Redbone's 'Come and Get Your Love' made history 50 years ago Redbone's hit cracked the Billboard Top 5 this month in 1974. It was a first for a band with all Native and Mexican American members — but the song itself had a quietly political message, too.

50 years ago, 'Come and Get Your Love' put Native culture on the bandstand

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A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Fifty years ago, this song by the group Redbone was on the radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME AND GET YOUR LOVE")

REDBONE: (Singing) Come and get your love, come and get your love, come and get your love now. Come and get your love, come and get your love, come and get your love now.

MARTÍNEZ: What a lot of people don't know is that "Come And Get Your Love" is the first song by an all-Native and Mexican American group to crack the Top 10 of the Billboard charts. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has the story of the song and the band behind it.

(SOUNDBITE OF REDBONE SONG "COME AND GET YOUR LOVE")

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Stevie Salas remembers the first time he heard "Come And Get Your Love."

STEVIE SALAS: So I'm in sixth grade at San Luis Rey Elementary School in Oceanside, Calif., and we had a school dance. Back then, everybody was trying to do the robot. I remember being out there, and "Come And Get Your Love" came on. And I go, man, I love this song. And it went, (vocalizing) bam, bam-bam, bam - and I was trying to do the robot to that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME AND GET YOUR LOVE")

REDBONE: (Singing) Hail. Hail.

BLAIR: Salas is also a Native American musician and an executive producer of the documentary "Rumble: Indians Who Rocked The World." He says, back in sixth grade, he had no idea the musicians behind the song were Native and Mexican American until he saw them on TV.

SALAS: And Redbone came on, and they were all dressed like Natives. That was just, like, mind-blowing. But at the same time, you'd see people dressed like that, you know, on Halloween. So I don't know - are they real Indians? And it's like that - but they sure look cool.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME AND GET YOUR LOVE")

REDBONE: (Singing) Come and get your love. Come and get your love.

BLAIR: Redbone's founders - brothers Pat and Lolly Vasquez - always looked cool but didn't always show their Native culture on stage. They grew up in Fresno, Calif. A music industry veteran recommended they change their surname to appeal to white talent bookers. Their stepfather's name was De La Vega, so they added an S to Vega and performed as a duo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WRITE ME, BABY")

PAT AND LOLLY VEGAS: (Singing) You live miles and miles away. You've been gone for days from your country overseas. Write me, baby. Baby, please.

BLAIR: Pat and Lolly Vegas wore suits and had slick-backed pompadours.

PAT VEGAS: We used to get our hair done and all this kind of stuff, and we had a real straight look.

BLAIR: Pat Vegas, who's 83 now, says they played covers, originals and surf music.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE AVANTIS' SONG, "WAX 'EM DOWN")

BLAIR: The Vegas brothers were successful making music that appealed to the mainstream, but they were also inspired by the civil rights movement and started thinking about forming an all-Native band.

VEGAS: Our friends were going out there and marching and protesting.

BLAIR: In 1969, a group of Indigenous Americans set out to claim Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. They decried the poverty on reservations and broken treaties. This is one of the movement's leaders, John Trudell, talking to KQED in 1970.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

JOHN TRUDELL: And we're concerned about people - the reservation people - people on reservations that are being forced to assimilate or die out. We're worried about things like our language and our culture, and we want this on our own terms.

BLAIR: Pat and Lolly Vegas got rid of the pompadours, grew their hair and started wearing Native dress and jewelry on stage. Pat says this wasn't just a reaction to the politics of the moment. It was who they were.

VEGAS: My mom was always proud of her Native American roots, and I was, too. So it was automatic. We knew what we wanted, and the sound came out that way. And it was beautiful, and I just wanted to be real.

BLAIR: Joined by two other musicians with native roots, Tony Bellamy and Pete DePoe, Redbone signed with Epic Records and made what Pat Vegas has called Native American swamp rock.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRAZY CAJUN CAKEWALK BAND")

REDBONE: (Singing) Down in Louisiana, close to Mobile, Ala., lies a swamp land territory.

BLAIR: Redbone recorded songs that drew from their roots and were also political. In 1973, a group of Native activists occupied the town of Wounded Knee in South Dakota - the same site where, 83 years earlier, hundreds of Lakota were massacred.

VEGAS: I can - felt the struggle, you know? So that's when I wrote that song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE WERE ALL WOUNDED AT WOUNDED KNEE")

REDBONE: (Singing) We were all wounded at Wounded Knee, you and me.

BLAIR: "We Were All Wounded At Wounded Knee" became a hit in Europe, but Redbone's label refused to release it in the U.S., fearing it was too controversial.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE WERE ALL WOUNDED AT WOUNDED KNEE")

REDBONE: (Singing) They made us many promises but always broke their word. They penned us in like buffalo, drove us like a herd.

BLAIR: Jan Johnson is a professor at the University of Idaho who's written about Redbone.

JAN JOHNSON: It's part of our bid toward historical amnesia as a country to want to erase or cover up historical events that make us uncomfortable.

BLAIR: But that same album had another song the record label was excited about.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME AND GET YOUR LOVE")

REDBONE: (Singing) Hail. Nothing the matter with your head, baby. Find it. Come on and find it. Hail.

BLAIR: Pat and Lolly Vegas worked on "Come And Get Your Love" late one night in Philadelphia when Redbone was on tour. On April 13, 1974, it reached No. 5 on the Billboard charts. Since then, it's been used in commercials, TV and movies. Chris Pratt famously danced to the song in the first "Guardians Of The Galaxy" movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME AND GET YOUR LOVE")

REDBONE: (Singing) Come and get your love. Come and get your love.

TABOO NAWASHA: Redbone kicked down the door and said, we're proud to be Native. Check us out. We're here. We're alive, and we're going to bring that great energy and that good medicine to the world.

BLAIR: Taboo Nawasha from the Black Eyed Peas says one of the things he likes about "Come And Get Your Love" is that it's for everyone.

NAWASHA: Although, you know, Pat and Lolly were always very keen on appreciating their roots and their heritage, it was about the music that spoke to the world. And that's what inspired me the most about "Come And Get Your Love."

BLAIR: Pat Vegas says a lot of people think the lyrics are about romance. But he says the enduring message of the song is deeper.

VEGAS: Hey, what's the matter with your mind and your sign? Come and get your love. In other words, where you come from, who you are doesn't matter as much as what you believe and what you feel. The message was about love all around - in every facet and every part of your being, you know?

BLAIR: Lolly Vegas died in 2010. Pat is the last surviving original member of Redbone. He says he's planning to release a new album soon.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME AND GET YOUR LOVE")

REDBONE: (Singing) Hail. Hail. It's your business if you...

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