by Monte Nordstrom - Copyright 1996
from issue #33 - Cosmic Debris Musicians Magazine - Sept '96

A "Talk Talk" with Doug Rhodes 30 Years After "The Music Machine"... and still going strong.

Victoria's own Doug Rhodes is what you might call a renaissance man.This multi-instrumentalist / musicologist/ craftsman/ raconteur has a wealth of talent & experience to draw upon. As a musician he plays just about everything; keyboards, standup & electric bass, baritone, tenor, alto & soprano saxes, flute, percussion, tuba & vocals - the list goes on (he once told me to kick him offstage if he ever picked up a guitar). He has a staggering collection of jazz & classical recordings on 78 and a very eclectic rock & soul collection. I've heard him lecture at Banff Centre on the history of mechanical recording and I've consulted with him on the ins & outs of the Internet. He has a piano repair & tuning business based out of his Colwood home and is currently playing sax with a 12-piece 20's jazz band. He is an in-demand kind of guy. Doug shares with us here, the experiences of his long, colourful and very musical career.

Doug grew up in Garden Grove, California (near Anaheim). His older brother Robbie played piano in a Trad Jazz band & Doug remembers his first gig, "I was 16, playing Soprano Sax on my first job. I made five dollars. The next year, though I was underage, I played a New Years Eve gig on soprano & bass sax with Robbie's band at a notorious club called the "Honeybucket" down in Costa Mesa. That band went on to be the "South Frisco Jazz Band" and continues to record & perform to this day (with 3 of the members I played with back in 1962 still in the lineup!)"

"After that I did various gigs around and wound up playing organ in a garage band called "the Spats". We had a single called "She Done Moved" that got some airplay. The band didn't last long but I made some contacts in the LA scene, most notably with a producer named Curt Boettcher. One of the first dates I did for Curt was a "sweetening session" on a few songs by The Association. One of those songs was "Cherish". I played the celeste on that." (The song went on to sell millions)

In 1966 Doug lived in Los Angeles and found himself in a band with a depth of talent and a source of innovative material. The group was led by singer/writer/guitarist Sean Bonniwell. They were fortunate to have one of the hottest young drummers in LA, Ron Edgar in the rhythm section with bassist/vocalist, Keith Olsen. The innovative Mark Landon played fuzztone guitar with Doug supplying organ, tambourine, bass & vocals.

They were primarily influenced by the Yardbirds and The Stones but soon developed a repertoire of their own material that eclipsed the musicianship of their florally named LA contemporaries, The Leaves, The Seeds and The Grassroots. They became "the Music Machine", a protopunk rock unit that had a sinister edge.

The ensemble's talents were already obvious when they came to the attention of Art Laboe. Art owned a small oldies label that specialised in re-releasing R&B compilations.

He recognized the group's potential and signed them to his "Original Sound" label.

Producer Brian Ross had put them in RCA's studio with engineer Dave Hassinger where they recorded "Come On In" & "Talk Talk". This was on July 30, 1966. When they listened to the acetate they knew they had a hit. Additional tracks were recorded at Original Sounds' studio, where engineer Paul Buff had developed a 10! track system, as well as a "Whirling Head Echo Unit". Doug recounts, "I don't know how the echo worked but it sounded great & we used it on our version of "Hey Joe" which by the way, we were the first to perform as a slow tempo number." (Pre-Hendrix)

"The Music Machine" exploded onto the Los Angeles Top Ten with the release of "Talk Talk". They quickly made an impression with their high degree of musicianship & their dark image. Group leader, Sean Bonniwell came up with the group's black outfits, dyed black hair and the theatrical device of wearing one black leather glove. "I remember we were playing The Whiskey A Go Go' and Jim Morrison stood in front of the stage studying our act throughout the whole set. "The Doors" album hadn't been released at that time."

The guitarists and the bassist all used semi-acoustic instruments and though they recorded with Fender amps & a Hammond B3, they soon had a sponsorship from Vox instruments who were new on the scene in LA. This gave them the added advantage of being one of the loudest touring acts of that time. They also tuned their instruments down a minor 3rd to C#... "This made it hard for other bands to cover our material."

The Music Machine was rapidly sent on the road promoting their "Hit" with a grueling series of national tours. Doug recalls, "Talk Talk" was on the radio and our sales in LA had us in the Top Ten in Billboard and at #1 in Cashbox but Original Sounds' distribution was so inadequate that people couldn't buy our record, out where we were on the road."

"This was in '66 and the sight of dyed long hair was inflammatory to the rednecks in the Midwest & Deep South. It was dangerous for rock bands on the road. We quickly realized our only chance for survival was to blow the audiences away with showmanship. They had never seen an act like ours at that point. There were times when we'd pull into a town and we'd see the "No Vacancy" sign flip on as we drove up to check in. It was very freaky!"

"We toured Arizona, New Mexico, all over Louisiana (including some recording time in New Orleans at Cosimo Matassa's legendary studio), did the gulf coast of Mississippi & Alabama. We were still driving in our old cars. I remember listening to Hendrix' first album fishing for catfish off the end of a pier from our motel in Biloxi. We set up a turntable through our Vox guitar amps and cranked it up. It was the first time we heard it."

"The first tour was two months long and home for a couple days then back out on December 26. The agent kept leap frogging ahead, setting up dates and appearances. We did 100 shows in 3 months. A promoter would "buy" us for a package over a few days and work us to death. Sometimes they'd have us do three shows in one day."

"We were headlining most of these shows but did some "packages" where we appeared with acts like The Beachboys, Clyde MacPhatter and "? and the Mysterians". We did shows everywhere. Bellingham, Seattle, Spokane, man, we were working! We did the Eastern seaboard, Philadelphia.... we played Newport, Rhode Island with the group that became The Vanilla Fudge. We also did some more recording in New York City."

"We played a 10-day stint at "The Dragon a Go Go" in San Francisco in the tough Wentworth district. After we finished the date we were told that Bobby Fuller had recently failed to complete his contractual obligations to the Club. He wound up dead a few days later (he was found tied up in a parked car with a gas hose down his thoat). We weren't crazy about the Frisco scene anyway. It was too insular and self-indulgent for our tastes."

"Living in LA, I did manage to see some great shows; the Yardbirds with Jeff Beck in '65; the Beatles at Hollywood Bowl in '65 & at their second-last show ever - in '66; the Stones with Brian Jones at the LA Sports Arena in '65; Jimi Hendrix at the Hollywood Bowl in 1968 - all the musicians in town were there and got blown away by his playing. He did the material from his up-coming "Electric Ladyland"! I also saw the original Paul Butterfield group a couple of times. They opened for Wison Pickett at a club called "the Trip" and also opened there for the Byrds. Butterfield's show was excellent."

"Anyways, The Music Machine were working like dogs and not making the money we felt we deserved. After the last tour, Keith Olsen and I went to the accountant's office and looked at the tour receipts. There were some blatant discrepancies with our pay shares and Bonniwell's. We confronted him with it and the result was that he lost his band. We were really tight & polished from our touring and he couldn't replace us with casual players. I think it implies a lot when a band splits from a singer as a unit."

"Mark Landon went on the road with Ike & Tina Turner. Ron Edgar, Keith Olsen & myself went into a lengthy project with Curt Boettcher, called "Millenium". I acquired my Telecaster bass at this time.

"Columbia had given Curt & Gary Usher carte blanche in the studio where we used an early 16-track system put together by Roy Halee. Curt responded by running up the largest studio bill in Columbia history. The Millenium Begin' was released in July 68."

"The album, Bonniwell's Music Machine' had come out on Warner Brothers, compiling some of the material we had recorded in New York & New Orleans along with songs that Sean recorded after we left. The single 'Double Yellow Line' b/w 'The Eagle Never Hunts the Fly' came out but didn't go anywhere without the original band's touring support." Bonniwell drifted into mysticism as his career unravelled into confusion.

"After the Millenium' project was finally completed, I was picking up a lot of studio work from Jerry Scheff. He would go out on tour with The 5th Dimension and refer his calls to me. I was doing publisher demos, master sessions and jingles. Mostly "head" arrangements with chord charts in 4-track studios. In the halls at Columbia studios I'd be bumping into the likes of Thelonius Monk and David Crosby. I recall hanging around a couple of Big Brother & the Holding Co. sessions and chatting with Janis. She was very down to earth but I remember her reaming out an engineer who had "punched out" of a beautiful guitar take. She just about punched him out!

Another session I watched was at Original Sound where "Dyke & the Blazers" were cutting the original "Funky Broadway". I played with Jim Keltner on another of Curt's "Association" dates. Did a session with Mark Lindsay for a Raiders project. Played standup bass for Taj Mahal before his first album came out. Did dates with Chad & Jeremy, Tommy Roe, Van Dyke Parks but I can't remember what that was. There was all kinds of stuff going on."

"I was working with guys like Jim Horn, both Jim Gordons...Did another Boettcher production called Sagittarius', Hugh Masekela did some horn tracks on that... but eventually I just got so tired of the LA scene. Curt's ex-wife was living up in Victoria and loved it there. In June of 1970 I decided to move to Canada."

"I started working with Valdy around 1971 when he had his place out in Sooke. He was playing "Quequeg's" in Bastion Square. This was before he "hit" with "Rock & Roll Song". We did a CBC TV show out in Winnipeg and played shows in Medicine Hat and Calgary with Norm MacPherson on guitar. I met Doug Rhodes the drummer at that time and we confused a lot of people by working together. I moved to Saltspring in 1971 and along with the work I was doing for Valdy I played in various other bands... The Nunez Brothers and El Bande Grande (with Kathy Stack and the late Wende Sinclair). In 1978, I moved back to Victoria and did a Funky Reggae thing with Clyde Dixon, Bob Richardson, Dave Gray and Fred Power called "the Skanktones."

"I moved to Banff in 1985 where I worked at Banff Centre as a piano technician. I played music with the late great Chuck Tracey and worked alot with you, Monte, who I remember meeting through Barry Dayman on Saltspring back in '78 or so. Then I moved to Santa Cruz, California for six months in 1987 before returning to Victoria where I got into my piano tuning & restoration business. That's when I hooked up with "Monte & the Beaumonts", recording some tracks on the "Nothing More Better" album.

"In recent years I appear to have come full circle. I started out playing sax in a Trad Jazz band and I'm now active with the 20's style 12-piece Jazz orchestra, The Belevedere Broadcasters. We recently played the bandshell in Beacon Hill Park and at "The Wooden Boat Festival" at the Inner Harbour on August 31. We also do a quartet, Monday afternoons at Butchart Gardens from 2:30-4:30. Greg Sumner and I do a "Dog & Pony" act there on Monday evenings from 5:30-7:30. Greg plays banjo & cornet and I play piano, standup bass and the soprano & baritone saxophones. Now I'm producing a recording of the Belevedere Broadcasters for release later this year. The idea is toying with me of re-releasing some old operatic stuff that I've got in my 78 collection."

Doug Rhodes still has occasion to perform with Valdy and was recently seen kicking out the jams at the Glen Lake Inn with "Groovedigger". He is one of the best improvisational players I've ever worked with and brings so much talent on so many instruments ... I'm looking forward to his input on my next project, if he can find the time. In my books, Doug Rhodes truly is a Renaissance Man!

Quotes compiled from point form notes. Footnotes:

"The Music Machine" appeared several times on "American Bandstand", "Shindig" & "Where the Action Is". Unfortunately, none of this footage has been located.

"Talk Talk" & other recordings by "the Music Machine" continue to be re-released on compilation albums such as the protopunk garage rock "Nuggets" series (one of which includes "The Spats" single "She Done Moved") and are have been featured in a "Where Are They Now?" article in Rolling Stone magazine (Issue 482, Sept. 11,'86). They were included in Dave Marsh's book "The Heart of Rock & Soul-(The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made)".

They are credited with influencing the 70's British punk act, "The Stranglers" in the "Rolling Stone Record Buyer's Guide - (1979)". The band was featured on the cover of Goldmine Magazine and they are mentioned in Terry Hounsome & Tim Chambre's book, "Rock Record" along with the two subsequent groups that Doug Rhodes, Ron Edgar & Keith Olsen contributed to: 1968's "Millenium" on Columbia and 2 albums by "Sagittarius": 1968's "Present Tense" on CBS and 1969's "The Blue Marble" on Together Records. "The Millenium Begin" was re-released on CD in 1990 on CBS' Collectors Series.

You can contact Doug Rhodes at:

Note: Author, Monte Nordstrom has recorded 8 albums to date (Nov '99). He performs regularly at numerous venues on Canada's West Coast.
Email Monte at:

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