All I needed this morning was a poisonous earworm

Anyone else remember the song, Indian Reservation, by Paul Revere and The Raiders? It isn’t a particularly good song, and it’s old, from 1971. Unfortunately, it’s burned into my brain because it seemed like every day when I was in middle school that thing got played on the school bus. The earworm got revived this morning because Ruben Bolling had to stir up old memories, and then teach me that the musicians were assholes.

And just about every time the song was played on the countdown of the internationally syndicated radio show, “American Top 40,” host Casey Kasem would recount, with varying degrees of detail, the “incredible” story behind its writing.

Kasem would describe how songwriter John D. Loudermilk got caught in a snowstorm while driving in North Carolina, and was captured by Native Americans of the Cherokee Nation. They destroyed his car, and then tortured him, “such as piercing his spine with needles,” for days. When the Native Americans found out he was a “respected songwriter,” they said they’d only release him if he promised to write a song about the injustices inflicted on Native American people. When he refused, the painful torture increased and he realized he would be killed if he didn’t comply. So he promised he would write the song. They released him, and he lived up to his word by writing the song that would become a #1 hit.

It was a lie. An improbable, unbelievable, racist lie. He later admitted that he made it all up. Also, how gullible was Casey Kasem?

So now I’ve got an annoying earworm that, every time it wriggles around in my brain, also makes me want to snarl, “Fuck you, Loudermilk.” I really would rather not remember middle school.


  1. Ed Peters says

    I too remember Casey Kasem telling that story. It was unbelievable and offensive. And the song was insipid musically – it was the typical white man’s Indian music sound of that era, straight out of some B western. But without that, the song would not have charted.

    The lyrics reeked of noble savage memes: ‘so proud to live; so proud to die’, as well as an ending that tried to assuage white man’s guilt with false hope: ‘maybe some day when they learn; Cherokee nation will return’. Sure, right after the apocalypse.

  2. hillaryrettig1 says

    Ewww, that is one noxious backstory.

    This might be a good time to plug Reservation Dogs, one of the most fantastic series I’ve seen in years, and worth the price of a Hulu subscription all by itself. (But you also get The Handmaid’s Tale, etc.)

  3. Jim Brady says

    One thing that strikes me, is that the story is so ridiculous, you have to be an American journalist to believe it. He was clearly trolling.

  4. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Casey basically read whatever was put in front of him, he was “fooled” numerous times during AT40’s run. One of my favorites is the time he told the tragic story of an R&B singer who burnt his face while working at McDonald’s and became a rapper wearing a mask. The sad story of Humpty Hump. The truth? Humpty was just the other rapper in the group (Shock G) wearing a damn Groucho mask. None of that was even vaguely true.

  5. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Oh, and according to Loudermilk, the reason he made the story up was because it was midnight when the AT40 researchers called him and he was pissed they woke him up. He didn’t actually think they’d believe that.

  6. robro says

    Here’s the Wikipedia version of the story:

    A well-known story told by Loudermilk is that when he was asked by the Viva! NashVegas radio show about the origins of the song “Indian Reservation,” he fabricated the story that he wrote the song after his car was snowed in by a blizzard and he was taken in by a small group of Cherokee Indians. [7] A self-professed prankster, [8] he spun the tale that a Cherokee chieftain, “Bloody Bear Tooth,” asked him to make a song about his people’s plight on the Trail of Tears, even going so far as to claim that he had later been awarded “the first medal of the Cherokee Nation,” not for writing the song, but for his “blood.” [7]

    So, it was a lie or a prank. I’m not sure the “prank” angle makes it better. One of the citations [7] is to the original Viva! NashVegas broadcast where Loudermilk spun the tale per this version. The other is Loudermilk’s obituary in the Guardian. Of course, the Wikipedia story may be a cover up as well. Great thing about pranking is there’s potentially no end to it.

  7. microraptor says

    Casey Kasem’s moral outrage over offensive racial stereotypes only applied to Arabs and Arab-Americans. What a shock.

  8. Larry says

    I remember the song, the stupid costumes the band wore, but I had never heard that ridiculous origin story. How dumb must one be to think any of it was true. Racial insensitivity aside, the song is as bad as the story. As bad as believing the Monkees were an actual band, that a group of cartoon characters sang Sugar, Sugar, or that a group of white LA studio musicians were a Mexican band led by Herb Albert.

  9. Silentbob says

    @ 15 StevoR

    Speaking of white guilt, I was always partial to Paul Kelly’s From Little Things Big Things Grow.

    A “true story”

    Gough Whitlam Vincent Lingiari – YouTube

  10. says

    Random fact: Casey Kasem refused to reprise his role of Shaggy in Scooby-Doo until Hanna Barbera made the character vegetarian., like himself. I’ve always found that more than a little odd, since Shaggy would scarf pepperoni pizza and burgers in the ’70s and ’80s, so I don’t know.

  11. says

    @9: Put it that way and it does sound fairly hypocritical. That’s the reason why he quit Transformers back in the 1980s and I remember how upset he was about Disney’s Aladdin back in the 1990s.

  12. steve1 says

    Poor Loudermilk an accomplished song writter and this is the song that you are most famous for.

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