Informative and entertaining, Rumble: The Indians Who Rock the World does a fine job in representing a group of influential Native Americans who are musicians and rock and rollers.
Essentially, the documentary, tightly and slickly directed by Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana, consists of 10 profiles of Native American musicians, or those with Native American ancestry, and offers an eye-opening reframing of popular music. The filmmakers begin their time line with a 1907 recording by an ethnologist of a Native singer before the film heads to the South. Here the filmmakers are on solid ground in positing the influence of Native American music as an influence on early popular music, beginning with the blues. They focus on the career of guitarist Link Wray, famous for his power chord (Taj Mahal, Slash, and Iggy Pop are among those interviewed and in his debt), and particularly the sounds of New Orleans in the early 20th century.
The city, indeed, was a melting pot, full of cross-cultural communications and comingling. The directors interview brothers Cyril and Ivan Neville (who are part Chocktaw), and they sing the praises of Charley Patton, of the Mississippi Choctaw. The Nevilles are among those who make a strong case for his style of blues being a strong influence on British musicians like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. According to music historian John Troutman, Patton is the most important blues musician.
After that, Rumble tends to focus on artists that were once popular yet marginal in the larger picture of pop music history: Mildred Bailey, a jazz singer little known today outside of jazz circles, who had her own national radio program in the 1930s; folk singer Peter La Farge, who wrote “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” which was later recorded by Johnny Cash; and the band Redbone. It had a hit in the 1970s with “Come and Get Your Love.”
However, the film does less of a service in delineating exactly the influence of Native American and indigenous music on rock ‘n’ roll, other than linking certain rhythmic and vocal patterns of Southeastern tribes to their blues counterparts or zeroing in on where there was significant influence, as in the early blues.
What Rumble successfully illuminates is how many indigenous people there have been in popular music and how ubiquitous they are. The film gives each subject significant love and attention, and all of them are fascinating individuals with fascinating stories, such as singer/songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie recalling how her career stumbled as radio stations were pressured by the FBI and the Nixon White House not to play her music because of her antiwar activism, according to Sainte-Marie. The filmmakers also spread the net wide in terms of commentators: Robbie Robertson, Tony Bennett, Taylor Hawkins, Steve Van Zandt (who has a blast being interviewed), Wayne Kramer of the MC5, Martin Scorsese, Janie Hendrix (sister to Jimi), and Native writers/musicians John Trudell and Joy Harjo.