In 1958, a song emerged from the depths of musical genius that would change the history of music forever: the instrumental Rumble by rock guitarist and singer/songwriter, Link Wray. Rumble was the first song to use distortion and feedback and introduced the power chord. It was one of the very few instrumental singles to be banned from the radio for fear it would incite violence. Director Martin Scorsese commented, “Rock and Roll has a plethora of revolutionary happenings, but none shook the music world up quite like Rumble.” It was hard, yet instrumental and…it was being played by an American Indian. Musician-songwriter and member of The Band, Robbie Robertson (Cayuga/Mohawk) was influenced by a deep level. “It changed everything: Rumble made an indelible mark on the whole evolution of where Rock ‘n’ Roll was gonna go. And then I found out that he (Link Wray) was an Indian.”
Indigenous music has been at the essence of American popular music from the beginning, but the Native American contribution was left out of the story – until now. Now on the scene is the film RUMBLE: Indians Who Rocked the World, which takes its cue from Shawnee-born Link Wray and delves into how Native American influence is an integral part of music history. The early pioneers of the blues had Native (as well as African American) roots, and one of the first and most influential jazz singers’ voices was trained on Native American songs. As the folk-rock era took hold, Native Americans were there, too. From Jazz singer Mildred Bailey (Coeur d’Alene,) guitar legend Jimi Hendrix (Cherokee,) and folk heroine Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree,) to the father of the Delta Blues, Charlie Patton (African American/Cherokee/Choctaw,) Native Americans were – and still are – integral to the evolution of what music is today. Howlin’ Wolf himself said, “Hell, yeah, I play guitar! You know who taught me how to play? Charley Patton! Charley Patton was an Indian and he was the worst mother*****r in the world!”
Incredibly, though, many of these artists’ Indian heritage was unknown. In fact, RUMBLE touches on how Native American musicians, in general, felt compelled to hide their ancestry to avoid prejudice and persecution during the American government’s shameful attempts to ban, censor, and erase Indian culture in the United States. They launched vicious campaigns to eradicate indigenous cultures, as well as destroy the solidarity between Native Americans and African Americans, something that was crucial for survival in a racist culture. The art persevered, however, and went on to influence and inspire many generations of musicians.
RUMBLE will be at the Act Human Rights Film Festival in April. Directed by Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana, Rezolution Pictures’ RUMBLE brings a history to light that is eerily relevant today. The film has won awards from Sundance Film Festival, Hot Docs, Boulder International Film Festival, the Canadian Screen, and more. The press is running rampant, inciting hope that Native American influence can be rewritten into history. Says the Act Human Rights Film Festival, “A string of nonfiction films have brought long-underappreciated and professionally-marginalized creators of American popular music into the spotlight. RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World is perhaps the most revelatory of the bunch, writing a much-needed chapter in the annals of a cultural form that has often been whitewashed by historians.”
The importance of a film like RUMBLE to a community cannot be overstated. Celeste Di Iorio of Maple Street Music Agency (along with The Music District and CSU Communications Studies) was integral in getting RUMBLE to Fort Collins. “I think the aspect that drives home the importance of the movie is that we live in a world where folks are still having to mask their heritage in supplication to the dominant culture,” says Di Iorio. “My goal in wanting to bring Rumble to this community is to give voice to Indigenous artistic talent and bring awareness to these talents within our own community. It is also my hope that we can do a meticulous job of reaching out and including our Native community in this event. RUMBLE points to the fact that Indigenous culture has made great and important contributions to our collective artistic conscious, and creates an awareness for us all. We cannot continue to not include all cultures, as artists from all cultures have contributed in important ways to our creative evolution. This is simply undeniable.”
Blues singer/songwriter Pura Fé (Tuscarora) will be on the Q&A panel after the film screens, as will Finger-Style Blues guitarist Cary Morin (Crow.) Pura Fé, who was a consultant for the roots part of RUMBLE, considers the film her life story as far as the historical aspect of the film goes. Many of the interviews were with family members and neighbors. “Link Wray lived from right down the road from my family in the Native community in that area of Dunn. His mother comes from them. They are Tuscarora, but Link went by his father’s Shawnee lineage.” Pura Fé also found the movie’s statement on the cultures that have historically supported one another particularly relevant to her life. “I have always talked about the roots of Blues coming out of that marriage between African and Indian early contact and slavery. I have written songs about it…because it is my own maternal family history…”
Pura Fé was particularly touched by the aspect of the film that touched on a Jazz legend. “My favorite part of the film was Mildred Bailey. What an incredible story, that she is the maker of a specific sound, spirit, and style that has influenced all the greats is so fulfilling to me!”
Morin wrote the song Pura Fé’s band, Ulali, performs in the movie: Idle No More. Bringing RUMBLE to his home community has a special place in his heart, as it is bringing the message that Native performers can rise above adversity and deliver a performance that is admired by all. He found himself intrigued by the film, as well. “I have been aware of many of the artists in the film and I’m good friends with some of them. Of the musicians that I didn’t know before the film, it was fascinating to hear the details about their lives. And then, of course, there are those that I had no idea were Native people, which is the whole point of the film.”
RUMBLE will touch the community, Native and otherwise. “Throughout my life, it has always been moving for me to witness a performance by a Native person that is admired by non-Native audiences,” concludes Morin. “As the film points out in our history in the United States, it hasn’t been an advantage to reveal ones Native ancestry for many artists and it makes me feel great to see a Native performer rise above adversity and deliver a performance that is admired by all. We are all one!”
RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World screens on April 14 at 6:30 pm at the Colorado State University Lory Student Center Theatre. Executive Producers Stevie Salas and Christina Fon will be attending with film participant Pura Fé and score contributor Cary Morin for a special Q&A. Pura Fé and Cary Morin will also be performing.