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.
By Alex Suskind
Like Wild Cherry and the Weather Girls, Redbone has for years been one of those groups that tends to pop up at music trivia nights and on listicles about one-hit wonders. But let’s give it up for Redbone, shall we? The band was formed in 1969 by Pat and Lolly Vegas, two brothers of Mexican and Native American descent. The siblings’ original surname, Vasquez, was later changed to Vegas, a suggestion that allegedly came from legendary musician Robert “Bumps” Blackwell, who thought it might be more palatable to white audiences. By the early 1960s, the newly christened Vegas brothers were regulars on the Los Angeles rock circuit and recording run-of-the-mill instrumental surf-rock tracks like “Wax ’Em Down” and “Gypsy Surfer.” They also appeared on the music variety show Shindig!, performing a rousing rendition of “La Bamba.”
Three years after releasing the 1966 album Pat and Lolly Vegas at the Haunted House, the brothers rebranded the act as Redbone. As Pat and current member Raven Hernandez explained in this undated interview, the term was a reference to the Vegas brothers’ heritage. “Redbone means half-breed,” said Pat. “Anyone who has part-Indian blood, that’s a redbone. Back in the old days, if you called a Native American a half-breed, it was fighting words.”
According to Footsteps in the Dark: The Hidden Histories of Popular Music, the group began wearing colorful Native American attire onstage after drummer Peter DePoe, himself Indian, told the band their music had a Native American feel to it. (DePoe would later join the group, as would guitarist and singer Tony Bellamy.) At the time, the brothers ironically had no idea that they, too, had Indian in their blood; it’s a fact they learned later from their grandmother after informing her of their new stage act. Either way, the duo fully embraced their newfound culture.