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Music: Native American roots of the Guardians

Craven Lovelace
NOTES
Free Press Music Columnist
Craven Lovelace
Staff Photo |

Now that Marvel has made another boatload of money and launched a brand new film franchise with “Guardians of the Galaxy,” there are a lot of people talking about a set of comic characters who were previously somewhat … obscure. In fact, “obscure” doesn’t quite do justice to the Guardians’ existence as a glorified footnote in the history of Marvel Comics.

Although they have had their fans over the years (including a teen-aged Craven, who once owned issue #18 of “Marvel Super-Heroes,” in which the super-team was introduced by writer Arnold Drake and artist Gene Colan in 1969), the Guardians have never sold a lot of comic books. But thanks to the incredibly canny marketing skills of the modern-day Marvel, as well as a charming cast, gorgeous CGI eye candy and the one-two punch of a delightful script and deft direction by filmmaker James Gunn, the futuristic team who could never sustain a long-living comic title have turned into cinematic superstars.

But something that has gone relatively unnoticed is the debt the new movie owes to Native American culture in general, and one of the greatest Native American rock acts in particular.

Although you’d be hard pressed to recognize it from his portrayal in the film, one of the main characters was originally (and pretty obviously) intended as an analogue for a Native American. I’m not talking about Rocket Raccoon, although his last name — and the name of his species — derives from an Algonquian word. But Yondu Udonta, the blue-skinned character played by Anglo actor Michael Rooker, was very clearly modeled on an Iroquois when he debuted in the original line-up of the Guardians of the Galaxy. The only Native American characteristics of Yondu that remain in the film are his use of an arrow and what looks a bit like a Mohawk hairdo.

Perhaps more importantly, Gunn and his movie-making colleagues owe a big debt to a 1970s-era rock band that is one of the few Native American recording artists to score big in Billboard’s charts.

“Come and Get Your Love,” the song that plays under the opening credits for “Guardians” and which very much sets the tone for the film that follows, was a huge hit in 1974 for Redbone, the band formed by brothers Pat and Lolly Vegas around the time the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” comic appeared. The name of the band comes from a Cajun slang word for “half-breed,” and indeed, the Vegas brothers were of Mexican and Native American descent (with both Yaqui and Shoshone blood flowing through their veins). The brothers had been kicking around the rock scene for almost a decade before they formed Redbone with Yaqui guitarist Tony Bellamy and Cheyenne drummer Pete DePoe.

Redbone had sizeable hits with “Maggie” in 1970 and “The Witch Queen of New Orleans” two years later, but it was “Come and Get Your Love” from their fifth album, “Wovoka” (named after the creator of the “Ghost Dance”), that forever lodged the band in the pop music pantheon.

So if you have yet to see “Guardians of the Galaxy” (or plan, like Craven, to go a second time), as you watch an intergalactic thief named Star-Lord dancing across the surface of a far-flung planet, give props to one of the only American rock bands whose ancestors were not aliens.

Craven Lovelace is the producer of the Notes Blog & Podcast at http://cravenlovelace.com/notesblog. He also writes about popular culture at the Cravenomena blog: http://cravenlovelace.com/cravenblog. You may find him on Facebook as well.


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