Redbone was a funky band whose music was a mixture of r&b,
Cajun, Latin, and Native-American tribal elements. They were founded
in the late 60s by brothers Pat and Lolly Vegas, born Pat
and Lolly Vasquez. Lolly is actually the diminutive
form of the nickname for the name Eduardo, which is Lalo.
The name Redbone came from a derogatory Indian slang term
meaning half-breed. However, they chose to bear the
name with pride and a touch of humor. Although the heritage
of the band members was a mixture of Chicano and Native American,
they emphasized the latter with their name and image.
They dressed in full Indian regalia; buckskins, moccasins,
and headdress. Redbone signed with Epic Records in 1970
and went on to have two top forty hits, the biggest being
their million seller “Come and Get Your Love”
in 1974. They performed on the major television shows
of the day and toured extensively in the United States and
Pat and Lolly Vasquez, Mexican-Americans
who grew up in Fresno, California, started their professional
music careers in the touring band of Jimmy Clanton.
Pat played bass and Lolly guitar. Clanton had scored
hits with “Just a Dream” and “Venus In Blue
Jeans.” After leaving Jimmy Clanton in 1961, Pat
and Lolly headed for Hollywood, where they secured the services
of Bumps Blackwell as their manager. Bumps was best
known for his work with Sam Cooke and Little Richard on Specialty
Records. Due to the racial discrimination at the time
in the clubs on the Sunset Strip, Blackwell convinced Pat
and Lolly to change their surname for easier access.
The name Vegas was chosen because they had an uncle with that
name and they enjoyed the reference to the gambling town in
Nevada. Over the next ten years, Pat and Lolly shared
the clubs on the strip with such legendary bands as The Doors,
Buffalo Springfield, and The Byrds. On one occasion
they jammed all night with the Rolling Stones. They
also became in demand studio musicians and worked alongside
Dr. John, Leon Russell, Glen Campbell, Johnny Rivers, and
many others. A major break came in 1964 when they became
regulars on the hit ABC-TV series, “Shindig.”
“Shindig” was the biggest pop music show of the
era, which featured the major rock and pop artists of the
U.S. and Britain. In 1966, their first album, Pat and
Lolly Vegas "At the Haunted House" was released
by Mercury Records (Mercury SR-61059). They also got
into the hot rod music scene as part of the Deuce Coupes,
who recorded an album for Bob Keane's Del-Fi Records.
As songwriters, Pat and Lolly (with Jim Ford) wrote a hit
for P.J. Proby called “Nicky Hoeky,” which led
to other covers by artists such as Bobbie Gentry, Aretha Franklin,
and Tom Jones. (Tom Jones covered "The Witch Queen
of New Orleans," which earned him a gold record in England.)
Although they may have been unaware
of it, Pat & Lolly Vegas were an inspiration and had a
strong influence on East L.A. bands of the 1960s. According
to the book “Land of a Thousand Dances” by Tom
Waldman and David Reyes, during Pat and Lolly’s time
playing on the Sunset Strip, many musicians from East L.A.
came to check them out, including members of Thee Midniters,
Cannibal & the Headhunters, and The Premiers. Andy
Tesso of The Romancers, who happened to be Pat & Lolly’s
cousin, has told me he was heavily influenced by Lolly’s
guitar style. Andy, in turn, went on to influence many
Eastside guitarists. Another East L.A. band, Elijah,
who were later influenced by Redbone, recorded one of Pat
& Lolly’s songs called “Prehistoric Rhythm”
on their 1972 United Artists album entitled “Elijah.”
In the late 60s, Pat and Lolly Vegas
formed their own group called The Crazy Cajun Cakewalk Band.
Their original drummer was Ed Greene, who went on to become
one of the top studio drummers in Hollywood. When they
added Tony Bellamy on guitar and Peter “Walking Bear”
DePoe on drums, who was of Cheyenne Indian heritage, the four
decided on the name Redbone. Tony Bellamy, born Tony
Avila, was a Mexican-American who had an uncle who was Navajo.
Pat and Lolly claimed their Yaqui heritage. (The Yaqui
Indians are from what is now Sonora, Mexico). Their
first single on Epic Records was “Maggie,” which
became a regional hit in September of 1971. Then came
“The Witch Queen of New Orleans,” which reached
number twenty one in the States and number two in England.
This success paved the way for their mega hit “Come
and Get Your Love” in 1974. “Come and Get
Your Love” was a catchy pop song with a definite Latin
groove. It also had a string section and a strong lead
vocal by Lolly Vegas, who also wrote the song. To this
day “Come and Get Your Love” can pack a dance
floor with many doing the cha cha cha. The song remains
particularly popular with Mexican-American baby boomers.
During the recording of “Come and Get Your Love,”
Peter DePoe and the other three had a parting of the ways.
His replacement on drums was Butch Rillera, who was my main
source of information for this article. Butch, a cousin
of Tony Bellamy, is Mexican-American on his mother’s
side and of Philippino descent on his father’s.
He also has a great grandmother who, according to his research,
was a Seneca Indian princess. The Senecas are part of
the Iroquois Nation. Butch joined Redbone in 1973 and
played on the “Wovoka” album, which was built
around "Come and Get Your Love." The basic
tracks had already been recorded for “Come and Get Your
Love,” but Butch added cowbell and sang background on
the classic recording. Rillera toured the United States
and Europe with Redbone and stayed with the band through 1975.
He also played on their “Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise
Eyes” album, as well as a European release, which was
recorded live in the studio. He also appeared with them
on the network television shows “In Concert” and
“The Midnight Special,” which were the major rock
& roll shows of the day. (For the record, according
to Butch, Redbone had another drummer named Artie Perez, who
had replaced Pete DePoe for one album and tour before Butch
joined the band.)
Butch Rillera’s musical background
is a story in itself. His older brothers, Barry and
Rick, had a band in Orange County, California in the 50s called
The Rhythm Rockers. One of their lead singers was Richard
Berry, who wrote the enduring classic party song “Louie
Louie.” Berry, who was African- American, got
his inspiration for the song from a song The Rhythm Rockers
used to play called “El Loco Cha Cha Cha by Rene Touzet.
Barry Rillera worked as a furniture mover with a guy named
Bill Medley, who eventually started singing with The Rhythm
Rockers. Bobby Hatfield, who was attending Long Beach
State with Barry, invited Barry to play at a fraternity party
at the school. Barry brought Bill Medley to sing and
Butch played drums. That was the night Bill Medley and
Bobby Hatfield, later to be known as the Righteous Brothers,
first sang together. Butch and his brothers played on
the Righteous Brothers first album called “Right Now”
on the Moonglow Record label. The Rillera Brothers played
and recorded with the Righteous Brothers throughout the 60s.
However, they didn’t play on the Phil Spector singles
such as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,”
where Phil used his “wall of sound” studio players.
Butch also played with Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield individually,
after the two broke up and went on to solo careers, and then
again after they reunited with their hit “Rock and Roll
Heaven.” Before joining Redbone, Butch had a band
called Fatback and later played about a year with White Trash
with Jerry LaCroix, after Edgar Winter left. Butch
Rillera first met Pat and Lolly in the early 60s when he played
a surf concert in Fresno, California with a band called the
Lively Ones. Pat and Lolly’s Crazy Cajun Cakewalk
band were also on the bill, with The Beach Boys headlining.
Butch did a lot of touring with Redbone
between 1973 and ‘75. In Europe, they performed
in Holland, France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, and Spain.
They shared the stage at various times with Dr. Hook, Albert
Hammond, and others. Highlights on U.S. tours
include playing at Carnegie Hall in New York with Argent and
Kiss, opening for Marvin Gaye at the Forum in Inglewood, California,
sharing the bill with Parliament Funkadelic in Philadelphia,
and playing with Steely Dan at the Convention Center in Las
Vegas. They also played with Graham Central Station
at Howard University and the J. Geils Band and Tower of Power
at other venues. Butch left Redbone in 1975 because
he was unhappy with the business arrangement. In 1995,
Lolly left the band due to a stroke and Pat and Tony continued.
Eventually they broke up and Pat later reformed Redbone and
is keeping the flame alive to this day. There are four
Redbone CDs currently available. One is a greatest hits
collection called “Redbone, Greatest Songs” on
Curb Records, released in 1995 (Curb Records D2-77746).
Aside from the hits, the CD features the self-explanatory
“We Were All Wounded At Wounded Knee,” a good
pop song with a great lyric called “Suzi Girl,”
and covers of Leiber and Stoller’s “Poison Ivy”
and J.J. Jackson’s “It’s All Right.”
There’s also a song called “One More Time,”
which has a similar groove, structure and instrumentation
as “Come and Get Your Love.” It was apparently
intended to be the follow up to their mega hit. The
second is another compilation, released in 1996, called "Redbone,
Golden Classics" on the Collectibles label. The
third is "Redbone Live" on Rhino Records, which
was recorded live in Corpus Christie, Texas and Los Angeles,
California in 1977. Additionally, some of their vinyl
albums can be found on amazon.com and other internet sites.
When you get to the bottom of my "Update" section
of this page, about Pete DePoe, you'll find a link to Redbone's
latest compilation (2003) on Sony's Legacy label called "The
Redbone was an excellent band with
solid musicians, two strong lead vocalists in Pat and Lolly,
and a distinctive style. They were swampy, bluesy, and
combined the Latin and Native American elements of their heritage
in a way that was hip, but at the same time pop and commercial.
Their albums include, "Redbone" (1970), "Potlatch"
(1970), "Message from a Drum" (1971), "Already
Here" (1972), "Wovoka" (1973), "Beaded
Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes" (1974), and "Cycles"
(1977). Hopefully, their original albums will be reissued,
or perhaps a comprehensive box set released so their musical
legacy will be readily available.
is based on an audio taped telephone interview by Mark Guerrero
with Butch Rillera on November 30, 2002.
May of 2003, I got an e mail from Peter “Last Walking
Bear” DePoe, who had read my article on Redbone.
This resulted in some back and forth correspondence which
led to a telephone conversation and eventually a phone interview.
It was interesting to see how his story dovetailed perfectly
with Butch Rillera’s, who was his successor on drums
with Redbone. Butch’s story with Redbone starts
with the completion of the “Come and Get Your Love”
track and the “Wovoka” album. Pete’s
ends at that very point, but starts at the very beginning
of the band.
Peter “Last Walking Bear”
DePoe, a Native American from the Neah Bay Reservation near
Seattle, Washington, went to Los Angeles the first time in
the mid-sixties to visit his girlfriend, who had recently
moved to Hollywood. While there, he happened to walk into
a nightclub called the “Haunted House.”
As fate would have it, on stage were Pat and Lolly Vegas.
Pete loved what he heard and mystically somehow felt he would
someday play in a band with them. Without meeting the
Vegas brothers, he went on his way. He returned to Washington
and didn’t get back to L.A. until several years later
to play with a singer by the name of Dave Holden, whom he
had known in Seattle. Pete credits Holden with teaching
him about playing time on the drums. He emphasized the
importance of time and directed Pete to play simply and in
the groove with feeling. This laid the groundwork for
his future success. He eventually joined Bobby Womack’s
band and was playing around town, mainly in the South Central
part of the city. Meanwhile, Pat and Lolly Vegas were
forming a new band. Their drummer, Wayne Bibbs, didn’t
feel his style of playing was right for the band. Wayne
suggested that Pete go audition for them. DePoe didn’t
know until he got to the house in the Hollywood Hills, where
Lolly and Tony Bellamy were living, that it was the Vegas
brothers for whom he was auditioning. Pete set up and
began to play with Lolly and Tony, Pat hadn’t shown
up yet. Unbeknownst to Pete, Pat arrived and stayed
outside listening for a half an hour. When Pat came
in, he announced “he’s the one.” With
that Pete became a member of the band that would become Redbone.
began to rehearse for about a year at a mansion in the Hollywood
Hills owned by a man who was an investor in the band.
The house was next door to the home of Michael Nesmith of
the Monkees, where they would sometimes hang out or swim in
his indoor/outdoor pool. Paul Lagos, who was drumming
for the band Kaleidoscope, knew the West Coast President of
Epic Records, Larry Cohen. One day Paul brought Larry
Cohen to hear the Vegas brother’s band, who in the meantime
had become Redbone. The next day, they were signing
contracts with Epic Records. They got an advance, recorded
their first album, “Redbone,” and went on a promotional
tour. Pete went on to play on the next four albums,
“Potlatch,” “Message from a Drum,”
“Already Here,” and “Wovoka.”
Pete toured the U.S., Canada, and Europe with Redbone and
remembers being on the bill with artists such as Joe Cocker
with Mad Dogs and Englishman, Ike and Tina Turner, Small Faces
(featuring Rod Stewart), Miles Davis, Alvin Lee, Edgar and
Johnny Winter, Mountain, and Black Sabbath. A highlight
for Pete was selling out the 19,000 seat Spectrum in Philadelphia
when Redbone headlined a show that also featured War and The
Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Pete recalls that Redbone
was never intimidated by any artists they shared the bill
with because they were a tight, powerful, and confident band.
That great confidence was temporarily shaken at another memorable
concert which took place at Holmesburg Prison, also in Philadelphia.
The event was broadcast "live" on public television
all over the east coast from the old prison built in the style
of the prisons in old England. As one would expect,
the inmates were a tough audience to win over. The concert
started off with the inmates not responding at all.
Pete admits that the band was very nervous about the situation
in which they found themselves. Finally Tony Bellamy
decided to aggressively and enthusiastically perform in front
of the obvious leaders in the crowd. Once the leaders
started to enjoy themselves, the rest followed. Redbone
had won over the toughest audience imaginable. Update:
As of 2009, Pete "Last Walking Bear" DePoe is living
and performing in Holland with his new band.
The above is
based on an audio taped telephone interview by Mark Guerrero
with Peter "Last Walking Bear" DePoe on June 6 and
Good news for Redbone fans! On June 10, 2003, Sony released
a brand new Redbone compilation CD called "The Essential
Redbone" on their Legacy label. Its got 14 tracks
including "Come and Get Your Love," "The Witch
Queen of New Orleans," "Maggie," and "Niki
Hokey." The cover features a photo of Redbone from
their first album.
In July of 2003, I joined Redbone as a member, along with
founding member Pat Vegas, Raven Hernandez, Steve Roybal,
and George Ochoa. I hadn't played with George Ochoa
since we were teenagers in the 60s in my band The Men From
S.O.U.N.D. However, our vocal harmonies were still intact.
We rehearsed 6 or 7 times over about a six week period and
in early September played a gig at The Palace Indian Gaming
Center in Lemoore, CA on the bill with Rose Royce. We
played a set that included Redbone classics "Witch Queen
of New Orleans," "Wovoka," and "Come and
Get Your Love." I sang lead on Redbone's cover
of the r&b classic "But It's Alright."
The highlight of the experience was meeting Lolly Vegas, who
was along for the trip. I hung out in Lolly's room after
the gig and we spoke for 2 or 3 hours. I found Lolly
to be a highly intelligent and interesting man, with enormous
musical knowledge and talent. For personal reasons I
left the band, but continue to be an ally of the band and
in touch with Pat and Lolly Vegas.
In 2006, Redbone was revamped with new members joining up
with Pat Vegas. Two of the new members have played in
my band Mark Guerrero & Radio Aztlán, Karl Carrasco on
keyboard and my old friend Ron Reyes on lead guitar.
Also added to the lineup is another old friend Art Sanchez
on bass. Art and Ron were both fellow Eastside Sound
musicians from East Los Angeles in the 60s. Another
East L.A. musician Robert Zapata is on drums. They also
have a second keyboard player by the name of Dave Goldstein.
I understand the band is sounding great and doing concerts
around the country, primarily at Indian Casinos.
In December of 2009, I played again with a slightly revamped
from the 2006 version of Redbone described above. The
lineup was Pat Vegas, Robert Zapata (drums), Karl Carrasco
(keyboard), David Goldstein (keyboard), Louis Ruiz (bass), Ron
Reyes (guitar), and yours truly on guitar. We did a show
up at the Red Hawk Casino in Placerville, California (outside of
Sacramento). The show went well and I enjoyed playing the
great Redbone repertoire once again. On August 21, and 22
of 2010, the same lineup, with the exception of Ron Reyes, did
two more shows at Speaking Rock Casino in El Paso, Texas.
On these shows I was the only guitarist so I had the honor of
playing all of Lolly Vegas' parts and doing all the guitar work.
Sadly, on on Christmas morning, December 25, 2009 Tony Bellamy,
guitarist/vocalist and founding member of Redbone, passed away
at the age of 69 in Las Vegas, Nevada. On Thursday, March
4, 2010, Lolly Vegas passed away at his home in the San Fernando
Valley after a battle with cancer. He was a great singer,
songwriter, and guitarist. They will both be missed, but
the musical legacy they left behind will live on.