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Movie Review: “Rumble”

Rockin’ with Native Americans!

In 1907, the U.S. government commissioned the taping of Native American music, convinced their cultures and music would not survive.

Co-Directors Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana show how wrong they were in their fascinating new film “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World,” which documents the major contributions made by Native Americans to American popular music. 

“Rumble” features ten musicians, ranging in musical time from the Delta blues through the jazz age and up to today’s hip-hop era. In doing so, it covers some of the less well-known as well as famous artists like blues guitarist Charley Patton, jazz singer Mildred Bailey, Cree folk singer-social activist Buffy Sainte-Marie (from the ’60s era) and rock megastar Jimi Hendrix.

Talking heads such as musician/record producer George Clinton and “Rolling Stone” editor David Fricke offer their opinions.

Shawnee guitarist Link Wray’s first hit – the monumental, growling guitar on 1958’s “Rumble” – was banned in New York and Boston for fear it would incite teen gang violence.

Link was also the first to use heavy distortion (which became a rock staple), and also introduced the rock power chord. “The sound of his guitar was the sound of freedom,” it was said.

Charley Patton (Choctaw/African American), father of the Delta Blues, spent his early years at Dockery Farms in Mississippi. His claim to fame was a drum-like sound he got from his guitar (drums were banned by the U.S. government for Native Americans at the time). Someone said of him, “He “doesn’t try to make it pretty. It’s as raw as it gets.”

Patton’s musical heritage was passed down to Howlin’ Wolf (one of Chicago’s best-known Chicago blues artists), Muddy Waters and English rock band Led Zeppelin.

Mohawk Robbie Robertson – songwriter, guitarist and a founder of The Band, says he was warned early to “be proud you’re an Indian, but be careful who you tell.”

Jazz singer Mildred Bailey (Coeur d’Alene) was the first female to have her own radio show. She was also a huge influence on other singers like Frank Sinatra – who said he emulated her – and Tony Bennett, who said, “From 16 to 20 years old, that’s only thing I listened to.”

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jimi Hendrix, called arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music, couldn’t read or write music and was entirely self-taught. His native blood comes from his grandmother, who was half Cherokee.

The U.S. government discouraged (that’s a kind word) Native American music and dance for some years, but never succeeded in stopping them. Robbie Robertson puts it this way: “You wouldn’t let me talk about it before. Well, now I’m going to talk real loud.”

It’s about time.

"Rumble" is now playing at the Ken Landmark Theater from September 1 to September 7. 

Genre: Documentary/Music

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Studio: Kino Lorber

Runtime: 103 minutes

Our rating: 5

Directed by: Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana

Cast: George Clinton, Pura Fe, David Fricke

Recommended audience: Music fans everywhere