An Interview With Rumble’s Executive Producer Stevie Salas

by Cynthia Biret

The recent documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World is a revelation, from Link Wray’s monumental influence on the landscape of music, to the legendary stars paying tribute to the songs and rhythms of indigenous cultures whose struggles were hidden from history for far too long. The line up of celebrities in this documentary is impressive: Stevie Van Zandt, Martin Scorsese, Taj Mahal, Georges Clinton, Tony Bennett, Taboo, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Robbie Robertson and Steven Tyler, to name a few, including Iggy Pop, who owes his decision to become a musician to Link Wray’s infamous power cord…

CYNTHIA BIRET: How did this story get started, and when did you realize the extent of the influence of Native American music?

STEVIE SALAS: There are two ways that this all started. First, I originally left San Diego and moved to Los Angeles in 1985 when I got out of high school, and I got a gig playing with Rod Stewart. I was playing around the world, such as Madison Square Garden, and I thought to myself, “surely I can’t be the only Native American guitar player playing rock and roll at this level, this high level.” And I started to do research, just for fun, just as a hobby; and what really hit me is that, for instance, not only were there some amazing Native American guitar players out there, but at the same time, the most famous rock musicians in the world that I had met and worked with actually worshipped these guys.

In the recording studio in 1994–1995 with the Rolling Stones, I asked Ronnie Wood a question about a guitar, and he said, “Do you know who gave me that guitar? Jesse Ed Davis gave me that guitar.” And he said Jessie Ed Davis’s name like he was talking about a superhero. That’s when I started to realize that there is this amazing Native American guitar player, unknown even to Native American people, and that the most famous musicians in the world worship him. And then came the idea that I have to do something with this.

Then it was the same thing with Link Wray. Later, in 2007 or 2008, I met Tim Johnson, who was the co-director of the Smithsonian, and I told him the story, and he said, “ok, let’s do an exhibit on it.” Tim and I created the exhibit with the Smithsonian, and it became hugely successful in Washington D.C. and New York City. After the exhibit was over, I set about going and meeting directors from different companies because I wanted to transform this into a movie. That’s how it all happened…

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Link Wray

To read the entire interview with Stevie Salas, go to Riot Material magazine:

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