he roll out and subsequent universal acclaim for the documentary film RUMBLE - THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD couldn't have come at a worse time for me. ROCKWIRED's supplemental publication ROCK IS RED MAGAZINE - which covered American Indian and first Nations contemporary music - was going under and seemed to signal the demise of our monthly publication ROCKWIRED MAGAZINE. News of this brand new documentary seemed like a ray of hope for me as an American Indian music journalist. I wanted to reach out to REZOLUTION PRODUCTIONS - the team behind the documentary film - and get their story on the pages of ROCKWIRED. Numerous interview requests were sent to REZOLUTION and the film's directors CATHERINE BAINBRIDGE and ALFONSO MAIORANA, only to be greeted by radio silence. Was this any way to treat the first American Indian-owned rock music publication?http://www.rumblethemovie.com
As I sought to keep all of my ships from sinking, RUMBLE made it's rounds to all of the right, select theater houses throughout the country and the positive notices kept accumulating from such publications as ROLLING STONE, THE NEW YORK TIMES, VARIETY and THE WASHINGTON POST. On social media, I had friends posting raves regarding the documentary. One friend kept on me for weeks asking if I had seen it. My response was always a measured 'no'. I wanted it to seem as if RUMBLE had slipped my mind and that there were other matters to attend to. There were certainly matters of survival - the magazine's and mine but in the back of my mind was this film that everyone was seeing except me. My sense of self as a American Indian music journalist had diminished and my hopes for the future of ROCKWIRED had dimmed considerably.
THE TRAILER FOR RUMBLE - THE iNDiANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD!!!
I finally got a chance to see what all of the excitement was about a couple of weeks ago when I rented the CATHERINE BAINBRIDGE/ALFONSO MAIORANA documentary film on YOUTUBE for three days. It only cost $3.99 and I didn't have to leave home. Given the loss of ROCK IS RED, the slow and steady dissolution of ROCKWIRED MAGAZINE and other setbacks, affronts and indignities experienced throughout 2017 , I wanted to hate RUMBLE. I wanted to be the odd man out swimming against the tide of critical hosannas. Of course, none of that has ended up being the case.
RUMBLE is an soft ethnological study examining the role of Native Music and Native artists in creating the musical landscape of North America and the world. The film's ethnological slant is hinted at in the opening frames with a curious re-enactment of anthropologist and ethnographer FRANCES DUNSMORE recording songs being sung by Blackfoot chief MOUNTAIN CHIEF for the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1907. Thank goodness such clunky re-enactments don't fill up the running time. From there, we have GEORGE CLINTON pointing out that the rhythm and the pulse of Native Music is in a lot of the rock n roll that we hear today. The contributions to popular music by Native People is a sentiment that is echoed by the films interviewees such as ROBBIE ROBERTSON, MARTIN SCORSESE, STEVEN VAN ZANDT, JOY HARJO, STEVIE SALAS and DAVID FRICKE of ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE. With such musical and cultural heavy hitters as this, the film sets itself up for the daunting task of taking us on a musical journey where Native artistry and musicality added pieces to our musical heritage in ways we hadn't realized or considered.
STORY WiLL CONTiNUE
FOLLOWiNG THE ADVERTiSEMENT BELOW
The first artist to go under the film's microscope is the Shawnee fifties rock guitarist LINK WRAY and the distorted, menacing stroll of his instrumental single RUMBLE - the namesake of the documentary. With input from WAYNE CRAMER of MC5 and TAYLOR HAWKINS of FOO FIGHTERS and insights from WRAY's daughter BETH WRAY, we learn of the guitarist's poverty stricken upbringing in Dunn, North Carolina along the Black River where the family fished out of a pond for food and faced threats from the Ku Klux Klan for being Indian. WRAY's mother was a preacher who preached to a congregation of both Indians and Blacks. As a boy, WRAY was taught to play the blues on guitar from a an elderly black man named HAMBONE who grew up in the circus. WRAY's seminal track RUMBLE was born the night he and his band were playing a sock hop in Fredericksburg, Maryland. The crowd started calling for a stroll - a slowed down, four-to-the-floor beat meant for slow dancing. Once the beat was laid down, WRAY issued three of the deadliest, distorted power chords ever heard and the rest was history. When the song was cut on vinyl and sent to radio stations for airplay, RUMBLE became the first and only instrumental to banned for fear it would incite teenage violence.
The focus of the film shifts from WRAY to the wider Southeastern Region of the United States that he hailed from. Our introduction to this segment is the haunting vocal sounds of the native a capella group ULALI featuring PURA FE (Tuscarora/Taino), SONI (Mayan Apache, Yaqui) and JENNIFER KREISBERG (Tuscarora). If WRAY's RUMBLE was viewed as a sonic menace to society, so was the traditional music of the American Indian according to historian JOHN TROUTMAN who states that "Indian people were arrested and rations were withheld" because the music of Indian people was viewed as a threat. The late-JOHN TRUDELL goes on to add that music permeates every aspect of Native Culture so it was no surprise that the U.S. Government wanted to stamp it out. He even points out that the slaughter of the ghost dancers at Wounded Knee marked the beginning of the banning of Native music. Blues artist GUY DAVIS illustrates the similarities between the songs of the Ghost dancers - who sang to protect themselves from the bullets of Union soldiers - and the blues. DAVIS went on to emphasize "It sure sounds like the blues to me!"
The examination of the Southeastern region gets pinpointed to New Orleans and the Mardi Gras celebration where we are introduced to MONK BOUDREAUX (Choctaw) who is leading the Mardi Gras convocation with a massive green feathered headdress. The mixing of African blood with Indian blood during the days of the slave trade is touched on by historian ERICH JARVIS and how that mixture informs the music that comes out of New Orleans. Poet and musician JOY HARJO (Mvskogee) elaborates on the call and response that is prevalent in Indian and African music of the region and how it has found it's way in blues, jazz and rock. Unlike the interest generated by the stories of LINK WRAY and the reception to his single RUMBLE, this shift into ethnology as opposed to biography causes the film to lose momentum and come across as more your typical PBS project instead of a theatrical release. However, the segment comes to a close with a touching front porch musical performance between MONK and the women of ULALI.
The film picks up the pace when it gets to it's most fascinating and most mysterious subject - the delta blues forefather CHARLY PATTON. Although PATTON's native identity is more speculative, the film draws parallels between PATTON's ancient recordings to the the nuances of traditional Indian music. This point is made clear in a scene where PURA FE is listening to a PATTON recording and singing traditional music alongside it. If there were doubts as to PATTON's native ancestry, the film picked an artful way to put any doubt to rest. CHARLY PATTON - "the baddest muthafuckah" according to HOWLIN' WOLF as quoted by blues artist ALVIN YOUNGBLOOD HART in the documentary- was born during a time of tremendous racial violence and as a young man, sought work and a better life on the Dockery Plantation. There, he worked and lived alongside other black, Choctaw and white workers and let his showmanship shine at various jukejoints. According to the documentary such artists as HOWLIN' WOLF and POP STAPLES of the STAPLE SINGERS learned to play guitar from PATTON. The primal sound of HOWLIN' WOLF would go on to influence the rock n roll that was coming out of England - namely the ROLLING STONES. The documentary ties all of this together with archived footage from the 1960's music variety show SHINDIG where BRIAN JONES of THE STONES is proudly introduces HOWLIN' WOLF to a young, hip, '60's crowd. WOLF then tears into a gut bucket performance of HOW MANY MORE YEARS complete with a mean harmonica and pelvic shakes that would put ELVIS to shame.
The film's musical exploration moves seamlessly into jazz - a field where Couer D'Alene singer MILDRED BAILEY made her mark throughout the 1930s with such playful numbers as ROCKIN' CHAIR and TRUST IN ME. Throughout the twenties and thirties, BAILEY performed at speakeasys in New York City and in an age of segregation, recorded with black musicians. BAILEY's grand-daughter JULIA RINKER MILLER speaks of the ancient music of the Couer D'Alene people that BAILEY's grandmother was entrusted with and ethnologist CHAD S. HAMILL Ph.D. points out the connection between BAILEY's delivery and the Indian songs of her youth. Praise from TONY BENNETT who cites BAILEY as a major influence is a most welcome addition to this segment as is a story to of FRANK SINATRA relaying to BAILEY's niece what an inspiration she was in the way he went about delivering a song vocally.
BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE (Cree) was a luminary in the folk music scene of the early 1960's. She was a trailblazer with a visceral sense of songcraft and a searing delivery. Songs such as BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER are standouts in her expansive repertoire. The woman even won an OSCAR for her song UP WHERE WE BELONG from the RICHARD GERE film AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMEN. Unfortunately in this documentary, SAINTE-MARIE is given short shrift in favor of stories of songwriter PETER LA FARGE - a non-native who claimed to be Hopi and raised by Tewa people - and his song THE BALLAD OF IRA HAYES and it's eventual coverage by JOHNNY CASH. The plight of the red man falls on the shoulders of JOHNNY CASH who is given way more screen time than SAINTE-MARIE - an actual Indian artist. Such praise is thrown at CASH by the likes of Mohawk singer-songwriter BILL MILLER and Salteaux actor ADAM BEACH, that I wanted get up from my chair and shout "I thought this was about Indians who rocked the world!" SAINTE-MARIE resurfaces at the close of this segment dwelling on the suppression of her music and being blacklisted by the FBI and the CIA, which sounds like the more compelling story than that of JOHNNY CASH's ordeal in getting a song like THE BALLAD OF IRA HAYES accepted by his recor company nd the record buying public.
In 1959, ROBBIE ROBERTSON (Mohawk) was a hot shot guitarist electrifying Toronto's Yonge Street before he joined the Arkansas-based rock-a-billy band RONNIE HAWKINS AND THE HAWKS. Growing up on the Six Nations Reserve, ROBERTSON was surounded by traditional native music and country. Alongside guitar, he was also taught "..be proud that you're an Indian but be careful who you tell." During ROBERTSON's tenure with THE HAWKS, they caught the ears of BOB DYLAN who made them his backing band when DYLAN felt the need to go electric. DYLAN and ROBERTSON become brothers-in-arms as the folk community rejected DYLAN's new electric approach and the footage of the dissidents within the audience shouting "traitor" are hilarious in retrospect. All of this forced ROBERTSON to adopt the mentality that "We were right and the world was wrong." The jump from touring with DYLAN to forming THE BAND is a clunky one but it makes a point of how THE BAND's gritty musical approach was an answer to all of the psychedelia that had run rampant in the rock scene. Before we're given much evidence of this, we jump to footage from the MARTIN SCORSESE film THE LAST WALTZ which documented the final concert of THE BAND and the segment ends before it is given a chance to develop.
The documentary makes it's way to Los Angeles where Kiowa guitarist JESSE ED DAVIS is adding some blistering chops to the sound of TAJ MAHAL. DAVIS' appearance in the concert film ROCK N ROLL CIRCUS as a part of TAJ MAHAL's band was what caught the attention of JOHN LENNON and from there, DAVIS' association with the British aristocracy of rock n roll had begun. Aside from cutting some tracks with LENNON, DAVIS went on to perform with GEORGE HARRISON on his now legendary CONCERT FOR BANGLADESH. His guitar work also came in handy on JACKSON BROWNE's DOCTOR, MY EYES. It was world tour with ROD STEWART's THE FACES that proved to be a turn for the worse as an acquaintance of DAVIS' who states that he "came back a junkie." By 1985, DAVIS was living in a halfway house. It was around this time that he attended a talk by AIM activist JOHN TRUDELL. At the talks' conclusion DAVIS came up to and suggested putting music to his words. This was the begining of JOHN TRUDELL's spoken word / music project AKA GRAFFITI MAN. As this exciting chapter in JOHN TRUDELL's life had taken off DAVIS was was found dead in a laundry room in Culver City with a needle in his arm. "He dressed me up as a rock star" stated TRUDELL "...and then he checked out." Thus far in the documentary, this is the only segment that feels like a complete story arc and the subject actually gets a much deserved eulogy.
Brothers PATRICK and CANDIDO "LOLLY" VASQUEZ-VEGAS (Shoshone/Yaqui/Mexican) moved to Los Angeles in the sixties to get a music career going but found numerous doors slammed in their faces for being "too ethnic" for club owners. Th duo eventually found a home at the club GAZZARI'S and became the creative nucleus of REDBONE. In the film, we are introduced to the two of them through footage from the TV show SHINDIG singing DO YOU WANNA DANCE? Despite steady gigs at GAZZARI's, REDBONE wasn't getting noticed. It was JIMI HENDRIX - a long time supporter of REDBONE - who suggested that the brothers "do the Indian thing!" It's never clear whether or not success came as a result of doing such a thing but REDBONE went on to great success with their soul rock classic COME AND GET YOUR LOVE - a pop moment that has found nine lives with numerous remakes and appearances on blockbuster films such as GUARDIAN OF THE GALAXY. Archived footage from BURT SUGARMAN'S MIDNIGHT SPECIAL shows the band on stage in traditional regalia and dancing to traditional drumming before breaking into their current hit. The image is a powerful one. Up to this point in the documentary, hip hop has had yet to make an appearance. This is our introduction to TABOO (Mexican/Shoshone) - famous for his work with the hip hop supergroup BLACK EYED PEAS. The camraderie between TABOO and PAT VASQUEZ-VEGAS is touching. The documentary could've used more moments of living people conversing with each other. During his screen time, TABOO talks of knowing everything about his Mexican heritage but only knowing bits and pieces of his Shoshone heritage through his grandmother. Once again the documentary finds itself brushing on the subject of heritage and never discussing how it informs the music making process. We never gain much insight from TABOO and before we know it, it's time to move on.
Back in 1985, Los Angeles - particularly the Sunset Strip - was ground zero for hard rock and heavy metal . It was a scene that Apache guitarist STEVIE SALAS immersed himself in with the ambition to be a "...rock star, not an Indian rock star" despite coming from more of a funk background given his work with GEORGE CLINTON and BOOTSY COLLINS. Eventually, SALAS was snatched up by ROD STEWART (remember what happened when ROD STEWART snatched up JESSE ED DAVIS?) and got caught up in a world full of learjets, fine women and alcohol. In that process SALAS admits to having lost his sense of who he was. In comes OZZY OSBOURNE's ace drummer RANDY CASTILLO who connects with SALAS as a fellow Native musician who can see that SALAS is struggling with the roller coaster ride that is rock n roll and invited him out to New Mexico to help get him centered. The transition to the story of RANDY CASTILLO opens up in the present day with SALAS and the late-JOHN TRUDELL driving up to Taos, New Mexico to honor CASTILLO's memory. Of all of the artists featured so far CASTILLO is the first percussionist and the film successfully ties his percussive approach to the heartbeat of native drumming. In this segment, CASTILLO is remembered by friends for his amiability and strong spirituality, so one feels a lump in their throat when a friend recalls the time that CASTILLO felt a bump on his neck. Tragically, the bump was ignored and ended up being the cancer that led to CASTILLO's deterioration and eventual death.
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n conclusion, RUMBLE succeeds at honoring the accomplishments of native people to the musical heritage of this country and beyond but such legendary performers as BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE, LINK WRAY, MILDRED BAILEY and CHARLY PATTON deserved their own documentaries. While culture and heritage are beautiful things, maybe a look into the artistry of these individuals would've made for a more stimulating viewing. Lip service from celebrities and current, famous musicians add little to the film's rushed narrative outside something that we can shake our heads and agree upon. Even the input from marginally famous talking heads such as STEVIE SALAS - who is also an executive producer of the film - comes off looking like a tall glass of self-service. Only insights from such folks as CHAD S. HAMILL Ph.D. , PURA FE and JOHN TRUDELL offer anything of substance. The film is dedicated to the memory of JOHN TRUDELL, yet there is very little of his own musical career that is touched on outside of anything having to do with JESSE ED DAVIS. Another notable absence is Dakota MOTOWN songwriter TOM BEE who went on to form the Indian rock band XIT. There is talk about RUMBLE being an OSCAR hopeful this year given all of the raves and I don't see anything stopping that from happening. It's got all the right musical and cultural heavyweights behind it. Speaking to what I had stated earlier in this review, I don't hate RUMBLE. The way the culture is set up these days we could use a fast and easy music history lesson.It's better than nothing.
BRiAN LUSH (FOUNDER, EDiTOR-iN-CHiEF)
CONTACT BRiAN LUSH AT: email@example.com