Redbone – Still rockin’ the rez

LOS ANGELES – Redbone is one of the legends of Native American music.

Though today they are best remembered for their 1974 bubblegum masterpiece “Come and Get Your Love,” Redbone the first group to bring “Red Pride” to the forefront of pop culture. As innocuous as “Come and Get Your Love” might seem on first listen, it gave the band an international forum to present Native heritage during the Indian country’s darkest hours in the 1970s, such as doing traditional dances before they performed on national television shows. The band is still touring and planning their first new album in 15 years. Indian Country Today caught up with the band’s current guitarist, Raven Hernandez, to talk about the band and its amazing history.

Redbone was founded in the late 1960s by two brothers from Fresno, Calif., Pat and Lolly Vegas (who changed their last name from “Vasquez” to curtail racial discrimination). The brothers became session players who worked with Dr. John, Glen Campbell, Johnny Rivers and others. They were also featured on ABC’s “Shindig” in 1964, which was the most influential pop music show of the decade. The brothers went on to become successful songwriters, writing hits for P.J. Proby, Bobbie Gentry, Aretha Franklin, Tom Jones, and others. They went on to play the Sunset Strip during the psychedelic heydays of The Doors and Buffalo Springfield.

The Vegas brothers, of Yaqui heritage, formed Redbone with guitarist Tony Bellamy, a Mexican American whose uncle was a Navajo chief, and Peter “Walking Bear” De Poe, Cheyenne. The band signed with Epic Records in 1970 and had two other hits, “Maggie” and “The Witch Queen of New Orleans.”

“The original members were Pat and Lolly Vegas,” Hernandez told ICT. “Pat’s in the band now and Lolly had a stroke about six years ago and lost the use of his left hand, which was really hard on him. That’s how I got into the band, unfortunately. I play guitar in the band and I took over Lolly’s spot.” The band will reunited with their original drummer, De Poe, in a series of concerts planned for Seattle this fall.

Hernandez talked about the history of the group and how their one hit opened the doors to create one of the great legacies of Native music. “It was the right time when the song hit. America was ready for it. They did a lot of political things, activist things, and they were changing with the times too. What really kept them alive were Native Americans, their own people. “‘Wounded Knee’ was not a popular radio song, it got a lot of people up in arms,” Hernandez laughed. “That’s a song where they were making a statement, it was there for the Native people, and they were just doing rock-n-roll the way they wanted to at that point; they weren’t necessarily interested in hitting the major radio play anymore and getting a hit single. Every time I talk to Pat I tell him ‘We need to bring some of that stuff out of the vaults.’ I think people are really ready for it now.”

Redbone has released 18 albums over the years, but only compilations of the early work are currently in print, notably Epic/Legacy’s “The Essential Redbone,” released earlier this year.

“Redbone hasn’t released an album in almost 15 years; it’s long overdue,” Hernandez said. “Pat and I have been talking about it and I think something good is going to come out of it. It’s been so hard for Native American music with Native American themes to penetrate a major market, but I think we’re doing so much better than we have done in years. I call the casinos the new frontier; now there are venues to play. We party with people who come to see us and we have the grandparents, the parents, and the children, and often you have the great-grandchildren, I feel a strong bond between family and the family of Redbone. To us, there’s a lot more to it than just the music.”

The guitarist noted that they have been very excited by the Native bands that have opened their shows. “We travel around to a lot of different states and we always play with some local groups as opening acts, they’re usually kids, and it’s amazing to see what they do. We’re like ‘yeah, yeah, this is great.’ They are really pushing in envelope on Native American themes and basic political statements too.”

Raven Hernandez also works as a solo artist. His critically acclaimed solo album, “Sacred Land,” is available from at cdbaby.com/cd/ravenh.

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