12 Best Native American Rock Bands
This list only includes rock bands from North America whose members come from Canada or the Unites States and generally speak English. There’s nothing wrong with rock bands from Latin America, but the author thinks they deserve their own list of artists who speak or perform in Spanish, Portuguese or other languages.
Now let’s begin the countdown!
Coming from Albuquerque, New Mexico, XIT is a Native American rock group with a decidedly nostalgic message. Formed in the 1970s, the original members were A. Michael Martinez (singer), Mac Suazo (bass), Lee Herrerra (drums) and R.C. Gariss (guitar). These days the group’s lineup is Willie Bluehouse Johnson (guitar), P.J. West (drums), Louie Running Wolf (bass) and Jim Boyd (guitar). XIT released two successful albums in the ‘70s: Plight of the Redman (1972) and Silent Warrior (1973). Their latest album is Forty Years (2011). Incidentally, XIT means “crossing of Indian tribes.” Notably, Plight of the Redman is a concept album regarding the Era of Exploration when Columbus arrived in the Americas, changing the life of American Indians forever.
11. Breach of Trust
A metal band from La Ronge, Saskatchewan in Canada, Breach of Trust (BOT) formed in 1994 and is comprised of four members of First Nations heritage: Marty Ballentyne (vocalist/guitarist), Terry Aubut (guitarist), Colin Cheechoo (bass guitarist) and William Aubut (drummer). BOT plays a style of alternative rock or post-grunge, if you will, that has many fans, though not necessarily in the radio industry. Shortly after BOT released its first album, Songs for Dying Nations (2000), it won Aboriginal Music Awards for Best Group and Best Rock Album. Regrouped in 2007, BOT still performs, and videos of their performances can be found on YouTube.
10. The Plateros
A Navajo group that performs using English or Navajo, the Plateros, a power trio, hails from New Mexico. Formed in January 2005, they seem like the Los Lonely Boys of the Native American bands. The Plateros play a style of blues-rock reminiscent of blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Texas blues of ZZ Top, particularly as played by lead guitarist Levi Platero, who began playing guitar at nine. Douglas Platero, Levi’s brother, pounds the drums, while cousin Bronson Begay snaps the bass strings with alacrity. In 2009, they were crowned the best blues band at the New Mexico Music Awards for the artistry on their second album Hang On; and also during that year they played at President Obama’s inaugural ball.
9. Black Fire
Black Fire is rock band comprised of three siblings from the Benally family - two brothers (a guitarist and drummer) and their sister (a bass player), all of whom from the Diné tribal group. Formed in 1989, Black Fire didn’t start recording until they got the attention of iconic punkers, the Ramones, in the early 1990s, after which they released a five-song EP, which features the vocals of their father, folk singer Jones Benally, and the flute artistry of Robert Tree Cody. In 2002, Black Fire released their first album, One Nation Under. And in 2005 the group won a Native American Music Award (NAMA) for Group of the Year, pertaining to the songs on their second album, Woody Guthrie Singles (2003).
8. Gary Farmer and the Troublemakers
Native Americans seem to have an affinity, penchant or fondness for singing and playing the blues. This is understandable, of course, because when the Europeans arrived in the New World about 500 years ago they didn’t treat the indigenous folks of the Americas as if they were equals; therefore, it could be said, Native Americans have been singing the blues ever since. In this musical tradition, Gary Farmer and the Troublemakers sprang forth as a power quartet ready to spew electric blues as if the Paul Butterfield Blues Band had risen again. Notably, Gary Farmer, the band’s front man, is also an actor of some renown. The band has released two CDs – Love Songs and Other Issues (2007) and Lovesick Blues (2009).
7. Jan Michael Looking Wolf Band
A Kalapuya Indian from Grand Ronde, Oregon, Jan Michael Looking Wolf is a famous Native American flutist who plays many musical styles. His recordings have won 67 awards and have achieved a top-10 ranking on worldwide charts for new age music. Notably, his band has released 17 albums from the early 2000s to present. Michael Looking Wolf is the author of the book One Heart: Journey with the Native American Flute. This flutist extraordinaire resides on his tribal lands in western Oregon.
6. Keith Secola and the Band of Wild Indians
Keith Secola is an Ojibwa Indian from the Anishinabe people around Cook, Minnesota. An artist of Native American music and blues, Secola graduated in 1982 from the University of Minnesota with a degree in American Indian Studies. He plays guitar and flute and is a singer/songwriter. Secola and his Band of Wild Indians won the Best Artist Award at the 2006 Native American Music Awards. Notably, he and actress Irene Bedard have been activists for the rights of Native Americans and environmental issues. Secola’s most recent album is Life is Grand (2012), and his song, “NDN CARS” is considered an anthem of Native Americans.
5. Graywolf Blues Band
Established in 2006, the Graywolf Blues Band (GBB) features Gray Wolf on lead guitar, Alfred “Panther” Mazza and Andreas Gobor. Becoming more than just a blues trio over the years, GBB is now an energetic musical revue, which plays a mixture of original songs and blues standards. In 2009, GBB won a NAMA for their original tune, “Dancing in the Rain.” Incidentally, Gray Wolf got his first guitar at 15 and formed his first band at 16. Over the years, he’s performed with Art Laboe’s “Oldies But Goodies Show,” West Coast Motown, the Coasters, the Drifters, Micki Free and Deni’s ID Band.
Consisting of members of the Lakota Nation, Indigenous plays a style of blues-rock reminiscent of such guitar gods as Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Freddie King and Carlos Santana. Mata Nanji (Mah-toe nan-gee) plays lead guitar, and if you didn’t see him playing, you’d think he was the reincarnation of Hendrix or Vaughan, so molten and riveting are his chops on the Stratocaster. Formed in the late 1990s and mainly a power trio, Indigenous has had many other members over of the years, including Michael Bland from Prince and multi-instrumentalist Brent Fitz. Things We Do (1998) was their debut album, which won a NAMA for Album of the Year. And, impressed by the band, B.B. King invited Indigenous to join his Blues Festival Tour in 1999.
Formed in 1969, Blackfoot has a Southern rock sound, though with a decidedly rock hard bent. Originally comprised of three members with Native American heritage: Jakson Spires (Cheyenne and Cherokee), Richie Medlocke (Lakota Sioux and Blackfoot) and Greg “Two Wolf” Walker (Muskogee Creek), the bands’ first studio album was No Reservations (1975), and “Railroad Man” was their first single. Since then the band has undergone many incarnations with numerous personnel changes; in fact, Blackfoot didn’t release a new studio album for about 20 years, after which they finally released Southern Native (2016). And Richie Medlocke is the only original member who joins the current lineup for some concerts.
2. Brulé and AIRO
A Lakota Native American rock band from South Dakota, Brulé and AIRO came together as a band in 1995 and have produced about 20 CDs from 1996 to present. Brulé comprises four musicians – Paul LaRoche (keyboards), Nicole LaRoche (flute), Shane LaRoche (guitar) and Vlasis Pergakis (percussion), as well as AIRO, an acronym for American Indian Rock Opera, all of which comprise the musicians, dance troupe and sometimes special guests that perform before crowds of many thousands of people. In 2005, the band produced the album Tanaka, which became a smash hit and helped the band win a NAMA for Group of the Year. Notably, Brulé often perform for pledge drives with PBS TV.
Originally from the Fresno/Coalinga area of central California, Redbone was founded in 1969 by the Vegas brothers – Candido “Lolly” Vasquez-Vegas (guitarist, vocals) and Patrick Vasquez-Vegas (bass and vocals). Of Yaqui, Shoshone and Mexican heritage, Redbone released their first studio LP, Redbone, a double-album, in 1970. Their first hit single was the “Witch Queen of New Orleans,” which climbed to #21 of the Billboard Hot 100. Perhaps Redbone’s greatest single was “Come and Get Your Love,” which stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 for 24 weeks and sold more than one million copies. In 1973, Redbone released the controversial single “We Were All Wounded at Wounded Knee,” which did well in Europe but not the US.
Please note that PJ Vegas and Frankie Vegas currently perform with Redbone, but Lolly Vasquez-Vegas died in 2010 and Tony Bellamy in 2009. Pat-Vasquez-Vegas is the only original member still with the group.
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