Gary James' Interview With Pat Vegas Of
Redbone is probably best known for their song "Come And Get Your Love", which stayed on the Billboard charts for twenty-four weeks, climbing all the way to number five. It was certified Gold by the R.I.A.A. on April 22nd, 1974. In 2008 Redbone was inducted into the Native American Music Association Hall Of Fame. Redbone's bassist, Pat Vegas talked with us about the history of the group.
Q - Pat, the obvious question, is their a Redbone group today or are you concentrating on your solo career?
A - Let's put it this way, the only one left is me. Peter De Poe is still around. He was the original drummer for the first three albums. Butch (Rillera) is out of condition. So, it's just me. I go and do one stand-up by myself. Sometimes I'll bring three other musicians with me and also I'm doing film scores.
Q - That's a whole other avenue!
A - I'm telling you.
Q - Isn't that a hard business to break into?
A - Oh, it sure in the heck is, but because of the group's reputation I'm getting a lot of calls. Plus, I have a book out now called Come And Get Your Love: The Redbone Story.
Q - What's this about an imposter group out on the road, billing themselves as Redbone? Is that true?
A - That's a fact.
Q - What can you do or did you do to shut that band down?
A - I called my attorney and he gave them a cease and desist order, so they had to stop. But still there are guys out their calling themselves Redbone that have no reason to. I don't know what it is. There's a demand for Redbone and they want to benefit off of it. I think it's vampires and shit. (laughs)
Q - You own the name Redbone, don't you?
A - I own the name and the trademark with the patent office in Washington, D.C. I own the name, lock, stock and barrel.
Q - You and your brother Lolly moved to Los Angeles in 1969 from Fresno. Did you guys have a band in Fresno?
A - Yes, we did. We had a band called The Bluejays.
Q - Was that a cover band?
A - Yeah. We played everybody else's music but ours. We moved to Salinas, California and that's near Carmel, near San Francisco. Coca-Cola Bottling Company had a contest called Talentsville U.S.A. and I joined up with this four piece group out of high school that I had. We were called The Symphonics and we won the contest.
Q - And you won a recording contract?
A - Yes, but my brother had already left Salinas for L.A. to find his own recording deal. He was in L.A. living by himself, trying to get a record deal and I won one sitting at home playing with my high school band.
Q - Who was your recording contract with?
A - With Capitol Records.
Q - And you gave that up?
A - I gave it up, yes.
Q - When you went down to L.A. money was in short supply. How did you survive?
A - I'll tell you something; we were walking down the street. We had been kicked out of our hotel. We couldn't pay the rent. We had maybe three and a half dollars between us. We were walking down the street and I don't know, I've always been lucky I guess, fortunate or blessed. All of a sudden I see this bus driving down the street with a big banner on the side and this loud speaker saying The Downbeats are going to be at the Santa Monica Auditorium on so and so date. I heard the announcement and saw the bus and I said, "Jesus Christ! Those are the guys I beat in the contest." (laughs) In the Coca-Cola contest. So, I called them up and they said, "Come on over to the auditorium. We want to see you." So, we went over to see them. From there on it all started. They had a big house in Hollywood, like a thirteen room mansion that they rented out and they let us stay in the basement. (laughs)
Q - Did they have an agent? Did you have an agent?
A - They had an agent. I had nobody. I had nothing. All I had with me was my bass amp and my bass. One day I was walking down the street with my bass and small amp, walking down Sunset (Blvd) and this lady comes walking out and says, "You play bass?" I said, "Yes." She said, "Come on it. I have work for you." So, I went in and sat in and my first date was Gary Paxton, Kim Fowley, Sandy Nelson on drums. That was my first gig. We were doing demos for everybody. We were the house band. I started playing with them and was working for a year straight.
Q - You used to do studio work for Sonny And Cher, Tina Turner, James Brown and Elvis.
A - Yes.
Q - Did you meet Elvis?
A - He came into the studio. The time he came into the studio we used to play tag football. We used to go out in the park of Beverly Hills and meet over there. Red West was a good friend of mine. Sonny West was a good friend of mine. But I did demos with all these folks.
Q - You would play clubs on Sunset Blvd. like Gazzarri's and The Whiskey.
A - Yeah.
Q - You also played this club, The Experience where you met Jimi Hendrix. Where was that club? I've never heard of it.
A - It was down the road a bit. It was right on Sunset, near Poinsettia, in Hollywood. It rocked man. All the young groups that were trying to be somebody would all come in there and jam. It was like a big jam. We were jamming up there onstage and playing and Jimi Hendrix walks in. He gets up onstage immediately and plugs in. He started playing this incredible guitar work. We were amazed by it. We would say, "Yeah, man. Killer, man." And so, we had a great sound at that moment. He wanted to quit what he was doing and join the band Redbone. He said, "I'm going to get out of my contract with Warners," or whoever he was with. They wouldn't let him go. "We'll stop you. We own the name." So they stopped him. We were just forming Redbone.
Q - Before he jammed with you guys, you knew who Jimi Hendrix was?
A - Oh, absolutely.
Q - Do you remember what year that would've been?
A - Before Redbone started, before Redbone even began getting off the ground. But he had heard us. He loved playing with us. It must have been 1969.
Q - Was the Experience as big of a club as The Whiskey A Go Go?
A - No. It was a good size club, but not that big.
Q - Would you have also crossed paths with Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin?
A - You're asking the right questions. I was working at Gazzarri's at the time. I was the program director. I hired the bands. I auditioned them. Bill Gazzarri didn't want to do that. He said, "You pick 'em. You audition them." We were working with one stage but we built a second stage so that revolved the bands. I was sitting there, auditioning the group Moby Grape. They were onstage auditioning and I was listening. This kid walks in with a Herringbone suit jacket with jeans, no socks, shoes in his back pocket and a t-shirt. He came up to me and said, "Hey, man." I said, "Hey." He said, "Are you Pat?" I said, "That's right." He said, "I'd like to audition my band." I said, "Is the band here?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Alright. Get over there and set up on the other stage." So, they went and set up. They started playing this Acid Rock. Real spaced out music. That was their (The Doors) sound. That's what they did. I said, "No, no, no. That wouldn't work here. You gotta listen to our set. You gotta stick around and listen to the kind of music they want here and that they dance to. People love to dance." He said, "Alright." They hung around. So we went up and did our set and we had sort of a Latin Rock thing. It was with congas. Jim said, "I think I got it." He came back the next weekend to audition again and that's when they played "Light My Fire". Everything they did after that had that Latin feel to it. Did you ever notice that?
Q - I'd never thought about it. How did The Doors go over?
A - When they followed us and started playing that Latin stuff people went crazy. They loved it. They patterned themselves right after Lolly and I, what we were doing. They just took their music and made it more Latin, Cha-cha and Pop. Jim and I were real tight. He used to come over to my house and hang out for days. He'd sleep on my couch. Before he would go in the studio and record with the group he'd stay at my place to stay out of trouble, 'til about three in the morning. Then I'd have to drive him to the studio and he'd record and that's what you got.
Q - Did he play Gazzarri's?
A - No. By then we were at The Galaxy and they played at the London Fog right next door.
Q - Did you have a hand in getting them that gig at the London Fog?
A - Shit, I sort of did in the kind of music they had to play in order to keep the audience liking them. That's the truth.
Q - How about Janis Joplin? Did you meet her?
A - Oh, of course we did. We were working at SIR Studios on Santa Monica Blvd in Hollywood. We had a room there where we used to rehearse all the time. She'd walk in and jump on drums and start playing drums. I swear to God. She'd park her Porsche in back, her convertible Porsche and come in and play drums. We'd jam.
Q - How good of a drummer was she?
A - She wasn't bad. She kept a good groove.
Q - Was she just drumming?
A - She was drumming and singing.
Q - You should have asked her to join the band.
A - (laughs) She would have. That's the whole thing.
Q - You and Lolly were regulars on Shindig!.
A - Yes.
Q - Were you part of the house band?
A - Yes. Along with Delaney Bramlett, The Righteous Brothers.
Q - You got to meet all the big stars of the day on that program, didn't you?
A - Absolutely. It was a reunion 'cause I'd done demos for all of them. (laughs)
Q - You helped write the theme song for The Munsters.
A - Yes.
Q - What was you contribution there, words or music?
A - Music.
Q - How long did it take you to put that song together?
A - About fifteen minutes.
Q - That's not bad.
A - No. That's not bad.
Q - You also wrote songs for Aretha Franklin?
A - Yes, "Lady Soul". I got home from the club and just got into bed. I got a call at 6 A.M. here. I got a call from Jerry Greenberg, who was working at Atlantic Records in New York at the time. He didn't know that I already knew they recorded it, right? Aretha Franklin. So he said, "I'm thinking of recording your song 'Niki Hoeky' and I'll make it her next single." That was after "Natural Woman". He said, "I'll make it her next single if you give me the publishing." I said, "No. I'll split it with you." He wanted all of it and I refused. It was already cut anyway. It was in the album. Then Bobby Gentry came along and she recorded it.
Q - You were a businessman back then as well as a musician.
A - What I learned when I first came to L.A. was that it's show business. You have to have a show, but you also have to know the business. So, I studied it. I went to some classes at UCLA and studied contracts. That's how I got started.
Q - That was a smart move! More musicians should do that.
A - More people should do that anyway. Learn the business, especially about contracts. That's what I learned. I studied contracts, the wording in contracts.
Q - I read this story about how Lolly called you at 3 in the morning and said, "Come on over. I've got this song, 'Come And Get Your Love'."
A - It wasn't called that. He called me up. I had just taken a couple of valium and was about to go to sleep. I was out of it, you know what I'm saying? (laughs) But I said, "Okay, I'll come do this Lolly, but remember we're half writers, split the writing on this song." He said, "Yes, what do you think I'm talking about?" So, I went there into the music room and listened to what he had. He was working on something called "I Want To Give You My Love". He had this roboto chords, these arpeggios. I said, "Leave me alone with this and I'll lay a track down for you." I put the machine on and eliminated a lot of the chords. He was playing fifteen chords. So, I condensed it down to the basic changes and worked out this bass line that you hear on the record. That's what I laid down on my machine. I said, "Let's call it 'Come And Get Your Love'." He said, "I like that." So, that's what it was called.
Q - How long did it take you guys to write that song?
A - I'd say about forty years. (laughs) To get to that point, yeah. All you've been through. All you go through. Finally you learn how to get the right magic, get the right ingredients and know how to put it together. You don't learn that in school you know.
Q - Even if you did go to say a music school, there isn't a course you can take that will teach you how to write a hit song.
A - That's right. So, I'm now a professor of that. But, to get it recorded and out there is another thing.
Q - Before "Come And Get Your Love" you had a hit with "The Witch Queen Of New Orleans". (#21 in 1971)
A - That's right. Don't forget we had "Niki Hoeky".
Q - Three hit songs. Were you able to keep the hits coming?
A - That's what we needed. Bobby Gentry was a friend of mine. I met her at a lingerie show where she was modeling. She was so beautiful I followed her into the dressing room and introduced myself. She told me she played piano and sang a little bit. I went to her house and she played Bossa Novas. So, I taught her "Niki Hoeky" word by word, chord by chord. A month later she comes back and says, "Pat, look at what I did," and she wrote "Ode To Billy Joe" to the same melody and same chords. (laughs)
Q - She probably didn't give you credit for the song, did she?
A - No. She didn't gibe me writer's, but she did put my name on the album. My name is the only one on the album. I produced on five songs before she did "Ode To Billy Joe".
Q - So, you got something.
A - I got something.
Q - After "Come And Get Your Love" I don't know anything about Redbone. Was there a follow-up to that record? If there was I never heard it.
A - We had a concert that we were going to do in San Francisco with Bill Graham. Bill Graham was the promoter and he called us up and asked us if we could do the date. And of course we said yes, we'll do the date. One night, Lolly went out and broke his hand on somebody's head. Without telling me, without letting me know or letting anybody else know, he called up the day before the date and canceled. At that point he (Bill Graham) blackballed us for ten or twelve years. No gigs. No media. No nothing. He dropped us like a hot potato. We just disappeared off the scene. He wiped us out.
Q - That's why I had such a hard time connecting with you guys through the years.
A - He blackballed us. He was so upset with Lolly. I didn't speak to Lolly for months. Not even Hi. I was so angry because he had done that. If he had told me what was happening I would've gotten another guitar player to fill in and he could've been standing there singing. He didn't break his vocal chords. He broke his hand. He could've stood there and sang and we could've done the show and it would've been great. But, Bill was so mad at us he just blackballed us. He said, "Those guys are out." Being "the man" on the West Coast, it hurt us bad. He hurt us real bad.
Q - He was a powerful promoter in the Rock business.
A - Oh, he was the biggest. But we're back with Guardians Of The Galaxy. I've got an album out called "Peace Pipe", one called "Ambergris", "Speed Of Sound", and one called "Buffalo Blues", which is already out. These albums are out. I've got "Pow Wow Man" that's out.
Q - Is it true that when you guys went into the studio to record "Come And Get Your Love", Lolly was so nervous he had to have five drinks to calm him down?
A - Oh, he had ten. (laughs) He was so nervous. But here's what happened. I was sitting in the control room on the mic trying to get him to calm down. Bringing him coffee. We did the right thing to bring him back. I said, "No, no, no. We better cancel. We'll come back and do it another day." I was ready to cancel the date and Lolly said, "I can do it. My mind is in the right place."
Q - I want to go back to this Bill Graham part of your story. After cancelling a date for Bill Graham, you couldn't tour?
A - Nothing. We couldn't get an agent because of Bill Graham. Anyway, ten years later, after he had passed away, his son called and said, "Pat, listen, I'd like you to come to the office. I'd like to sit down and talk with you about management." By that time I'd lost my taste. I said, "No. That's okay."
Q - Has anyone ever told you that "Come And Get Your Love" is a sad song?
A - Never. I've always been positive about everything. I look at the bright side. Even to this day I try to keep a positive attitude. I look at the bright side of things. I don't dwell on the negative.
Official Website: www.Redbone.be
© Gary James. All rights reserved.