January 15, 2018 – Before watching this documentary about influential musical Native Americans the only ones I was aware of were Robbie Robertson of The Band and Buffy Sainte-Marie. This film showed me there are many more such influential Indian musicians.
This documentary traces Indian musical influences (natives interviewed in this movie use the term Indian rather than more politically correct terms like Native Americans or First Peoples) in the history of the Blues, Rock and Roll, Jazz and other forms of traditional American music, starting with guitarist Link Wray whose 1958 hit instrumental “Rumble” would popularize the power chord, a key component of rock and roll to this day. The film also discusses discrimination, blacklisting and censorship practiced by the music industry against Indian musicians over the years.
The film explores the rich musical legacy of the people living in the Mississippi Delta and in New Orleans where there is a mixture of races, including Native Americans. As Willie Dixon said, “The blues are the roots of all American music,” and this film argues there are Indian influences in the music of Charley Patton (active from 1916 to 1934) who is considered by many to be the father of the Delta Blues.
Patton, who may have been part Choctaw or Cherokee, played his guitar with a rhythm that sounds like the drum beat of Choctaw music, according to musicians quoted in this documentary. The documentary also argues that he lived in areas where he was exposed to Indian music. Some also hear the singing styles of Indian music in his songs. His showmanship and guitar playing (he even threw his guitar into the air and caught it while playing) was also influential, according to Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band, “He was doing Jimmy Hendricks long before Jimmy.”
Patton influenced many musicians who followed him. According to the documentary, he taught Roebuck “Pops” Staples to play guitar. Staples (born in 1914) later formed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group The Staples Singers (“Respect Yourself” and “I'll Take You there.”
Probably the best known musician featured in the documentary is Jimi Hendrix, who was part Cherokee. His sister, Janie Hendrix, says “he was very proud of being native, of being African American and being Scottish ... ” The film argues there was some Indian influence in his music, including blues influenced by Charlie Patton.
Guitarist and keyboard player Jesse Ed Davis (Kiowa) who played with Taj Mahal and others, as well as recording solo albums, is profiled in the film. He played the guitar solo in Jackson Browne's “Doctor My Eyes.” Davis' promising career was cut short by drug addiction and an early death from a drug overdose. “He was a genius. Years ahead of his time,” is a quote from Eric Clapton about Davis, shown in the film.
Songwriter and guitarist Robbie Robertson (Mohawk) is also profiled in the film. Martin Scorsese, who directed the film about the final concert of The Band, “The Last Waltz,” also appears in the film, along with a short clip from the film of The Band playing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (written by Robertson). There is also footage of The Band (as the Hawks) playing on tour with Bob Dylan in 1966 and they are seen playing their own hit “Up on Cripple Creek” (written by Robertson) presumably in The Big Pink House in 1969.
The film also features the Native American band Redbone and their big hit “Come and Get Your Love,” which is featured in the opening scene of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Pat Vegas, a founder of the band said it was Jimi Hendix himself who advised him to “Do the Indian thing, man.” This gave Redbone an identity which set them apart from other bands.
The film includes many other musicians, music historians and music critics. Guitarist Stevie Salas (Apache) is extensively interviewed in the film. He talks about the late heavy metal drummer Randy Castillo (Apache) and other musicians in the movie.
Censorship and blacklisting of Indian music and musicians is discussed in the film. Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree) talks about how she found out she had been blacklisted while doing a Canadian radio interview. An activist as well as a singer, Buffy said she was investigated by the FBI and CIA. President Lyndon Johnson reportedly requested that her songs not be played on the radio after she became famous. She performs her song, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” in the film. Link Wray's instrumental “Rumble” was also reportedly blacklisted.
Johnny Cash's 1964 album “Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian” that included the song “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” was strongly opposed by the powers of Country Music. Radio stations would not play the song (a social protest song written by Peter La Farge about a Pima Indian who helped to raise the flag at Iwo Jima) but Cash fought hard for the song and the album, using his influence to get the song played. It, and the album, became successful. The film quotes a written statement from Cash at the time, calling the record industry cowardly for opposing the song: “D.J.s – station managers – owners ... where are your guts?”
The film concludes with Indians at large protests, like the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock, North Dakota, and the 2014 People's Climate March in New York City. This movie highlights surprisingly extensive native influences on American music and it fills in some gaps in music history. This film rates a B.Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.