In-Depth: RUMBLE, The Indians Who Rocked the World

In the February 1 edition of the TRT there was an article printed about Rumble: the Indians Who Rocked the World.

Rumble is the documentary that won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Masterful Storytelling at the Sundance Film Festival.


The film circulates around indigenous artists that made significant impacts on the music industry, but Executive Producer Tim Johnson wanted to dole out recognition to Six Nations properly.

Johnson explained that the process of shaping the documentary came out of his exhibit Up Where We Belong: Native Americans in Popular Culture, as Johnson was the Associate Director for Museum Programs at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.

“Both the exhibit and the film deal with these deep contributions, so the film goes beyond just a listing of people that have hits,” said Johnson. “It goes deeper into exploring their lives and how their culture and communities influenced them and also thereby shaping their music and I think that’s why Sundance gave it a storytelling award. It goes much deeper than one of these ‘rockumentaries’, where you just have a story of a band.”

After Johnson’s wife Lisa Johnson introduced him to Stevie Salas at the opening of Jukasa Recording Studios, the exhibit idea came to reality, as did the JUNO Nominated album by Derek Miller and the documentary.

“I thought ‘wow, we have all of this amazing talent in Indian Country, how do we draw more attention to it?’” He said. “So, that was kind of my motivation at that point is how do we develop a strategy that can do that? And I was thinking ‘maybe if we combined mainstream musicians with native musicians we would be able to generate more interest and public attention to the musicians we have in our own communities.”

Johnson explained that with help from Brian Wright-McLeod’s Encyclopedia of Native Music, he and Salas found a perfect subject for what would later become the Up Where We Belong exhibit. Johnson explained that they had to find Native artists that really did influence other mainstream artists, and this is where artists such as Ryan Johnson, Derek Miller and Robbie Robertson came in to play.

“Chris Turner became the main researcher,” said Johnson. “We were all learning together the depth of the substance, meaning and involvement of native musicians in shaping popular music, the music we know today,” he said.

The idea and concept became something that Johnson and his team didn’t want to let go after the exhibit was taken down, and it was determined that a documentary would be a perfect way to encapsulate the idea. Salas then connected with Rezolution Pictures, and Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World kicked off.

“Derek’s role was very important,” said Johnson. “It was just fantastic working with Derek, and I was amazed at what he produced.”

Johnson said that Miller was to put his own spin on influential Native American artists’ songs to create the JUNO award nominee tribute album: Rumble to recognize their contributions to mainstream music.

But, Johnson couldn’t forget an icon such as Robertson.

“And Robbie was important,” he said, explaining that he flew to Los Angeles to interview him for the exhibit. “He’s such a fantastic story-teller and he’s amazing. The interview we did there and the interview we did subsequently for the film both came out well, and we used a lot of that content in the documentary.”

But along with Miller and Robertson, Johnson mentioned the third from Six Nations.

“And Ryan Johnson from the Ollivanders, who served on the crew in several location shoots throughout the making of film,” he said. “He’s also in a local band here from Six Nations. So, we have all of the Six Nations involvement.”

Johnson then explained a goal for the documentary was to also show the “native geography” of where the artists came from to help tell their stories, and the documentary itself is something to be proud of.

“This is really deep and I think it makes a real contribution to North American music history, and that’s why it’s important; it actually advances the field to understanding that native people were also a part of the development of popular music,” he said.

Tim Johnson has also worked as the Co-Chair of the Landscape of Nations for the Six Nations and Native Allies Commemorative Memorial. He is an owner of the Bears Inn located on Six Nations, and is a 2016 recipient of the Dreamcatcher Foundation Award for Art and Culture.

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