Rare Earth is an American rock band affiliated with Motown's Rare Earth record label (which was named after the band), who prospered in 1970–1972.
Although not the first white band signed to Motown, Rare Earth was the first big hit-making act signed by Motown that consisted only of white members. (The Rustix were signed before them and were an all white act, but did not have any hits.)
The group formed in 1960 as "The Sunliners" and changed their name to "Rare Earth" in 1968. After recording an unsuccessful debut album, Dream/Answers, on the Verve label in 1968, they were signed to Motown in 1969. The band was one of the first acts signed to a new Motown imprint that would be dedicated to white rock acts. The record company did not have a name for the new label yet and the band jokingly suggested Motown call the label "Rare Earth." To the band's surprise, Motown decided to do just that.
The main personnel in the group included: Gil Bridges (saxophone, flute and vocals ), Peter Hoorelbeke a.k.a. Peter Rivera (lead vocals and drums), John Parrish a.k.a. John Persh (bass guitar, trombone and vocals), Rod Richards (born Rod Cox, guitar, vocals) and Kenny James (born Ken Folcik, keyboards).
During 1969 the group contributed music to the movie Generation that starred David Janssen and Kim Darby. But a proposed accompanying soundtrack album was canceled after the movie bombed at the box office and many of the songs ended up on the band's next album, Ecology, in
Rare Earth had a number of Top 40 hits in the 1970-1971 period, including covers of The Temptations' "(I Know) I'm Losing You" (which was used in the documentary video It's Time) and "Get Ready". The cover of "Get Ready" was their biggest hit, peaking at number four on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, a more successful performance than the original. This disc sold over one million copies and received a Gold record awarded by the Recording Industry Association of America. The group gained a bit of notoriety when it was mentioned dismissively in the lyrics to Gil Scott-Heron's 1970 poem, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", which included the line, "The theme song [to the revolution] will not be written by Jim Webb, Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash, Engelbert Humperdinck, or the Rare Earth."
In late 1969 Edward "Eddie" Guzman (congas and assorted percussive instruments) was added to the group.
In 1971 Richards left after musical differences and James, weary of their increased touring schedule, split as well. Ray Monette (guitar) and Mark Olson (keyboards, vocals) joined to replace them.
Other hits in 1971 were "I Just Want to Celebrate", which peaked at #7 on the pop charts, and "Hey, Big Brother", which peaked at #19. They did not chart significantly after 1971, although they continued to record into the 1990s.
By 1972 Motown had decided to relocate from Detroit to Los Angeles and Rare Earth soon followed suit. Persh, however, decided not to make the move and was succeeded in the band by Mike Urso (Persh later died from a hospital staph infection on January 27, 1981).
Their 1973 album, Ma, written and produced by Norman Whitfield, is considered one of their best overall works, and features their version of "Hum Along and Dance".
Rare Earth was the opening act at California Jam festival in Ontario, California on April 6, 1974. Cal Jam attracted over 250,000 fans, and the band appeared alongside 70's rock giants Black Sabbath, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Deep Purple, Earth, Wind & Fire, Seals & Crofts, Black Oak Arkansas and the Eagles. Portions of the show were telecast on ABC Television in the US, exposing the band to a wider audience.
In 1974 the group divided after Hoorelbeke had severe personal and business disagreements with their manager, Ron Strasner, and departed after the other members sided with Strasner against him. Mike Urso left the group along with Hoorelbeke and they formed a new outfit, HUB, with Rare Earth's 1970-1972 co-producer, Tom Baird, using the initials of their surnames (Hoorelbeke, Urso and Baird). HUB went on to record two albums for Capitol Records but came to a sudden end in November 1975 after Baird was killed in a boating accident.
The others (minus Olson who left to join the backup band for Jennifer Warnes) decided to continue as Rare Earth and brought in new players: Jerry La Croix (vocals, sax, harmonica, formerly of Edgar Winter's White Trash and Blood Sweat and Tears), Paul Warren (guitar, backing vocals), Bartholomew ("Frosty") Eugene Smith-Frost (formerly with Sweathog and Lee Michaels, drums), Reggie McBride (ex-Stevie Wonder, bass) and Gabriel Katona (keyboards). The new lineup put out Back to Earth in 1975 and went back on the road. However, both Paul Warren and Frosty left during this tour and new drummer Chet McCracken (who would go on to join the Doobie Brothers) was hired to finish out their '75 tour. The band then recorded Midnight Lady (minus Warren, McCracken and Katona), which was released in 1976. Frank Westbrook replaced Katona on keyboards and Ollie Brown was brought in as session percussionist for Midnight Lady. But neither of these releases sold in the big numbers the band had been used to and they soon found themselves bogged down and unable to tour when they brought a lawsuit against former member Hoorelbeke, falsely claiming that he'd tried to make off with the group's name and retirement monies. The lawsuit was eventually settled in Hoorelbeke's favor and he was given a settlement.
In late 1976 a former Motown bigwig and vice president, Barney Ales, an earlier champion of Rare Earth, returned to the company to head up one of their new offshoot labels, Prodigal Records. He made an offer to the group to reunite with Peter Hoorelbeke. So the 1972-1974 lineup of the band (Hoorelbeke, Bridges, Urso, Olson, Monette and Guzman) were slated to gather together to record a new album on Prodigal. However, Monette & Olson did not agree to the reunion's terms and decided to sit out. Session players Dan Ferguson (guitar) and Ron Fransen (keyboards) were brought in instead to play on Rarearth, which was produced by James Anthony Carmichael (who would go onto huge success with The Commodores and Lionel Richie) and released in 1977. But it failed to live up to expectations.
Later in 1977, the group assembled again with Chicago based producer John Ryan (who'd worked with Styx and others) to begin work on two new albums. This time Monette & Olson agreed to join in and the results were Band Together and Grand Slam, both released in 1978 and featuring more of a late 70s disco sound, with the former providing the Bee Gees penned hit "Warm Ride", which peaked at #39. Other than the one fluke hit, neither album was a big seller and the band soon found themselves without a home. Gap Band bassist Robert Wilson contributed to some of the tracks on Band Together.
In June 1979 Urso left the band again. On Urso's recommendation, and after hearing several bass players, the group recruited bassist Ken Johnston, who joined the group's road tours for two years until June 1981. Johnston had just completed a stint with jazz singer Maxine Weldon and had rejoined Las Vegas comedian/songster Kenny Laursen. He interrupted his tour with Laursen to join Rare Earth in Florida.