Part Two of THE LOS ANGELES BEAT Interview With Emitt Rhodes

Conclusion of a 2 part interview with Southern California musical great Emitt Rhodes of The Palace Guard and The Merry-Go-Round, conducted by Richard Derrick and James Eliopulos.

To Read Part 1 of  The Los Angeles Beat Interview With Emitt Rhodes Click  .  .  . Here .

When we concluded Part 1 Emitt was discussing a his latest approach to composition which involves making extensive use of diminished chords.

Part 2:

RICHARD – One great thing about diminished chords is that any note in the chord could be the root note, so depending on what’s going on around it; there are four different chords it could be.

EMITT – Well, yeah. And it’s good to know where it belongs, you know, where does the diminished chord belong in the scale. And I made up my own way of playing, ’cause I play on the low notes on the guitar rather than the high notes, and it’s really useful for me. And it’s kind of dirty, kind of ugly sounding when you play it on the low notes. And it’s gonna rock ‘n’ roll on the acoustic, if you know what I’m saying.

JAMES –  I wish I had brought a guitar.  It would seem with technology the way it is, and the Internet, the artist should have more and more control over every step of it. But I see kids that have bands, and they’re trying to do the same old thing,  trying to get recognized by somebody that will sign them. And it’s like, I don’t think that’s how you do it anymore.

RICHARD – That’s the system we grew up with, but kids now don’t even know that world. They can just set up a Facebook or MySpace or YouTube page, and they’re off. That option didn’t used to exist, or we would have just used it, instead of wasting time trying to get a label interested in us. You know what I see on the Internet a lot?

EMITT – What?

RICHARD – A lot of people who need a producer. Because it’s great that anyone can get their stuff out there instantly now, but there’s something to be said about quality control. There’s this notion that the person who created the music knows best how to present it, but that’s not always the case. Bands just need someone who can see it objectively and let them know when their shit stinks.

EMITT – A producer is somebody who can help them make their shit not stink. (Laughs)

RICHARD – It can still BE shit, but you know…

EMITT – But at least it won’t stink. (Laughs)

RICHARD – Right. Was your first exposure to recording when you got signed and went into the studios, or did you have a tape recorder of your own when you were younger?

EMITT – Oh yeah, sure. My father got a tape recorder, and I learned how to play with it.

RICHARD – Did you record any of your gigs back then?

EMITT – No, not that I know of. My mother left, when she died, left a big box of tapes. I’ve never gone through them.

JAMES – Really.

EMITT – Well, I would imagine all my first songs that I ever wrote, which would probably all be horrid, but yeah, maybe there’s some stuff in there, I don’t know. One of these days, when I feel like reliving my life, which I may or may not feel like ever doing, I don’t know. No, there were pretty good times, a few things I enjoyed doing, but . . .

RICHARD – But as far as taking your machine to a live gig and recording it?

EMITT – Oh, not I. But other people may have.

JAMES – You played a show a couple of weeks before Monterey. The Byrds were there – what was the name of that one?

RICHARD – Fantasy Fair And Magic Mountain Music Festival.

EMITT – Yeah, I remember the biker girls with their butts hanging out.

JAMES – Even then, huh?

EMITT – Well, yeah, they weren’t wearing underwear.

JAMES – Oh my.

EMITT – And they had holes in their jeans. And I thought, well, that’s really hip.

JAMES – Okay, let me ask you this. When you transitioned from playing with the band to doing everything yourself . . .

EMITT – You get real introspective, you start talking to yourself.

JAMES – . . . then all of a sudden, you’re not out in front of the biker girls unless you bring a band along to play your stuff with you.

EMITT – Oh. Oh!

JAMES – It seems like it’s sort of counter-intuitive.

EMITT – Yeah, I was a married man.

RICHARD – The Merry-Go-Round was the only band that played both nights.

EMITT – I may have. I don’t remember. Most of that was, you know, you get put in the back seat, and you get hauled off someplace, and there’s the stage, and there’s things that I recall, but it’s all incidental-type stuff, you know, like the biker girls with no underwear and the holes in their pants. And the motorcycles through the crowds, you know, stuff like that.

Other than that, you get up on stage and do what you rehearsed, you know. It’s basically, it’s a show. You got a format of songs that you follow, and you play that, and you know what your encore’s going to be, and you know when you go on and when you come off, and the rest of it’s all, you know, the in-between.

RICHARD – Most bands are probably too busy doing their own things to have time to see anyone else’s.

EMITT – Oh yeah.

RICHARD – With 10 or 15 bands coming and going all day, it’s not easy for them to even meet.

EMITT – Yeah right, I heard ya.

RICHARD – “You mean, you show biz people don’t all know each other?”

EMITT – You’re setting your stuff up, you’re making sure your instruments are in tune, you’re, you know, whatever.

RICHARD – …plus a 400-mile drive to Marin County…

EMITT – Yeah.

RICHARD – Then the 400 miles back home.

EMITT – Yeah, and you’re hanging out with your band members. The Hullabaloo was the place, you know, because it was a club and there was a backstage, there was more camaraderie back there than there was at whatever this place was that you’re talking about. Well, maybe some people were getting along, but I’m like pretty antisocial anyway.

JAMES – Even then, you were a solitary kind of guy?

EMITT – Oh, I’m a weird kid. Yeah, I’m a weird dude.

JAMES – Well, you’re willing to go to lunch with strangers, so that can’t be too bad.

EMITT – Oh yeah, but that was for the booze and the food. No, it was, you know, the Acapulco. I’ve been coming here with the water and the boats. I was expecting the mariachis but – and then I’ve had friends that have sailboats. I invented a drink. We were out sailing, and over the radio come, ‘Boat on the rocks’. And I said, ‘That’s a good name for a drink’.

JAMES – That is a good name for a drink.

EMITT – Boat On The Rocks, yeah. So if you just kind of go, you know, into a bar. Order a Boat On The Rocks. See what happens, see what you get. (Laughs)

JAMES – Let’s see, the B could be some Bacardi

.

EMITT – Yeah, you got to make it up. See, you’re already making it up! See; are we inventive creatures or what? (Laughs)

RICHARD – Make a different one each place you go.

EMITT – That could be. That could be.

RICHARD – Then you end up trying it on a bartender who knew you from another bar. “Hey, last time you said one shot of Bacardi, now it’s two?”

JAMES – I got it: Bacardi, ouzo, absinthe and tequila.

EMITT – Ahhhhhh, boy. Okay, the absinthe, isn’t that illegal here or something? 

 (The drinks arrive)

JAMES (pours most of his Long Island Iced Tea into an empty glass and offers it to Emitt) - If you want this – I just wanted a taste.

EMITT – I’m not going to be doing a lot of talking after that.

JAMES – (takes a sip from his glass) It’s a good drink.

EMITT – Oh, it’s a great drink, yeah.

JAMES – Just not for me today. Responsibilities!

EMITT – Yeah, I hear you. (Laughs)

RICHARD – Did you bring your flags?

EMITT – My flags?

RICHARD – Your Semaphore flags, for when you can’t talk anymore?

EMITT – Oh no, I just start to gesticulate with my hands and stuff and do all those gang signs.

RICHARD – What do you think about the documentary that came out a couple years ago?

EMITT – The documentary that came out about?

RICHARD – About you.

EMITT – Oh, about me. Oh, I saw it. I saw it. Well, well, I am a handsome guy and . . . people just love me and . . . it is a tragic story. (Laughs) But eh. (Shrugs) Eh. I don’t impress myself. And I don’t like looking at me that much, I look like an ape. I look in the mirror, and I look like an ape.

JAMES – (laughs)

EMITT – I do! You know, otherwise I’d have a tail.

JAMES – You don’t have to get up and shave, so it could take you a while before you even remember who you are.

EMITT – Oh yeah. Yeah, I saw the documentary, it was short and to the point, and it was kind of okay, it was cute. I, uh, everything I said of any importance, they took out.

JAMES – Is that right?

EMITT – All the good stuff, yeah, they took out all the good stuff. Well, they wanted people to like me! 

(All laugh)

JAMES – So what did they take out?

RICHARD – Everyone’s got their agenda.

EMITT – (laughs)

RICHARD – The nerve.

EMITT – Yeah. (Laughs) They paid my credit card off, that was the beauty of that.

JAMES – That was nice.

EMITT – And then Cosimo [documentary maker Cosimo Messeri] gave me a guitar, my favorite guitar now, one of these Chinese-made Fender guitars, and I play it all the time. I mean, for some reason or other, they make the guitars in China in tune!

RICHARD – Wow. You never know what you’re gonna get sometimes. I used to have a Strat that was so great that people were always asking if it was pre-CBS. I bought it off a friend, so I had no idea. After a few years of this, I got curious too, so I asked him. He said it was a Japanese guitar made in 1979.

EMITT – I have a Stratocaster, a Squire built in India or something, you know, where they have to get a little cockeyed somewhere so they don’t offend God. Don’t want to challenge him! No, I wanna go back to the Greek Gods. I like Zeus, myself. And the original God, the Kronos guy who always swallowed his children. (Laughs) When I heard Moses had 600 commandments, I realized that they weren’t all from God.

JAMES – I never knew there were 600.

EMITT – Oh yeah, they whittled ‘em down, heh heh, they got to ten, ‘Oh, these are good ones, okay, we can all . . . If I were God, I’d go back to, ‘Living things are better than dead things,’ and I’d start with that as my axiom. Because I am a human chauvinist, I do want mankind to survive into the future. I don’t want us to perish when the planet melts, I want us to be someplace else; or some living entity that’s conscious that can remember Bach and remember Pythagoras. ‘Cause it would be really disappointing if everything dies when we become dinosaurs.

The only reason I know anything about Pythagoras is because he made the scale. He divided that metal rod and made wind chimes. He discovered the scale and how it kept going – and how imperfect it is. And the fact that once you go up past an octave, the next octave is not going to be in tune with the one following. And that’s where Bach comes in and fixes that, so that we can have music that we have today. Geometry wasn’t that important to me at one time, but it’s the structure of the entire universe, all existence is based on it. How close something is to something else, and the quality of whatever it is that it’s close to, and how much of it is and all that.

RICHARD – Amazing how they’d take some of the most interesting subjects in school, like history and science, and make them…

EMITT – . . . and make ‘em dull, yeah. It’s how you perceive it, it’s not dull at all, it’s, well, imagine nothing. Imagine nothing. Zero. There is a void; there is nothing, complete black. And then you exist. There you are in a complete black, and well, how fast are you going? How big are you? I mean, it’s all relationship; it’s all the geometry of one thing against another.

JAMES – When was all that coming to you?

EMITT – It was about the time I was reading my physics book and playing. I was trying not to blow up my tape machine. I’d taken all the money I had and invested in an Ampex four-track machine. It was about the size of a dishwasher or something. And I didn’t want to blow it up. And I, you know, it had tubes, I always loved tubes, you know what I mean.

When I bought a guitar amp, I’d turn it on, listen to it buzz, and watch the tubes glow. And, well, I just wanted to know why they were glowing. (Laughs)  And then when I bought my tape machine with all the funds I had in the world, I didn’t want to blow it up. I didn’t want to plug something in backwards and blow it up.

So that’s when I started to read my high school physics book and saw God.

JAMES – That’s a great story.

EMITT – Of course, I was a stupid guy, so I might have had to read some of those paragraphs a few times before it made any sense to me. Took a while. I’m telling you, to learn, it’s painful. That’s why I’m trying my best not to learn as much as possible, ’cause it hurts too much. So I go for fundamental things. I appreciate the things that are universal.

Trivia is a problem to me, you know. Arbitrary stuff, there’s a problem. Language is a problem. I mean, it’s like, if I were Japanese, I’d be speaking Japanese, you know what I mean, and you wouldn’t understand a fuckin’ thing I was saying (imitates Japanese). You know? I mean, you would think I was weird or something.

(Pause while more food arrives)

EMITT – Yeah, arbitrary stuff, it’s, you know, if I was Chinese, I’d be speaking Chinese, and it would sound a lot like Japanese, but it wouldn’t be. It’s that kind of stuff. I really appreciate the fact that people know how to spell, because I don’t. That part of my brain doesn’t work for me.

JAMES – I’ve tried to read about linguistics a couple of times, and I get lost and dizzy pretty fast.

EMITT – Yeah, I got this girlfriend who speaks French, but if she talks nasty to me in French, I don’t understand a fucking thing.

JAMES – It doesn’t work.

EMITT – Doesn’t work. (Laughs)

 It’s going right over my head. (Laughs)

JAMES – That’s funny.

EMITT – Yup. Anyway, I want one world language, you know what I mean, I would just take everything, all the languages and all the spellings, throw ‘em in a computer, and just resolve them down to the easiest lowest common denominator, and we’d all learn that. But then there would be, you know, it would be like anticultural and shit, you know. I mean, I don’t know why people are so into themselves. I think it’s narcissistic. You know? Damn. Like, what’s an American? I don’t know, I can’t tell the difference between an American and a Canadian. Except the passport, you know what I mean.

JAMES – Mmm hmm.

EMITT – Okay, there is the ‘eh’ thing.

ALL – ‘Eh?’

EMITT – . . . and then there is that poontang stuff no wait, poutine stuff. Or it’s, we have chili fries, they got fries with curds and gravy. You know, little stuff like that. I’m not big on putting vinegar on my fries, but that is popular there.

JAMES – Right.

EMITT – There’s all that kind of cultural stuff. Yeah, but I figure that we’re all the same species of animal, period. You know, ’cause we can interbreed, you know, it isn’t like we’re horses and donkeys and we come up with sterile things, you know, we’re all one animal. We just come in different colors, kind of like birds and cats. And dogs. I had a dog when I was a little boy. My mother tied it to the clothesline pole, and it committed suicide. It had wrapped itself around the clothes pole and strangled itself to death. It was either very unhappy, or just one dumb dog.

JAMES – Oh my.

EMITT – It took the easy way out. It’s never gonna go to heaven, uh-uh
.

JAMES – That’s the Catholic view?

EMITT – Oh yeah, well, I know Catholics.

JAMES – They believe that if you commit suicide, you can’t go to heaven?

EMITT – That’s it, yeah.

JAMES – So . . . only God can kill you.

EMITT – That’s it, yeah, you have to suffer until God decides to kill you.

JAMES – Has to be a righteous kill.

EMITT – That’s it, yeah. Well, you could be, you know, you could be suffering from gangrene and decide to not get your foot cut off, and that would be legit. That’s OK, you know what I mean? You could die that way because you get infected. I’m just giving you an out, you know. There’s ways God can be fooled.

JAMES – What was the Randy Newman song, ‘ . . . that’s why I love mankind’?

EMITT – Oh yeah, well, you know what I don’t like about God? Buttholes. I mean, he makes us eat, and then we have to poop. And I’m going, ‘What kind of guy does this to me? What kind of man would do this to me?’ There are just some things that aren’t well, table worthy.

JAMES – It didn’t have to be like that.

EMITT – If you’re almighty, and THIS is what you do to me?

JAMES – He’s gotta have a sense of humor.

EMITT – Either that, or he just made us to torture us. I’d make up a better God. I’d make up a kinder God, a nicer God.

JAMES – So tell me, how’d you come to Bach?

EMITT – Oh, you know, Switched-On Bach. That was it, other than the fact that I was fond of what he’s done, you know.

JAMES – So how does the relationship between music and math work in other forms, like in Asian music, where they have different scales?

EMITT – It doesn’t, that’s the beauty of it!

JAMES – It doesn’t work?

EMITT – It doesn’t work. Yeah, they’re completely catawampus. (Pause) That is a word.

JAMES – No, I’m just . . .

EMITT – Oh, okay, never mind. (Laughs)

JAMES – No, I’m pondering how they . . .

EMITT – I have no idea what the hell they do what they do. Pythagoras did the thing. He took a metal rod, and he hung it and went ding, you know. And then he took it and cut it into two-thirds of that and put up another one next to it, and he went ‘ding, ding & ½’ and he took another one and kept doing it until the universe does just turn into chaos, because it doesn’t repeat itself. It doesn’t, really.

You know, it looks mathematical, but the universe is absolutely fucked up. The reason is that nothing would exist if the universe wasn’t fucked up. The universe would be kind of just this steady state kind of like homogeneous blob.

JAMES – Back to physics! So it’s the chaos that . . .

EMITT – It’s the chaos that makes the lumps. You know, so what happens with this thing, it keeps going higher and higher, but then eventually it doesn’t repeat. And that’s where Bach comes in and makes that change, that thing that he actually allowed us to play double octaves and have ‘em in tune, because you can’t do it with Pythagorean stuff.

JAMES – How did Bach do that?

EMITT – Well, he knew the problem, which was, the universe doesn’t repeat. If you keep doing this, you know, two-thirds and two-thirds and you keep doing that, it just gets inharmonious; it becomes ugly, because it starts to fight against itself. So what he did was just correct it to where the first octave would repeat the next octave, and it was all beauty and it was all perfect.

JAMES – So the cutoff point was just a different cutoff point?

EMITT – Well, I think all you have to do is go up two octaves, but by the time you get into the third octave, if you do it like Pythagoras did, it’s total chaos. So music was real rudimentary, and people had to play just a few notes. They could not play like Bach, they could not play like you or I or anybody else because they couldn’t go (sings and pantomimes playing several octaves on a piano), you know what I mean, and have it make any sense. Yeah, I think Bach is the reason why we got all this. Rock n roll. Not that, you know, anybody knows it. And had he known that one day it would be crap, he would have probably just forgotten about it.

RICHARD – Why bother?

EMITT – Why bother, is right. (Laughs) Nah, forget it, he’s hopefully thinking about how do you smarten people up? How do you make them smart? That’s what I want; I just want people to be smart. And to want to be smart.

RICHARD – And if they can’t be smart, at least be nice.

EMITT – Well, nice is a relative thing too.

RICHARD – Nice by omission.

EMITT – Yeah, leave me alone, I think it’s nice! (Laughs) Don’t send me that bill, that would be nice! (Laughs)

RICHARD – That’ll do.

EMITT – (points to JAMES’ drink) You want some more of this?

JAMES – No, I poured a little into this other glass, so that one is fresh. 
You’re welcome to have it.

EMITT – I saw you do that, but I was wondering if you wanted somebody to finish it for you.

JAMES – I just wanted to taste it. (Points at Richard) Do you know what his aunt would do to me if I didn’t get you home safe?

EMITT – All right, good. Oh, you’re damn right. And my girlfriend, if you killed me driving us home she’d hate you forever.

JAMES – I don’t know your girlfriend, but I did just meet his aunt.

EMITT – I hear ya, I hear ya.

JAMES – So I feel some social responsibility.

EMITT – Well, she’s nice too. My girlfriend, that is. Unless you anger her.

JAMES – I don’t want to start off with anybody on the wrong foot.

EMITT – Yeah. Boy, I wish I had a guitar, I could play you stuff, and I could explain to you why it is that I like it (laughs), you know what I mean? Hey, here, look at this is why I (sings melody) and it goes and it sings, and it does what it’s supposed to do, and comes back and does it again, you know. Then it goes to a pre-chorus, and then it goes to the chorus, then it goes to the bridge, then it goes to the instrumental, and it has all the components and . . .

RICHARD – And it adds up.

EMITT – Yeah, and it all adds up.

JAMES – Would you hear it in your head, or would you discover it as you played it?

EMITT – Oh I would, yeah, I would do both, you know, I’d have . . . Nah, I don’t really hear anything, I just kind of have a desire and I just, you know, point my feet in the right direction, and then I keep going until I get something I like.

RICHARD – This is more a comment than a question. I recently got a copy of the two-disc Universal set, and. . .

EMITT – (grimaces) Ooh.

RICHARD – I take it you’re not happy with it?

EMITT – The mastering is . . . the Universal, you’re talking about that grey-looking thing that one?

RICHARD – Yeah.

EMITT – Yeah, uh, they did a horrid job of mastering that. I mean, I don’t know why, you know; they hire people to come in and just turn the high end up. You know what I mean? I’d run it through a graphic equalizer and then make it look like what I want it to look like. I should do it myself and put out my own version, ‘They’re Mastered Correctly’, you know.

RICHARD – Are you at least seeing something out of it?

EMITT – Oh yeah. Well, I own the publishing now.

RICHARD – Really? Excellent!

EMITT – Yes. Or most of it, you know, most of the publishing.

RICHARD – How did it finally work out?

EMITT – Well, Eddie Shaw, I outlived him, you know. He was an old man when I met him, and it took him a while to die. I’d like to resurrect the motherfucker so I could kill him myself.

RICHARD – That’s a big part of prevailing in life, outliving your enemies.

EMITT – Yeah, you gotta outlive them. Well, in this case, I did, fortunately.

RICHARD – Congratulations.  Anyway, I’d had your first Dunhill album since the ’70s, plus the Fairport album with your song on it. But the first time I’d heard you was when I was a kid, maybe seven years old. We had a sampler in our home that A&M put out called Family Portrait with a Merry-Go-Round song on it…

EMITT – Oh, okay; oh yes, I remember that. I’m by the carousel or something, and everyone is sitting on the hillside.

JAMES – Right.

EMITT – They had a buffet.

RICHARD – So I knew about this stuff from an early age, but until a couple years ago, I’d never even heard of Farewell To Paradise. That was one reason I got the Universal set. I’m glad I did, it may be my favorite album of yours.

EMITT – Well, for one, I’d really learned how to engineer by then, and I’d got myself a good monitor system so I could hear what I was recording. And yeah, that was my favorite, but nobody else’s.

RICHARD – And it’s not like the songs are necessarily better, because the other albums have great songs too. But some albums have a flow to them that makes them more than just collections of good songs, and that one’s got it for me.

EMITT – Oh yeah, by that time I’d felt like I’d done everything I wanted to do and it was time for me to commit suicide, so I started drinking heavily. And then I got better and didn’t want to commit suicide any longer, but I still like drinking, so I keep it up. But now I’m an old guy, so what difference does it make? You know? I don’t want to be too old.

JAMES – There’s a local guy who’s a terrific musician and producer, Jon Brion . . .

EMITT – Yeah, brilliant guy.

JAMES – Have you seen his shows?

EMITT – Yeah, he does kind of like ad-lib.

JAMES – What he does is, he’ll call out to the audience to name a song.

EMITT – Okay, well, I don’t know him that well, then. (Laughs)

JAMES – He’ll get a few different songs, and then what he’ll do is . . .

EMITT – Combine them?

JAMES – Yes. He’ll lay down a drum track and loop it . . .

EMITT – Oh.

JAMES – . . . then he’ll lay down the bass . . .

EMITT – (growing skeptical) Oh.

JAMES – . . . and then he’ll get a movie clip . . .

EMITT – (sighs) All right, you know what this sounds like? He’s got plants in the audience!

JAMES – You think that’s what it is?

EMITT – Gimme a break! He’s gonna lay down a drum track, and then he’s gonna . . . and then he’s gonna. . . Ahhhhhhhh!

JAMES – It occurred to me that he uses a similar creative process to yours in a live setting.

EMITT – Well, he’s a real good player, he really is. A real good player. Oh yeah, he’s like, you know, he’s spontaneous, no question about it. Yeah, but believe me, it would be a lot easier if he put plants in the audience! (Laughs)

JAMES – (As if he is calling out a song at a concert) ‘Stairway To Heaven!’

EMITT – Yeah, Stairway To Heaven. (Laughs)

RICHARD – I want to ask you about another one-man-band, Todd Rundgren.

EMITT – Yeah, Todd Rundgren, you bet.

RICHARD – He did a song with a lyric similar to something you used on Farewell To Paradise. Do you know about that one?

EMITT – No, but I’m glad he did, ’cause he probably made better music than me.

RICHARD – Do you know the song ‘When I Pray’, from his Faithful album?

EMITT – No.

RICHARD – The first verse goes, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…”

EMITT – (recognizing it from his own song) Oh.

RICHARD – “…if I should die before I wake, somebody make a big mistake.” Slight change on the last line.

EMITT – Yeah, there you go. Yeah, ‘Wish I may, I wish I might’.

RICHARD – That’s an old joke anyway, so it could easily be coincidence. The rest of his song has nothing to do with yours.

EMITT – Oh, I have no idea. No, I’m not sure I’m familiar with that. If I used that I don’t remember when I did.

RICHARD – Your album came out three years before his did.

EMITT – Oh. Well, in that case! 

(Laughter) That’s probably because I was plagiarizing somebody else, then. The things I’m doing now are better. I’d like to show people because it’s so simple, it’s like the accumulation of everything or culmination of everything I’ve learned, and it’s real simple now. I play the guitar like I play the piano, it’s linear, you know. I used to watch Don Beaudoin, who was the oldest brother of the Beaudoin brothers in The Palace Guard, and everything he played was in barre chords. Well, I just removed this finger and . . .

JAMES – And kept it going.

EMITT – . . . and kept it going and, you know, learned where the diminished chord goes. And all of a sudden, music made all the sense in the world to me.

JAMES – Interesting. Do you ever use any alternate tunings?

EMITT – Well, I used to, but I don’t anymore because I don’t have to. I mean, it sounds like I’m playing open half the time, with the detuned or whatever they do, it sounds like I’m doing that. But I’m not; I’m just using it the way the guitars constructed.

JAMES – Okay.

EMITT – Yeah, then there’s a lot of discord in it, but I utilize that also, because it depends on how much of that I want. Because that ugliness is, I mean, it’s all, it’s everywhere. You know what I mean? We got beauty and we got ugliness everywhere, so it’s a combination of the two. So when it doesn’t sound right, I can use it anyway, but it’s how much of it I use. It’s the same thing like the piano, you know, how much I just extract stuff. I don’t add stuff because I’m playing it all to begin with.

JAMES – So with the guitar is it the same?

EMITT – Yeah it’s the same thing from its concept, but it’s not . . .

JAMES – Executed the same way?

EMITT – Well, it can’t be, because it’s a guitar, and guitars are not laid out like a piano.

RICHARD – Are you waiting until you have an album’s worth of material before you release anything else?

EMITT – I’m going to, well, I’m going to make my own record because this sucks, you know, this thing with the studio and him wanting me to owe him more money than I can afford to pay. I mean, had I known that I was running a bill up I would have stopped immediately, you know, because that wasn’t my intent at all. I was just going to share, you know, with everybody, that was my intent. ‘Let’s do something that I’m proud of and that you’re proud of’, and I told everybody that if they sat down and played, they would sound like God playing, and I did that.

RICHARD – Famous last words: “I’ll share.”

EMITT – Yeah, I was going to share. I was just going to share with everybody, but (the studio owner) wants more money than there is, and he wants more than anybody else. Yeah, you know, it’s the old some people trip you and call you clumsy.

JAMES – Emitt, there is a lyric in that someplace!

RICHARD – Nowadays, with ITunes, you can release one song at a time. Then once you have ten or twelve, you can call it an album after the fact.

EMITT – I have a whole bunch of songs that I’ve written that I’ve not recorded. The three that were released were things that I did with everybody. I’ve given everybody, if they wrote one, you know, if they inserted a word, I gave them credit as a writer. You know what I mean? If they played one line, I gave them credit. So I gave everybody credit, and I was prepared to . . . you know, I haven’t seen a dollar, and I worked there a long time on it, and I just wanted to produce something that I thought I liked, that I was proud of, and that demonstrated those principles in music that I respect.

And so I wrote songs, they have, verses, pre-choruses, choruses and bridges, and they got all the components, and that was my intention. But now it’s time for me to go, because I’m old, and I keep dying all the time, buddy. I mean, this is not new to me; I wake up with the paramedics waking me up routinely because I make a mistake. So yeah, I got all these songs, and I want to show people what it is I’m talking about, because it’s really a fundamental thing, and it’s not bullshit it’s, it’s true. It’s mathematical.

RICHARD – Speaking of being true, my mom and aunt were pointing out specific songs of yours they liked, and specific things about them. Not just nodding their heads and saying, “That’s nice,” but really picking up on why it works so well. It goes beyond style and musical taste and what your generation grew up listening to, it’s hearing something that just makes sense.

EMITT – I’ve always had that desire, yes. Thank you very much. And thank them too.

RICHARD – It’s back to what I was saying earlier about introducing you to a whole new generation of fans. My folks in their late 80’s like it, my 10-year-old…

EMITT – C’mon, my mom will love me too.

RICHARD – My 10-year-old nephew likes you as well.

EMITT – Alright, well, that’s a good thing, thank you, buddy. 
 Well, I’m going to do more of that. I mean, that’s if I live long enough; I’m going to do more of that. These three tunes were like a proof of concept. We recorded this MIDI, so the piano was a MIDI instrument. I got a Casio Prima or something, you know, it’s a $300 instrument made in China. And, if you look at the chord on the MIDI, it’s like all these notes. Well, the chord is, it’s like a sprinkle, it’s like a firework. They don’t look like three notes, they look like a firework. And then this note occurs, and then this note occurs, ’cause I know where all the fingers belong, and I just play them when they fall down, you know.

And I can do it blindfolded, and it’s like, every time I sit down and play, it’s different every time. Anyway, I didn’t know what the hell this would sound like, making a record, so the three tunes were kind of like a proof of concept. I pretty much learned that what I do works. So now I have all these songs that I’ve written that I haven’t finalized, and for me to finalize them, I record a performance to a click track or whatever so that I can then beat stuff on top of it, you know, and I haven’t done that, so I keep hoping for a hard drive system so that I can do it like everybody else does it, because I really think the graphics are pretty.

I got a studio, I got an eight-foot console with a bunch of faders and all that kind of stuff, but if I could carry it around on a laptop, boy, would that be fun. And I hear you can do that kind of stuff.

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10 Responses to Part Two of THE LOS ANGELES BEAT Interview With Emitt Rhodes

  1. Gary G says:

    First, thanks for the interview.

    Several years’ back, City Beat did a lengthy piece on Emitt; it was heartbreaking to read because of his health problems and legal/financial problems relating to his record label contract.

    I decided to try something. I contacted an organization in NYC that helps musicians who signed onerous contracts to get out from under them. I sent the City Beat piece to one of the lawyers there but never did hear back.

    Flash forward to a couple of years ago. As part of the Rhino pop-up store in Westwood event, Emitt made an appearance after a screening of the documentary. There was a q&a afterwards and I went up to a lawyer who helped with the documentary. I told him about having contacted the Music Rights Org. in NYC and how I’d done that to see if they could help Emitt.

    The lawyer was stunned. He said “You’re the guy?” Apparently during the shooting of the documentary, they’d gotten a call releasing Emitt from that burdensome contract signed prior to his first solo album. I’m glad I was able to help and hope he releases some of his recent stuff soon.

    • James Eliopulos James Eliopulos says:

      Gary, Thanks for the comments and the terrific effort on behalf of Emitt. One of the things we were hoping for with this piece was bringing his wonderful body of work into discussion with the thought that the restored rights of authorship you helped secure might enable him to see some royalties coming his way.

      In preparation for our conversation we had read the latest print interviews and listened to a couple of taped radio pieces. We made a decision to not make ours a suffering artist bit of tragedy. As you suggest there is definitely that possibility in the story. We communicated with Paul Zollo another local writer, composer, musician and photographer who has done some incredible interviews and writing on art, music and culture about our project and the different angles we might take. Paul’s advice was to celebrate the music and the moment in time when it was happening. That was our goal.

      In spite of life’s twists and turns Emitt still has fire and humor and that same adolescent inquisitiveness that drove him to see just how much of everything he could do all on his own. He has some absolutely brilliant material that he played for us on his acoustic guitar. Maybe with the freedom avalaible to him as a result of your work on his behalf it will be recorded and released. We spoke with him about the ability to offer up single titles for sale at places like iTunes – the idea being that he wouldn’t have to do a whole album to get some material out. Ever the engineer and the physicist Emitt seemed put off by the limitations on the sound of the bass in compressed digital formats!

      Here’s hoping your energy and support are rewarded with some new music that will also reward Emitt.

  2. Matt Wilson says:

    Nice job, James and Richard! Good to see Emitt getting some recognition again. This should be an ongoing project where ’60s musicians are interviewed in a casual, easy-going atmosphere and are allowed to pontificate on whatever comes to mind. Richard should do one with his buddy Peter Lewis.

  3. James Eliopulos James Eliopulos says:

    Thank You Matt! . . . And thank you for the suggestion. There are actually a couple of folks fitting that very description who are under discussion as subjects for future pieces right now. James.

  4. Arnie Harris says:

    I bought “Emitt Rhodes in 1970—it is a MASTERPIECE—after 42 years I still play it —NEVER tire of it—Just makes ya feel good– Recently heard the song “Farewell to Paradise”—can’t get it out of my head—a song that could easily stand with any Beatles song.

  5. Michael LeBeau says:

    I only “discovered” Emitt Rhodes this past year on YT.
    I was blown away and must have been hiding under a rock those album years—-because I bought music and listened to the radio?!
    I’m stumped—-but also blessed——Thank you Mr. Rhodes.

    • James Eliopulos James Eliopulos says:

      Thanks for checking in Micahael. For all of his talent Emitt wasn’t the easiest artist to find even back when he was in his stride. He first showed up on my radar while listening to a friends band rehearse in 1968. They did a stunning cover of the Merry Go Rounds ‘You’re A Very Lovely Woman’ and ‘Live’ – which by the way has never dropped off my list of Top 10 Songs by A So Cal Artist. Really glad you got that experience of discovering the wonderful work Emitt created. He remains a terrific composer with really interesting themes, perspectives and personnas and his voice is off the hook beautiful. Here’s hoping we get some more from Emitt.

  6. John Williams says:

    While Emitt Rhodes certainly never possessed the musical genius of a Todd Rundgren or a Brian Wilson, his music was certainly more worthy of exposure than has existed. Nice to check in for an update on him, and here’s to hoping that the interest shown him will give him (and the powers that be) the impetus to set the wheels in motion for actual release of some of his many recordings. And again, thanks for the update.

  7. Tom Peterson says:

    Hello James and Richard,
    It’s been over 2 years since this article was made. Please update Emitt Rhodes’ progress publishing music. Links to any available new music would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks,
    Tom

  8. James Eliopulos James Eliopulos says:

    Thanks Tom for the prompt. I think it is indeed time to check back with Emitt and see just what is in the works. Richard Derrick advises that an entry on Emitt’s Facebook page [ https://www.facebook.com/EmittRhodes ] from May mentions that a new album is in the works.

    Apparently no release date scheduled as of yet.

    Also on YouTube last week I saw a very nice clip of The Merry Go Round performing ‘You’re A Very Lovely Woman’ on American Bandstand from what must have been 1967 or 8. James.

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