Taboo from the band Black Eyed Peas, who is an American of Shoshone and Mexican descent is featured in RUMBLE | Photo Credit: Chris Rutkowski

Taboo from the band Black Eyed Peas, who is an American of
Shoshone and Mexican descent is featured in RUMBLE | Photo Credit: Chris Rutkowski

In part two of our exclusive interview with Stevie Salas and the Black Eyed Peas’ Taboo, both discuss what they learned during their work on the documentary RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD, making its PBS debut Monday, January 21.

ASSIGNMENT X: Has anything you’ve learned in the course of making this film affected your own music, the way you make music, your attitude toward your music, what you want to do with the music?

TABOO: It has. It inspired me to be, I say, like the P. Diddy of Native artists. Because I have such a huge platform, and my role as an artist, with the Black Eyed Peas, has transformed into now being an executive, and bringing groups like the Mag Seven, who are the Native American artists I’m producing, I’m executive-producing, and this woman named Brooke Simpson, who was on THE VOICE. So I’m giving opportunities to all these amazing Native artists that may not have had the same push, the same type of platform, that the Peas has. But because of my love and my passion, and because of movies like RUMBLE that let people know that if you use the arts and music to inspire Native kids, you never know. You could have the next Link Wray, you could have the next Jimi Hendrix, you could have the next Stevie Salas, or the next Black Eyed Peas. So that put a lot of juice into my creative juices.

STEVIE SALAS: Yeah, he’s been running with it. It’s great. I always had a subtlety to everything I did [in terms of representing Native American heritage]. If you ever look at an old photo of me with Mick Jagger or something, you’ll I’ll have something on, subtly – I never was the guy that walked out [making an overt statement] – I always had something, because it was just part of who I was as a human being. And then Tab has taken it as a total inspiration of something that he saw an open door where he could say, “Wait a minute. I have got this gigantic thing that’s here, and let me help you with it.” It’s really good. And everybody can use a helping hand, that’s for sure.

AX: Were there things you learned during the making of the film that really surprised you, or was it stuff that you already knew, that you just wanted to better publicize?

SALAS: It’s constant learning. I mean, Catherine [Bainbridge], our director, was digging into the early American history, where you started to realize how the slaves and the Native American people were mingling. Jimi Hendrix’s sister says in the film, Jimi was proud of his African heritage, he was proud of his Native American heritage, and he was proud of his Scottish heritage. And the reason I thought that was important is because what she was really talking about was, people were coming to this country, and a lot of repressed people were the ones getting together, and that’s where all the food came from, and all the music. It was a lot of mixing, there was a lot going on. And somehow, by the time we’ve grown up, [the story inaccurately says that] Christopher Columbus discovered the country, this person created this, that person – and it’s not really true. The repressed people who came here are really the culture of color that made our country so unique, and somehow, everyone else takes all the credit for it [laughs]. Even today, it’s getting worse than ever. But it’s a thing about RUMBLE that really blows my mind is that part of it.

Slash, drummer for the band Guns N’ Roses is featured in RUMBLE | Photo Credit: Chris Rutkowski

Slash, drummer for the band Guns N’ Roses is featured in RUMBLE | Photo Credit: Chris Rutkowski

And then I love the fact that we invite everyone to be part of this journey. The movie is not like, “Oh, it’s only for Native people.” It actually invites everyone to be educated and to celebrate music and art through this amazing art piece itself. RUMBLE is an art piece, and it’s something that I’m glad that people that are not Native can actually appreciate and embrace. We were in Australia. The theatres were so full in Australia, and not full of just aboriginal people. I’ve been invited to New Zealand, we go to Europe, we go all over the place. The film was shown in England two weeks ago. We go to Hungary – we go all over the place.

AX: Who did you talk with for the film?

SALAS: I’ll tell you what we did in the film. It was something that was I really made sure of, because I spent twenty-something years, thirty years, in the music business, working with some of the most famous people that ever lived in music, I was determined to let those people tell the story. So when you see the film, you’ll see that it’s loaded with super-famous people. Because I didn’t want to say, “This guy did this, and this guy didn’t do this.” All I wanted to say was, if Steven Tyler was influenced by Jesse Ed Davis, I wanted Steven Tyler to tell you that. So then you’re going to go, “Hmm, well, I’m not going to call bullsh** on Steven Tyler, if he actually said it himself.” If I told you, “Steven Tyler listened to this every day, and that’s how he started Aerosmith,” then you might say, “Come on.” But if Steven Tyler tells you that, or if Martin Scorsese or Eric Clapton or the Ramones or whoever tell you these things, you’re going to take the information a lot more seriously than a bunch of Native American scholars or musicologists. So I wanted to show influence, and let the people who were influenced be the ones to tell you, so you wouldn’t have to question it. The people you grew up with and knew are telling you, “I listened to this.” Tony Bennett says, “This is all I listened to, and man, everything she did was about …” And you have to say, “Okay, then.” [laughs] If Tony Bennett’s telling you, he himself, that’s how he learned to sing, from this Native American woman, Mildred Bailey, you cannot call bullsh** on that.

Martin Scorsese, award winning filmmaker and founder of The Film Foundation is featured in RUMBLE | Photo Courtesy of Rezolution Pictures

Martin Scorsese, award winning filmmaker and founder of The Film
Foundation is featured in RUMBLE | Photo Courtesy of Rezolution Pictures

AX: What is the life of RUMBLE? You said earlier it was for PBS. Was it made originally for PBS, or was it made completely independently, and then went around and landed at PBS?

SALAS: No, no. We sold it before we made it. Originally, it was like, “PBS would be great.” The next thing you know, it came to HBO. We never really were going to be in the theatres, that was never really in the plan. We never thought we’d be in Sundance, let alone win at Sundance. Even when Sundance called, [Salas’s fellow producer] Christina Fon called me, “They called us!” “We’re never going to get in.” So much so that I booked a tour and wasn’t even here for Sundance, because I didn’t think we were going to be in Sundance, let alone win it. So all this stuff – the film has got its own wheels. Every once in awhile, you create a project or an album or something, and it just goes. And all you do is hold onto it, and stay out of its way, because all you’ll do is screw it up. And RUMBLE is just going. We’re a year-and-a-half into it, and here we are still talking about it like it’s a new movie. We won at Sundance in 2017. Mind you, it took a long time for it to really happen. I remember talking about it years and years ago.

TABOO: It took five years to make.

SALAS: Yeah. So that being said, the concept and the idea has been years and years in the making. Now, to actually see the work, and everybody being excited about it, it’s like seeing your baby walking. I will just tell you this. Mostly, the hardest thing usually to do is find money. We had money for this – Catherine, our director, and Christina, my producing partner, took me, and we pitched it at Hot Docs, and every single network said yes. Then it was up to us to figure out how to put the networks together that could work with each other. This one goes, “No, you cross too much in Canada here, we can’t …” So getting the money for this actually was the easiest thing. Getting the story told properly was really hard.

AX: Was that just a matter of people’s schedules, or was that a matter of figuring out who you ought to talk to, or did anybody require convincing?

SALAS: No, the convincing part wasn’t hard. It was, schedules are always hard when you have superstars, but also, the story. Every time we’d peel the onion, we’d find out something new, and it was like, “Oh, my God.” The Native American/African-American/slave combination of music, which creates the foundation of music that goes into Mississippi – I was always taught that Columbus discovered America, which was bullsh**, and I was always taught that the Delta blues was a black art form, and that wasn’t completely true, either. Because when you get into Charley Patton, and Howlin’ Wolf says, “I learned how to play guitar from this Indian guy,” you’re like, “Huh?!” We just assumed that everybody who was dark was an African-American, and I used to see pictures of Charley Patton, and I thought he was an African-American, until one day, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top says, “Look at this picture, Stevie. He looks to me like he’s got some wavy, curly hair.” You know what I mean? Because the pictures were old, and you just assumed that, because you were always told that. But then you dug into the information, and you realized, “Oh, my God.”

Buffy Sainte-Marie, one of the most influential folk singers of the 1960s and featured in RUMBLE | Photo courtesy of Rezolution Pictures

Buffy Sainte-Marie, one of the most influential folk singers of the 1960s and featured in RUMBLE | Photo courtesy of Rezolution Pictures

AX: And is there a different enjoyment in watching the movie than in performing? They’re both creative forms, but your experience of the audience feedback might be different …

SALAS: To me, it’s completely two different things.

TABOO: Totally.

SALAS: It’s night and day. If you’re lucky enough to do what I’ve done, and what Taboo has done, where we get to play – even Taboo and I, I’m older than him, but we’re both old now, in our game, and last summer, Taboo and I were both sharing the same football stadiums, I was heading up, playing with RUMBLE on the other side of the planet, I’m playing in the same stadium on Friday, and he’s playing it on a Saturday, and we’re like, “Wow, this is still pretty cool.” Because it’s still legit, we’ve still got something to say. It had nothing to do with RUMBLE.

TABOO: One of the most impactful moments in the film for me is seeing Stevie talking to John Trudell, prior to him passing away. It was so inspirational to see John’s perspective, and to see what he did with – when he did the album with Jesse. For us in Indian country, I feel like John Trudell is such a strong figure, as far as activism, his inspiration, his poetry, what he meant to us as an inspiration. And he wasn’t like a politician, meaning he had a lot of flaws. Which made me then believe in him and trust him, because I knew he wasn’t full of sh**. He was just a straight-up dude that had his perspective, but it was good to see Stevie, my good friend, share that moment in the film with him.

AX: What would you both most like people to know about RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD?

SALAS: I think that it’s new history that was there that no one knew. We have somehow figured out some American history that was never told, that is really relevant, and valid, and super-important. And now it’s being taught in schools. And I’m just glad that this is something that’s real, that was forgotten, that was left out of the American experience, that wasn’t ever told, and now it’s there. My dream is that, when I was a kid, I used to watch this movie called ENDLESS SUMMER. It was on every year, about the two guys that traveled around the world surfing, chasing summer. And I always loved that movie. And my goal always would be that, when my son has kids, RUMBLE is on, RUMBLE is on again on a Saturday afternoon on TV, like ENDLESS SUMMER is on a few times every year, you see it. And I want RUMBLE to be that type of film.

Pat Vegas and members of the Native American rock group are featured in RUMBLE | Photo Credit: Joseph Dominguez

Pat Vegas and members of the Native American rock group are featured in RUMBLE | Photo Credit: Joseph Dominguez

TABOO: Mine is very simple, because what I took away from it was, no matter what success you achieve, through music, through art, or anything in life, the road to success is always under construction, and we’re the architects and the builders of that path. Because you’re building your own path, you’re building your own identity, and to be proud to be a Native cat, and do it in a way where you can share music and share the art with the world, that’s inspirational. And that’s what I took away from RUMBLE.

This interview was conducted during PBS’s portion of the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.

Related: RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD – Part 1 interview with Executive producer Stevie Salas and Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas – Exclusive Interview

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RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD – Part 2 interview with Executive producer Stevie Salas and Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas – Exclusive Interview

 

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