20 January 2009
"The Music Machine"'s Doug Rhodes interview part 1
Well it's amazing what can happen when you stick a guy out on stage with a guitar in front of him, you know?
Well, and not only that, because he knew how to use it. I mean, we all had our share of action because we were on stage but he wasn't just a guy with a guitar.
By golly, he could just look out and he had smoldering looks that he would give out to the girl at the front that he wanted to hang out with that night.
The interesting thing was that after all the action he got during the time we were on the road, after we got off the road he worked with "Ike and Tina Turner" for quite a few months and then he became celibate for a year or two.
He was a very strong character.
His given name, by the way, was Zarrettin. It was shortened to 'Zarrett' when he was in school, then he took 'Landon' when he joined the group, or shortly before then.
At any rate, I think "Sean Bonniwell" had originally found Mark in a bowling alley. It was typical then that bowling alleys would have a bar associated with them, there'd be a bar and a dance floor. We started playing lounges and bowling alleys, a lot of clubs.
There were lots of clubs to play.
Nowadays that whole notion of the small or mid-sized venue has gone completely out the window.
Yes, it's so sad.
When "Sean Bonniwell" approached you was he actually trying to start "The Music Machine" or was he just looking for new players in his band?
He was wanting to start something new.
More than a germ of the original idea was there. I don't recall using "The Ragamuffins" name with the five-piece group.
I don't know where and when he made the contacts with the people that were willing to record us.
I remember sitting in one of these bowling alleys and being introduced to "Brian Ross". He was just a rich kid. A nice guy but no sense at all of the music biz.
He had a wealthy father who was willing to put up some bucks.
He wanted to play around at being a record producer.
"Sean Bonniwell" saw it as an opportunity. So Brian Ross put up the money. We used to practice in Sean's Garage down in San Pedro.
So, yes, we were a Garage Band.
I'd hitch a ride with "Keith Olsen", who was living in North Hollywood.
He had this funky little Fiat. Halfway down and halfway back we'd have to stop somewhere south of Watts, a heavy black area of town, to get oil for his transmission because it had a blown seal.
Anyway, we'd practice in Sean's garage and the neighborhood kids would come in and watch us play Rock'n'roll. We were learning "Rolling Stones" tunes, "Paul Revere & The Raiders" tunes, the odd "Yardbirds" tune too.
The staple material of the era.
Yes. And I remember that in the back of Sean's Garage there was a big old upright piano.
I remember going back with Sean and working out the arrangement to "Talk Talk", him on guitar and me on piano.
We worked out the basic bones of it, then came back to the guys and worked out the other bits.
"Ron Edgar" filled in this incredible drum part.
I think Sean had originally tried the tune with "The Ragamuffins" but we basically completely changed it around.
The amazing thing was that I'd joined the band on May the 28th and on July the 30th we went into RCA and recorded "Talk Talk".
Tell us about the "Talk Talk" session.
We were with "Dave Hassinger", who'd done great stuff with the Rolling Stones.
I think it was done to four-track and "Sean Bonniwell" overdubbed the vocals on top.
Bass and drums would have gone on one track, lead guitar on one track, and organ and rhythm guitar on another.
I doubt we did more than two takes each on "Talk Talk" and "Come On In".
I think "Come On In" is great. It's like "The Doors" but it was before they were really happening.
Well, "The Doors" were gaining some notoriety in town but I hadn't heard them.
Before "Light My Fire" had come out we did a set at "The Whiskey-A-Go-Go" one night.
We never had a full-fledged gig there, we only had a guest set, for which we didn't get paid. What's-his-name, "Jim Morrison" came and watched "Sean Bonniwell" for most of the set. I vaguely remember him getting up and sitting in with another band. I never did like "The Doors". But back to the session; I used an "Hammond B3", "Keith Olsen" would have been using a "Hofner bass" through a "Fender Bassman".
I thought he had an Eko?
He did have an Eko but he had a Hofner before that.
We got "VOX equipment" sometime that fall. Somebody had negotiated a sponsorship with them.
Their equipment was pretty crummy.
We used the amplifiers for awhile, they were LOUD.
Not very reliable but they sure were LOUD! It was our intention that "Come On In" was to be the single, that was the A-side and "Talk Talk", which was short and snappy, was going to be the B-side.
We wanted to be known as a more professional band than just going in and doing rock-em sock-em type Rock'n'Roll.
By the time that was recorded, probably a few weeks before, the band had pitched down to where the guitars were tuned down a minor-third low.
"The Ragamuffins" had tuned down to a D instead of an E on their guitars because "Sean Bonniwell" had decided he wanted to do it to save his voice.
A lot of these tunes were written in E and A and G and that. Working six nights a week with a small group he didn't want to blow his voice out on full-fledged keys, so he dropped it down a full step.
Which was a real hassle, but it sure made a deep gritty sound.
It kind of made it hard for anybody to cover our tunes 'cos they were in such odd keys.
A lot of people couldn't figure out how to do it.
When we got the acetate dub about two or three days later we were at Sean's place in San Pedro where he lived with his incredibly beautiful Mexican-American girlfriend. He brought the acetate in and we put on "Come On In" and we went "Wow, that's great, it sounds super!". It sounded really good. Then we said 'Let's hear what "Talk Talk" sounds like'. We put it on and when it was over we knew it was gonna be a hit.
Not 'knew' in the sense of 'Oh Boy, maybe that'll be a hit', not hyping ourselves. Just listening to it and going 'Wow. Shit. That's gonna be a hit'. Here we had fully intended "Come On In" to be the lead side and when we heard the acetate there was absolutely no question, we were just slack-jawed, we could hardly believe how good it sounded. I think the single came out in September.
Did you have the 'look' going by the time you cut "Talk Talk"?
He was working on it at that time. I don't think we'd dyed our hair yet or had the glove but we were close to it. I remember it was in place by the time we went on the road in September, when the single was released. We got a bunch of bookings.
I remember we played in Fort Collins, Colorado. Shitty gig. College town.
College kids were just the worst audiences possible. Arrogant, stupid people.
They aren't anymore, folks, but they sure were then! Just to have some crewcut kid come up to you, wearing a button-down collar with a tie and shined shoes, looking straight as hell, have him come up to you on the side of the stage and say 'Hey! I wanna kick your ass!' "Sean Bonniwell" would say "Where do you work?" To which the guy would respond with such and such. Then "Sean Bonniwell" would say 'Well, I work here. I'm working right now. Get it?'.
Very good.When did VOX get hold of you?
We got the VOX sponsorship probably in October or November, it was certainly a result of having a record out. It was like kids being let loose in a toy store! Especially as far as the guys with the guitars were concerned. They were looking up at the stuff on the wall and going 'Hmm, I kinda like the look of that...' Then to actually hold it in your hand and play it, it was not so hot.
Sean tried his best to use the VOX guitar quite a lot of times, certainly when we were on television.
He played a Gretsch, I think "Mark Landon" played a "Guild guitar". "Keith Olsen" would use the VOX bass if we were on TV, that was about it, he didn't like it that much. It was pretty clunky.
The amplifier we used was the "VOX SuperBeatle" a 120 watt amplifier, their first generation of transistor amps, it was real crude.
But it was LOUD! We had an extra one that we took with us on the road.
Tell us about recording the "Turn On" LP.
The first album was done at "Original Sound Studios", with the exception of the first single which had been done at RCA. "Paul Buff" was the engineer there.
He was a genius. He had come up with a one-inch ten-track head for recording and playback whereas the standard of the industry, as established by Ampex, was an eight-track one-inch head. He changed the dimensions of the recording head so he got ten in one inch and that was more tracks than anybody had in all the recording world at that time. Plus he had developed one echo machine that used something that I think was similar to what is used for the pickup head on a VCR. It was a whirling head that had multiple tape pickups on it. So it was tape-delay-echo but it was multiple delays and multiple feed-back.
I can't describe it, all I know is he used it on "Hey Joe", which we recorded live in the studio. That was all done at once with no overdubs.
(shocked) Really? Because that's such an amazing piece.
Yeah. That was a real showstopper too. I remember performing that at Hullabaloo when we were at Number One. That was an absolute showstopper. That tune should have been released as a single. But I also want you to know that we were doing that tune slow before any of us heard of "Jimi Hendrix".
"The Music Machine"'s Doug Rhodes interview part 1