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Native American Heritage Month Rocks


November might be my favorite month. Aside from its overall deliciousness, it offers a post-Halloween hangover hibernation, rife with shorter days, longer nights, turning leaves, comfort food, sweatpants, blankets, and of course, a cornucopia of deep dives into more music. And as someone with Indigenous American ancestry, Native American Heritage Month offers a time to reflect on my roots.



I like to celebrate this month by cranking the volume on some of my favorite recordings by Native American musicians. And with Link Wray’s recent induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I’ve been enjoying going down a rabbit hole of music that’s rich in culture and history. Many of us know of Wray from his distorted iconic instrumental “Rumble” (a song sans lyrics that was actually banned from radio in 1958 because some DJs thought it would inspire teenage delinquent riots). But did you know that Wray was a musician of Shawnee ancestry? Or that Jimi Hendrix was part Cherokee? I learned this (and much more) from an amazing 2017 documentary, titled Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World.


This film also pays loving tribute to one of my all-time favorite people to wield a Fender Telecaster, the late great Native American guitarist and songwriter Jesse Ed Davis. The first time I fell for his soulful and stylish guitar playing was back in 1995 when The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus was released on VHS. Filmed back in 1968, it took nearly three decades for an official release – back then, the rumored reasoning for this was because some folks in the Stones’ camp thought that The Who’s incredible performance had upstaged the headliners. But the song that stopped me in my tracks was Taj Mahal’s hard-grooving version of “Ain’t That A Lot of Love” featuring Davis on lead guitar. I had been a Rickenbacker-obsessed rhythm player up until this point. But watching and hearing Davis pick, bend, and play with equal parts nonchalance and an edge-of-your-seat intensity – all in one lead – was the inspiration for bringing home my first Telecaster.



In addition to writing and recording his own solo albums, Davis was a stellar session musician who graced recordings by other influential musicians like John Lennon, Taj Mahal, Jackson Browne, Leon Russell, George Harrison, the Pointer Sisters, Bert Jansch, Albert Collins, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Gene Clark, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Leonard Cohen, Jackie DeShannon, Harry Nilsson, Gram Parsons, Captain Beefheart, Cher, and many others.


If you’ve read the Highway To Helloween blog post, it’s obvious that a lot of my listening is thematic. So of course, for Native American Heritage Month, I created a Pandora Story/Playlist titled Native American Rock. This one explores the aforementioned Native American musicians who have helped shape classic and contemporary rock music as well as more modern musicians who sometimes share their stories and their heritage through their music. Give it a listen during this festive gourd season. And of course, please leave us some comments here, especially if you’d like to share any other artists and songs that would fit well with these ones.



1 Comment
Community Manager
Community Manager

Love this - thanks for sharing, @EricPandora!