heir sound was a combination of hard rock and funky blues, and for that reason, millions assumed that the five men in the band were black. They weren't. In reality, Rare Earth was a blue-eyed soul group -- the first white act to cut hits under the Motown banner.
John Persh, Gil Bridges and Pete Riveria grew up in Detroit on a steady diet of rhythm and blues. The three attended elementary and high school together and started rehearsing as a trio in their mid-teens. In 1961, as the Sunliners, they began playing parties, dances, and "whatever paid" around the Motor City area. They continued to build a local following all through the sixties, and in 1969 decided to reorganize. They added guitarist Rob Richards and keyboard player Kenny James and renamed themselves Rare Earth.
The quintet then ran into Dennis Coffey, an arranger and session man who helped the group produce a medley of old Motown hits. The recording was released on Verve Records and impressed the people at Motown. It paved the way to a Motown contract -- with one unusual wrinkle. For the first time in history, Motown was setting up a subsidiary label to be named after its leading act. In that way, Rare Earth Records was formed.
The album was given heavy Motown promotion and broke nationally early in December. By far, the most popular cut for air play was the long version of "Get Ready." Reversing the usual procedure, the hit album spawned a hit 45 -- a cut-down version of the song -- which took off in mid-March. By June, it was one of the best-selling pop singles in the country, and was getting R&B play as well. "At first," said Gil, "everybody on the soul stations thought we were black. When they found out we weren't, we were knocked off by some deejays. They would be playing the song one week, and then -- gone!" The record wound up, though, in the R&B Top 20.
Rare Earth followed this success with another remake of a Temptations song, "(I Know) I'm Losing You." In 1971, they had three more hits: "Born to Wander," "I Just Want to Celebrate," and "Hey Big Brother." After that, though, dissension, dropouts and lawsuits decimated the band. Some former members ended up doing session work for Motown.
In its prime, Rare Earth was one of the most popular live groups of the early seventies. It was, in fact, the top-selling white act to blacks -- until displaced in 1975 by Average White Band.
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