Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Gil Bridges of Rare Earth Charges Racism in Motown

When Gil Bridges was in grade school in Detroit the only instrument taught was the violin. His dad thought it a girl's instrument so he had to wait. At 10, Bridges saw Aldo Ray performing the saxophone, and his older sister suggested that was the ax he should start swinging. He took the advice and went onto play in the various school bands – marching, jazz and symphonic. A friend eventually approached him about joining their band, The Sunliners, but playing that scene was something he was initially afraid to try. A little coaxing later, he was in. Beginning in 1960, they played the Motown clubs and by the late sixties they received a record deal from MGM/Verve. Despite not having that association go far, Motown approached them and Rare Earth was born. As a result, songs such as Get Ready and I Just Want to Celebrate became part of the American musical lexicon. 

Times Square: Hey, you're a bunch of white guys?
Gil Bridges: We were the group that began the crossover, but in the very beginning, before Motown did much publicity, we played to a lot of all black audiences. They were freaked out because they thought we were black and out came these white boys playing Motown.

Times Square: Coming up playing the Motown scene in Detroit, did you try to sound black or were you just playing the way you wanted to?

Gil Bridges: Yeah, that's the music that influenced us. It's also what people wanted to hear, and we packed them in by doing a good job on those songs.

Times Square: It certainly seems so.

Gil Bridges: We were the highest paid band in the clubs. Still, I told my band mates that I liked my night life too much, and as soon as we start making less money, I'm out.

Times Square: Really.

Gil Bridges: It never happened. I've been blessed, getting to do what I love my whole life.

Times Square: You literally rode this high school band right to the steps of Motown.

Gil Bridges: They came, and made us an offer, but we weren't sure.

Times Square: Why?

Gil Bridges: At the time, they were trying to promote into the white market but they really had nothing going on.

Times Square: What changed your mind?

Gil Bridges: They said, they were going to create an all-white division, which they hadn't yet named, and jokingly we said, how about calling it Rare Earth. When they did that, we said OK, because if they were going to put that much faith in us, we just thought this is it. And sure enough, Get Ready took off like wildfire within a few months.

Times Square: Get Ready is a 21 minute song. How did you manage getting that duration on the album?

Gil Bridges: Smokey Robinson wrote that song and had a little bit of a hit with it. The song out there, people wanted to hear it in the clubs, and one night one of the guys took a solo that wasn't there before, and then everybody else wanted to take a solo. It wound up stretching out to 21 minutes and became our finale. So when we went to Motown, we just played it the way we played in clubs, and that's what was recorded.
Times Square: I guess the 21 minutes here doesn't associate with the LSD that usually comes from such endeavors?

Gil Bridges: No, but that was the drug time, and we all did get a bit caught up in it. Either way, we came to the realization that - hey, stop all this stuff because it is not good for us.

Times Square: Let's Celebrate Nonetheless.

Gil Bridges: When we first recorded that song we came into the studio to record something else.

Times Square: Tell me about this.

Gil Bridges: In every studio, there's a writing room with a piano and writers putting songs together. As we're coming in, these two Greek guys come running out and tell us to come check out this song they've just written. We went in to listen and it was, Celebrate. We heard the song and thought, that's a hit. We started at midnight, and by eight in the morning, had it recorded.

Times Square: What was it like getting to meet all those Motown legends?

Gil Bridges: It was great and I just went to the 50th anniversary. Smokey was there, Berry Gordy, Diana Ross, Martha Reeves, seeing everybody again – it was great. On the other hand, I got to say this, because I don't care if they hear it. Back on the 25th anniversary TV special, they completely friggin ignored us. After all the successes and millions of records sold, they did not have us on.

Times Square : Why?

Gil Bridges: It's racial. There could be no other reason. Just as bad, we have all gone through the embarrassment of taking our families to the Motown museum, and they don't have a thing in there about Rare Earth ever existing.

Times Square: But your signature songs are so synonymous with Motown

Gil Bridges: I know, and when they had Adam Ant on for the 25th anniversary, it really hurt.

Times Square: That's bizarre.

Gil Bridges: I just had to let that out.

Times Square: You sure did. Otherwise, you'll be appearing at BB King's on September 15th. How's that feel?

Gil Bridges: I don't know, we'll see. It's a club with a great reputation, and I love playing live more now than when I was young.

Times Square: Why?

Gil Bridges: I really like to see the smiles on the baby boomers' faces, bring back all the nostalgia for them.

Times Square: New and old stuff at BB King’s?

Gil Bridges: Yeah, a little of both

Times Square: How many of the original members will appear in September?

Gil Bridges: Me and Ray Monette go back to the beginning. Three of the originals are no longer with us, but everyone else has been with the band for at least 20 years.

Times Square: How old are you?

Gil Bridges: 71.

Times Square: Are you tired?
Gil Bridges: I'm slowing down a bit but I feel great.

Times Square: The big hits aside, what work are you most proud of?

Gil Bridges: There's a couple of jams that we just went into the studio and recorded. We did some astonishing stuff that most people have not heard, but I Just Want to Celebrate is my favorite.

Times Square: Fair enough. Nice to talking to you.
Gil Bridges: Same here.

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