It seems that American Indians have been erased from the history books, including the chapters relating to contemporary music. Until now. The documentary, Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World looks set to change all of that by celebrating the contributions of these individuals and finally giving credit where it’s due.
The film is directed by Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana and the former is no stranger to some of this subject matter having previously co-directed the film, Reel Injun. Whereas Reel Injun focused on how American Indians are portrayed in Hollywood, Rumble is focused exclusively on the music business. Rumble gives context to some of the oppressions that were endured by this community of first nation peoples but the over-arching sentiment is perhaps best summed up by a former member of The Band who was once told, “Be proud you are Indian, but be careful who you tell”.
The story begins with the work of Link Wray, a guitarist who was responsible for inventing the power-chord and whose famous song, “Rumble” is this documentary’s namesake. Link Wray’s instrumental track is an incendiary powerhouse and it was perceived to be such a large threat by the establishment at the time – the late 1950s – that it resulted in the song being banned. But this didn’t stop the likes of The Who’s Pete Townshend from being influenced, particularly when writing the track, “I Can See For Miles.”
The narrative then takes on an episodic nature rather than a fluid or cohesive structure because from here we get almost separate pieces about delta blues artist Charley Patton (who influenced a lot of the British Invasion acts) and jazz singer, Mildred Bailey who influenced Tony Bennett. The most air-time is understandably devoted to Jimi Hendrix who has American Indian ancestry in his paternal line. The movie also includes the work of the late Jesse Ed Davis (who played with Rod Stewart, Jackson Browne and others) and Ozzy Osbourne’s drummer, the late Randy Castillo. The group Redbone whose hit song “Come & Get Your Love,” which appeared in the Guardians of the Galaxy is also featured as well as Taboo from The Black Eyed Peas.
There is no denying that the soundtrack to this film is all killer no filler. The film uses a combination of photos and archive footage as well as interviews with a veritable who’s who of entertainment with everyone from director Martin Scorsese, record producer Quincy Jones and musicians George Clinton, Slash, Iggy Pop, Taj Mahal, Dan Auerbach and Taylor Hawkins, to name a few.
This documentary is by no means definitive and perhaps would have worked better as a mini-series because different episodes could have been devoted to different genres and the influence of these Indian American artists; plus it may have better suited the method of storytelling. But in spite of this, Rumble is an informative, fun and crowd-pleasing film where you can learn a lot about your favourite artists and the legacy and influence of American Indians on contemporary music. Let’s hope this rumble becomes a giant roar that opens up the floodgates allowing proper credit to be shared in the future by this industry.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)