An Encore for the Native Americans Who Shook Up Rock ’n’ Roll


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Link Wray performing in London in 1979. The guitarist was of Shawnee heritage.

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David Warner Ellis/Redferns

Plenty of rock ’n’ roll songs have been banned from the airwaves because of their lyrics, but “Rumble” was the first to be banned because of its very sound. Recorded by Link Wray & His Ray Men in 1958, the instrumental pioneered the use of distortion, feedback and the power chord, a mix that made stations in New York and Boston so nervous they refused to play the song for fear that it might incite violence. According to popular lore, the hit song got its name because it reminded listeners of a gang fight, or at least a musical invitation to one; in “Pulp Fiction,” it’s the tune that plays while Uma Thurman and John Travolta share a $5 milkshake and a tense silence.

“If you considered yourself a real rock ’n’ roll guitar player, you had to learn ‘Rumble,’” Robbie Robertson, the songwriter and guitarist, said in an interview. “It was raw and dirty, and had that rebellious spirit to it.”

The single is at the heart of “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World,” a documentary directed by the Canadian filmmakers Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana that has scooped up prizes on the festival circuit, including a Sundance special jury award for “masterful storytelling.” Reviewing the film for The Times, Ken Jaworowski likened it to the Oscar-winning “20 Feet From Stardom” and “Searching for Sugar Man.”