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EMITT RHODES,
1950-2020

Emitt Rhodes, an originator of the power pop genre who walked away from the music business when he was 23 only to return 40-plus years later, died Sunday in his sleep. He was 70.

Rhodes’ death was confirmed by his record producer Chris Price and the filmmaker who made a documentary on Rhodes, Tony Blass. The title of Blass’ film accurately summarized Rhodes’ affinity for melody and his playing all the instruments on a record: The One Man Beatles.

At 16, Rhodes had his first minor hit as the leader of the psych-rock band The Merry Go-Round, with “Live,” which reached #63, and was followed by “You’re a Very Lovely Woman.” A&M released the band’s lone album, which barely cracked the Top 200, and promptly dropped them.

Rhodes owed A&M another album and he went into the studio with several top-shelf musicians, among them Hal Blaine and Larry Knetchel. The finished album, though, would sit on the shelf for several years.

With no deal, Rhodes built a studio in his parents’ garage to record his self-titled debut, playing all the instruments and producing alongside Harvey Bruce. ABC/Dunhill signed Rhodes and the album peaked at #29 in 1970; the single “Fresh as a Daisy” made it into the Top 60. Critically, Rhodes was lavished with praise.

With Rhodes’ career starting to take off, A&M rush-released its record of older recordings, The American Dream, which cut into sales of his debut and its 1971 follow-up, Mirror, which again featured Rhodes playing all the instruments.  

Rhodes’ contract called for him to deliver an album every six months—six albums in three years—a schedule that Rhodes found impossible to maintain due to his solo writing/performing/producing style. His third and final album for the label, Farewell to Paradise, took more than a year to produce.

Rhodes worked intermittently as an engineer and producer and even started another solo album, this time for Elektra, that was never finished. From the 1960s into the 1990s, his songs were covered by The Bangles, Linda Ronstadt and Fairport Convention, among others.

He started recording again in 2009 and two years later released three new songs. Rhodes started working with Price in 2014 on an album of new songs that Omnivore released in February 2016 as Rainbow Ends. Among his acolytes who appeared on the album were members of The Bangles, Jason Falkner, Roger Manning Jr. and Jon Brion.

Rhodes was celebrated for sticking to his guns and his self-reliance by generations of musicians who followed him. As Rhodes wrote in the two-sentence liner notes on his debut LP: "I have to say the things I feel. I have to feel the things I say." 

The band Field Music tweeted, “His 1st album is a gem - self-recorded in his garage in 1970 - the precocity of Todd Rundgren and oodles of McCartney melodicism. Sometimes talent doesn't translate to success. I hope he found some peace before he died.”

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