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New ‘Rumble’ Documentary Explores Native American Influence on Rock ‘n’ Roll

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Decades of scholarship have been devoted to the roots of rock music, and even the most casual fans are likely aware of at least a handful of the traditional sounds and groundbreaking artists responsible for the creation of the genre. But the Native American influence on rock has long gone largely ignored — an injustice addressed in the new documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World.

Out in limited release now, Rumble was directed by Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana, and traces the evolution of rock through some key Native American contributions — not only from artists whose ancestry is a well-known part of their musical fabric, like Link Wray, Redbone and Robbie Robertson, but also oft-overlooked sidemen such as Jesse Ed Davis. Perhaps most importantly, Rumble looks at the ways in which all American music can be traced in some form back to Native American song, from jazz to blues and beyond.

Wray’s “Rumble” — a Top 20 instrumental hit in 1958 despite being banned from the airwaves in multiple markets — enjoys a major focus in the movie, not least because of Wray’s pioneering approach to rock guitar. Among the earliest of multiple Native American rock guitar heroes, Wray paved the way for generations of players — among them Robertson, whose Mohawk heritage made him part of that growing tradition even if he wasn’t aware of Wray’s connection at first.

“It wasn’t till later on that I found out that Link Wray was an Indian,” said Robertson — who appears in Rumble — in an interview with The New York Times. “It just made the whole thing 10 times cooler to me.”

Watch the trailer for Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World above, and visit the film’s official site for screening locations and additional information.

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