Link Wray. Photo by Bruce Steinberg courtesy / Kino Lorber.
Link Wray. Photo by Bruce Steinberg, courtesy of Lorber.


Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World is a new documentary that focuses on the contributions of Native Americans in rock & roll, including Link Wray, Robbie Robertson, Jimi Hendrix and many more.

Rock & Roll, like most things American, originated as an amalgam, a swampy stew of musical and cultural influences that goes back to the blues rhythms of the Mississippi Delta (transported to the United States from West Africa via the slave trade), Southern gospel and white hillbilly music from the rural South and Appalachia. What many consider to be the first rock & roll song, “Delta 88” (by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, who were actually Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm) is a mix of jump blues and rhythm and blues, complete with saxophone and fuzzy guitar. These roots of rock & roll are well documented. But what about Native American’s influence on the genre? Surely America’s “First Nation” must have had a hand in the creation of one of our country’s greatest exports!

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World is a new documentary directed by Catherine Bainbridge (Reel Injun) with Executive Producer Stevie Salas (a Native American session guitarist who has played with Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, George Clinton and others) that looks at the contributions of Native Americans in rock & roll – contributions that have gone unnoticed partially because the artists themselves lived by the old adage, “Be proud you’re an Indian, but be careful who you tell.”

One such artist was rockabilly great, Link Wray, whose 1958 song “Rumble” is easily one of the greatest instrumentals in rock & roll history – gritty, greasy and dangerous – the soundtrack for generations of hot-rodders and juvenile delinquents. One of the first songs to feature a power chord, it was banned by radio stations in New York and Boston for fear of promoting violence. Born in rural North Carolina, both Link’s parents were of the Shawnee tribe. Wray talked about hiding under his bed at night when local members of the KKK would ride through his neighborhood looking for trouble. As a 10-year-old, Link’s mother was attacked by a gang of white girls while walking to school. The brace she wore daily was a constant reminded of the broken back she received from the beating.

Some other Native American musicians featured in Rumble include:

Robbie Robertson. Photo courtesy Rezolution Pictures / Kino Lorber.
Robbie Robertson. Photo courtesy Rezolution Pictures / Kino Lorber.

Robbie Robertson. Robertson’s mother, a full-blooded Mohawk, was raised on the Six Nations Indian Reserve in Ontario, where as a young boy, Robbie learned to play guitar. Robertson left Ontario at 16 to join Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks and in 1964 broke off from Hawkins. As the Hawks, Robertson and his bandmates (Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm) famously went on to back Bob Dylan on his incendiary 1966 world tour. Later, as The Band, Robertson went on to record such seminal songs as “The Weight,” “Up On Cripple Creek,” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” In the mid-1990s, Robertson released two albums that delved into his Native American roots. Music For The Native Americans was recorded with a group of indigenous musicians and accompanied a PBS documentary series. Contact From The Underworld Of Redboy is a mix of electronica, native music and rock. Its title recalls a slur Robertson was called as a child.

Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix inherited his Cherokee roots from this paternal grandmother, Nora Rose Moore. While Jimi’s fashion sense reflected the hippie culture of the time, in the film, Jimi’s sister states that his fringe and beaded clothes were worn to honor his grandmother. Indeed, after his death, the Hendrix family donated a number of his most famous items to the National Museum of the American Indian, including some of his guitars and his famous multicolored, patchwork full-length leather coat.

Jesse Ed Davis. Davis, a guitarist for Taj Mahal, George Harrison, John Lennon and Leonard Cohen, among others, was Comanche on his father’s side, while his mother was a member of the Kiowa tribe. In Rumble, Jackson Browne recounts Davis, putting down the guitar solo from “Doctor My Eyes” in one-take. Davis, who performed at the Concert For Bangladesh in 1971, was a favorite of both George Harrison and Bob Dylan, jamming with them at a North Hollywood club in 1987. He went on to form the Graffiti Band, which featured the poetry and vocals of John Trudell, a Native American activist. Jesse Ed Davis died in 1988 from a heroin overdose.

Rumble opens July 26 in New York, featuring music and commentary from Link Wray, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Robbie Robertson, Jesse Ed Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Randy Castillo, Taboo, Martin Scorsese, Quincy Jones, Steven Tyler, Steven Van Zandt, Iggy Pop, Tony Bennett, George Clinton, Slash, Taylor Hawkins, Robert Trujillo, and many more.