If you’re a music fan and we asked you to name a brilliant songwriter and studio mastermind raised in Hawthorne — the quiet suburban city in the South Bay — you’d probably pick the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, and you wouldn’t be wrong.
But there must be something about Hawthorne. Songwriter Emitt Rhodes has lived there nearly his entire life. Between 1967 and 1973 Rhodes recorded four albums that captured the imagination of underground musicians for decades. Rhodes put all the albums to tape in his home studio in Hawthorne, playing all the instruments himself.
Now he’s back, his first album in more than 40 years just came out:
Before Emitt Rhodes was Emitt Rhodes, the one man band, he played guitar and sang in the Merry Go Round, a psychedelic band with a couple hit singles, including "Live."
He went solo after the band broke up in the late 60s. Alone in the studio, Rhodes said he learned to love the autonomy.
"There's less conversation when it comes to bickering about what to do. You just do it yourself," said Rhodes. "I love tape machines, I liked being in the studio... I'd hit the button on my tape machine and then run, sit down at the drums, play the drums, It was a lot of fun." The albums he recorded in there would join the ranks of artists like Big Star and Rodriguez — treasured pop songwriters with a devoted cult following of songwriters, critics and record collectors. Count among them singer, songwriter and producer Chris Price.
"There's a few records in my life that have been kind of like sign posts," said Price. "Like when I first heard 'Abbey Road' by the Beatles, I wanted form a band and start to write songs. And the first time I heard 'Pink Moon' by Nick Drake I wanted to learn how to play the guitar. And when I heard Emitt's first record, I wanted to be a better songwriter."
Price grew up in Miami but came to Los Angeles to start a career in music. He said he immediately tried to track down Rhodes when he arrived. As soon as he got an address, he showed up Rhodes' door unannounced. They've known each other for 10 years now.
Price remembers the first time he found out Rhodes was working on new music. Rhodes had stashed the lyrics and music into separate envelopes — about 20 of them.
"I thought to myself 'wow, I'm hearing the new Emitt Rhodes record! Nobody else is hearing it'," said Price. "It was only after some time of processing that material that I really thought like 'okay, I need to do anything I can to help him make this stuff'."
When it came time to put together a new record, Chris enlisted names like Jon Brion, Aimee Mann, Nels Cline, and members of Brian Wilson’s backing band to track the first new Emitt Rhodes album in decades. "I wanted to put together kind of a dream team of people that have been influenced by... of fans of Emitt's that have gone on to do real notable things," said Price.
So they made Rainbow Ends. After working solo for so many years, Rhodes said working with a band was a refreshing change of pace. "It's easier," said Rhodes. "It's more immediate. You get to decide if you like is, or if you like that, and change it. And it changes immediately! When I did it by myself I would have to record the thing, then I'd listen to it back and if I didn't like what I had done, I'd have to go back and redo everything."
But, the question on everyone’s mind: Are we gonna have to wait another 40 years for the next record?
"Oh yeah," said Rhodes. "I'm planning on living to be 120!"