not to miss this one.
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