If you’re a fan of old-school music from the 1970s, you’ve probably heard of the song “Come and Get Your Love.” But do you know who the song is by? Enter pioneering Native American band, Redbone.
With how popular music biopics are in Hollywood, I feel like Redbone’s story is entirely unsung (to use the name of that popular TV One series). What is Redbone’s history and how do we get more of their history out there?
The early years
According to Redbone’s official site, the band’s founding members are Californian-born Patrick and Candido “Lolly” Vasquez-Vegas. With Patrick on bass and vocals and Lolly on guitar, sitar and vocals, the two brothers explored their musical prowess with Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson in the 1960s.
The two performed as the Vegas Brothers, but later changed their name to the Crazy Cajun Cakewalk Band and then The Avantis. Their early records were more along the lines of the surfing music of the 1960s with the band featuring Mike Kowalski, who would later play drums for The Beach Boys. Naturally, The Avantis started performing as an opening band for The Beach Boys.
They had several hits in their surf rock era, with Patrick eventually co-writing the theme song to The Munsters. If you’ve heard the theme song, it makes sense that Patrick would be involved since there’s a lot of surf influence in The Munsters theme song. While having these early hits, the brothers continued performing on the West Coast, particularly in Las Vegas and southern California. Some of their accolades on their live performance resume includes opening for comedians Redd Foxx, Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, playing on records with Tina Tuner, Little Richard, Sonny & Cher, James Brown and Elvis, and others. They also released their first full-length album, Pat and Lolly Vegas at the Haunted House.
Their success as session musicians and songwriters continued, and their ability to rub elbows with major stars also continued, leading them to get the attention of Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix stated (according to the site) that Lolly was the best guitarist he’d ever heard and thought that they should create a band. Hendrix named their band the Cajun word “Redbone” because of their Native American heritage and the word’s usage for mixed-race people.
Afterward, the brothers hired guitarist Tony Bellamy and drummer Pete DePoe and officially became signed to Epic Records in 1969 under the name Hendrix suggested for them. They were managed by Little Richard and Sam Cooke’s manager, Bumps Blackwell. Redbone’s self-titled debut double-album came out in 1970, and fans became privy to what the band called their “King Kong Beat.”
Redbone didn’t just release cool music–they also stood for eco-activism. They introduced the first Earth Day in Philadelphia on April 22, 1970. They performed “Chant 13th Hour,” which the website describes as probably “one of the world’s first examples of ‘world music.'”
“Come And Get Your Love” didn’t come out until 1973. They had hits beforehand, but their most iconic song wouldn’t come until their fifth album, Wovoka. They also released “We Were ALl Wounded At Wounded Knee,” a song telling the story of the 1890 massacre in South Dakota in which 200 Native Americans were killed by American soldiers. The song wasn’t released in America; Epic Records refused to release it stateside, but released the song overseas in Europe instead. There, the song became a number one hit.
While “We Were All Wounded At Wounded Knee” became a European hit, “Wovoka,” the song their fifth album was named after, became an American hit. This song focused on the Palute leader named Wovoka, who, according to the site, “introduced the ‘Ghost Dance’ into the culture as a way of connecting souls and persevering their heritage after the tragic Wounded Knee massacre.”
Between Redbone’s time at Epic and RCA, the band released seven albums and several compilation albums. But despite their history in the industry and their pioneering status as a Native American rock band, it seems like a lot of people don’t know Redbone’s existence–all they know is “Come and Get Your Love,” but don’t realize who is behind the song.
In an era where Native Americans are reclaiming their stories and are finally getting more opportunities to showcase their stories to the mainstream, it would be awesome if Redbone got some love. It’s important for the mainstream to see Redbone’s history because too often, we don’t think of the Native American experience in music. Today, we have bands like The Halluci Nation, but The Halluci Nation (formerly known as A Tribe Called Red) is also able to stand on the shoulders of the Vasquez-Vegas brothers and Redbone.
I could definitely see Adam Beach, Martin Sensmeier and Michael Greyeyes in particular killing it in a film about Redbone, but who do you see starring in a possible film? And would you watch a Redbone biopic? Give your opinions in the comments section below.