The story of Emitt Rhodes leaves you frustrated, confused, angry and shaking your head in disbelief at the man’s bad luck and you might even be a little concerned about his present view of the world if you have an hour to listen to the radio interview from 2010 that is posted below. A man that has certainly had some bad experiences in the Music Biz and also a man with tons and tons of talent unheard to most.
But whatever you do, don’t start there, start with the music and if you can possibly play a collection of his songs whilst reading this you will find yourself warming to him very fast. If you listen to the interview first…well, who knows. But whatever happens as a music fan, along with the pain, you will be simultaneously happy and relieved that you discovered his music before you or he descended into the ether, or slipped down into the sulphur. Ha Ha!
First of all Rhodes has a lovely voice but he didn’t start as a singer. He has been called the One Man Beatles and has been compared to Paul McCartney as writer and singer. To me he sounds like a cross between Pete Ham, Harry Nilsson and Gerry Rafferty with a touch of Harry Chapin. But he started as the drummer with The Emeralds and then in 1966 he became the drummer in The Palace Guard, a Hollies sounding harmony jangle from Southern California that gained local recognition with the song Falling Sugar (available on the Nuggets compilation).
In his next band Merry-Go-Round he had become the singer and the guitarist. They were also popular and had hits in their local area. (Live, Covered by the Bangles on their debut album All Over The Place in 1984 and You’re A Very Lovely Woman, changed to, She’s A Very Lovely Woman and covered by Linda Ronstadt as a non-album single in 1971). Unfortunately the success of Merry-Go-Round in California didn’t spread to other States and the band remained unknown nationally.
Merry-Go-Round only made one self-titled album on A&M in 1967 that reached No. 190 on the Billboard chart. As I understand it, the band broke up and Rhodes went into the studio on A&M’s dime and recorded an album that they decided not to release. Rhodes then got signed to ABC/Dunhill and made his self titled debut for them in 1970 and then The Mirror in 1971.
The first album did well and reached No. 27 on the US chart, the single Fresh As A Daisy made it to No. 54. The second album The Mirror only made it to No.194 but in the wake of his debut success A&M released the album they had shelved in 1969 as American Dream in 1971. Nobody was happy. On top of it all Rhodes had signed a deal with ABC/Dunhill under terrible advice, promising to deliver an album every six months. This may have been possible for some types of acts, these were the days when bands could release two or three albums in a year but Emitt Rhodes had a major problem with this deal, a deal he should never have signed – he had no band! The money he had earned in advances he used to buy recording equipment and not only engineered his solo albums in his garage but played all the instruments, wrote the songs and was the lead singer. Delivering records every six months was simply impossible. ABC/Dunhill sued him for non-delivery on the contract, litigation ensued and the disillusioned Rhodes simply gave up writing songs. Tragic! His last album was Farewell To Paradise in 1973.
Later he got married, had kids, worked as an engineer/producer for Elektra but lost his inspiration. Falling into depression he found himself divorced and if the interview is true, watching a lot of televison. So, at this point I suggest you listen to his records and imagine what could have been. Apparently there is an Italian documentary made about him that I haven’t managed to trace at time of writing.
One last note, the interview is from 2010, promising a record in a year, five years later an album has not materialised. The band he has been working with includes Joel Larson, the original drummer for Merry-Go-Round, Matt Malley bassist for Counting Crows and guitarists Jim Rolfe and Dan Mayer. On November 3, 2011, three new songs appeared on iTunes – Just Me And You, What’s A Man to Do and This Wall Between Us, also featuring Vicki and Debbi Peterson of the Bangles on backing vocals and Richard Thompson on guitar. At time of writing I still haven’t managed to find the songs – after 42 years with no new material, I guess I can wait a little longer.
Rhodes also wrote the song Time Will Show The Wiser by Fairport Convention:
WFMU’s Michael Shelley interviews Emitt Rhodes, January 2010