If you already know who he is, then seeing his name in print is likely to get your eyes focused and locked-on like a bird of prey catching the movement of a twig in the foliage beneath a silent glide over a forest of classic album covers. You find yourself transformed into a musical predator: your respiration nearly halted, your heart rate accelerated, and whatever nerve it is that services the tympanic membrane alert, primed and waiting to fire at the sounds and beats of some of the finest music to come out of the Southern California South Bay in the 1960s and ‘70s. And yes, I’m including Rhodes’ contemporaries The Beach Boys.
If you have never heard of Emitt Rhodes, then I am jealous. With just a little bit of curiosity, you have a journey of discovery looming down the page ahead of you, and if you bear any resemblance to most music lovers exposed to exceptional writing, arranging, playing and singing, it’s gonna be a real fun time. The visceral response from longtime fans has to do with the brevity of Emitt’s recording career, although with seven 45’s put to vinyl with his first band (The Palace Guard), two albums (with a few of the same songs showing up on each) and a collection of nine 45’s with The Merry-Go-Round, and an exquisite body of solo material (four albums and two compilations that include some of his earlier work as well), it isn’t like you won’t have a terrific time following his musical trail.
How deep and how legitimately do Emitt Rhodes musical roots sink into the fertile soil of Southern California’s 1960s music scene? Suppose we were talking about music, bands and outdoor festivals of the 1960s and ‘70s. What comes to mind? The Isle of Wight? Woodstock? Monterey? Monterey Pop (June 16-18, 1967) was the first of those three, and thanks to LA’s own Lou Adler and his partner producers, there is a wonderful record on both film and audio media of several performances offered up at that event that remain legendary in the pantheon of popular music. But how many know that there was another festival that preceded Monterey by a week (and so is cited by several authors on popular culture and rock and roll as the first rock festival)?
The Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival, held at Mt. Tamalpais, located in Marin County, north of San Francisco (I’ll buy a drink at some mutually attended future event for the first person to post up which artist who played in bands at both of these 1967 Northern California festivals memorialized the aforementioned mountain in a song) was held June 10th and 11th and featured an impressive line-up: Canned Heat, Dionne Warwick, The Jim Kweskin Jug Band, The Sparrow (which would within a year become Steppenwolf), The Doors, Tim Buckley, Steve Miller, Jefferson Airplane, Captain Beefheart, Sons of Champlin, The Byrds (with Hugh Masekela . . . what a version of ‘So You Want To be A Rock and Roll Star’ that must have been!), Spanky and Our Gang, P.F Sloan, and Country Joe And The Fish. Emitt’s own group, straight out of Hawthorne High School, The Merry-Go-Round, played both days, their song ‘Live’ having reached #1 status on the Los Angeles radio charts.
Frustrated with the politics of bands and the business side of the music business, and increasingly intrigued with recording, electronics and physics, Emitt began composing, arranging and recording his own songs. Playing all of the instruments (he had started as a drummer and then switched to guitar), positioning microphones, setting levels and rolling tape at A&M Records, where he was employed as an engineer, and at his own home-based recording studio in Hawthorne, Emitt produced his first solo album titled Emitt Rhodes. Released on Dunhill in 1970, what an album it was. If you have heard it, you know. If you haven’t, you need to. Rhodes released three more solo efforts before contractual difficulties and foolish (if not entirely unethical) business machinations on the part of the label, which founder Lou Adler had sold to ABC Records back in 1967, essentially drove him out of the recording business and into a quieter, almost reclusive life. But the music has always been there; exciting, alive and still ranking among the best representations of the Southern California music scene.
After several discussions with The Los Angeles Beat’s Bob Lee, Richard Derrick, another South Bay multi-instrumentalist, contacted Emitt and mentioned our curiosity about the early days, his transformation into a solo artist and what he has been up to these many years. We were excited when Emitt agreed to an interview to discuss his life in music, beginning as a high school musician and graduating to a brief but brilliant career as an artist whose styling and sensibility was often compared to Paul McCartney. (Interestingly, Emitt observed that his primary interest in The Beatles was through the writing of John Lennon. While his vocal range and style was more similar to Paul’s, Rhodes observed that much of that was coincidental and it was Lennon’s directness and symbolism that appealed to him more.)
After stopping by to say hello to Richard’s mother and aunt, both in their late 80’s and ardent fans of Emitt’s as well, Richard and I took Emitt to the Acapulco Restaurant in San Pedro for an early birthday lunch on February 18, 2012 (Emitt shares a birthday with George Harrison, February 25).
For fans who have been wondering the same things we have about his life and music, we hope you will find as much pleasure in reading about it in Emitt’s own words as we did speaking with him. For those for whom Emitt is a passion yet to be discovered – whether your journey begins here or with a search to listen to some of his incredible music – we are certain you will not be disappointed.
RICHARD – How’s your new music coming along? You had three songs available on ITunes a few months ago, which you’ve now taken down.
EMITT – Yes, well, those are done, I’m ready to go on to something else.
RICHARD – Are they eventually going to be re-released?
EMITT – I may have to re-record them (laughs), I’m not sure. Yeah, I met this guy, an enthusiast. Wasn’t a great songwriter. But I liked him, so I thought, well, I’ll help him out and help him write a song. So he gave me this lyric, and I went over the lyric, and there was only one phrase in the whole thing that appealed to me, and that was, ‘Oh Lord, what’s a guy gonna do? What’s a guy supposed to do?’ or something like that. And it was about him waiting for his girlfriend who was upstairs talking on the phone to another girlfriend, and he was getting tired and didn’t want to go out, and anyway, it was complete nonsense, and I changed it to, ‘Oh Lord, what’s a man to do?’ and put it in minor key and sent him home and said, ‘Write some lyrics’. And he came back, and he had written, ‘How long I’ve anguished and set aside what little’s left of my foolish pride’, and I thought that that was so good that I wrote more to it.
JAMES – You thought that was worth a little more attention than the first draft.
EMITT – Yeah, I got that – ‘Oh Lord, what’s a man to do?’ It all made sense to me; I saw the focus of it. So I kind of kept steering the lyric in that manner, and he would write more, and I’d send him home and he’d write more. Then every once in a while I’d throw a line in there, and then I used [with mock grandiosity] my superior ability in writing chord progressions to write what I thought was a real beautiful chord progression in its own right, even without a melody. And then I put a melody to it, so then I made it my song, you know. And then we went on from there and we did three songs, ’cause going to do just one didn’t seem right. He had this friend who had a studio in an office building, so we went into that studio and started recording. And we were like the first people in it, and I had friends come by and play, and stuff like that. And it was good for his studio, I thought.
But this guy was just digging a hole for me to walk into. He handed me a bill. Some people are like, you know, they trip you, and then they call you clumsy.
JAMES – That’s a lyric right there.
EMITT – You bet.
RICHARD – That’s show biz.
EMITT – Yeah. Yeah, anyway, that’s a nightmare because we stopped going into the studio right after we had had The Bangles come out and sing backgrounds on them, which completed the project; and he was holding us up.
RICHARD – What did they do on it?
EMITT – They did some background vocals.
RICHARD – Which Bangles?
EMITT – Which Bangles? Well, it was Vicki and Debbie. They’re great, these are wonderful girls. They sang on What’s A Man To Do?
RICHARD – I’m sure these folks were happy to be a part of it, given their history with your music. Richard Thompson is another one, dating back to Fairport Convention opening their first album with one of your songs.
EMITT – Oh, and Richard Thompson came and played lead guitar, and sang. And yeah, it came out really good. Keith Olson mixed it. And, you know, the studio guy, Studio Dan, he says (gruffly) ‘Keith’s going deaf!’ (laughs) I mean, he’s like just really unhappy, and he’s saying bad things on the Internet, and I’m not guilty of anything other than trying to help people. And I didn’t stiff anybody because I never made a deal with anybody. Other than the fact that I, you know, I was there.
JAMES – You showed up to play.
EMITT – Yeah, thinking if it was gonna sell that he’d get paid from this, and he kind of stopped that. So now he wants me to give him my studio equipment so he can sell it and I can, you know, pay him back. Yeah, anyway, you know, why do I have my own studio? Okay, well, the reason I didn’t record in my own studio is, I just got tired of being my own engineer. But now, I have a whole new lust for it. Yeah, I wanna get out there and turn those knobs!
But I really want to get myself a hard drive system, because now I have the ADATs. Which are fine machines, but they’re like video machines, and they don’t have the same facility that a hard drive system has. But I have a whole bunch of songs, and I intend to record them. And I’ll be employing those diminished chords and all this beautiful stuff. If I had a guitar, I’d show you how impressive it is. And it’s just chord progressions, it isn’t solos you know, I’m not like a lead player or anything, I don’t know how to do that.
RICHARD – Chords are where it’s at, anyway. A good chord progression can imply a melody, or variations of it.
EMITT – Sometimes, yeah.
RICHARD – Maybe more with jazz standards than with pop music, but still to some degree. That’s what helps the song go somewhere in the first place.
JAMES – Most of the time do you conceive of a songs musical element by playing it, or by hearing it in your head and then writing it out?
EMITT – Most of the time these days, it all starts with hurt. It all starts with pain. I’m thinking, I don’t like this, so I’m gonna sing this about that. It all starts from, what do I want to tell people? You know, I’m not really sure. I’ve written a lot of songs, and they’re all very unhappy, and they’re all about failed love and how long I’ve anguished. But they’ve all got diminished chords in them, and they’ve all got a thousand chords, and all the chords make sense and they all add up to something at the end of it all. Have you heard the three tunes?
JAMES – I haven’t. I meant to buy and download them, and by the time I got to looking for them, they were gone.
EMITT – They’re gone now. Yeah, it’s history now. Yep, that’s been my life story. I’m history now.
RICHARD – You’re living history.
EMITT – I’m living history.
JAMES – That sounds like it has a bit of a country-and-western tinge to it.
EMITT – Well, I’m a country-and-western kind of guy! Emitt Lynn, that’s mah name, Loretta and Emitt Lynn!
JAMES – When you were doing your recording, you didn’t have all the computerized recording and processing and engineering tools that are available today. That meant a lot more work for you. Were you always interested in technology?
EMITT – Well, I always enjoyed understanding how things function, how they work. I had this underlying desire to know what made things up. When I was doing that music, I bought myself a tape machine. I’d been in the studio a lot with other people engineering and all that, so I bought myself a tape machine and decided to record it myself. And I was reading my physics book on electronics, and the light went on. So I kept reading it. I enjoyed it, you know. I read my physics book and saw God. And I could imagine if there were forces that were just like strings, how they could knot themselves up and create little events, and these events could become something that gets trapped in Higgins Field and becomes a mass, and becomes particles, and then becomes atoms, molecules, then me. I can be here because of it. I believe the universe is the quality of something, the quantity of something, and the geometry of it. I don’t believe in make-believe, I believe in the real world. And I think consciousness is a wonderful thing. I’m, you know, sixty trillion living cells. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less, after a trillion or so I get tired of counting.
JAMES – And so those cells all get together and have enough of some kind of a cellular communication that they create a consciousness, some kind of system for trying to absorb what’s going on around them?
EMITT – Well, I thought about what I know. The only thing I know is what I’ve seen. What I’ve experienced. What I’ve read . . . what I’ve heard. I mean, everything that I know, I have learned through my sensory being. I’m just a sensory being running through life trying to gratify myself. I’ll never be smarter than an animal. I’ll never feel anything other than what an animal feels, never know anything other than what an animal knows.
JAMES – So all the things we occupy ourselves with, then . . .
EMITT – Yeah, simple. You want to eat, you want to poop, and you want to fuck. And you want to breathe and stay warm (laughs). Everything your pet wants. I, you know, we’re just the best animal, that’s all. I’m just hoping we’re good enough. I’m crossing my fingers that consciousness persists in the universe. I think that’s the hip thing. I mean, imagine a part of us, that thing that we can imagine. I mean, we live our entire lives in make-believe. And some people more make-believe than others, how about Mormons? Any Mormons here at the table?
JAMES – Not yet.
EMITT – Okay, well, that’s a lot of make-believe. I’ve had ‘em come to the door, you know, like these two young Mormon girls that are trying to convince me to be Mormon. So I started asking them questions like, you know, ‘Does God have a penis?’ And they’d think about it, and they’d start to tear up, and they’d go ‘Yes’. And I say, ‘What does he do with it? I know what I do with mine.’ They were, they left in tears, it was just horrid, you know. The things that they believe. Anyway, I wish them well. I hope that they, you know, converted somebody. Though I can’t see why anyone would want to be Mormon. Oh, I know why: ’cause they’re the only ones going to heaven! I keep forgetting that!
JAMES – Everybody seems to have a lock on that, right?
EMITT – Yeah, it’s like, ‘If you don’t believe like I believe, you’re not going to heaven, ’cause I’m going to heaven!’ Yeah, I had two girlfriends once. I thought that was heaven.
JAMES – A little bit of heaven, as Tom Waits might say.
RICHARD – A normal day in paradise.
EMITT – Well, it was normal for us. (Laughs)
JAMES – Did you have a religious background growing up?
EMITT – Yeah, my mother believed in everything. Literally. It sounded good, she believed in it. I think the Hollow Earth thing was something she believed, I mean, at least she considered the possibility at one time or another. It was UFOs and astrology and astronomy – no, make that, the astronomy is my interest, the astrology was hers. And my father, well, I remember going to Sunday school and learning about Jesus, and yeah, they believed in God. When I stopped believing and I told my father, he didn’t like it much. But it just came to; you know, the light went on all of a sudden. I said, ‘Why am I believing this?’ I mean, I didn’t even make it up, somebody else did.
RICHARD – And to what end?
EMITT – And why would they make it up, yeah, what did it do for them? I think it was an attempt to answer all the same questions that I answered by reading the physics book. I have a reality where everything is energy. (Laughs) It all melds. And I don’t believe in consciousness without a brain, you know, I don’t believe that consciousness exists without a brain. Every time I go unconscious, it’s black. Then every time I come back and I’m conscious again, I start thinking. Yep, I think therefore I am. The moment I stop thinking, I’m not there no more. And there are states in between where I’m not conscious and my body’s just flailing. Then they have to tie me down and shoot me up with glucose. But that’s kinda fun, you know, I don’t know if you guys have done that much, but it’s kind of fun. You know, you wake up in bed half-naked, and there’s paramedics running around sticking you with needles.
JAMES – Scary stuff.
EMITT – Yeah, well.
RICHARD – I have early-onset Parkinson’s, so I have a future of my own ahead of me. We’ll just see what happens.
EMITT – Yup. Just enjoy, it’s a gift.
RICHARD – Right. (Laughs)
EMITT – (laughs) It’s all a gift. Well, this is as good as it gets, and let’s all have a good time.
(Everyone stares out at the ocean for a minute)
EMITT – I do like to be in the sun and by the boats. You know, this is a nice place. I love music, I’m sorry, but to me it’s like a nightmare. I listen to stuff and I, you know, I can’t help but analyze as it goes through, and it’s like, oy oy oy.
JAMES – It gets run through different filters of experience or musical composition.
EMITT – Yeah. And then I kind of figured out – I mean, I’ve taught myself how to play the piano. I’ve taught myself how to play pretty much everything except the drums. I was taught how to play a flam-tap-paradiddle by a fellow by the name of Emery Desso, who was in grade school teaching kids how to beat on a bench. But I was really good at whacking that bench with those sticks, and learned how to roll real well, and I think I was the only one in the class that learned how to roll.
JAMES – You took to it right away?
EMITT – Well, you know, it gave me a sense of tempo and a sense of time and all that kind of good stuff. And that’s a good place to begin, you know, how to divide the bar. And then later, as I got older, playing the notes and all, I guess I went to guitar first, I suppose, yeah, and then I did the piano. It’s hard to remember now; it’s so long ago. I’m, like, so old. And the older I get, the less I recall it all too. But yeah, the guitar seemed easy enough. Didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Makes more sense to me now than it did. But it’s that Bach thing, that tempering, that made the whole scale thing work and brought music into where we can do octaves and build a keyboard that’s eight octaves long.
RICHARD – Do you find yourself using your knowledge of keyboards when playing chords on guitar?
EMITT – Kinda. Kinda. A little bit because the piano is linear. Piano makes sense; the guitar doesn’t make sense to me to this day. Does the guitar make sense to you?
RICHARD – How it worked for me was, I’d been playing guitar for 15 years before I grasped the concept of playing lead. One day I envisioned a four-octave keyboard that covered the range of my guitar. I had a Strat, so the lowest note on this imaginary keyboard was E, and the highest was C#.
EMITT – Okay.
RICHARD – I could visualize notes being played anywhere on it, and I could instantly transpose it to the guitar. And that was it; literally overnight I could play lead.
EMITT – Okay, there you go.
RICHARD – So do you use any keyboard theory to play guitar?
EMITT – Well, I’m trying to conform the guitar to the linearity of the piano, you know. I want it to be similar, so I use it similar.
RICHARD – The more instruments you play and understand, the more they feed off each other. The piano suggesting things to the guitar, guitar doing the same to the piano, not to mention bass, drums, and everything else…
EMITT – Okay. It’s mathematical to me.
RICHARD – If you know how to play a C scale, you just have to figure out how each instrument does it. That’s the mechanical part of it. But it’s all just music.
EMITT – I learned all those other instruments. Yeah, I learned that the saxophone creates a little ridge on the bottom of your lip as you’re biting it to blow on the reed. I hated it. I learned the trumpet creates little donuts in your lip, and all the other wind instruments to boot, and I hated that also. But I learned how to play them, a little bit at least, you know. And the flute, the flute was kind of okay. (Laughs) I enjoyed the flute, it didn’t create any calluses. (Laughs)
RICHARD – On Farewell To Paradise, is that a flute or a mellotron on one song?
EMITT – I don’t know, it depends on, I learned how to play the flute, and I had a flute for a while. No, I’d have to, I’d have to remember that, and it’s a long time ago now.
RICHARD – See No Evil.
EMITT – Okay, yeah, I don’t know, I don’t remember. I know that I played the flute at one time or another, and it was pretty, like there’s no calluses involved. You still have the same fingerings, but you’re blowing across the hole, so you don’t have to distort your mouth in any way, and you don’t have to create some sort of weird, you know, like guitar, you get calluses on your fingers, and blowing a trumpet, you get calluses on your lips, and saxophone and clarinet and all that.
RICHARD – The guitar calluses here (points to fingertips) and the drum calluses here (points to side of index finger).
EMITT – There you go, okay (laughs), well, you were doing a different kind of drum than I do.
RICHARD – Did you play drums traditional style?
EMITT – I did both. When I learned how to drum, it was like this (mimes traditional drumming). And then later, you know (mimes rock drumming style), ’cause you’re playing rock’n’roll! Yeah, I play both ways.
JAMES – When you first decided to record and play all of the instruments yourself, was that just to see how it would go, or did you have a sense of ‘I want everything like I want it?’ You seem to me the sort of person who likes challenges in terms of the technical part of it.
EMITT – Oh yeah, it was a lot of fun learning how to put all that stuff together and do it, and yeah, I enjoyed it. It was real rewarding to set back and listen to yourself play the whole thing, you know, it was.
RICHARD – Especially when it wasn’t such a common thing to do yet. Musicians were overdubbing extra instruments here and there, but not one person doing every instrument and vocal for an entire album. Skip Spence with Oar, that was about it.
EMITT – And I didn’t have to argue with the drummer. I didn’t have to argue with the bass player. I didn’t have to argue with anybody; it was like, ‘HA-ha!’
RICHARD – And if you did, you’d win!
EMITT – Yeah, well, (laughs). I cheated, you know.
RICHARD – You could explain things in a nice, civil manner, they’d be open-minded and see your point of view, and it would all work out.
EMITT – Yeah, I think that was the ‘rock ‘n roll’ bands, boy. You get people together and having them all get along, that’s a difficult thing.
JAMES – The personality part of it.
EMITT – Yeah, people start slugging one another and I was the drummer in a band, The Palace Guard, and there was, I don’t know, eight of us or seven of us or something like that, and three of them were brothers, and I would just get out of the way.
JAMES – Was that what was behind it all – your journey into being a solo recording artist?
EMITT – Yup.
JAMES – Here it comes.
EMITT – Yup, just get out of the way because they’ll be throwing each other, slugging one another (laughs), pushing each other around the room. Yep. The Palace Guard were, you know, the three singers up front. A lot like, you know, a crap band or a crap group or whatever they call themselves.
RICHARD – Combo.
EMITT – Combo. Crap combo. Free manure – what a dilemma! (All laugh)
RICHARD – “Yeah, but, but… it’s FREE!”
EMITT – That’s it, that’s the problem! (Laughs) Anyway, with the three singers, they were all over the stage. There was always something to look at. Yeah, it’s a spectacle. It’s not music, it’s spectacle. A lot of performance stuff, you know, sliding across the stage on your knees? Boy, did I see that. Whipping off your coat and slinging it over your head? Boy, did I see that. (Imitates pointing at audience members) ‘YOU! YOU!’. Boy, did I see that!
JAMES – Calling them out!
EMITT – Yeah, you bet. ‘STOP! If I could just stop time and just feel the love in this room.’ (All laugh) Well, they were performers, and they learned every skit there was and did it routinely, so by the time I was 15, 16, I’d seen it all, pretty much.
JAMES – Having multiple instruments at your command, that must give you a lot more range in terms of the creative impulse. If I sat down at the drums and a song idea came to me, I would imagine it would be a different song then if it came to me while I had a guitar in my hand or was sitting at a keyboard.
EMITT – Yeah, I, uh, I’m not sure if I’ve ever written a song at the drums. I kind of write the song on the piano or on the guitar. ‘Cause it’s kind of a singing thing, you know, you come up with a . . . you’re feeling something and you’re expressing your emotion, the words get stuck together, and they come out in a lump, you know. And you’re kind of playing at the same time. That’s how it happens for me. And then I kind of just mull over it and mull over it until it all makes sense.
Yeah, I hate to admit it, but it’s like, all of a sudden it all made sense to me. I went back to Pythagoras, and I looked at my hand and I realize I got five fingers. And I’m thinking, ‘Well, I’m playing the piano, I can hit five notes all at one time’. And so I learned how to – and it’s not that long ago now – how to play all the notes that work. Then I just duplicated that on all the keys, and now I play the piano, and when I play a chord, it’s not a triad like, you know, how they teach you to do it. It’s basically, all the notes are covered. And if I want to change the color, I just omit them.
JAMES – You get a different tone or a different hue?
EMITT – Well, yeah, if I want a different color, I just omit those notes. Because I’m playing them all. It’s like, you’re presented with a spectrum, and instead of using the entire spectrum, you remove stuff. You’re not adding, you’re removing.
JAMES – I get it.
EMITT – That’s how I see it.
RICHARD – Suspended chords open up a lot of possibilities too. They can imply more than one chord at once, which gives you more options in how they’re used.
EMITT – Well, suspended is the third raised, that’s all.
RICHARD – Or the third lowered. Say you’re playing three notes, A, B and E. Depending on what notes the other instruments are playing, you could be playing an Asus2 or an Esus4. It can imply either chord, or both.
EMITT – Oh yeah. Well, yeah, I’m playing a lot of notes now. I mean, I pretty much sit down at the piano, and I’m using my whole hand. I’m playing the roots on the low end and everything else in the high, you know, it’s like every finger has a place to be at one time. There was some question about where that finger should be, but now I know where that finger should be. Yeah, it’s become easy. I can do it blindfolded, I can do it in the dark, and I can even turn the keyboard around and play it backwards. I just put my hands on the keyboard, and I can make music out of it, it’s like magic now. And I did the same thing with the guitar. I discovered the diminished chord. I didn’t know where to put it in the scale, and then I learned that you can put it in between every chord of the scale. Yeah, I’ll have to play you something when I get a guitar. I play differently than everybody else.
JAMES – Really? I’d be very interested in seeing that.
EMITT – Yeah (laughs).
JAMES – One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is, I might practice and practice and practice, but I swear to God, every time that I’ve stopped playing for a while and then came back, I knew stuff that I didn’t know before. I hadn’t practiced, and I hadn’t played. I don’t know what that’s about.
EMITT – Well, we’re inventive creatures. Sometimes you take, and – I know when I learn stuff, it makes my brain hurt. I mean, when I was doing the five-fingered thing and learning the piano, I mean, to get it to work, I’d have to take a break in between because my brain would hurt. Then it comes back, and then I pick it back up and play some more, and all I’d gleaned before kind of like melds.
The circuits start to fire, and you get the neurons firing, and – do you take fish oil?
JAMES – I do take fish oil.
EMITT – There you go. Every once in a while I have to pop one of those too, it’s good for you supposedly. You want those neurons firing. Yeah, anyway, our brains are funny things, you know, we stick all this stuff together. I’m imagining all the time, I can’t help it. And every time I sit down, I’m coming up with something different.
JAMES – And when you finally got it, the idea of using all the fingers and all the notes you could capture, was that when you were actually playing, or was it a realization when you weren’t playing, but it came to you, and you just understood?
EMITT – Serious. Serious. (Holding out his hand with his palm facing away and looking at the back of his hand) I looked at my hand. I got five fingers, where do they go? So I stopped playing triads, where you use the first three (taps on table with three fingers) or whatever, and I just laid them all on the keyboard and put the root down on my left hand, and I laid ‘em all down and I played every note there is. And if I hit something wrong, I’ll move it and fix it and make it sound like it’s something that, you know, ‘Oh, I meant to do that’. That’s all that beautiful stuff that everybody else gets to do.
JAMES – Okay.
EMITT – And that’s it, that’s what I do. From now on, you want me to play C; I’ll play every note that’s in the scale in C. And they’re harmonious, and it’s a wonderful thing. It’s terrific; I’ll show you if we get a keyboard.
RICHARD – It sounds like a lot of work had to go into it. Not only were you creating new muscle memory patterns; you had to “unlearn” whatever patterns you’ve learned over a lifetime.
EMITT – Oh yeah, that’s why my brain was hurting. I learned the diminished chord, that really helped me, ’cause I just never run out of chords. I always know where I can go, and I never run out of chords. And if I do, I’ll make ‘em up, and I know what I’m doing when I make ‘em up anymore. At one time it was kind of, ‘What’s this chord?’ ‘Oh, I don’t know, but here’s the root, and this is how I’m playing it.’ But not any longer, now I’m pretty smart.
(To Read Part 2 of THE LOS ANGELES BEAT Interview With Emitt Rhodes Click . . . Here. )