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Pat Vegas - interview 2016

Pat answers a few questions about music and Redbone story

(The interview was realised on phone with Chris Staebler between february and may 2016)

Pat Vegas, 2016

• So you were very young when you started professionally ?
Very young. You had to be 19 to go to the clubs. So when I was 17, I told them I was 21. My grandfather told me the basics of guitar but then I learned by myself. Then I started listening to records, listened to people perform and I started playing high schools, in front of assemblies.

• And did Lolly and you learn together?
No, I was into blues and Lolly was more singing, they called him ”the Mexican Elvis Presley” (laughs). He danced and moved like Elvis. Nobody knew he was Native American. When you were brown skinned everybody thought you were Mexican. They didn’t look further. Once they put you in a box…
W e were on the road with Jimmy Duranti, with Jimmy Clanton. Then my brother said “I’m going to LA, I go to do my career there, see if I can find a record deal”. Because Jimmy said to him “go to LA and get a contract”. But as there were seven of us in the house I had to stay behind and help raise my brothers and sisters. Dad and mama had separated and we were now living in Salinas and I stayed to help, while Lolly went to LA. Lolly was the oldest. We had no news from him, didn’t know how his career went for months. So after my brothers graduate from school, Mom said to me “go look after your brother”. That was in the late fifties. But meanwhile I won a talent contest organized by Coca Cola. I won for my whole area. So I got money and a deal for a record. That was while we were living in Salinas. So I just took the money and forgot about the record deal and went to LA. When I arrived here Lolly was working at “Sears, Roebuck and Company”, at shipping department. So I took the bus and went down there and asked him “what the hell are you doing in here?” So he told me his story. How he tried but couldn’t get anywhere, couldn’t do anything at all. So I told him “pack your shit up, we are going directly to the record labels”. So we lived down here and struggled down here. Just struggling you know. We were hungry. We were standing on the corner of Hollywood and Grine. And we met Richie Valens and all these guys ! We played our gigs back from Salinas and run into all these guys.

• You played with them ?
Yes. Then we ran into Jimmy Hendrix a little later on. he said we gotta jam the 3 of us. So we played and people went crazy when we played. And he says to me, “why don’t you guys form an Native American group ?”. And we said we were working on that. And he said he wanna be a part of that because he was part indian too. He said “I wanna play with you guys”. At that time he was working with Little Richard (nr - 1964-65). He was Little Richard’s guitarist. And I said “that sounds good to me”. But instead we went on and started playing in all the clubs, we were like a club act. We covered all the top 40 and could play them better then anybody ! Jimmy went to come and see us, the Beach Boys came. One day I went sick and tired of working those clubs everyday. I wanted to do our music because we were writing for a long time. We wanted to stop because people started to say we were just a “Club Act” and we would never do anything. So we went on writing and a friend of mine, John, says “I have a house at Mulholland, and no one is living there, you could use that as a rehearsal place” So we went up there.

• That's when Redbone started ?
We spent night and day to rehearse. All we did is eat and rehearse. Play some basketball and rehearse, that’s all we did. That was Lolly, Tony and me. While we played at Gazzari’s on Sunset blvd, we wanted to put our music on record. Tony was playing with Peter and the wolves, they also had a show at the Gazzari. The Gazzari auditionned groups on saturday and asked me to listen to them and tell them who I’d liked. They builded 3 stages for 3 bands. Pat & Lolly Vegas were performing on one stage.
Then started this whole latin-rock thing. Santana came in a bit later. He was playing clubs in Tijuana. And he also started to play this latin-rock that became crazyness. We were there in the middle of that whole damn thing. There is a book called “Ride on Sunset” written by the leader of the group called Love. We were on the front cover. We started that kind of music in LA. Everybody was dancing to it, everybody had that latin feel. I know Santana didn’t bring it from Tijuana, as it was already here, where we started it. Cause also my brother in law and my sister played with Tito Puente. He was Manuel Decolin Cobar, he played with Tito Puente and learned me lots of latin rythms. He was a congas player, a percussionist.
And this was a chance to go back to my roots. And the chance to do the music in the direction we wanted, connected to our roots. I started to tell everybody about my roots and they all thought I was Mexican. They had no idea. My mom was Native American. She wore her native american dress all her life. To make us fried bread with beans and ground beef and all kind of stuff. We called them buffalo burgers. Then all of a sudden, we were rehearsing in this house in Mulholland. We rehearsed and were jamming. Peter Tork from the Monkeys lived one house up. Lots of people came to jam and smoke some dope. We jammed for hours. One day the president of CBS records came up, Larry Cohen. He heard that thing and freaked out. We played for 250 000 people at the Washington monument for the end of the war, in Vietnam ; we went to Madison Square Garden, sold out ; played at the Royal Albert Hall. And then our career started moving in the right direction, in Europe. Because European people understood our plight there, where we were going to. European people reacted very positively to our messages, while here, in America, we were banned. They banned our record “we were all wounded…”

Tony and Pat in the early 70

• Your style on bass seem simple but is very complicated.
• It’s very technical, very mathematic. It’s 2 bars in 1 bar and then 4 bars and then 5 bars. It’s moving on and the one is never standing still. The one was never in one place, one was constantly moving. For example when you see a car going down the street and you see the hubcap is going backwards, that’s what’s happening to our music. The one is constantly moving backwards. We played the beat one way and then we turned it upside down. And we played it sideways. This came from the indian dancings and the chants. We studied a lot of the drum beats in the chants, they were very intricated. It goes like this : (Pat sings: 1strong - 2-3-4 - 1strong - 2-3-4 [intro of Chant : 13th Hour]), your remember that? That’s how everybody heard it but it wasn’t what was being played ! What was played was : (Pat sings: 1strong - 2 - 1strong - 2…).

• I have to listen to that again to hear that !
• (Laughs !) There’s a lot of things the Native Americans have done and are doing, people heard it one way but you can hear it one and other way. And they said something and they heard it one way but it meant something else. That’s why this blood quantum crap they want us to go in there. Now how can they have a contract for all the land without any real signature without any description… is that acceptable ? How can that be done ? I mean Indians couldn’t read. They couldn’t read contracts. Whatever they put in front of them, they relied on their honesty, they live up to it. That’s kind of disturbing too. They were lucky to got their land to get what they got but it wasn’t enough. They want more.

• Can you tell me more about your bass style?
• A friend of mine, Bunny Burnell, is writing a book called “ghost notes” about Andy Hobson and James Jamerson from Motown. He writes this book because some bass players claim they invented this style. But they didn’t, and Bunny is writing this book where he will tell the truth. I’ll give you a copy… He is gonna explain how to play ghost notes in this book. Anyway it’s all about ghost notes. These are notes you can’t write on paper, they are there, but you can’t write them.

Pat playing guitar in 2015

• Yes you have lots of strange sounds when you play bass.
• Haha, these are mainly ghost notes. That’s because for many years I did the Ghost Spirit Dance. So I play with my Spirit Guide. We all have a Spirit Guide that is with us. So when I start playing he is playing with me!

• Some of your songs have a very special and powerfull rythm (Maggie, Poison Ivy, One Monkey, Wovoka, Witchqueen and more…)
• The thing about Redbone is when Lolly and I started playing in clubs we always had great drummers in that period. We could never find a bass player that suited us. Lolly had his special way of playing guitar, with his finger pitch. A bit cajun style because my grandfather was living in Texarcana, New Orleans and he used to play with New Orleans musicians. So we didn’t have a bass player cause I was playing guitar at that time. So I gave up playing guitar and started the bass.

• That’s a good thing IMHO, because the bass is very important in the Redbone groove.
• Yeah, Bunny Brunel, was telling me that everybody is trying to take credits for fusion and the introduction of ghost notes in music. And he told me “the first ones I heard playing ghost notes are you and Jamie Jamerson from Motown”. Bunny is a professor in music. That is one of the quality of Redbone : the rythm was so tight. I had to introduce the ghost notes then.

• It’s very obvious on One Monkey for example.
• And the rythmics of Tony were so great. It came natural. You know what the funny thing is ? The other day I was sitting and thinking and I realised that when I was putting out those newspapers I worked also for a radio station in Fresno, KJBS or something like that (or KJST). And I used to put out posters for the radio all over town, the only local radio at that time. The guys name was Happy Harold and the House of Blues. He sounded a bit like Walksman Jack, a very soulful man. A wonderful man. So as I distributed the posters he gave me 3 admissions to the concert. So I remember standing at the bar at that concert and standing there too was Chuck Berry. And went to him and started talking with him. He said “hi young men…” And we started party, and the more I talked to him, the more I saw his personality and what he was like. And that’s what I saw in Tony. I saw that same vibe, that same attitude, that’s why I wanted him in the band. He reminded me of Chuck Berry. He had that same positive attitude.

• And the Peace Pipe CD ?
• It was recorded in the 80’. I wanted to put it out like a tribute album. A tribute to Lolly… I also have videos and recordings of the first Redbone period in the can. I’d like to work on that. I’ve got boxes and boxes of tapes of outtakes, things that didn’t make it to discs. Things I now want to put together on albums. There is material from Redbone that could be important to people to hear that.

• Thank you Pat for all these details and memories…

Tony and Pat live in 1999



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