Michael Buckner | Frazer Harrison, Getty Images Now this is a collaboration that…
- Posted on Nov 20th 2009 5:00PM by James Sullivan
The brothers already had a fairly impressive résumé in the music business by the time they decided to make their heritage an asset. Born Pat and Lolly Vasquez in Fresno, Calif., they adopted the last name Vegas to downplay their birth name's Latino roots.
Pat and Lolly were proficient from a young age on bass and guitar, respectively, accompanying pianist Oscar Peterson at the Monterey Jazz Festival before heading to southern California in the early '60s to cash in on the surf-music craze. As the Avantis, the Vegas boys recorded several surf instrumentals, working in the studio with then-unknown session musicians including Glen Campbell and Leon Russell. Regulars at the Haunted House in Hollywood, which featured a stage designed to look like a monster's mouth, Pat and Lolly joined the house band on ABC's teen pop variety show 'Shindig' and bagged a cameo in the teensploitation movie 'It's a Bikini World' alongside the Animals and Bobby "Boris" Pickett.
While working as musicians for hire, backing Sonny & Cher and John Lee Hooker, they befriended a guitarist who claimed Cherokee ancestry named Jimi Hendrix. According to Pat Vegas, Hendrix urged the brothers to form a Native American band: "Native American is beautiful, man," he said. "Be proud of that."
Taking the advice, they recruited guitarist Tony Bellamy, a Yaqui Indian, and drummer Peter DePoe, a Cheyenne whose tribal name was Last Walking Bear. Together they formed the band Redbone -- essentially, "half-breed."
For a few years in the early 1970s, the band was one of the most prominent representatives of Native culture in the US. Specializing in swamp rock, they had a hit in 1972 with 'The Witch Queen of New Orleans' and a Top 5 US smash two years later with the funky 'Come and Get Your Love.'
But the band's efforts to politicize its music, at a time when Native Americans were fighting for their rights and facing off with federal agents, were less successful, at least in their native America. Redbone's song 'We Were All Wounded at Wounded Knee,' a hit in Europe, not only failed to chart in the States -- it was banned by some radio stations.
After a brief foray into disco, the band fizzled out. Occasional attempts to regroup were hampered when Lolly Vegas suffered a stroke; for a time, an impostor band made the rounds, playing unauthorized gigs. Today, when Pat Vegas performs with the current incarnation of Redbone, more often than not it's in an Indian casino.