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Redbone

Redbone

Rock group

Taking its name from a Cajun epithet for "half-breed," Redbone boasted members of such Native American tribes as Cherokee, Yaqui, Apache, and Shoshone. Remembered primarily as the first commercially successful American Indian rock group, the band attained brief success in the early 1970s for two bona fide pop singles, "Witch Queen of New Orleans" and "Come and Get Your Love." The band's albums, however, were more complex affairs, mingling topical issuesincluding the Wounded Knee massacre of Sioux Indians by the Seventh Cavalry in 1890 and the Native American protests on Alcatraz Island in 1969with Native American chants and long, improvisational jams. Following the success of "Come and Get Your Love," which became a huge dance hit, the band increasingly tilted toward dance- and disco-flavored music before disbanding in the late 1970s.

Brothers Pat and Lolly Vasquez were born in Fresno, California. Boasting Yaqui, Shoshone, and Mexican blood, the duo reputedly worked in cotton fields and apricot orchards in the migrant camps surrounding Fresno. Developing as musicians at an early age, the brothers played with Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson at the Monterey Jazz and Pop Festival before relocating to Los Angeles in 1963. Calling themselves the Avantis, the brothers attempted to cash in on the surf craze popularized by Jan and Dean and the Beach Boys, with such songs as "Gypsy Surfer" and "Wax 'em Down" on the Chancellor label, and "The Phantom Surfer" on the Regency label. The Avantis featured future Beach Boy drummer Mike Kowalski, and their recordings earned them an opening slot on a Beach Boys' tour. The Vasquez brothers also recorded the singles "Let's Go" as the Routers, "Surf Stomp" and "Batman" as the Mar-kets, and "Hotrodders' Choice," "Dawn Patrol," "Double A Fueller," and "Satan's Chariot" as the Deuce Coupes. The 1963 Deuce Coupes' sessions featured impressive session help from Glen Campbell, David Gates, and Leon Russell.

In 1964 the Vasquez brothers recorded as the Sharks, releasing the singles "Big Surf" and "Robot Walk." By the time they had made a musical appearance in the film "It's a Bikini World" in 1965, they had changed their last name to Vegas. They also became members of the Shindigs, the house band on the hit television program Shindig, where they performed weekly with band members Leon Russell and Delaney Bramlett. During this period they also performed session work with pop duo Sonny and Cher, and provided instrumental support to Elvis Presley on the soundtrack to the film Kissin' Cousins. The brothers also managed a residency at the Los Angeles venue Haunted House, which prompted the release of their first full-length album, Pat and Lolly Vegas at the Haunted House, produced by Leon Russell and Snuff Garrett. They became soughtafter session musicians and song writers following their studio work on Dobie Gray's hit single "In Crowd" and the 1967 P.J. Proby single "Nicky Hoeky," which was also recorded by Bobbie Gentry and Duane Eddy.

While fulfilling a residency at a Los Angeles nightclub named Gazzarri's, the Vegas brothers met guitarist Tony Bellamy. A Yaqui Indian who had performed with Dobie Gray, and a member of Peter and the Wolves (a San Francisco band that evolved into the psychedelic band Moby Grape), Bellamy had grown up in a family of dancers and musicians. He had learned to play flamenco guitar as part of his musical education as well, and he was recruited by the Vegas brothers to accompany them on session work with Odetta, John Lee Hooker, and the Everly Brothers. According to Pat, it was Jimi Hendrix who talked the musicians into forming an all-Native American rock group. Vegas told Record Collector writer Jeremy Isaac, "Hendrix was a friend of ours.... and he was half Indian. Once he knew that we were Indian too he used to come and hang with us because of that. Jimi made me aware of my roots: He'd say 'Native American is beautiful, man, be proud of that.'"

The Vegas brothers and Bellamy rented a house and rehearsed for a year before attempting to land a recording contract. During this period the trio produced and performed on the Jim Ford album Harlan County, which featured the Lolly Vegas composition "Working My Way to L.A." While the group was perfecting their sound, they came close to hiring drummer Wayne Bibbey. Bobby Womack, however, suggested that the group hire Pete "Last Walking Bear" DePoe, a Cheyenne drummer from Neah Bay Reservation, Washington. "Bobby said, 'I'll give you my drummer and you give me yours,'" Pat Vegas told Isaac. The band adopted the name Redbone from the Cajun epithet Rehbon, which is a derogatory name for half-breed. The group signed to Epic Records in 1969, and released their debut album, Redbone, in 1970. A double album, it featured the group's reworking of "Nicky Hoeky," as well as the Cajun-influenced "Danse Calinda" and "Crazy Cajun Cakewalk Band." The album also featured such extended jams as "Jambone," "Suite Mode," and "Things Go Better." The follow-up album, Potlatch, featured the song "Alcatraz," which dealt with the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz Island by Native Americans, and a moderately successful single, "Maggie."

In 1971 the band's third album, Message from a Drum, hit pay dirt for Redbone. The album featured the Cajun-swamp rocker "Witch Queen of New Orleans," which bore a lyrical and musical resemblance to the swamp-rock songs of Creedence Clearwater Revival. While the song was a success in the United States, it was a monster hit in the United Kingdom, propelling the band to tour as an opening act for such groups as Traffic, Alice Cooper, and the Faces. The death of DePoe's father prompted the drummer to quit the band. "He couldn't stay with us because his family was dependent on him," Pat told Isaac. DePoe was replaced by Arturo Perez on the 1972 album Already Here. Perez departed shortly thereafter, however, and was replaced on the 1974 release Wovoka by Butch Rillera. Wovoka contained the band's most successful single, "Come and Get Your Love," which featured a popping disco bass beat and Leslie-amplifed guitars supporting the husky call-and-response vocals of Pat and Lolly Vegas.

The group was never able to repeat the single's success, however, despite several attempts on subsequent studio releases, including Beaded Dreams through Turquoise Eyes and the 1977 album Cycles. The latter album marked the recent departures of Bellamy and Rillera, the addition of keyboardist and percussionist Aloisio Aguiar, and the band's new label, RCA. Cycles failed to generate much interest, however, and the group disintegrated. A live concert recording in 1977 was eventually released in 1994 as Redbone: Live.

The Vegas brothers continued to work as a duo and as solo acts throughout the 1980s. They also did voiceover work for documentaries on Native American history. The brothers attempted to reform the band's original lineup in the early 1990s, but their plans were waylaid by Lolly's illness from a stroke and DePoe's reluctance to tour. Drummer Rillera became unable to perform due to an aneurysm. Despite these setbacks, Bellamy and Pat Vegas continued to work the Native American casino circuit with a group of supporting musicians. In 1998 members of the group appeared as special guest presenters at the Native American Music Awards.

For the Record . . .

Members include Aloisio Aguiar (joined group, 1977), keyboards, drums; Anthony "Tony" Bellamy (left group, 1977), guitar; Peter DePoe (also known as Last Walking Bear; left group, 1972), drums; Arturo Perez (left group, 1973), drums; Butch Rillera (group member, 1973-77), drums; Lolly Vegas (born Vasquez), guitar, vocals; Pat Vegas (born Vasquez), bass guitar.

Brothers Lolly and Pat Vegas formed surf band The Avantis, 1963; brothers recorded as the Deuce Coupes for Del-Fi Records, 1963; brothers performed in film It's a Bikini World, 1965; worked with Leon Russell and Delaney Bramlett as house band for the Shindigs on ABC-TV series Shindig, 1964-66; released album produced by Leon Russell and Snuff Garrett, Pat and Lolly at the Haunted House, 1966; duo wrote "Nicky Hoeky," which became hit for P.J. Proby, 1967; Vegas brothers met guitarist Tony Bellamy, collaborated on Jim Ford album Harlan County, 1968; trio hired drummer Pete DePoe and signed band Redbone to Epic Records, 1969; released debut and second album, Redbone and Potlatch, 1970; released third album, Message from a Drum, featuring hit single "Witch Queen of New Orleans," 1972; Arturo Perez replaced drummer DePoe, 1972; Butch Rillera replaced Perez, 1973; released Wovoka, featuring single "Come and Get Your Love," 1973; released final studio album for CBS/Epic, Beaded Drums through Turquoise Eyes, 1974; released RCA debut, Cycles, 1977; group appeared as presenters at Native American Music Awards, 1998.

Selected discography

Redbone, Epic, 1970.

Potlatch, Epic, 1970.

Message from a Drum, Epic, 1972.

Already Here, Epic, 1972.

Wovoka, Epic, 1974.

Beaded Drums through Turquoise Eyes, Epic, 1974.

Come and Get Your Redbone, Epic, 1975.

Cycles, RCA, 1978.

Redbone: Live, Avenue/Rhino, 1994.

Golden Classics, Collectables, 1996.

The Essential Redbone, Epic/Legacy, 2003.

Sources

Books

The Billboard Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Billboard Books, 1998.

Larkin, Colin, editor, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 3rd edition, MUZE, 1998.

Periodicals

Circus, April 1974.

Additional information was obtained from the liner notes to The Essential Redbone, Sony Legacy, 2003, and from Record Collector magazine.

Bruce Walker

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