Psychedelic-Rock'n'roll: The Music Machine's Doug Rhodes interview part 1

20 January 2009

The Music Machine's Doug Rhodes interview part 1


UGLY-THINGS_MAGAZINE,Doug_Rhodes_interview,MILLENNIUM_BEGIN,MUSIC_MACHINE,CURT_BOETTCHER,PSYCHEDELIC-ROCKNROLLfrom "Ugly Things" magazine

"The Music Machine"'s "Doug Rhodes" "Talk Talk"s To "Sean Law"

***from "UGLY THINGS" #18***

For fanatics of the "Garage Rock" genre, few bands produce such interest and enthusiasm as "The Music Machine".
Both the band's sound AND look have endured in the Garage scene up to the present day. The first time I heard the "The Music Machine" was in the mid-'80s when "Rhino Records" released "Talk Talk" on a volume of their "Nuggets Series".
Shortly after that discovery a like-minded friend and roommate turned up a copy of the first "The Music Machine" album, "Turn On".
With this artifact we discovered to just what extent the influence of "The Music Machine" had been on "Rudi Protrudi" and Co.
"The Music Machine" eventually gained a permanent place in my own pantheon of favorite bands.
I was definitely not alone in this. Years later I was living in England; meeting European Garage fans (especially the Italians) I found the "The Music Machine"'s influence to be pervasive.
One incident sticks out in mind: I was coming home after a show and was approached on the street by an Italian fellow (obviously a fan of the genre) who, in very broken English, was trying to inquire if the "Sixties Club" whose flyer he was brandishing was worth going to. I tried to explain that it was pretty much a mainstream sort of place specializing in Motown and the like.
It was obvious I wasn't making myself very clear. Finally I just said to him; "No Musica Machina". This he understood clearly!

I eventually returned to Vancouver. One night in September of 1996 I was cutting vegetables on a music paper that I'd picked up in a local bar a few nights before.
Suddenly, through a mash of cut mushrooms, I spotted the name "Doug Rhodes".
Surely not the keyboard player from "The Music Machine" I thought to myself as I scraped the page off. Indeed it was! Turns out that "Doug Rhodes" is a resident of Victoria, British Columbia, where he had settled a few years after his tenure in the "The Music Machine".
In the 1970s he toured with Canadian Folk artist Valdy. At the time of this interview (September 1996) Doug was working as an expert in the field of tuning and repairing pianos (his ad was published in the same local music paper as the interview that I'd discovered).
After some thought I decided to give Mr. Rhodes a call. We talked for a while and he graciously arranged a time where I could conduct a phone interview with him. Said interview was eventually conducted over two consecutive evenings and took up about four hours worth of tape.
"Doug Rhodes" impressed me as a very down-to-earth fellow who has more than a passing interest in music. He was rather surprised at my knowledge of the band's background and even more so at the amount of interest the group has generated years after its demise.

In the interest of conserving space I have dropped many of my conversational comments from the following interview. The piece has been edited to approach the story from a chronological perspective.
My thanks to "Doug Rhodes" for his time to answer my questions about things he genuinely hadn't thought about in years.

UT:
What year were you born in?

Rhodes:
I was born on May the 28th 1945... and Bonniwell was born on August 16th 1940... in fact I have his TIME of birth, if anybody wants that!

UT:
(bemused) How come you have this information?

Rhodes:
Well, he got me into Astrology.

UT:
Oh really?

Rhodes:
Yeah! He was the one that turned me onto it. I used to kind of laugh about it.
Then funny things would happen and he'd laugh at me because he'd see my mind was blown over something or other.

UT:
Really! Are you still involved in that?

Rhodes:
Yeah! Just for fun, and sorting out things that I can't understand otherwise.
(He then tried to recall the birth dates of the remaining "Music Machine" members, all of whom were also born within a year on either side of Doug's birth date.)

UT:
So Bonniwell had five years on the rest of you. Did this mean that there was a sense of 'seniority'?


Rhodes:
Oh absolutely. He was a lot more 'worldly' than the rest of us. He had already spent a number of years touring with a group. Not that some of the other guys in the group weren't pretty seasoned professional players - like "Keith Olsen" and "Ron Edgar".
They had really done their share for as young as they were. They had both been around. They'd gone from Minneapolis to New York.
"Keith Olsen" had played string bass behind "Gail Garnett" (of "We'll Sing In The Sunshine" fame) and he'd played bass with "Jimmy Rodgers" before that - so he was a pro and an educated musician. I think he started out on the road when he was between 17 and 19. When he got out to Los Angeles he was living with one of the girls that was in "Curt Boettcher"'s group, "The Goldebriars", that "Ron Edgar" had come out to the coast with. Bonniwell was peripherally connected to the band, I think he met them in New York and had a thing going with the other girl in the group, the sister, "Dottie Holmberg".
I think he'd came part way across the country with them as a road manager.
But, yeah, the five years made a big difference. He told me one time -and even if he may have exaggerated I'm sure that there was more than a grain of truth to it - that when "The Wayfarers" busted up he got dumped in New York City with 50 cents in his pocket and he didn't know anybody - and he survived! Well, even if he had 20 bucks or 50 bucks in his pocket I bet the rest of the story really is true, because he was TOUGH!
He was real tough and a very, very strong character and there was no denying it and we respected him and looked up to him and generally speaking he was a pretty good band leader.
The biggest problem with him was that once he got some fame and notoriety and some money he separated himself in a lot of ways from the rest of the group...

UT:
At what age did you develop an interest in music?

Rhodes:
There was always music in my house. My grandmother started performing in a Christian Minstrel show down in Missouri, playing piano and singing songs and telling stories. My dad played guitar and sang and had done so for various kinds of gatherings for years and years, mostly college kind of stuff, 'around the campfire', that sort of thing, but he was pretty darn 'professional' at it. All of my brothers played, there was a piano in the house and all kinds of instruments that my Dad had collected over the years, so when I was a kid I could pick up a saxophone or coronet or banjo or play the piano or whatever.

UT:
That's very fortunate. I think that shows a cultural difference between now and then, in that 'music in the household' is much less common now.

Rhodes:
Yes. And they were all old instruments. I've managed to do the same thing here. I've kept up the tradition but there's hardly anything new! I got an old beat-up upright bass and the piano here is 90 years old and I've got a bunch of saxophones, etc. So I grew up playing, and I played flute in High School Band (in Garden Grove, California - MS).
In football season I would either play piccolo or tuba. I was indulged by the Band teacher, he liked me. Sometimes during parade season I'd play field drums in the marching band. My oldest brother is a big-time well-known piano player in the Traditional Jazz scene in the United States and Europe. His name is "Robbie Rhodes".
He got me my first professional gigs. I think the first pro gig I played was playing soprano saxophone along with him at a pizza parlor when I was about 16 years old, and made five bucks. He pulled me into a New Year's Eve gig when I was about 17, playing soprano and bass sax. (chuckles) It was kind of a sleazy roadhouse. We were playing Dixieland, Trad Jazz really. I was 17 years old, you're supposed to be 21 down in California but I was the piano player's kid brother so nobody said anything.

UT:
So this was about 1962?

Rhodes:
Yeah, somewhere in there.

UT:
Were you a 'folkie'?

Rhodes:
No. No, I didn't really care that much for Folk music though I did like the Blues stuff. I had a big collection of New Orleans and Chicago Jazz on LPs, I also had a big collection of 78s of American Popular music from say 1905 to 1925. I still collect old records, I've got a big collection of old records.

UT:
Yeah, I'm a bit of a record collector myself.

Rhodes:
It's hard not to be. When you've got it in your blood, boy... So anyway, all this stuff was around, I had lots of music around. I didn't care that much for the folk scene. When I was in high school I met some guys who were playing Folkie stuff. One of them played string bass but preferred playing guitar, so he let me play string bass and I used to play with them. It was fine, you know. I could get a lot more female attention that way, 'cos I was shy. But I didn't care for that folk stuff much, I thought it was boring.

UT:
What about Rock'n'Roll?

Rhodes:
I didn't pay an awful lot of attention to Rock'n'Roll until after the Beatles and "Rolling Stones" started happening. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.

UT:
With hindsight it seems that the early '60s were pretty dry as far as real Rock'n'Roll was concerned.

Rhodes:
It was pretty boring. Nowadays I listen to old stuff on a CBC program where this guy plays these old 45s, doo-wop and that stuff. 'Cos us white kids, we didn't hear them. We didn't hear the Rhythm'n'Blues, we didn't hear the black stuff that much, not like the kids in Britain did. You know, we had to have "Stevie Winwood" reintroduce "Ray Charles" to us.

UT:
Like the whole thing about "The Rolling Stones" selling American culture back to the Americans.

Rhodes:
Yeah. We turned on to "The Beatles" first, but the "Rolling Stones"... well, I just love "The Rolling Stones".
So I got into this group, "The Spats".
Their piano player, the only really good musician in the group, was aspiring to be a Jazz musician.
Their drummer pulled me in to do a gig at Disneyland.

UT:
Spats singles turn up on compilations but I haven't come across any info on the band. This might be a bit much to ask but do you remember who the band members were and what they played?

Rhodes:
(straining) The only thing I could really tell you was that they had a record out before I joined. I can't remember what.

UT:
Was it "The Roach" and "Gator Tails and Monkey Ribs"?
Rhodes:
Yes! That was them! I could never have told you, but yeah, that was the one.

UT:
I've heard "She Done Moved" on a bootleg compilation.
Rhodes:
I played "Hammond Organ" on that. I had a big hand in arranging that tune.

UT:
Tell us a bit about the band itself.

Rhodes:
There were three brothers. I think their last name was Johnson.
The youngest played bass, the oldest played guitar and was sort of the group leader, the middle one was a real pretty boy and all he did was sing; sometimes he'd play the guitar a little bit. I'm pretty sure their first single was out before I joined. Their father financed the whole thing. The drummer's mother acted as manager.
He was a year younger than me. His name was "Mike Sulsona".
They were high school kids. I was probably the oldest, a year or two more than the other guys, who were 16 or 17. They had to do some pushing to get a gig at Disneyland, it's not easy to get work there. They were real straight. They had uniforms and the lead singer wore a fancy cravat, you know, it was a 'sucky' kind of band. And they wore spats on their shoes.
Somebody had put a lot of thought into this! I worked with them until... there was a certain point where we were playing a gig somewhere and the other guitar player was this sort of small Italian kid, I can't remember his name, but he was a neat guy and a pretty good player. We were in the washroom where we were playing this gig and he and I were grousing about how the Johnson brothers' old man was kind of a jerk because we were off playing freebies...

UT:
I think I already know the punchline to this one. He was in one of the stalls, right?

Rhodes:
He was sitting in the can. I didn't get any more work with that band. I was OUT!

UT:
(laughing) This was after "She Done Moved" was out?

Rhodes:
Yeah.

UT:
This may sound trivial, but what can you remember about playing Disneyland?

Rhodes:
Disneyland wanted to have a Teen Rock'n'Roll Dance set up someplace. They weren't very loud in those days. The guys were probably all using Fender equipment that the maximum was probably 45 watts per amplifier, so it wasn't particularly loud. Probably a Wurlitzer electric piano. I remember seeing this girl I had dated in High School showed up by the bandstand with some other guy and I thought "Hey! I'm up on the stage here! Rockin' and rollin'..."

UT:
Revenge! (laughter)

Rhodes:
Yeah! Revenge of the Rejected Musician! But in all it was a pretty sucky band. But it was fun. And for a very short time the record "She Done Moved" got a fair bit of airplay in LA and that managed to get us a few more gigs.

UT:
What do you remember about the recording session?

Rhodes:
It's pretty vague. A couple of the Johnson brothers had written the tune and, again, Mummy and Daddy had financed going into one of the cheaper studios up in Hollywood, I don't remember which. I do remember that when we got to the studio there was this "Hammond B3", and the "Hammond B3" is a very inspirational instrument and it may well be, I can't tell you this for certain, but my feeling about it is that I developed the organ line, which serves as a bit of a hook line in it, I probably developed it right on the spot.

UT:
It's very distinctive on the record.

Rhodes:
Yeah, it was mixed prominently. I think it was the inspiration because I don't recall playing an organ before that. Somewhere back there I recall having the use of a "Farfisa Compact Organ", which I hated. Those guys that love those things, they can have them! The parents of the kids in the band organized this network of people that were telephoning the radio station long-distance from Orange County to get them to play the record. For a few weeks it got quite a bit of radio play. I don't know how well it sold but every so often it would be the top request of the hour.

UT:
Have you heard "Gonna Tell You All About It Baby" by "The Spats"?

Rhodes:
I draw a blank there.

UT:
Sort of a Stonesy thing with a discordant guitar-crunch going on.

Rhodes:
I doubt it would be the same band - these guys were pretty straight (NB: It is the same band - MS). Another thing I can tell you about that session was that the Army was after me.

UT:
Oh yeah! 'Cos you were of age at this time.

Rhodes:
I sure was. I remember I suspected I was going to get a draft notice. Some of my other buddies had gotten drafted; we'd already been in for Pre-Induction Physical and all that stuff. We were all 1-A.

UT:
That must have been terrifying!

Rhodes:
Oh boy, I tell you, you just can't imagine. And the school deferment hadn't come around for me at that time, I was not doing very well at all. I was in my third term at university. I had enlisted in the Air Force because I figured I could probably snake my way out by faking being crazy or something, I don't know.. (laughter) ...something like that. But I knew I could never get out of the Army.
The Recruiting Officer had said "Well, you can ship out tomorrow, or... Tuesday's the next day we got a bus going out to Fort Ord".
I said "Well, I want to see my girlfriend first". I'm pretty sure that recording session happened right in that interval there, that weekend. After the session I went up to see my girlfriend in Glendale and we had these tearful goodbyes. Then Monday morning I got a School Deferment in the Mail.

UT:
Whoah!

Rhodes:
I called up the recruiter and said "Hey Sarge! Guess what!"(laughter)

UT:
Someone was smiling on you.

Rhodes:
No kidding. Seems to me that was late November or December of '65.

(Author's note: In an attempt to get a timeline going for these events Doug tried to place them against other exciting occurrences of the era. Some of these experiences follow.)

Rhodes:
I saw "The Yardbirds" about six months after "I'm A Man" came out. They were touring the States on the strength of that hit. "Jeff Beck" was with them. I saw them at a club that used to be known as the "Old Moulin Rouge" in Hollywood and had been renamed "The Hullabaloo".
And there were about ten people there, "Mike Sulsona" and I had gone up to hear them. About ten people there and "The Yardbirds" were just fantastic!

UT:
I bet!

Rhodes:
They were just awesome. In the six months since the record had come out, "I'm A Man" was almost unrecognizable. They were evolving so fast and they were so fluid.

UT:
They were getting more 'out there'.

Rhodes:
Way out there! They were playing like, kind of approaching it like jazz. I won't say Free Jazz because they had a good sense of structure, but they were large long structures.

UT:
They were getting heavy.

Rhodes:
They were getting heavy. (sounding very much in awe) It was a great band. During the same time Mike and I went up and caught "Wilson Pickett" at a club called "The Trip".
The opening band, who I had never heard of, was "Paul Butterfield's Blues Band", with the original lineup.

UT:
Around the time of the first "Elektra Records" release?

Rhodes:
That's right, when the first Elektra album came out.

UT:
The label's first non-Folk or Jazz group I believe.

Rhodes:
That's right. And about three months later I went up to LA again to see "The Byrds" when they were plugging "Mr Tambourine Man" and "Turn! Turn! Turn!".
"Paul Butterfield" opened again.
I got to see them twice. They were fantastic, just so good. It was about that time that I moved up to LA. I moved there in January of 1966 after I'd floundered and flunked my out of school completely.
Somewhere in that period I met "Curt Boettcher".
"Curt Boettcher" is a real important figure in my life. He's dead now.
I first heard his group "The Goldebriars", which "Ron Edgar" was in, at a Folk club in Orange County.
I thought "These guys are kind of weird, they've all got earrings in one ear and they've got black hair". The lead singer,"Curt Boettcher" himself, seemed real faggy.
But I thought that, as weird as these guys were, I really liked the music.
The music was really really good. This was 'Folk Rock' with drums and electric bass and guitars and so forth.
The vocal harmonies were just superb. I thought "I gotta meet these guys!" I hit it off with "Curt Boettcher".
That group was busting up and I played with him awhile, and another group. He did a whole bunch of work in LA.
I guess it was about Spring of 1966 and he got me some work in the studio where he was doing overdubs on the second album he did with "The Association". I played celeste on "Cherish". It's real prominent, right on the middle eight you can hear it distinctly. It became a big record. It must have sold a zillion copies. It made a lot of money for everybody but "Curt Boettcher".

UT:
Did this win points for you on the music scene?

Rhodes:
Well, it sure wasn't bad to mention that I'd played on such a big record. I didn't have much studio experience by then. I was working with "Curt Boettcher" that Spring.
"Ron Edgar" and "Keith Olsen" were playing with "Sean Bonniwell" in this little band, "The Ragamuffins".
Just playing clubs and stuff in South LA. Doing covers and playing lounges. "Sean Bonniwell" had a pretty broad range of vocal stuff that he could do.
He could croon, he could sing real straight ballad material, very nicely. He was learning how to sing Rock'n'Roll.
As rock'n'rollers go, he was really outside the pale. He appreciated "The Rolling Stones" and "The Beatles" but he wasn't a fanatic the way I was.

UT:
He wasn't a product of that stuff?

Rhodes:
No, he wasn't. Anyway, Ron had been living with "Dottie Holmberg", who was part of "The Goldebriars". She kicked him out and I found him on my doorstep when I got back from a trip to the desert, around Easter of 1966.
He came to live with me and he kept saying "Hey, you gotta hear this group" or "You should think about joining this group", because "Sean Bonniwell" wanted to expand it at the time. I'd said I didn't want to because I didn't want to play in bars. I was scared to, I thought it was a low-class sort of thing. I came one night and heard the band, I thought they were OK. Ron introduced me to "Sean Bonniwell".
He asked me if I was available to play in the band and did I have any equipment.
I said "No, I don't have a keyboard".
But my 21st birthday was coming up which would have made it legal for me to play in bars. Keith and Ron had phony ID's, I was skittish about that, too law-abiding for that sort of thing. Right after I turned 21 I joined the band.
Bonniwell had found "Mark Landon" somewhere. I never did know where "Mark Landon" had been before The Machine. (author's note: throughout the interview Doug referred to the group as simply The Machine, which I guess would have been the insider's term for the band).
I think what was great about "Mark Landon" was that he had such clear ideas about showmanship and stage deportment. He'd get on stage and... I mean he was the homeliest character you could hope to meet, we used to just kid him mercilessly. He was so good-natured!

UT:
I understand he had a big nose.

Rhodes:
He had a big schnozz, he was like... he was born in China, the child of Russian Jews! His father worked playing the bass in an orchestra that was a small Society, or Dance, orchestra that got work at the American Embassy, as far as I know. They left China not long after he was born because things were getting too out of hand with the Communists. They moved to Burbank, he was in the same high school class as Cher... but just homely, and we used to just kid him mercilessly: we'd say; "Mark, you know what you are? Not only are you ugly, you're a KYKE!!!" (laughter) And he could take it! You know, just a wonderful guy. By golly, he'd stand up on stage and he had a certain stance - he'd bend his left knee slightly and turn his toe out.

UT:
He's got some of the more imposing photographs on the album..

Rhodes:
Oh, he had attitude, and, I tell ya, the girls just fell all over him! We were just astounded by this because we thought "He's so ugly!"
....

"The Music Machine"'s Doug Rhodes interview part 2

2 Comments :

sfdoomed said...

Thanks for posting this interesting interview! The Music Machine has always been the epitome of great 60s psych garage. It's too bad about Sean's later conversion to religion, though.

Mike Stax said...

I'm the publisher of UGLY THINGS magazine, and I don't recall you asking permission from me or Sean Law to use this interview on your site. Please contact me at uglythings@znet.com