'Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World,' is a film that explores how Native American musicians and rhythms influenced some of the biggest names in the music industry. Interviews and archival clips tell stories of Indigenous music greats like jazz singer Mildred Bailey, guitar genius Jesse Ed Davis, and Native Canadians Buffy Sainte-Marie and The Band's Robbie Robertson.
Executive producer Stevie Salas, says this eye-opening documentary reveals how Native American musicians were consistently left out of the story.
“It’s really about the birth of America and the side product which was music, and how these things came to be the blues, in rock and roll and in funk and soul and what the Native American influence and participation was."
Running with Rumble
Stevie has a distinct look. Exotic, wild and free – He is Apache, and Native American blood runs through his veins. Not even his co-producer, Christina Fon, knew about his heritage, in fact she thought he was Greek. This was the issue – there were Indigenous people, but no one knew much about them or their stories.
That's exactly what inspired Stevie to produce Rumble.
“When I was a kid I was playing guitar with George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Rod Stewart and I started to look around – I was very young, and I realised that not a lot of people looked like me and I was wondering why.
“Steven Tyler and The Stones would talk about it to me, I would hear about these guys when I was playing with Mick Jagger and I would think why anyone doesn’t know about them?” He said.
“I wanted to show Native American people they had role models to look up to. There are very few role models that are alive, unless you go all the way back to Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse."
Stevie says his personal paths and life journey soon turned out to become, bigger than him. It became Rumble.
“We had actual modern day people who had done amazing things on a global grand scale and Native American people didn’t know about it, so really, it was about showing our role models but while doing it we realised there was a real hidden history there - and it became a much bigger story,” Stevie said.
“In order to tell a story we didn’t want it to be a race story we didn’t want to have a bunch of Native American people saying ‘we did this and you screwed us.’ I’m sick of that story."
“I wanted to do something more than just jump around the stage like a monkey with a guitar and the film enabled me to do something that’s going to have far reaching hands for my son and his kids hopefully."
Stevie says the documentary has changed history.
"I don’t know if I’ll be remembered for it which is no big deal, but the history is out, so it’s there and there’s no putting it back in the box. The coolest thing is that everyone’s accepting it - it’s not like this is bullshit – everyone is buying it. Everyone’s like 'this is crazy' so we really got onto something that’s real and not going to go away.”
The documentary has a stellar line up, with some of the biggest names in the industry such as Martin Scorsese, Steven Tyler from Aerosmith, Slash and Tony Bennett, and others considered the most famous musicians that ever lived. The point of using internationally renowned celebrities, Stevie explains, is so ordinary people, can listen to their favourite musicians explaining how Native Americans influenced their musical style.
"Be proud of who you are but be careful who you tell."
“In order to tell a story we didn’t want it to be a race story. We didn’t want to have a bunch of Native American people saying ‘we did this and you screwed us.’ I’m sick of that story. Whether it’s any race, I’m done with the negative, I only want the positive,” he said.
“We said we’re [Native Americans] not going to say it, but instead have Steven Tyler tell you how he started Aerosmith and how influenced he was by a Kiowa Indian guitar player named Jesse Ed Davis.
We’re going to let Tony Bennett say 'all I listened to was Mildred Bailey', a Coeur D’Alene Native American singer, whose style was idolised. We’re going to let those people tell you their stories. You can’t say it’s a lie if you hear it right from Eric Clapton’s mouth. If Slash tells you something and you love Slash, you’re going to say ‘maybe I should listen to this information' ".
Apache roots and Rock N Roll
Stevie says he had a lucky childhood because his family didn’t grow up in a reservation system. His mother and fathers side were both Apache - with a very interesting story of course. He says he's always held a true connection to his cultural roots.
"My great grandmother was stolen as a child by an Apache man, she was an Apache and she was sold to a Mexican Hacienda in Mexico. She grew up and later in life, that same guy saw her, I guess she was hot, so he stole her back and married her. My grandmother used to tell me stories about living on a cave in the Rio Grande when she was five or six years old, and we would laugh but really it was true."
After being stolen twice and falling in love, they migrated to Kansas and Stevie's father was later born in the country side of wyoming.
"He went away to fight in the Korean War when he was 17. My mother’s family all lived up along the border of Arizona and New Mexico, all along Apache land up there and they migrated to California. When my father returned from war he was at California Marine Base. Soon enough I was born on the beach and ocean sides with a surfboard and a guitar."
“When I was a kid there were all these documentaries about the black experience of music, and books on the white experience. There was never a ‘red experience’, but it's been there all along."
Stevie says he grew up in a really mixed cultural environment because kids from the marine base were from all different backgrounds and colours.
"I didn’t see colour that way and therefore maybe that gave me a better opportunity to not feel that I couldn’t accomplish something, I just thought why not? It wasn’t until I started to really get into the business and go back to Indian country and meet the people brought up on the res, I realised how brainwashed a lot of them had been from the trauma and from being beaten down. I didn’t realise how lucky I really was. With those people you try and set an example for them. That was the journey that accumulated to Rumble," he said.
"Robbie Robertson said his mother told him ‘be proud of who you are but be careful who you tell’ now you know you can tell whoever you want and you can see this guy kicks ass - so I can kick ass too.”
Native American Influence
Stevie says he wants people to understand the history of how things really were and what contribution Native Americans actually had.
“When I was a kid there were all these TV shows and books about the black experience of music, that would go back to Robert Johnson playing the blues, and there were always documentaries of the white experience, starting with Elvis Presley and The Beatles and that was cool – but there was never a ‘red experience’ - but it’s been there all along.”
Rumble is currently touring film festivals all over the world winning awards in Toronto and Albuquerque, as well as winning awards for Sundance, in Boulder; Stevie says the film is really moving people. The show was almost instantly sold out in Sydney and now music lovers will have to wait until summer time to see it again.
“When you listen to the early jazz, you hear Mildred Bailey who was the first woman to have her own radio show, and discovered Bing Crosby, who became one of the biggest recording artists in history. Then you have Oscar Pettiford who was playing with Mingus and developing the sounds of the bass cello, then you go onto rock and roll and you get Link Wray who invented the power cord – the story of the guitar in 1957 with Rumble and who also influenced The Who and Led Zeppelin.
Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters said ‘would there be a Who if there was no Link Wray, a Led Zeppelin if there was no Link Wray would there be a Jeff Beck if there was no Link Wray?’
Stevie agrees it’s a question that’s real and true.
“These people will tell you ‘probably not’ because that’s how they learnt to play, so all we did was expose the truth in a story already there. The public didn’t know so we just brought it to their attention.”
Selling over two million solo albums around the world, Stevie has played with some of the world’s best known artists, such as Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Justin Timberlake and Michael Hutchence. Also dabbling in TV production for American Idol, Stevie has produced music and film and says he prefers a new challenge.
“The music was great for me, I hated it and loved it. I can’t play unless it’s fantastic and I hate myself when it’s not - there’s nothing like it. But the thing I love about producing television and films is that I don’t know what I’m doing but I have good instincts, it’s new and exciting.”
Putting Stevie Salas to the test, by handing him a guitar and making him play with his eyes closed (as he boasts he can), he laughs as he jams out to a Jimmy Hendrix song, while discussing Hendrix’s grandmother’s Cherokee heritage. He takes a deep breath as he stops playing the guitar and says he’s never going to stop making records and never going to stop producing bands, but right now, his focus is on film.
“The thing about music is I can get on stage with a guitar and play with my eyes closed. I can stand next to the best artists in the world and I know what I’m doing,” he explains.
“But when I’m doing television and movies, I don’t know what I’m doing, and it’s really exciting. So I’m learning and searching out the best people to learn from.”