Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World

Film review by Justin Eagle Gauthier Rumble movie poster

On a random summer afternoon during the mid 1950’s, in a shack in the backwoods of North Carolina, a young Shawnee man stabs a screwdriver through the speaker fabric of an amp. He connects his electric guitar and strikes a distorted power chord that still reverberates today. An icon to some of the most popular guitarists of the twentieth century, Fred Lincoln “Link” Wray, Jr. explains that when he first struck that cord, there was no such thing as rock and roll.

In the documentary “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World,” co-directors Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana interview an impressive group of musicians, filmmakers, activists, and luminaries in an attempt to unearth the buried legacy of prominent indigenous musicians of the twentieth century.

The rebellion of youth culture in the staid environment of 1950s post-WWII America was largely aided by the popularity of such films as “Rebel Without a Cause,” and “Blackboard Jungle.” Teenage children of the generation that stormed Normandy and inspired the iconography of “Uncle Sam,” and “Rosie the Riveter,” were forced to reckon their experience versus what they’d been sold as the American dream. Link Wray was playing a local dance for such an audience, when someone requested “The Stroll.” As the drummer tapped out the beat, Wray struck a series of chords that became his hit song, “Rumble.” The 1958 song became the anthem of an entire generation ready to reject the DayGlo© artifice of the suburbs and embrace an anti-establishment worldview that eventually blossomed in the Summer of Love, and gave Wray the dubious honor of having the only instrumental song widely banned from radio airplay for it’s potential to incite violence.

The seeds of American roots music have indigenous lineage. The influence of indigenous music can be traced back through the origins of the blues, jazz, rock and roll, and pop. Many iconic artists in those genres either claim indigenous ancestry or hail from indigenous communities.

“Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World,” does a great job of detailing individual profiles of these formative artists. From the visceral phrasing of legendary bluesman Charley Patton through the decades to the breakthrough 1970s hit “Come and Get Your Love” from the indigenous band Redbone, Rumble brings to light the contributions of native musicians and is a long overdue recognition for a group of people that instill spirit into the songbook of twentieth century American popular music. Watch the trailer here.

Menominee Tribal member Justin Eagle Gauthier is featured in several literary journals. He is currently working on screenwriting projects and taking bids on a framing job for his MFA degree.