Rare Earth can still be found
WANT TO GO?
WHERE: Across from Dow Chemical (off I-64 Montrose Exit), South Charleston
WHEN: 9 p.m. Saturday
TICKETS: Adults $5, children age 6-12 $2, children 5 and under free.
For more on Ribfest, click here. CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Part of what makes rock 'n' roll a fascinating spectacle is the behind-the-scenes stories: the infighting between bandmates, the dirty deals, the sex, the drugs, the amazing heights bands reach and the inevitable crash.
Gil Bridges, one of the founders of 1970s-era band Rare Earth, saw it all.
"We had the sexual revolution and drugs," he said. "Everybody was trying to get marijuana legalized. There was free love."
He laughed. "At that age, everybody was into the love movement."
The Detroit-based band, which headlines Saturday night at the 14th annual Ribfest in South Charleston, is best known for "Get Ready," "(I Know) I'm Losing You," and "I Just Want to Celebrate." It was one of the first white rock bands signed to what was then a nearly all-black Motown Records in Detroit.
"We weren't the first band," Bridges said, "but we were the only successful one."
In the late 1960s, after amazing crossover success with soul acts like Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and The Four Tops, Motown Records sought to diversify the label from only R&B and soul and break into other musical genres.
One of those genres was a rock label, which Motown intended to be made up of all-white rock bands.
"There were a couple of our friends already signed to the label," Bridges said, "but we weren't sure we wanted that -- not until they told us they were opening a whole new division and bringing music masters from England. The British invasion was still going on. They told us a lot of things."
But Motown didn't have a name for the label. Jokingly, the band told the record company to name it after them and the idea stuck.
In the beginning, things for Rare Earth were great. The band enjoyed a string of hits, several tours and many television appearances, and when Berry Gordy, Motown Records' founder, decided to move the company from Detroit to Los Angeles, the band followed.
The high times, however, didn't last.
Barney Ales, Motown Records' vice president, signed Rare Earth to its record deal. Ales, Bridges said, was one of the people who'd helped Gordy found the company, and he had a lot of power within Motown Records.
While Ales was with the company, he championed Rare Earth and Motown supported the band. After Ales left Motown Records, though, support dried up. Motown's founder had little interest in promoting white acts, particularly in the early 1970s when he had a musical phenomenon called The Jackson 5.
Rare Earth struggled to stay on the charts. The rock 'n' roll ride got rocky.
"Rolling Stone wouldn't write about us," Bridges complained. "They had some problem with a white band getting signed to a black record label or something."
After more than 40 years, he's still not sure what the magazine had against the band.
Rare Earth also began having internal problems.
"We had personal things happening," Bridges said. "There were outside influences pulling us apart. We had a manager and an accountant who didn't care for each other."
There was also mistrust among the members. That was the worst part.
"The mistrust between band members will destroy you. It's like a cancer," Bridges said. "But that kind of thing happens. It happens to most groups, actually."
In 1980, Rare Earth parted ways with Motown Records and signed to a new label. A few years later, Bridges left Los Angeles and returned to Detroit to raise a family.
He said, "[My wife and I] figured we'd come back here for a few years and go back, but we never did."
It's a different pace for Rare Earth these days. Bridges said the band plays a lot of fairs, festivals and casinos, but doesn't really tour like it used to. There aren't weeks and weeks spent on the road.
The band is different, too. Only Bridges and guitarist, Ray Monette, remain. There have been a lot of lineup changes over the years, and three of the original band members are dead.
"But most of the guys who are with us now have been with us for almost 20 years," he said.
Still, Bridges said he loves going out with Rare Earth and will do it as long as he can and as long as people want the band to play.
"It still feels good," he said. "Being on stage with the band is where I feel my best."
Reach Bill Lynch at email@example.com or 304-348-5195.