In April 1974, the Native American members of the group Redbone basked in the success of their million-selling gold single “Come and Get Your Love.” The single was a Top-Five hit on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart and hit #1 in several U.S. cities across the country.
ICTMN spoke with Pat Vegas, the group’s bassist, and only founding member still playing under the Redbone banner. Pat’s brother Lolly died in 2010, just months after Tony Bellamy died on Christmas day, 2009. Original drummer Pete DePoe left the band in 1972 — under circumstances that make for just one of many interesting tales Pat Vegas has to tell. Read on, music lovers…
A Top-Five single — what did that kind of success mean for you as a Native artist in those days?
It was something I had already envisioned in my head. I had always loved Native American chants and music and I knew If I worked hard I would come up with something that would appeal to everybody.
How did the song “Come and Get Your Love” come about?
Lolly called me up at 3 am; we had just come back from Philadelphia from doing a tour and he said “Pat, can you come over? I think I have a great idea for a song. I want you to come and help me write it.” I was pretty tired and I said, “Oh man, I am not going to come over there and work on this unless we write together.” He said of course.
My girlfriend and I went over there at 3 AM and we listened to it — it was nice, but it wasn’t structured. I think it was 11 minutes long. I sat in the music room and worked on it, structured it with a bassline and cut it to 6 minutes. We recorded it in the studio, and when it came out, there was only one name on it — Lolly Vegas. (Laughs) I said, “Wait a minute man, I got up at 3 in the morning with you, that’s my bassline!”
When the record came out they wouldn’t play it because they said it was too long.
Michael Atkinson, the head of promotions at CBS-Epic, came down to Whiskey-a-Go-Go when we were performing with Ronnie Milsap, and he said, “Pat If you go into the studio and break this down to 3 minutes, you’ll make it to number one.”
We worked on it, mastered it and I cut it down to 2:56. I said to Lolly, look what we’ve done and he said, “I don’t hear anything different.” (Laughs) He didn’t even notice it was shorter.
It was number one in many, many cities including New York.
What was it like in the studio when you were recording “Come and Get Your Love”?
The funny thing is, when we were in the studio recording the vocals, Lolly couldn’t relax enough, to get it going, he got a bottle of Scotch, had about 5 drinks, he could barely stand. I’m telling you the truth and I’m not pulling any punches. He said, “I can do it now!” That’s what you hear on the record.
On the same session Pete DePoe, our drummer, was working and his wife walked in and served him his divorce papers — during the song. It was crazy. In this business, that’s the way things happen sometimes.
Is it true Jimi Hendrix inspired you to start your band?
Yes, we used to go to this place called The Experience on Sunset Avenue, where we used to jam all the time. We were on the stage with him one time and he said “Damn, you guys are hot! You’ve got to form a group, this is the group right here!”
He loved playing with us, after that we found Pete and that was history.
How did you come up with the name Redbone?
We agreed that we’d each come up with a name, and whoever’s name was chosen by the label at CBS, that would be the name of the group. The other guys came up with names like Tobias and Crazy Cajun. I pulled a small piece of paper that I had my wallet for about a year and a half and it said Redbone. The [CBS] lady saw it and asked what it meant, I said, “it means half breed.” She said, “that is the name,” typed it in, and that was it.
At the height of Native Activism in 1973 you came out with the album, We Are all Wounded at Wounded Knee. How was that received?
That was the biggest album in Europe ever. It has been #1 three times. It keeps coming back because people love it and it’s the truth. They banned it in the US and they wouldn’t release it. The crazy thing is, it came out on the CBS label, but they wouldn’t release it in the United States. They got paid.
I had to sneak into Santa Marie Printing where they print the records and I had them print 500 copies and I took those copies to Europe. I smuggled them out of the country. I wrote the song with my friend, the Jewish comedian Sandy Baron.
What was life on the road like for you guys at the height of your ’70s rock-stardom?
We had many good times. We did a show in Copenhagen. They wanted to pick us up in a helicopter in the middle the night and take us to this big castle up on a hill. We didn’t want to go. Pete DePoe went by himself. He walked in and he said there was a buffet of drugs and chemicals laid out on the table.
The next day we headed to a TV show in Bremen, Germany. We were going to sing “Wounded Knee” live and Pete called me over. He said, “I don’t remember how to play, man. I don’t even know how to hold the sticks.” I told him to fake it. Afterwards we had to ship him back to Seattle because all of what he knew, he forgot because whatever [drugs] he did wiped his brain clean. We brought Butch [Rillera] on from the Righteous Brothers to pick up the tour; it took Pete about 10 years to remember how to play. Imagine what I went through trying to keep it together.
Pete was the most brilliant drummer I ever heard. All the guys from all of the other groups said he was a monster.
Our next stop was Sweden. The stage was thirty feet high, and on the first day, Butch fell and broke his tailbone. He did the entire tour with a broken tailbone.
When I think of 40 years and everything I’ve been through with these guys, it is just unbelievable. Now, at my age, I can enjoy the better part of what I’ve done.
What is Redbone doing these days?
I did a show last Saturday with the Latin All-Stars, a thirteen piece band. We still tour.
Your son PJ Vegas is also an artist now.
He’s going to go way beyond me. He is so talented. I used to carry him to rehearsals at the Glen Glenn sound stage here in Hollywood. PJ was in a car seat in one hand and I had a bass in the other. He used to listen and one day he said, “Dad, listen to this.” His song made me cry, and I said, “he writes better than I ever wrote, and sings better than I ever sang.”
I am so proud of him, he has such great talent, and I know he will succeed.
What do you tell young people these days on how to be successful?
I would say: Follow your dreams, you can do anything if you believe in yourself and trust yourself. Don’t get sidetracked. There are a lot of things that can stop you in midstream and deter you from where you’re going. But don’t be afraid. Damn the torpedoes move forward. And don’t be afraid to give, you can’t be afraid of sharing. This business is about sharing.