Music has always been about stealing, appropriating the ideas of other bands and songwriters into your own work. The Rolling Stones modeled themselves after Howling Wolf and other Delta blues players. Elvis Presley borrowed liberally from black gospel traditions as well as musicians like Chuck Berry. Throughout time, one guitar player has watched another guitar player shredding a solo and then put a lick or two in his mental toolbox to incorporate into his own playing. Music has always perpetuated itself, handing down songs and grooves and ideas from one generation to the next and from one genre to another.
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World is a fascinating documentary that examines the contributions made by Native American musicians, a segment of the population that is rarely, if ever, given credit for their work. From Robbie Robertson of The Band to Jimi Hendrix to Taboo from The Black-Eyed Peas, Rumble chronicles nearly a century of the music history and racial politics surrounding Native American musicians. Even if you have a deep knowledge of music, you will be surprised by the prevalence of Native Americans in genres from jazz to heavy metal. Who knew Ozzy Osbourne preferred Native American drummers and bassists for the unique rhythms they brought to the music? Or that jazz singer Mildred Bailey incorporated vocal techniques from tribal chants into her unique phrasing and bent notes?
The lack of appreciation for the work of Native American musicians often stemmed from the racial politics of the day. As one historian states in the film, “It was better to be a slave than an Indian.” Many Native American musicians passed themselves off as black or Latino rather than subject themselves to the stigma of being an Indian, giving the credit for their musical talents to other ethnic groups in the process. If a person was 90% black and 10% Indian, they were considered black by society. So Native American blues artists in the 1930’s like Charley Patton were considered to be black like Robert Johnson and the other African American originators of the form.
No one likes homework. The best documentaries entertain as they inform, and Rumble proves to be an enjoyable history lesson. It’s become commonplace to knock films that rely on “talking heads” to convey their information, but Rumble makes excellent use of the format. The interview subjects are so engaging and come across as such larger-than-life personalities that Rumble feels like a dozen biopics rolled into a single film. Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World is one of the best music documentaries of the year.
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World opens in Landmark Theatre locations on Friday, August 25, 2017.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.