J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Sundance ’17: Rumble—Indians Who Rocked the World

Rock & roll definitely appropriated from African Americans, so why not from Native Americans too? In this case, it is more of a case of not getting their proper due. A number of key Native rockers really made rock rock the way it did. Their stories are told in Catherine Bainbridge & Alfonso Maiorana’s Rumble: Indians Who Rocked the World (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

From the title and the poster, it should be clear rock guitarist Link Wray holds a special place of significance in Rumble. Bainbridge, Maiorana, and dozens of musicians across genres convincingly make a case that his driving instrumental “Rumble” influenced just about every hard rocker who came after him. It also holds the distinction of being the only instrumental to be banned in the late 1950s rock & roll panic, which perversely warms our jazz hearts (it just goes to show, you don’t need lyrics to move people).

Frankly, Bainbridge & Maiorana tell half a dozen such stories, giving overdue ovations to influential rockers, anyone of which could (and possibly should) be expanded to feature length. However, that gives the film a somewhat patchwork feel. There really is not much of a through-line, except for the periodic guilt trips. At least nobody can say Rumble fails to deliver what it promises.

In fact, one could argue it is rather contemporary, given the section featuring Pat Vegas from
Redbone, whose hit single “Come and Get Your Love” is heard during the opening sequence of Guardians of the Galaxy, which is about as mainstream-crossover as you can get. There is also some good material on bluesy Taj Mahal sideman Jesse Ed Davis and late, great Ozzy drummer Randy Castillo. (In general, one of the most refreshing aspects of the film is its respect for sidemen and an understanding of their contributions.)

Of course, nobody would call Robbie Robertson from The Band unheralded, but here he happens to give some insights into the early days of electric Dylan that fans should appreciate. Likewise, the Native heritage of three towering icons Mildred Bailey, Charley Patton, and Jimi Hendrix are also explored (though the latter gets considerably more screen time).

Rumble tries to shoehorn as much as it can into its 100-some-minute running time, which really isn’t such a terrible documentary filmmaking strategy. It is certainly much more informative and compelling than Neil Diamond’s Reel Injun (co-directed by Bainbridge). If you want to hear Native rockers (and you probably do, whether you realize it or not), Rumble is a good place to start. Recommended for old school rock fans, Rumble: Indians Who Rocked the World screens again this afternoon (1/28) in Park City, as part of this year’s Sundance.

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