I think in retrospect the key factor that kept the Music Machine from being bigger is that your work should have been oriented towards the more serious album market. You had a lot of good songs and were growing in a much of interesting directions. But you were being pushed to concentrate on getting hit singles, without being given the space and time to fully realize your artistic ambitions.

Your perception couldn't be any more truer than it is.  It's right on target, exactly.  They wanted me to write another "Talk Talk." They wanted us to pump out hit records.  There was no thought given to the vision, or to the industry evolution, or the evolution of the audience, you're right, into album rock and album concepts.  And I fought and argued, and they would not--they wanted another "Talk Talk," that's all they wanted to hear.  They could care less about any other songs that I wrote.  That's one of the reasons why Art LaBoe said, well, if you won't give us another "Talk Talk," then take 'em to Warner Brothers.  I didn't to go, I didn't want to change labels.

See, what happens is, when you start to make money, you'd be amazed at how fast an organization surrounds success, and then takes credit for that success.  The people that identified themselves with the Music Machine, and for the most part rightly so, because I did choose them as management, I did choose them as this and that and so forth and so on.  And with all my mistakes, there's no question about it--our management was just terrible.  They turned down the Monterey Pop Festival.

And also there was that situation where the "Talk Talk" follow-up, "The People in Me," had trouble getting airplay.

"The People In Me," which was the second single, was not my choice, incidentally.  But it did remarkably well, considering that Bill Drake, who then owned 14 Top 40 stations from New York to California, from coast to coast, he was in control of Top 40 radio.  If it didn't go on his playlist, it didn't get played.  And one of our managers--there was two of them.  The one who worked for Original Sound was also our manager, which is another thing--you can't wear two hats and I shouldn't have done it, but I got talked into it, so I did.  He gave an exclusive to a new radio station that was down at the end of the dial, and that just totally enraged Bill Drake.  'Cause here we were on the 9th Street West program, and KRLA actually broke "Talk Talk."  But KRLA didn't even play...I mean, why give an exclusive to a new radio station?  Then by the time they got on it, it was too late.

I wanted "Hey Joe" to be the second single, believe it or not.  It would have come out before Hendrix's version from England came to this country.  Because we got such tremendous response for it in concert.  The response was incredible.  I told him.  In fact, I have a tape-recorded conversation with me.  I was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and I had a long-distance conference call with Art LaBoe.  And I pleaded with him.  I said, I know I didn't write the song, but out here, that's what's happening.  No no no no, it's slow, it's not anything like "Talk Talk. " My god--what do you do?  I can make a list of things that were mistakes that I didn't perpetrate, the band didn't do.  The management and the people that were handling the "career" of the Music Machine, the left hand didn't know what the right one was doing.  All they wanted to do was to make money.  They didn't care about anything else.  Nothing else.

How was it that the original Music Machine lineup broke up?

First of all, it started to dissolve when the four members got a royalty check of about a little over a thousand dollars.  I gave up my penny, so they could at least have a penny on the dollar.  I want to tell you, this is something that even to this day, is really an injustice.  Because I told Art LaBoe, I said, don't say anything to anybody.  But I'm giving my penny, because I'm making money as the writer.  Brian had the publishing.  So I said, I'll get my royalties from my writing.  But at least give the band a penny apiece.  I said, you go ahead and pay them directly.  And then, when they did break up, I had a $10,000 touring bill on my American Express card.  I had an American Express Card from '66 through '68.  We used that to travel.  All of our hotel bills and flight and gas and I mean, the whole enchilada, everything was put on that bill.  Well, our accountant didn't deduct any of that from the very last tour of the Music Machine.

So when I moved to Warner Brothers I said, okay, all of these royalties, all of these performance royalties, now revert to me.  And I had the band sign that.  They didn't record on the Warner Brothers album anyway, there were about six or seven that they recorded on.  And they said fine, because we owe you that $10,000.  And to this day, they're only paying me 1/5 of 4%.  And they didn't pay me any royalties for over 20 years.  They say that the money is in the bank.  Well, whose bank account?  And collecting interesting for a quarter-century.  So when they saw what they got, I told Brian.  By then, he just dismissed it--you don't need 'em.

Then the management had us zig-zagging all across the country, no rhyme or reason to any of the tours.  We were in the middle of the movement, and the performing was incredible.  It was just packed everywhere we went, from New York to Florida, especially in the Midwest and Texas.  In fact, every record we put out was a hit in Texas.  But there was no coordinated effort for the band to evolve.  Keith really wanted to get into producing.  We just got wore out, burned out, because of the itinerary and the overall disenchantment of not making the money.  People think that you have a hit record, they think, well, you've got it made now.  Well, we didn't, 'cause we got paid so little.  That will kill the goose that laid the golden egg.  That's what they did.

So when they moved me to Warner Brothers, it was for the combination of reasons that A, they didn't want to go into the direction of album rock and album concepts, which anybody who was cool was doing, and that's why the Warner Brothers album has such an eclectic approach, not only with my songwriting so different in every aspect, but the approach to recording and everything.  Each one was a studio invention.  That's why it's such a collection of potential singles, with the exception of a few songs.  I brought in so many different players when I was auditioning players for the Music Machine.

I was so disillusioned by the way we were handled.  And then Original Sound says, well, after Turn On came out, that we had all these returns that he stored them in this garage, and that the garage leaked, and they were water damaged, so there was no accounting for how many records we actually sold.  Can you believe that?  You can imagine what that does to your spirit.  I mean, how can you keep a group together?  Even keep your own motivation going? You can't.  They kill you.  They just literally kill your spirit for life, your spirit for creativity.

How do you think things might have turned out differently for the group if you'd been able to stay together and given sufficient artistic freedom?

I think first of all, Keith and I would have formed a partnership and he would have become the producer of the Music Machine and then we would have produced other people.  And I would have written for other people, and we would have experimented.  There's no telling how far we would have gone, because Keith and I had a creative energy that was just undaunted.  We had an enthusiasm for what we were doing that was just unmatched, it really was.  I have no idea where that would have taken us.  But with our penchant for experimentation, and the way that I saw no limitations on songwriting and never have, there's no telling what we would have gone into.  I think it would have been radical, I know that.  It would have been unique.

Of the singles that didn't make it, which are your favorites?

I think "Masculine Intuition" is so far ahead of its time.  It still is. It's very tricky for non-musicians.  They really can't quite figure out what it is...I've had other musicians tell me, their bands have tried to play that song, and they can't.  There's two sections--it's called a turnaround, and I invert two chords.  And if you don't pick up on it, there's no way you can play the song.  Plus the concept of the song was way ahead of feminism, and way ahead of this loss of masculine identity, which is what we're suffering from today.  Through, really, very little fault of the feminist movement, although it contributed to it, and still does.  But that song was way ahead of its time.

I think "The Eagle Never Hunts the Fly" is a real tour de force.

A lot of people didn't know what the song was about at the time.  It's about the supremacy of the United States, and the fact that our constitution is biblically based, and that individual liberty and the resources of the planet--I mean, there's so much involved there that our issues today.  You're right, it is a tour de force, it really is.  It's way ahead of its time, it's true.  It's little-understood today, and was even less understood back then.  The only reason why Original Sound put it out as a single was because somebody Art LaBoe that it resembled "Psychotic Reaction" (laughs).  Yes!  There's no semblance of resemblance. It becomes a matter of being so far behind, I look like I'm first.

What do you feel were the most crucial ways the Music Machine's sound changed after the original lineup broke up?

More self-generated in terms of...much more difficult to actualize.  Because I was dealing with players who knew little of the heritage of the group, if you know what I mean, even though at the time to use the word heritage would be a little presumptuous.  But I had a sense that the Machine had its own legacy. And I also knew that the seven or eight people that I used in the recording studio really had no notion at all what they were doing.  I mean, they played the right notes and they tolerated my unyielding pursuit of excellence, for the most part they did.  But I would have to go back in after they recorded, and I mean, I spent hours remixing and dubbing and just doing things that were joyless.  Because you're trying to capture something that isn't there, and for the most part, I made them presentable.  And there is some inspiration on a lot of those songs.  I don't ever regard recording, or being in the studio, as a waste of time.  Occasionally it happens, but very seldom.  Like I say, if it's going the wrong way, there's just no stopping it from a non-productive session, then I'll just call it off.  But I've done that very very seldom throughout the years.

But the disillusionment was difficult, because I think the last 15 songs I recorded, Brian Ross wasn't even in the studio.  I never got a dime for the transfer to Warner Brothers, not a penny.  I've never been paid royalties from the Warner Brothers album, not even writers royalties.  But I'm still not getting performing royalties, because there's such a cloud.  And I know the other four members have signed the release for those artist royalties.  They're all supposed to go to me.  They've told me that they signed it.  Brian Ross had them sign.  And he sold them to Original Sound when he sold the publishing and the producers' rights to those seven songs.  He sold those artist royalties that are mine.  He sold them as his to Art LaBoe, and they both claim that they don't exist.  Yet the four members, in 30 years, have never asked for any artist royalties.

Then you stopped recording after doing the one solo album right after the Music Machine stopped.

I started to go into my westernized guru era, and it affected every aspect of my life.  I became fascinated with transcendental meditation, vegeterianism, the whole table-wrapping genre of eastern mysticism.  But the one thing that did not change was composing.  I always have, I still do.  I don't think that a songwriter to stop himself from doing that.  I don't know what it's like for others, but I know that I'm not psychologically healthy if I'm not writing.  And I know that there are periods when I dry up a little bit.  But I'm only working on something.  I've come to recognize--I've been alive with myself long enough to know that I'm a little pensive or noncommunicative.  And I know that there's something boiling, I'm working on something.  And sure enough, if I take the time to allow it to came out of me, then it does.  And I feel good, I feel fine.  It's like I knew that I would.

I hate to say this, I really do.  But I think I've got 300 hit records here.  I mean, I do.  I think I've got songs that are--well, their time has passed.  They wouldn't be hits now.  But there's no doubt in my mind, from country, pop, to rock'n'roll, to all these different experiments that I've done.  I've just got stacks of them.  I've got boxes and boxes and tapes and songs--I must have thousands of songs that I haven't finished.  And at least, like I say, 300 that I would call finished that have really expressed the commercial aspects of the time, and still retain that individuality that seems to mark my composition.  Of course, it's a little self-glorifying.  But I don't mean it to sound that way.  It's just...I think I know a hit song when I hear one.  And I can tell what songs of mine have that potential, can reach a universal audience, a cosmopolitan expression of that mysterious quality to a song that makes it lives in someone's heart, and strikes a chord or an emotional response that stays with them, that they apply to their own lives.  It's a very mysterious power that music has.

Throughout the years, I went into the studio, and I kept at it.  The biggest mistake that I made personally was not taking what little money I had and creating my own recording studio.  That's something I should have done, and I just never did.

Also, what happens to is--you see, you don't have to have a label.  I mean, it helps to have a label.  But if you really have this burning desire to create music uniquely your own, then you'll do it.  You'll find a way to have it recorded.  Falling short of that, the next problem is not being disillusioned by that industry who has supposedly turned their back on you, especially if they've exploited you, as is the case with so many of us of what I call the golden sixties boys.  Many of them just got up, dusted themselves off, and continued on with their lives in whatever way was necessary until the whole thing came full cycle, and you have a revival of the music and all of a sudden everybody starts to place a value on your music that wasn't there even when it was popular.  Which is the nature of the beast.

But this era was the beginning of something that we're only now beginning to understand.  I really think that that's true.  Because there were no guidelines.  It was, as I said before, the whole market, everything about it, was untried.  And there were no standard contracts, there were no standard approaches.  If you listen to the Top 10 for the years between '65 through '69, I mean, it's all over the map.  So the free expression of the songwriter and the artist was basically unhindered, or only hindered by her or himself, for the most part.  That's no longer true.  Then the perception becomes--you were talking before about what category of music was the Music Machine--well, basically, it was art rock before there was such a thing as art rock.  It's not so much that I'm the grandfather of punk.  This isn't my own designation, this is given to me by people who now recognize a genre, or the early beginnings of a genre, that I was definitely a major contributor to.  I see that now.  I never saw it before.  They told me that it was true.  I didn't even believe it.

Were you surprised when you and the Music Machine were rediscovered by so many listeners in the 1980s and 1990s?

If you talk to Mike Stax, when he came to interview me in Los Angeles [in the early 1980s], I'm sure he'll tell you that I was astounded that anybody had even remembered me, that there was any interest in all in the Music Machine, or in Bonniwell as a writer of songs.  I was totally unprepared for it.  In fact, I didn't even believe him or quite a few others.  Once they found me or rediscovered me or however you want to put it, and started people contacting me, I really didn't know what they were talking about.  I couldn't relate to the commercial market as it had evolved.  What they were saying is that it evolved because of artists like me, because I made this contribution to its evolution.  It wouldn't be what it is if it weren't for people like me.

See, now that's really hard to believe.  It's still hard for me to believe.  I don't know what value to place on my past work, I really don't.  I do not fall into that trap of presuming that I should be counted as an icon of the '60s era, because I don't think I should be.  I contributed to iconic nuance, but I am not singularly an icon of the era, unless people choose to place me there.

Have you been happy with the Music Machine reissues that have come out in the last few years?

With the exception of the Performance reissue of the Turn Onalbum, which was mixed in stereo and completely fouled up, yeah, for the most part, I am.  I was grossly disappointed with the Warner Brothers album, the mixing, and putting 14 songs on vinyl, squeezing the grooves that there was no fidelity of sound.  I regard that as one of Brian Ross' chief failures.  I hold him responsible for that.  But for the most part, it's really hard to...when you have dedicated practitioners of the genre, such as Bob Irwin [of Sundazed Records], who really understands what the era was all about, what it should sound like, and transferring from the analog to the digital realm without losing the charm of the nuance of the recording.  Yeah, it takes a gift, it takes an ear.  And he's got it.  So as long as there's people like that, we're not in any danger of losing, to any degree, the charm of the original recording.  You can remix those babies and lose it all, though.  It's very easy to do.  There's a magic about a mixdown.  It should be done moments after you've finished the inspired track, if you know what I mean.  It's impossible to explain that feeling when the thing that you've been hearing in your head becomes a reality.  All of it, with all of its nuances and everything that you want to be there is there.  That's when you mix it down.  So many people will, alright, we'll come back tomorrow.  Not me.  I'll be there for days if I have to, but I want that captured.  I want that whole thing to be there.  Then I can go to sleep--maybe.

Is there more unreleased material from the Music Machine era? [Note: Much of what Bonniwell discusses in the following passages subsequently came out on the Sundazed CDs Beyond the Garage and Ignition.)

It's a whole album.  I have the four original songs--actually, five if you count "Point of No Return"--from the Original Sound Paul Buff four-track recording of the four demo songs the Ragamuffins did at Original Sound, before we were signed, before we met Art LaBoe or anything.  We just went up to that studio, and as destiny would have it, that's where we ended up for the first album.  But we recorded four songs that I wrote specifically for the Music Machine.  It's the very first rock recordings I ever made, and those four will be on there.  The name of the album will be called Ignitionfor that reason, because it was the very first one.  Then it will be First Gear, Slam Shift, and then into my studio inventions over the years.  So it chronicles the unreleased material.  Because I would take the band into--when we finished a gig at one, two o'clock in the morning, by the time we got everything packed up, maybe we only had 150 miles to drive to the next one.  So I'd find a recording studio, and I'd pile us in there at three o'clock in the morning and we'd record.  And I'd take the tapes with me, sometimes I didn't even have time to mix 'em down.  Then we'd go on to the next one.  I did that quite often.  There's a number of recordings that will be on Ignition, the product of those experiments and also some fairly recent things, if you call the '80s recent.

I'm currently trying to get--to be honest with you, I have two recording projects that I'm trying to get off the ground right now.  With finishing this book and trying to get everything happening on schedule, it's nearly impossible.  But one of the projects is, I have three new rock songs in the parlance of the Music Machine.  One of 'em, I swear, is going to be just absolutely startling.  It's really an innovative approach to all the concepts of rock and even...I really can't explain it.  Here's the problem of being pregnant and not having a uterus, because I'm big with child, and I've got no way to deliver it.  But better than being barren, I say.  So I'm hoping to get these things down and done in time for the Ignition album.  If not, I've got plenty...but I would like to have something that represented the '90s, of where my musical vision has taken me in that genre.

Are you in touch with any other members of the band?

I touch with base with Keith now and then, but his world and mine are...we're like on a different planet.  I've spoken to Mark briefly over the last couple of years by telephone.  I would say those two--I have had no contact with Ron Edgar or Doug Rhodes.  The last I heard, he was in British Columbia, and Ron was back in Minnesota.  And it's difficult to explain why.  I've maintained my relationships with the Wayfarers.  Tom Adams, the bass player, is now superior court judge Tom Adams of Santa Barbara.  And Ray Blouin, the banjo player of the Wayfarers, is a professor of economics in Virginia.  But the Music Machine, I don't know--I think that by virtue of the nature of the individuals, the way that our flight of fancy was shot down, and I mean that literally--I mean, it was just like people took aim.  I hate to keep on harping on this, but it's true--they just killed us.  Everybody connected with us killed us.  It almost seemed deliberate to me.  It was greed.  Very very simple, one word--greed.

And it was so disillusioning that when we went our separate ways, with the exception of Keith and Doug, because they started their own little group, and they tried to get something going that was even more in the genre of art rock then where I had been going--but it didn't work for them.  Of course, it worked out for Keith.  In fact, Keith asked me the night of our final performance, he said, what do you think I should do?  And I said, I think you should produce records.  That's what you want to do.  And he did.  So we went off into different directions, really, especially with me going into my transcendentalized western guru period, where I renounced capitalism and dropped out and sold everything I had, got a 1948 Volkswagen Army Green latrine bus, piled everything up that was important into it, and started off across the United States.  That's really what I did. Let my hair grow, let my beard grow, just became somebody else, reinvented myself, trying to get away from the... I was disgusted, I really was, just disgusted with what my success had evolved into.  What it did to the people around me.  What they did for greed, it's just hard to explain.  I didn't want to be bitter, so I transcendentalized myself. I rose myself above it, or out of it.

That started me on a journey in search of truth, and that necessitates that you search for God. And that's what I ended up doing, and such a journey, you're not going to cross paths with those in your past.  It doesn't happen.  So so many years went by, and they had signed away their financial gain from the group, and so the people who were making what little money there was to be made from the Music Machine, they were content just to let sleeping dogs lie.  Since I had disappeared, they made no effort to find me.   Then when of course, Alice Cooper, he recorded "Talk Talk."  When that happened, they couldn't hide anymore, and they had to pay me.  And Ross did.  But that was the first time he did in 16 or 17 years.  That brought me back out.

Then I got a part in Swamp Thing,the original movie.  A pretty good part, too.  And I was coming out of my...I'd become a Christian by then, after ten years of searching, and learning how to leave my body.  In fact, I almost didn't get back a number of times.  I should be dead five or six times.  I finally realized that it was God who saved my life, and I'd better write it down, better give myself a reason for having gone through everything I did, and there must be a purpose to it.  Which is was started me writing the autobiography.  And of course is just a long explanation for why I really haven't maintained contact with the members of Music Machine.  They're leading their own lives.

There was a certain amount of acrimony to the ending of it, too.  And it's in the biography, it's explained.  There's a lot of humor there too, a lot of very entertaining, charming things happened to us.  A lot of very profound things, too.  It will be called Beyond the Garage.

I was hoping to inject some levity into some of the things, but we just took it to the level it had to go to, I guess.  It's the only way to get the whole picture is really there in my book, and my having been a teenager in the '50s, and a rock celebrity in the '60s, and a guru in the '70s, and a Christian from the '80s on--as I said before when we talked, my life has paralleled the decades of American change.  I was a teenager in the '50s--that's when it was cool to be a teenager, that's when the zenith of the expression mounted and wore its pants low and strutted down the street.  That's when it all started.  Rock and roll was a teenager in the '60s, and I used that climate to express my confusion, my anger, at the injustice of the world, as expressed in the music, for whatever reason.  So it's a bigger picture.  All the questions can be answered in the context of the bigger picture, as well as being answered in a concise way for the obvious reasons.  But the real reason why the Music Machine became what it did is a life story.  What makes someone like me write those songs, it isn't so much who was influencing me as how I grow up to perceive the world and simply, by using the gifts that God gave me, I simply expressed that vision.

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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