The Music Machine – interview with organist Doug Rhodes - part 2

 

BEYOND THE GARAGE

CM : I brought this CD along : the Bonniwell Music Machine’s Beyond the Garage [on Sundazed].

DR : Yeah, I’ve seen that one. Let’s see if I can remember how some of these go. Some of these are not with the Music Machine.

CM : You had said that they were wrongly credited. In the booklet it says which band did which songs.

DR : Yeah, they’re not right. Plus, he [Sean Bonniwell] came out with a 45 recently on Sundazed that he purports to be an early Machine recording and it’s not at all. The tunes of this bunch that I do like though, “Absolutely Positively” is one of my absolute favorites. That one, I think, is a real good construction.

CM : And that’s a tune with the original band ?

DR : Yep. “Affirmative No” I think is a good tune. It’s a real old tune of Sean’s that had been around for a long time. I liked “The Trap,” which is in 3/4. Nobody was recording in 3/4 except the Beatles and maybe the Lovin’ Spoonful. Some of these other titles, like “No Girl Gonna Cry,” “Me, Myself and I,” “In the Light,” “Tin Can Beach,” and “Time Out For a Daydream,” none of those are Machine things, or not the group that I played with anyway. “Me, Myself and I” might be, I don’t remember offhand on that one. “Discrepancy” I thought was a good tune ; “Talk Me Down” was a good tune. But “Absolutely Positively” particularly, I really, really liked that, and that was among the things recorded when we got back from being out on the road.

ON THE ROAD

We left the day after Christmas in 1966 and we got home on March the 31st, 1967. And in March alone, we played something like 35 engagements in 31 days. We were doing things where our manager would sell us to a promoter in an area and he would just work us to death. We were doing double shots, where he’d have us going out doing 45-minute sets at one club, throw us into the cars, drive us across town and play 45 in another. We did several that were triple shots. Just absurd.

CM : Did they have equipment for you in each place ?

DR : Most of the places you’d plug into equipment, and it was kind of a nightmare sometimes. I remember we went into one place one time, and it was just packed. There was an organ, it wasn’t a Hammond, it was like a home organ that had been rigged up through an amplifier. But there was a switch underneath that you could turn and it changed the overall pitch of this thing, and somebody, just to have some fun, had knocked it to another pitch. It was bad enough having to play those tunes in E flat and B and all these keys, but when I got on this thing and I realized what was happening, somehow I managed to thrash my way through “Talk Talk.” But we only did about 20 minutes in this place. It was one of these just jammed-to-the-rafters kind of scenes.

A NOTABLE GIG IN L.A.

Mickey Rooney, Jr. in a band in 1967. Anyone know the band’s name ? photo source

Another thing that happened similar to that, was that after we got back to L.A. from our first tour, around the 20th of December, we were booked into play a big club, a place that had been formerly been known as the Moulin Rouge in Los Angeles, where they televised the old Queen for a Day show. It’s actually where I heard the Yardbirds. It was a great big, really neat theatre with a big circular stage and they had three bands set up on the stage and we were the headliners. When we left Los Angeles, we were nobody, and when we came back our record was number one in L.A. and was number one in requests in all three of the big stations for about six weeks. So we had driven all the way from Kansas City, we were just wrecked, absolutely wrecked. We rolled into town early in the morning and got a little bit of sleep and had to be down at the theatre about six o’clock. Just wiped out, absolutely wiped out. I can remember several things about that, there were two other groups there, one might have been the Seeds and the other might have been the Leaves or the Grass Roots, those kind of names. One of the groups had Mickey Rooney Jr., in it. Whichever group that was, they were there.
In the dressing room was an old dentist chair, and one of the guys from the other band says, “Hey man, come in here and check this out.” I had just, actually one of the only times in my life I ever did this, the guy who was acting as our road manager during that time was this little, tough little nut of a guy who carried around a brief case full of drugs. Mostly uppers, just cheap Benzedrine and amphetamines, just shit, which never interested me, but I was wiped out and he says, “Hey, man take some of this. This will brighten you up.” So I snorted some, must have been methedrine, which I don’t like, it was not a habit for me at all. Anyway, so these guys are up in the dressing room and they say, “Hey man, check out this chair.” He dumps me into this chair and two of them start spinning it around, and I couldn’t handle being dizzy at all. “Hey, no, let me out of here, I can’t take this.” Through this I hear our manager saying, “Where’s Rhodes, we’re on stage, come on get your ass down here.” So I’m “whoa, whoa…” like this down the stairs, and we start out and we actually blew an entrance. Whatever we started out on, we screwed up. We had to start over again, and about halfway through, either the first or second tune, somebody in one of the other bands pulled the power cord that supplied all of our amplifiers. Ron Edgar didn’t miss a beat, he kept going and a played a drum solo until the power went on. He counted us back in and we finished whatever the tune was. It might have been “Talk Talk,” but I think it was actually a little later in the set. More than anything else, that was the moment when I realized we weren’t just another band out of L.A. that had a hit record we were following. We were really a very professional band, thanks to a couple of real pro players in it, like Ron and Keith Olsen.

CM : What was the response of the audience ?

DR : Oh, they absolutely loved it. It was not the sort of thing that you would expect of a young rock and roll band. It was way too competent. So that was neat. There was a place called The Hullabaloo, and it was the place to perform in Los Angeles at that time. I think the place held about seventeen hundred people, it was jammed and our record was number one, it was quite an experience.

WIMPY AND TOUGH

CM : Your band was playing a harder style. You talked about your influences of Paul Revere, the Animals and the Yardbirds. A lot of the other bands like, the Seeds and the Grass Roots, they were more…

DR : It was pretty wimpy stuff.

CM : How about folk rock ?

DR : It certainly had its influence on us. Actually the first amplified band of that generation I heard was the Modern Folk Quartet, and their drummer went on to join Buffalo Springfield [Dewey Martin was in the MFQ only briefly]. They were really a very good band. I heard them with Curt Boettcher at the Troubadour, the guy who produced the Association’s big hits and was then the producer of the Millennium material. It was his group, The Goldebriars that had come out west from Minnesota with Ron Edgar as the drummer in 1964 or ’65. Bonniwell had kind of tagged along with them as a road manager for a while after the folk trio he had been playing with had busted up in Florida.

Bonniwell was a tough character too. He told me that after the trio he sang with had busted up, he went up to New York City. When he arrived in New York City, he said he had 50 cents in his pocket and he didn’t know anybody. He was a bullshitter in a lot of ways, but I believe him. Even if he only had five or 10 or 50 bucks in his pocket, still to drop into New York City when you don’t know anybody, 25 years old or whatever he was, 24 years old. He was one tough nut. He’d been a Golden Gloves boxing champion when he was in university. It was good, he could handle himself. Mark Landon, the guitar player, wasn’t real big but psychologically he was a scrapper. We faced, with some trepidation but some confidence as well, a lot of really rough situations, particularly before the band had a record. We played one gig that lasted, I think, seven or ten days in Fort Collins, Colorado, at a big club that catered to the university students, and they were just a bunch of rednecks. They had no use for people with long hair. Every night we were getting hassled and every night we were being threatened with being nailed outside afterwards and managed to avoid it

The amazing thing was, after the record came out, we got booked into places, and more than once we had several guys who came up to us during intermissions, the local toughs, they would come backstage and we’d think, “Oh oh, what’s this all about ?” And they would say, “Hey listen, we thought you guys were just a bunch of fags with your long hair and weird outfits and all that and we were going to beat the shit out of you, but you guys are incredible. If you have any trouble, just let us know, we’ll take care of it.” I was like, “Oh, wow, ok.”

RHYTHM AND BLUES

Right after the record hit, the management group that was promoting us had booked a lot of places. They were trying to get us out on the road and promote the record, and nobody knew whether or not the record was going to do well. In some areas we played the record hadn’t done that well, and in other places it had done very well. It was received very, very well in the South, which was always attributed to the fact that we catered primarily to our own rhythm and blues roots and leanings with the kind of bands that we were emulating. The real big time bands were somewhere along the way rhythm and blues-based bands, like the Yardbirds and the Animals, and other groups like that.

CM : Were you listening to the bands that those bands were listening to, the earlier stuff, or were you getting it mostly through them ?

DR : That’s a very good question. I don’t know. Probably not as much. I think in general the British bands knew a whole lot more about American blues and rhythm and blues than Americans did. I myself had a real strong background in jazz from the ’20s and some early blues stuff. I had a bunch of Leadbelly records and things like that. But I hadn’t picked up on Robert Johnson or Blind Willie Johnson or some of those guys who were influences for the British bands. What we were into very strongly was the Otis Redding material, Solomon Burke, Sam and Dave, and Percy Sledge, all those guys, whatever had made it out to L.A. One of the things that I picked up on fairly early and probably Sean Bonniwell had too, was Wolfman Jack’s show on XERB, this megawatt station down in Tijuana [Mexico, next to the border of California] that had studios in Hollywood. Of course everyone in those days thought that Wolfman Jack was black, and he had this crazy show. He played music that you never heard anywhere else. He did not play the Motown hits, he played some of the Stax/Volt material, but he played real obscure southern R&B. I can remember listening to that stuff probably even before I moved up into L.A. One of my buddies down in where I grew up in Orange County had discovered this. Actually, you could hardly miss it tuning across the [radio] band, because the station was so strong. It was like five times the legal limit for American stations, and it just boomed into L.A. even though the transmitter was south of San Diego. I was listening [recently] to CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] radio late one night, when somebody was playing pretty interesting obscure, primarily Chicago R&B stuff and it amazed me. I heard the drum lick, stroke for stroke, that Charlie Watts used on “Get Off My Cloud” [sings it], which he repeats all the way through. Here was this old R&B record from Chicago that did precisely the same thing.

On the same show, the guy played a tune that had exactly the same guitar riff that John Lennon used on “Doctor Robert,” which was a real revelation, because that was always one of my favorites of the obscure [Beatle] tunes. A real neat thing, [sings it] exactly the same figure on some old blues record. Which surprised me : you always think, “The Rolling Stones were heavily into the blues stuff, the Beatles were more Chuck Berry and pop stuff.” But…

CM : There’s evidence to the contrary.

DR : Yeah. And it shows what great record collectors those guys were too. Which seemed like in L.A. so many of the musicians were only interested in what was happening right now. Their sense of historical context or the value of what would now be considered historical recordings, they had no conception of that. Yet the whole focus of my childhood was old records, I mean real old. I grew up collecting 78s, the oldest of which was recorded in about 1902. When I discovered Chicago jazz in my early teens, it was a natural extension of all that, although that stuff you had to get on LPs, it was too expensive to find 78s of that.

CM : Did any of that influence your playing style ?

DR : I suppose it must have. Mind you with the Music Machine, I was playing very rudimentary stuff on a very rudimentary keyboard.

KEYBOARDS

Those Vox keyboards were the shits ; they were not much better than a Farfisa, which I never cared for. The retro guys are into the Farfisa now, they love it. I just thought they sounded awful.

CM : You didn’t like the Vox either ?

DR : The Vox was a little bit better but I never really learned how to use it. I didn’t have the keyboard facility then to really do much with it. If I have a regret about that period, I regret that I didn’t find my way to a [Hammond] B3 organ and figure out a way to use a B3 as a performance instrument. Which is still it’s a problem for anybody but the wealthiest bands, because they’re a lot to play.

CM : And mammoth.

DR : Yeah, but I had the opportunity. When we recorded “Talk Talk,” that was on a B3, and I think most of the stuff that I did on at least the first album, would have been on a B3. Because we recorded at Original Sound Studios, and they had a Hammond, with percussion and draw bars and it would have had a Leslie [a cabinet with a rotating speaker]. I don’t think the one at Original Sound was the B, I thing it was the smaller ones like the M series. I think it was the M.

CM : Did you use the Leslie then ?

DR : I think so, yeah. I don’t know if I did on “Talk Talk.” It wasn’t the first time I ever played a B3, but I didn’t have access to one normally to experiment with. Which is too bad, because that was the only serious keyboard instrument around at that time. Some of the guys were using Wurlitzer electric pianos, but for reasons that I have never been able to figure out, the Wurlitzer electric was not considered cool for rock and roll bands to play. I don’t know why.

CM : Must have been the sound.

DR : I guess, because it’s remarkably versatile.

CM : But it doesn’t have the sustain of an organ.

DR : Doesn’t have the sustain, but most of the guys that were playing keyboards in the young rock and roll bands were like me : they had a few years of piano lessons and most of them didn’t have organ technique, and for whatever reason we rejected the Wurlitzer.

CM : I think maybe when you’re playing the organ, the sustain factor means you can just drop your fingers down and leave them.

DR : You don’t need to be able to do anything else. That maybe so.

CM : Also it fills out the sound.


DR : It does that, it’s a big sound. Which probably appealed to a lot of guys who were trying to compete with the guitarists. The thing about the electronic organ, is that I was never comfortable on it, with the exception of some things that I worked out to play on some of our recordings. There’s a line that I do on, what’s the tune ? “She cries like she means it and she does at the time” : “Masculine Intuition.” That was an interesting tune, ’cause his chord pattern is in three’s. So every two bars, he lands on a different chord of three chords. I worked out a neat line that went over top of that that I really liked, but I never had much facility at improvising, because I didn’t have the technique to play. I knew what I might want to hear, but I didn’t have the technique to bring it out with my fingers. But there were a few lines that I worked out for recording that I thought were pretty good, and that was one of them, and the hits as well. Then the line that I worked out on the organ for “Absolutely Positively,” which is probably my favorite of that whole period.

CM : Again on “Talk Talk” : it’s all major chords.

DR : Yeah “Talk Talk” was all major chords. Yeah, that’s Bonniwell.

part 1 is here

part 3 is here


comments or questions ? email me

I have posted interviews with members of the Doors, Electric Prunes, Iron Butterfly, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Music Machine, Quickislver Messenger Service, and Strawbery Alarm Clock. To go to the index page, click here.

you may be interested to read Psychedelic Music in San Francisco : Style, Context, and Evolution by Craig Morrison, available as a download from lulu.com for less than $5

CRAIG MORRISON
is an ethnomusicologist, teacher, author, and musician
based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
7 Nights Music Communications, 2006