The grainy photo above depicts a never-before seen example of the gothic response to American Bandstand. Just kidding! The picture is of the Music Machine and I think it is time that we explore this band’s story in today’s version of Obscure Classic Rock.
The Music Machine story begins with a high-school age Sean Bonniwell, who, after hearing the song “Only You” by the Platters, decided that he wanted to form a clean-cut vocal band. The result of this aspiration was the pop/folk quartet the Wayfarers who released three albums under the RCA label. It is important to understand that despite never reaching tremendous success, Bonniwell was a very talented musician who released several albums.
The folk scene eventually started dying down after the British invasion and the introduction of harder, bluesier rock, with electrical instruments, organs and keyboards; an overall heavier sound. Bonniwell decided that he wanted to take advantage of this scene in 1965. He formed the Ragamuffins and the band immediately fit neatly into the edgy, fuzzy garage rock sound that was spreading throughout the nation. The Ragamuffins, who would become the Music Machine in 1966, was based in Los Angeles.
Perhaps the most distinctive part of the group was their look. We will get to their sound in a second. As you can see from the picture above, each member wore all-black clothing, dyed black moptops, and (not visible) a single black glove (Michael Jackson’s staple – pre-Michael Jackson). Their anachronistic look reminds me of the all-black gothic scene that was a fad (is it still?) when I was in High School (like 5 years ago). It can also be viewed as punk. Hmm. Punk. Lucky that their music cooperates with the punk sentiment.
“Talk Talk” was the Music Machine’s most succesful song. The band, which featured singer/songwriter Sean Bonniwell, Doug Rhodes (organ), Keith Olson (bass), Mark Landon (guitar), and Ron Edgar (drums), released their first album (Turn On) The Music Machine, which premiered “Talk Talk,” in 1966 on the Original Sound label. Besides this top-20 hit, the album didn’t meet with much success and, after the corresponding promotional tour, the entire band, except for Bonniwell, left because of internal issues. Bonniwell kept the band together, even signing on to Warner Bros. in 1967 as The Bonniwell Music Machine, but the self-titled LP met with no success. It all kind of ended there but the Bonniwell Music Machine is still around (http://www.bonniwellmusicmachine.com/) revitalized by Bonniwell’s autobiography “Beyond the Garage.”
Let’s talk about the song “Talk Talk.” It is an awesome piece. Here is why the less than 2-minute song is worth listening to over and over and over. The riff is classic garage rock – fuzzy guitar layered over an organ. Bonniwell’s deep voice suits the song perfectly. I absolutely love the Hendrix-like grunts (pre-Hendrix) and, what I can only describe as the Talk Talk repetitive beat (because of how the song ends). I am keen on saying a lot of garage rock released during this time period exemplifies pre-punk (or protopunk). I throw around this term a little too much, but, with “Talk Talk” I do believe that there is clear inspiration evident. The short, fast, heavy beat, repeating guitar riff, bare instrumentation. It all fits. And I love it.