Next weekend, an important film will be shown for the first time at the Yarrow Hotel Theater in Park City, Utah. Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World shines a light on a nearly forgotten albeit crucial component of American musical history: Rock ‘n’ roll Indians.
In a day when too many news reports about indigenous peoples are fraught with heartbreaking stories of land grabs, broken treaties, and potential environmental and social disasters, it’s good to remember the brilliant contributions made by Link Wray, Jessie Ed Davis, Jimi Hendrix, and other world class musicians who bear Native American blood.
Robbie Robertson, leader of The Band and Mohawk on his maternal side, told filmmakers that the first time he heard a Link Wray guitar instrumental called “Rumble” on the radio, it “changed everything.” Similar sentiments are echoed by MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, Aerosmith frontman, Steven Tyler, and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. In Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World, Americana blues hero, Taj Mahal, explains how deeply rock ‘n’ roll Indians continue to influence the music that we hear today.
Protopunk Iggy Pop credits the Link Wray radio hit for giving him the courage to say, “Fu*k it. I’m going to be a musician.”
RUMBLE-The Indians Who Rocked the World. Link Wray is a featured subject of this documentary, now in production! pic.twitter.com/ni1KddlRD6— LinkWray.com (@Link_Wray) April 2, 2016
If the poster accompanying the documentary accurately depict the players featured in the film, it’s a great list but by no means a complete accounting of the rock ‘n’ roll Indians and indigenous musicians whose soaring songs and clever instrumentals have influenced radio waves over the decades.
Take Redbone, for instance.
Formed in Los Angeles toward the end of the 1960s, the all-Indian rock band comprised bassist Patrick Vegas and his guitar-playing brother, Candido “Lolly” Vasquez-Vegas, along with drummer Peter “Last Walking Bear” Depoe and Robert Avila –better known by his stage name, Tony ‘T-Bone’ Bellamy. Percussionists and music scholars honor Depoe as the creator of “King Kong” style drumming. All members of Redbone were of Yaqui, Shoshone, and Mexican ancestry. Not only was Redbone the first Native American band to enjoy a Billboard No. 1 radio hit, they also exerted a major influence on the bright, brief trajectory that was guitarist James Marshall ‘Jimi’ Hendrix’ career. Hendrix himself was part Cherokee.
In January 2014, Redbone founder Lolly Vegas told Michalis Limnios of Blues Greece magazine that the songs he wrote for the band were basically Native American chants embellished with chords and English words.
The shimmering guitars and thoughtful lyrics of Quicksilver Messenger Service remain an integral part of the classic San Francisco sound of the 1960s. Quicksilver might never have happened were it not for a part-Pawnee Indian rock ‘n’ roller named Gary Duncan.
Born in San Diego in 1946 to a Cherokee-Scottish father and a Skidi Pawnee mother, Duncan was adopted and raised by a Cherokee family in Stanislaus County, California. Duncan told Rock&Reprise magazine that it wasn’t easy growing up Indian back then.
“In those days, if you were Native American, you had to be careful of the Mormon Church. Back then, the Mormons would take Indian babies, cut their hair and turn them into servants. In fact, they made a lot of money doing that until the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1972 put an end to it. It was very common for kids of a family to live with an aunt for six months or a year. Well, as soon as this would happen, the Mormon Church would come in and say this woman has abandoned her family. They would come in and cut their hair, not allow them to speak their native language anymore and, basically, sell them. It was a bit like slave trade. It was amazing they got away with it as long as they did.”
Perhaps that sorry historical fact is why Canadian-born Mohawk, Robbie Robertson, appears in the trailer to Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World saying that although most Native Americans are proud of their ancestry, they are also cautious about revealing their heritage to everyone.
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World
Featuring music and interviews with Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jessie Ed Davis, Link Wray, Robbie Robertson, and Native American notables, Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World is poised to make a powerful impact at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, according to the official Playlist trailer. The initial screening happens Sunday, January 22 at the Yarrow Hotel Theater at 1800 Park Ave. in Park City, Utah. For driving directions and info about lodging during the Sundance Film Festival, call (435) 649-7000.
[Feature Image by Francisco Diaz Pagador/ThinkStock/Getty Images]