In the late 1990s, I had the good fortune to attend two concerts by legendary guitarist Link Wray. I’ve seldom had so much flat-out fun at a rock show; the 68-year-old Wray was dressed all in leather, with hair down to his waist, and he shredded punk and speed-metal licks on his guitar with a deeply infectious joy. A Shawnee Indian, Wray’s 1958 song “Rumble” all but invented the power chord, and it’s also the only rock instrumental to ever be banned from airplay. Wray and his signature song are the launching pad for Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana’s essential documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World.
Other artists on display include some who were upfront about their Indian heritage, such as Wray and his spiritual successor Jimi Hendrix, and some for whom discretion was necessary, such as blues pioneer Charley Patton. Rumble also indirectly ties the infamous “Judas!” incident at Bob Dylan’s 1966 Manchester concert to not just Dylan’s newfound electric sound or his Jewishness, but to the then-closeted Indianness of The Band’s Robbie Robertson. And stick around for the closing credits, in which a Link Wray impersonator recreates the simple yet ingenious way the man himself created the signature fuzz-tone of “Rumble,” a sound to which the world has never stopped rocking.
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World
Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza Cinema.