The Music Machine – interview with organist Doug Rhodes - part 3



CM : I’ve been working out a theory and “Talk Talk” fits right in to it. You can tell me if I’m on to something or not. My theory is that “Hey Joe” opened a doorway.

DR : For a lot of people. However, “Hey Joe” existed as a very popular band tune in Los Angeles before Jimi Hendrix recorded it.

CM : I know that. The Leaves have the first.

DR : Probably the first recorded version, and Love of course.

CM : And the Byrds also.

DR : The Byrds, that’s right.

CM : The Chocolate Watchband is supposed to have done it live, but I don’t know if they ever recorded it. But it was certainly around.

DR : Well, I remember hearing it first in Los Angeles at a party, and it really made an impression on me, it was a real neat party band. I was probably 19 or 20.

CM : A live band ?

DR : Yep, at a party. So at the very latest it was in 1965. It was before Love had recorded it. I had never heard it on the radio. I don’t know where it first showed up. As far as I know, The Music Machine was the first band to play it slow, because we recorded our version before the Hendrix version was released. Now I wouldn’t go so as far as to suggest that Hendrix heard our version and said, “Hey, I’m going to do it like they did.”

CM : It’s highly possible.

DR : Who knows ? But it was a real effective piece on stage, I’ll tell you. What I really liked about Bonniwell as a performer, he had enough musicianship to make things interesting and meaty for a musician. But he also had enough of straight performance smarts to be able to perform tunes that expressed irony and other dramatic values. As far as I was concerned, at that time, there were only a handful of other artists that even understood that. Mick Jagger is one of them for sure, and John Lennon is another, and Eric Burdon. Very dramatic singers. Jagger and Lennon are almost unique in their ability to do things in—I don’t know how to express this exactly—their use of irony in their compositions and performance is fabulous.

CM : Do you have examples ?

DR : I think “Under My Thumb” is tremendously ironic in a funny way. So is one of his obscure tunes like “who needs yesterday’s papers” [“Yesterday’s Papers”]. Jagger has a way of doing something that is, on one hand very off the wall and very arrogant and at the same time you can see that, as narcissistic as he is, he’s looking at himself and kind of laughing at it. And appreciating his own irony in that larger sense.

CM : I thought “Under My Thumb” was more literal than ironic.

DR : It may be, maybe I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt there. I suppose the master of it is got to be Neil Young. No, I know what I’m thinking of with Jagger, and he did it real early on, it’s more an overt kind of thing, it isn’t any kind of hidden private joke or irony. “Heart of Stone,” that’s a little bit different. But that impressed me : how many artists were there that were capable of carrying that off ? On the other hand, it was a real revelation to me to finally hear Irma Thomas’s original version of “Time is on My Side,” because Jagger delivers that very aloof as if : “Yeah, baby you’re gonna come back to me.” As a matter of compulsion and insistence and inevitability, because of his will, whereas Irma Thomas delivers it as a matter of faith. “You’re gonna come back to me baby.” There’s a world of difference between those two performances on that level. Of course, she comes straight out of gospel, the religious tradition of faith, and he doesn’t. For him to sing a song of faith—and I’m not a Christian, so this is not leading into some proselytizing—but for Jagger to sing of faith in that sense, you wouldn’t expect that of him.

CM : He didn’t sing it like that.

DR : He certainly didn’t.

CM : Well, the revelation that got us into these revelations was “Hey Joe” and my theory that it opened a door.

DR : Yeah, I think so. It did a lot of things that hadn’t been done in popular dance music prior to that. For one thing, the most prevalent way to play it was the way Love played it and with the 12-string guitar as well. I don’t remember if the first time I heard it it was done with a 12-string, probably not. But, that characteristic riff, that, “boom da da da boom da da da…” that kind of riff, which is probably played in a D chord position on a guitar, that riff was just starting to show up. The first time I hear it is on “Hey Joe.” So somehow, who ever introduced that tune to L.A., whether it was on a record or live, my hazy recollection is that that riff was associated with that tune right from the start. That’s a riff that shows up again on a lot of Byrds’ material and early folk-rock stuff.

CM : It’s almost the signature of folk-rock, on the A chord or the D chord.

DR : On either the A or the D, that’s right. But then “Hey Joe” also had that big long circle of fifths thing, that wasn’t they way rock and roll was constructed prior to that. Rock and roll was all this I, VI, IV, V stuff.

CM : But it’s not the same perfect fifth falling to a resolving note, which then psyches you out because it’s a seventh and so still needs to resolve and you’ve got to keep going, like the ’20s tunes do. It’s backwards.

DR : It’s backwards from the ’20s tunes.

CM : Rising the perfect fifth.

DR : Yeah. That whole period of time was the consciousness expanding time and though I wouldn’t want to give, I don’t know, it’s hard to isolate elements and say, “Well, this musical element crept in the same time people were taking these mind expanding drugs and so forth and so on,” but it’s all a part of the same thing. That was a big one. I’ve often wondered whether or not…well, I don’t know. I’ll stop there.

CM : My theory is that, that’s the tune, because it’s in all major chords, and the chords don’t follow the usual I, IV, V of diatonic harmony or the cycle that had been established for years. This was a new way.

DR : Yes it was.

CM : But if you look at the years, particularly 1966, there are an incredible number of songs that use only major chords. Even “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” which is San Francisco Bay. Otis Redding’s in San Francisco when he’s writing this song.

DR : Well, I always thought Steve Cropper wrote the underlying
harmony to that tune.

CM : Well, that maybe true, but…

DR : The concept. But that’s a good point ; he’s emulating the San Francisco sound.

CM : The California sound.

DR : Yeah.

CM : I think it’ really an L.A. thing, but there are other examples out there.

DR : I never liked the San Francisco sound.

CM : I’d love to talk to you about that. I’ll just finish up this major chord theory business. There’s plenty.

DR : Isn’t it interesting ?

CM : I could probably give you 10 hits that do just that.

DR : Maybe that’s partly because it appealed to the guys who never played a note of music.

CM : …and didn’t know the difference.

DR : And couldn’t play a minor chord.

CM : Love’s “Seven & Seven Is” has like one minor chord in there. His trip in that song is the tonic : can’t figure out if it’s a major chord or a minor chord.

DR : Ah, well now to me that goes back to the transition of white players hearing older rhythm and blues, where they either didn’t recognize or didn’t appreciate the fact that it would have a major harmonic structure like a blues, but might have blue notes that were very close to being minor thirds on top. The rock and rollers get this and think, “Oh, it’s a minor third on top, it’s going to be a minor third on the bottom.”

CM : But in that song, there are times where it’s clearly minor, the next time it comes around, it’s clearly major. It’s fascinating. Do you know the tune “Seven and Seven Is” ? The one where he says, “I’m a bone and I go boo bip-bip boo bip-bip yeah !”

DR : Yes, Yes.

CM : It’s a real burning tune. At the very end, there’s the explosion after the apocalypse and then it’s back to the fifties, you know, I, VI, IV, V.

DR : They must have gone to see The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. He performed at that Hullabaloo Club. I saw him there. He had a pretty bizarre show, musically it was the pits. I thought the most interesting about Love was, toward the end of their time together, they were playing at that same club, which was still one of the hottest clubs in L.A., and the two black guys in the group got into a fist fight on stage. Anyway, that’s showbiz for you.

CM : The other thing, just to finish up my “Hey Joe” theory, is that I think it is the first rock song to be talking straight out about murder.

DR : Probably so.

CM : We had “hang down your head, Tom Dooley, you’re going to die tomorrow.” “Tom Dooley” was a number one song [in 1958]. It grabbed people ; it wasn’t like “(How Much is That) Doggie in the Window ?” But in rock and roll we have “Hey Joe,” and the guy in is like, “I’m gonna kill her. Hey I killed her !”

DR : Hendrix particularly, he really went for the throat on that one.


CM : You played in the Spats before the Music Machine. Could you tell me a little bit about them ?

DR : The Spats was three brothers. I can’t remember any of their names. Mike Sulsona played drums. Mike was a good friend of mine ; we went to high school together. He was a year younger than me and he went with me up to hear the Yardbirds. He should be honored for convincing me that we should go. The Spats was these three brothers whose parents financed the band, they bought them these fancy kind of glorified Lord Fauntleroy kind of outfits, fancy cravats and ruffled stuff. Pretty sappy really. The oldest brother [Bud Johnson] played guitar, he was an okay guitar player. The lead singer [Dick Johnson] was the best looking of the bunch, pretty stuck on himself. He was an okay singer, he could belt it out, he could do what was necessary, and the youngest brother [Ron Johnson] played bass. They had a young kid of Italian extraction [Myron Carpino] who played lead guitar, he was pretty good. They had already been together, they had a record that had some action for them in Orange County where we all were. I joined the band ; I was with them for maybe six months. I knew the guy who played piano with them, who was a real hot player, a jazz player named Chuck Showalter, who I haven’t heard from him since. I think should have gone on to a career as a jazz player, that’s what he was into. I remember we played a New Year’s Eve gig at Disneyland and we recorded two sides. That would have been a Hammond, just in the studio. The only side I can remember offhand was called “She Done Moved,” which got some action in L.A. [“She Done Moved” backed with “Scoobee Doo” was released on 45rpm in June 1966 on the ABC-Paramount label.] It did pretty well on the charts for a while in Los Angeles. We played around various parts of L.A., some gigs here and there.


CM : What did you call you style at the time ?

DR : I don’t know what we called it. Even though we were a Los Angeles-based band, we certainly didn’t identify much at all with the folk rockers. Not really at all. Nor with the psychedelic scene, because for one thing Bonniwell wasn’t into psychedelics. He didn’t smoke dope and he didn’t take LSD. Nor did Mark Landon. We all smoked cigarettes, but Ron Edgar and I, and I think to some extent Keith Olsen, not even during that time, I don’t think any of us had experimented with LSD. Except, maybe Ron but only briefly during the time that Machine was together. I didn’t take LSD until late 1967, even though it was floating around Los Angeles several years earlier. In fact, the first times I was going up into L.A., I was around people that were dropping acid while it was still legal. Which was before November ’66. Real late. But Ron and Keith and I were smoking dope out on the road. Sean didn’t know it. Mark Landon knew, but didn’t want to have anything to do with it, just wasn’t his cup of tea, so to speak. But it was risky, extremely risky. I remember particularly, we were down in the South, scoring some grass down there in Texas and places like that, and I would hide it in a baggy inside a 2 camera that I had. It was very risky, particularly after—we were on the road in the South—when Jim Morrison [allegedly] pulled his dick out on stage in Florida [March 1, 1969]. We never had any run-ins with cops, but the word that we got everywhere we went was, “You guys better play it really very safe as far as underage girls and drugs concerned, because if you get nailed, you’ll never get out of jail.” I had no doubt that it was true.

For that reason among a variety of others, I never cared that much for Jim Morrison or the Doors, I didn’t like their material. We played a guest set one time at the Whiskey A-Go Go, and he was in the audience. This was before “Light My Fire” came out, but they were a well-known band ; they were getting a lot of notoriety in town. He came up and he just stared at Bonniwell for a whole set, just stood right in front of the stage while people were dancing around him. He just stood there and watched Bonniwell.

CM : What do you think he got from that ?

DR : I don’t know. I would hope to think that he was picking up some things from Bonniwell, ’cause Bonniwell was a very strong performer and stylist, but I don’t know.

CM : Were you associated or identified at all with the Standells or the Chocolate Watchband ? They were a bit on the same wavelength.

DR : Maybe the Standells a bit. But not too much with the L.A. [bands], for one thing, we were always out of town. We didn’t spend much time in Los Angeles. We spent a lot of time in the South, that’s where our records were most anxiously awaited. We had two or three regional hits down there that didn’t do that well anywhere else. We spent quite a long time in New York City, actually, and working various places down there. I think we must have actually stayed in New York for about six weeks, which was a long time, but worked out from there. We’d go to work up in Boston and in Newport, Rhode Island. We played at a great big, a real neat old club [Bastille, Newport Beach at the Rotunda, on January 28, 1967] with a group called the Pigeons as the warm-up, they were a local band or maybe they were out of Boston or some place [Long Island, New York]. They eventually changed their name to the Vanilla Fudge. They were doing a heavy R&B kind of show, with the guys falling down on stage with the mics. A James Brown kind of show. I remember when we got there, before they did, there was a Hammond organ and a drum set already set up on stage. There had been some issue of whether or not we were going to use their drum set or whether they were going to use ours, and Ron looked at the guy’s drum set and he says, “I’m not letting that guy use my kit.” ’Cause the drum set was beat all to rat shit and his crash cymbal had a big crack in it. Their drummer was this great big galoot of a guy, a nice guy but just pounded the shit out of the drums. During one of their sets he hit the cymbal near the crack and bent it, and it changed the tone of it. He was obviously really pissed off about it and so he smacked it as hard as he could and he actually broke a pie-shaped chunk out of a Zildjian crash cymbal. It was pretty unreal. When we got there and saw the B3 on the stage, I thought, “Oh, this will be great to play a B3.” There was a bunch of keys missing from it. The key tops were gone ! I thought, “Wow, what’s happened to this ?” The other band did the first act, the man is running his thumbs back and forth, it was a real showy act. That was fun. But we worked out of L.A., we worked Philadelphia…

CM : You just weren’t around L.A. that much, so you didn’t particularly identify with the scene at all ?

DR : No.

CM : L.A. seems to have a number of people—I’m wondering if we can put Sean in this category—like Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, maybe even Jim Morrison, whose attitude was : “This is what I want to do.” Really strong, strong, musical forces.

DR : Well, yeah. Certainly, I begrudgingly respect Jim Morrison for what he did, because what he did was so unique and strong. I think he did touch a nerve in a lot of people. Bonniwell’s pretty obscure in a lot of ways. Bonniwell had a real dark murky side to him that I never understood ; I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know what it was all about.


CM : Have you read his book [Talk Talk, revised as Beyond the Garage] ?

DR : No, because I’ve read excerpts from it and it was such bullshit. He fabricated so many situations that he purported to have happened with the Music Machine. I said, “I don’t want to read this.” The excerpt I read was talking about how he and some of the guys in the band had gone down to Tijuana to do something. It was bullshit. It never happened. And stuff about something that had happened in Renosa, Mexico, just over the border from Brownsville, Texas, where we played. Some incident there where he said that Keith and Mark were down there. Well Keith never went with him. Also claims he had made about how the tunes were put together and so forth, never acknowledged Ron Edgar’s contribution, which really bothered me. I could live with the fact that he didn’t want to say that I helped him arrange “Talk Talk,” big deal. I mean a lot of it was collaborative. But his attitude in the excerpts that I read was that, “Here were all these guys that were five or six years younger than me and I showed them what it was all about out there on the big nasty road…” The implication was that ‘these guys would have been nothing without me.’ That may have been true, but the converse was also true, that without that band backing him up he would have been nothing too. Because there weren’t that many musicians who were around who were capable of accommodating his idiosyncrasies as far as harmony and the fact that he wanted to tune down the instruments and all this stuff. He was doing things in some tunes where he’d put minor chords a semi-tone apart. I couldn’t stand it, just dragged me right out. And I’d think, “Ok, I’ve got to play something that will work on it, how do I do this ?”

CM : Do you remember a tune ?

DR : “The People in Me” was one of those. There’s another one too, I think, one of the later ones. This stuff used to drive me crazy. Other times he’d do things that I thought were real neat like, “Come On In” and “Absolutely Positively.” Because those were all his compositions, we arranged them collectively and added some melodic ideas and formal ideas, but they were essentially his compositions. But it bothered me.

It’s funny because I talked to him on the phone for the first time in 27 years. It was a year and a half ago, and I had a great time talking to him. We laughed and laughed about stuff that had gone down, and I thought, “Well, you crazy little bastard.” He did have a real dark side, and a real loner streak to him. But, funny ; he could be just funny as hell. He had an upper plate, because he had a couple of his teeth knocked out playing baseball when he was younger. We were on stage in Biloxi, Mississippi, and we were underneath black lights, ultraviolet lights, and he had figured out that those things glowed in the dark. He worked out this way to pull the plate off the roof of his mouth, and flip it over in his mouth while he was playing the guitar, when he wasn’t singing. He turned this thing over, so the teeth were sticking a different way, and he’d stick it slightly out of his mouth. He turned around—and he had kind of a grin on his face—and he was looking at me, waiting until I looked up at him, and here these things were lit up in the black light. It scared the shit out of me. He had a real laugh over that, but we were in Baton Rouge, toward the end of one of our tours, and he just kind of went nutso one night and tore the… [The tape ended here, cutting off the rest of the sentence.]


CM : Can you show me that three-chord shifting and the line you had on top of that ?

DR : If I have a piano that plays.

CM : You had something in the other room I think ?

DR : I’ve got a pump organ. This is nice. [Plays the chords to “Masculine Intuition” and then again with the line on top of it.]

CM : It’s all black notes just about.

DR : It is.

CM : You said you could play “Talk Talk” in your sleep.

DR : Yeah, that’s easy. [plays “Talk Talk”]

CM : It’s all major triads, voiced with the third on the top.

DR : I know I always have the third on the top. Funky organ ! Should have had that on the road with us.

photo : The band CanUs, pictured at Hermann’s Jazz Club, Victoria BC, where they play regularly. Doug Rhodes is holding a bass saxophone.

part 1 is here

part 2 is here

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comments from readers :

Bonsoir Craig, Je suis un fan suisse de Music Machine. Faisant des recherches sur Doug Rhodes, je suis tombe sur ton SUPER interview...woaw...genial. - O.G., Nelson, BC

I have posted interviews with members of the Doors, Electric Prunes, Iron Butterfly, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Music Machine, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Strawberry 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 for less than $5

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