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Redbone - Potlatch/Message From A Drum/Cycles reissues album review

Native-American rock pioneers’ steamy threefer

Redbone - Potlatch/Message From A Drum/Cycles reissues cover art

According to legend, it was Jimi Hendrix who suggested that Pat and Lolly Vegas consolidate the fierce reputation they’d built at LA’s hip clubs and studios by forming a band that celebrated their Native-American heritage. The brothers flew their roots with pride after bringing in Yacqui guitarist Tony Bellamy and drummer Pete ‘Last Walking Bear’ De Poe to form Redbone in 1969.

After 1970’s self-titled debut, Redbone brewed up the multi-hued gumbo of Potlatch, their vivid vocal harmonies and supernatural chops straddling Louisiana funk on Maggie, steamy blues rock on Drinkin’ And Blo, wild Sunset Strip freak-out on Without Reservation and defiant soul on acoustic ballad Alcatraz (commemorating the previous year’s Indians of All Tribes occupation of the notorious prison island).

The following year’s Message From A Drum gave Redbone their only UK hit with the sultry hoodoo of The Witch Queen Of New Orleans. Although perfect for Top Of The Pops’ dancers, the mothership album showed they were much more than a Native-American gimmick act, with Jerico defining swamp-funk and Niji Trance presaging disco.

This threefer’s second disc skips Redbone’s subsequent three Epic Records albums to land on the yacht-rock-with-edge of 1977’s Cycles, their first for RCA, completing a worthwhile account of these often overlooked pioneers.

Kris Needs is a British journalist and author, known for writings on music from the 1970s onwards. Previously secretary of the Mott The Hoople fan club, he became editor of ZigZag in 1977 and has written biographies of stars including Primal Scream, Joe Strummer and Keith Richards. He's also written for MOJO, Record Collector, Classic Rock, Prog, Electronic Sound, Vive Le Rock and Shindig!