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The Bonniwell Music Machine

The Bonniwell Music Machine represented the second (and final) act of one for the most interesting one-hit wonders to emerge from the '60s garage rock scene. Sean Bonniwell was the leader of the band the Music Machine, who were formed in 1965 and enjoyed a major hit in 1966 with a sneering anthem of teen-aged alienation, "Talk Talk." The Music Machine had evolved from the Ragamuffins, an earlier Bonniwell project rooted in folk-rock and British Invasion influences. By the time the band renamed itself the Music Machine, Bonniwell and his bandmates -- guitarist Mark Lanson, keyboard man Doug Rhodes, bassist Keith Olsen, and drummer Ron Edgar -- had taken on a much darker approach, dominated by sharp fuzztone guitars and peals of Farfisa organ. Bonniwell was the principal songwriter and uncontested leader of the Music Machine, and after striking a deal with Original Sound Records, the band recorded "Talk Talk," which became a Top 20 hit and established them as an act to watch. The Music Machine soon cut a full album, (Turn On) The Music Machine, that gave Bonniwell more room for his moody but thoughtful, philosophical lyrics. However, while they had minor success with the follow-up single "The People in Me" (it peaked on the singles charts at 66), Bonniwell's bandmates became weary of his hardline leadership of the group, coupled with tough touring experiences and slow payment of record royalties, and by mid-1967, Bonniwell was the only member of the Music Machine still on board. Undaunted, Bonniwell managed to free himself from his contract with Original Sound and signed with Warner Bros. Records as he assembled a new lineup of the group. To differentiate the band from its original incarnation, they became the Bonniwell Music Machine, and working with session players Alan Wisdom on guitar, Harry Garfield on keyboards, Ed Jones on bass, and Jerry Harris on drums, Bonniwell set to work on another album. The finished product, 1968's The Bonniwell Music Machine, featured three songs that began as demos cut with the original band, but for the most part it found Bonniwell pursuing a more eclectic sound than that on (Turn On) The Music Machine, with arrangements that included horns and woodwinds and songs that moved from garage rock to folk-rock and even a dash of proto-hard rock. Despite (or perhaps because of) its ambitious approach, The Bonniwell Music Machine was a flop in the marketplace, failing to make the album charts, and Bonniwell would later say he was disappointed with how the album turned out, adding that his collaborators didn't fully grasp his concept. Warner Bros. dropped Bonniwell, and after briefly launching a third edition of the Music Machine, he dissolved the group and went solo, releasing the album Close as T.S. Bonniwell in August 1969. Close fared no better commercially than The Bonniwell Music Machine, and Bonniwell gave up on the music business for the next two decades, never recording another album. However, as interest in the '60s garage rock movement grew in the '70s and '80s, the Music Machine were cited by fans and critics as one of the most distinctive acts on the scene, and The Bonniwell Music Machine album was rediscovered by garage obsessives. In 1995, the material Bonniwell recorded for Warner Bros. was reissued on a collection titled Beyond the Garage, while the Bonniwell Music Machine album appeared in its original form as a digital release in 2010, and the U.K. label Big Beat issued a definitive, expanded two-CD edition in 2014. In 1989, Bonniwell reassembled the Music Machine for a Summer of Love tribute concert in Los Angeles, and he would perform sporadically as a solo act in the years that followed, touring Europe in 2004. In 1996, Bonniwell privately published an autobiography, Talk Talk, that would appear in a greatly revised and more widely available second edition in 2000 as Beyond the Garage. Bonniwell fell victim to lung cancer on December 20, 2011 at the age of 71.
© Mark Deming /TiVo


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