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Film Canadian doc Rumble highlights Native American influence on rock music

Taj Mahal in Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World.

Rezolution Pictures

They were the power chords that sparked a musical revolution: three growling, fuzzy blasts that made Link Wray's 1958 banned-by-radio instrumental Rumble a rule-breaking inspiration for rock guitarists who followed.

The song kicks off the documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World, from Montreal-based filmmakers Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana, which has its world premiere Sunday in competition at the Sundance Film Festival and will air on the Movie Network later this year.

The documentary explores the often-unheralded contributions of Native Americans in shaping popular song. Wray was a Shawnee Native American but few people were aware of his background. Like him, many of the musicians profiled in Rumble either kept their heritage secret or played it down, fearing racist backlash.

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"Where in this day and age can you find things that are hidden?" said Bainbridge, whose award-winning documentary Reel Injun explored the portrayal of Native Americans in movies and on TV.

"That's the secret sauce, this hidden gem of a story," Bainbridge said of how "these incredible icons" inspired so many famous performers seen in the documentary.

Guitarist and songwriter Robbie Robertson of the Band shares childhood memories of time he spent on the Brantford, Ont.-area Six Nations of the Grand River reserve with his mother's family. He was advised: "Be proud you are Indian; but be careful who you tell."

Whether the musicians in Rumble talked about their backgrounds or not, their heritage influenced the work, including 1920s Delta bluesman Charley Patton, Queen of Swing Mildred Bailey, rock legend Jimi Hendrix and guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, who worked with blues musician Taj Mahal, John Lennon and the Rolling Stones.

Through archival footage and powerful performances, indigenous artists are acknowledged as influences by more than three-dozen marquee performers, including crooner Tony Bennett, funk father George Clinton, Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash and proto-punk legend Iggy Pop.

Many of them agreed to appear in Rumble because of their friendship with the film's executive producer, guitarist Stevie Salas.

Salas said he had no idea there were so many Native musicians until he was interviewed by Canadian writer Brian Wright-McLeod for his 2004 book The Encyclopedia of Native Music.

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"It was a learning experience for many," Salas said.

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