THE MUSIC MACHINE

Proto-Metal • United States
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The Music Machine was a Los Angeles-based garage / psychedelic band led by song-writer Sean Bonniwell and is often best remembered for one hit song in 1966. Though the band’s success was short-lived, they are recognize for their rebellious and sometimes aggressive music in their era and are often considered protopunk pioneers. Their all-black band image, their use of multiple rhythms and guitar fuzz, and the fact that they tuned their instruments a key lower to create a darker sound also suggest that they could be considered protometal as well.

Sean Bonniwell (guitar / vocals) had been playing in a folk band called The Wayfarers and recorded three albums with them in the early sixties. On one occasion, he met up and jammed with Keith Olsen (bass) and Ron Edgar (drums) in a hotel in Orange County, California. In 1965, the three formed a folk rock group, calling themselves The Raggamuffins.
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(Turn On) The Music Machine [LP](Turn On) The Music Machine [LP]
Craft Recordings 2018
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THE MUSIC MACHINE Discography

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THE MUSIC MACHINE (Turn On) The Music Machine album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
(Turn On) The Music Machine
Proto-Metal 1966
THE MUSIC MACHINE The Bonniwell Music Machine album cover 3.00 | 1 ratings
The Bonniwell Music Machine
Proto-Metal 1968

THE MUSIC MACHINE EPs & splits

THE MUSIC MACHINE live albums

THE MUSIC MACHINE demos, promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs)

THE MUSIC MACHINE re-issues & compilations

THE MUSIC MACHINE Best of the Music Machine album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Best of the Music Machine
Proto-Metal 1984
THE MUSIC MACHINE Beyond the Garage album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Beyond the Garage
Proto-Metal 1995
THE MUSIC MACHINE The Very Best of the Music Machine - Turn On album cover 3.50 | 1 ratings
The Very Best of the Music Machine - Turn On
Proto-Metal 1999
THE MUSIC MACHINE Ignition album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Ignition
Proto-Metal 2000
THE MUSIC MACHINE The Ultimate Turn On album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
The Ultimate Turn On
Proto-Metal 2006

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THE MUSIC MACHINE Reviews

THE MUSIC MACHINE The Very Best of the Music Machine - Turn On

Boxset / Compilation · 1999 · Proto-Metal
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This year, I came across one of the most exciting and innovative bands of the sixties that I have ever set ears to. The Music Machine of Los Angeles are labeled as garage rock, garage punk, and psychedelic, but the band was more than just these mundane labels. The band was one of those rare birds that worked hard to establish itself as a band that played something completely different.

The Music Machine was originally known in 1965 as The Ragamuffins and at the time was comprised of songwriter Sean Bonniwell on vocals and guitar, electrical wiz Keith Olsen on bass, and jazz drummer Ron Edgar. It was folk and jazz backgrounds that came together, but it was Bonniwell’s desire to create a band that played music like no one else that led to the development of The Ragamuffin’s sound, steering it from folk rock into something darker and more aggressive. Early in 1966, they brought on board lead guitarist Mark Landon and keyboardist Doug Rhodes. The band’s name was changed to The Music Machine.

Sean Bonniwell knew that show business required something extra to go with the sound of a band. An image was important, and so Bonniwell conceived of the idea that all members would wear black from head to foot, dye their hair and eyebrows black, and each member would wear one black glove. The gloved hand would symbolize the unity of the band members and the ungloved hand would represent their individuality. Early in the band’s career, when they walked on stage dressed all in black, the audience would go silent.

The Music Machine created a sound that was unlike any of their contemporaries. They built their own fuzz tone pedal and tuned their instruments to E flat, a semitone lower than usual in order to give their music a darker feel. Most songs were short, running about two minutes, but featured their trademark fuzz buzz, minor key Farfisa organ, some tricky and slick jazz-influenced drumming, and Bonniwell’s incredible vocal style, which could deliver gruff barks and grunts, operatic and plaintive wails, acerbic shouts, and soulful howls.

In the autumn of 1966, they released their first single, “Talk Talk”, a song expressing high school boy angst and alienation. The song quickly became a hit and reached the Billboard Top 200 in slot 15. The song ran 1:56 and changed rhythm four times, with quick stops and starts (Chinese Jazz as Bonniwell called it), and had some of the tightest drumming of the time. The band’s management sent them back and forth across the U.S., and after a 31-day tour, they went straight to the studio to cut an album. “(Turn On) The Music Machine” was released in December of 1966 and included “Talk Talk”, their second single “The People in Me”, the B-sides to both singles, three more original tunes and five covers. Bonniwell was mortified about insistence of cover songs; he had wanted an entire album of original Music Machine material.

The album opens with the hit single “Talk Talk”, which kicks and slams with pauses for some quick step drumming or snorting fuzz tone guitar. Bonniwell delivers with a grated vocal style. The song was most popular with high school boys.

“Trouble” is next with more buzzing guitar. The Farfisa organ does make the song sound a bit like classic Iron Butterfly as does the timbre of Bonniwell’s vocals (very similar to Doug Ingle). The guitar riff sounds like it could have inspired The Hives to write the riff for “B is for Brutus”. The lyrics are about how people create trouble for themselves by expecting it to come to them.

Things lighten up surprisingly for the band’s rendition of Neil Diamond’s “Cherry Cherry”. Fuzz tone is out and flutes are in. The song is well done and a bit catchy if you like that sixties sound. But it’s a surprising turn from The Music Machine’s sound.

“Taxman” is a Beatles’ cover and is quite similar to the original although with a harder edge, especially the guitars.

“Some Other Drum” is an original song but also very easy and light. Lyrically and musically it’s good enough. But again, it lacks the darker aggressive side.

“Masculine Intuition” was the B-side to “The People in Me”, which was released after the album, in February 1967. The song is about living with a depressive woman and the man having to take over the domestic duties. “The check’s on the table and the pen’s in your hand / And if that makes you happy then nothing else can / My mind’s on the laundry while you sleep away / If I had the gumption I’d leave you today”. The song sounds more upbeat but the lyrics are more adult, more mature, than “Talk Talk”.

This was one of the defining factors of Sean Bonniwell’s writing: the lyrics were often adult and at times prescient. This song predates the women’s liberation movement. Other later songs would rant about environmental destruction, food waste, the “me” generation, and a Matrix-like society. All those songs would be written between ’66 and ’68. One critic suggested that part of The Music Machine’s failure to achieve further success was because their lyrics were too mature for the time. While other garage bands wrote, “Oh, my girl is so pretty / I love her and she loves me / We’ll take a walk along the river / Oh, how happy we’ll be”, Bonniwell wrote, “Here’s the change you’ve often said so many times / Was never yours, oh, how you cried / Now’s the time to break your leash / And show the world your apron strings have come untied”.

“The People in Me” is pretty good as a psychedelic piece and has an interesting riff that sounds like it includes some Eastern scale. Following that is a cover of “See See Rider” which is probably close to The Animals’ version but with a really sinister guitar chord rumbling alongside the quick organ notes before the verses and at the intro.

“Wrong” is a remarkable piece of aggressive and angry psychedelic rock. Packed with tension, the song erupts at the guitar solo where Landon lets fly with a barrage of fuzz tone notes. This is serious agro rock for ’66.

“96 Tears” is a fair enough cover of a song by ? and the Mysterians but the middle section includes some really low fuzz tone guitar that seems to emphasis the lower tuning. It contrasts wonderfully with the otherwise upbeat though minor atmosphere.

“Come On In” is more laid back but with a haunting edge. It’s a more adult view of relationships and sensuality.

The album wraps up with a Music Machine treatment of “Hey Joe”. Recorded before the Jimi Hendrix release, it was chosen because it was such a popular song among garage bands in 1966, originally made a commercial hit by The Leaves and then quickly followed by The Standells, Love, The Shadows of Knight, and The Surfaris to name a few. The Music Machine version is slow and trippy, unlike the other bands’ versions, and features wavering fuzz tone guitar for a real psychedelic feel.

This compilation on the Collectables label includes the entire debut album and four demos of songs that were recorded as singles and B-sides prior to the second album. So this is hardly a true “Best of” album as much better material ended up on the sophomore release and as singles for a planned third album. Of these four demos, “The Eagle Never Hunts the Fly” is an earth-trembling piece of heavy psychedelic rock with a dark edge. The instrumental segment includes a guitar solo, a sinister guitar passage with drums, and a second guitar solo. The final master would be almost two minutes shorter and sound much better. But here’s a taster anyway. One disappointing note is that the songs are all in stereo and especially “Talk Talk” suffers from this as the vocals and one guitar are in the left channel and the rest of the music is in the right channel, somewhat diluting the impact at first. Also there is no extra information about the band or the album’s history in the inlay card.

Unfortunately things went sour here. The band treasurer seems to have ensured that someone other than the band got the money and an oversight regarding a songwriting credit led to everyone abandoning ship, leaving Bonniwell with a handful of recorded songs, a recording contract to fulfill, and tour dates booked. A new line-up was put together in late ’67 and The Bonniwell Music Machine was born. But that’s another story.

Recommened: check out YouTube videos for “Talk Talk”, “Masculine Intuition”, and “The Eagle Never Hunts the Fly”.

THE MUSIC MACHINE The Bonniwell Music Machine

Album · 1968 · Proto-Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
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Sit back, ladies and gentleman, put the headphones on and listen to the tale of a man and a band who hit the charts in 1966, released an album and then faced their gradual decline. For this album – the 2014 Big Beat double disc release – takes us from where The Music Machine left off after their December, 1966 debut “(Turn On) The Music Machine” to the final recordings in November 1968 before their dissolution.

But just who were or what was The Music Machine? The band formed in California, 1965 as a folk band under the name of The Raggamuffins. Comprised of former Wayfarers vocalist/guitarist Sean Bonniwell and Keith Olsen (bass) and Ron Edgar (drums), the folk rock trio began rehearsing in Bonniwell’s garage where they experimented with new musical ideas. It was Bonniwell’s idea that the band should dress all in black, dye their hair black, and wear a black glove on one hand. As his song-writing style developed, he also had everyone down-tune their instruments a tone to get a darker sound. They also bought the components to build their own fuzz box. The trio recruited Mark Landon (lead guitar) and Doug Rhodes (organ) in early 1966 and changed the name of the band to The Music Machine, a name that reflected Bonniwell’s prolific song-writing. It was Bonniwell’s vision to create a band that would play the music he wanted to write in reaction to the pop-filled charts. He wanted his music to be a statement against what popular music was.

They had a top twenty hit with “Talk Talk”, a gritty and snarling piece of tight garage rock that combined early elements of psychedelic music. Then, after a grueling tour, they recorded their album. And it is here that the story is picked up.

The follow-up album was to be by Bonniwell’s design a concept album. The record company didn’t agree and wanted an album of possible singles. While on tour in 1967, the band recorded demos of new songs which were mostly rerecorded once they returned to Los Angeles. The new material continued with The Music Machine sound: buzzing fuzz toned guitar, Farfisa organ, Bonniwell’s distinctive and expressive vocal style, and Edgar’s tight drumming. There were hints of new sound influences in three tracks that were recorded in New Orleans and these demos went straight to the album. From a proto-metal perspective, the highlight would have to be “The Eagle Never Hunts the Fly”, a song with a foreboding intro and a massive fuzz-toned chord of doom. On the demo (not on this compilation) the Farfisa organ comes in bright and cheery; however on the final album version (this one) the organ is back in the mix along with some harmonica. The weight of the guitar and Bonniwell’s vocals – the song is about food waste – stay near the front. There’s a fantastic early heavy, doom instrumental part before a surprising sound like a Middle Eastern pipe or flute blasted at full power comes in. It’s actually a duck call that someone had left in the studio.

Here’s perhaps a good time to explain the general sound of The Music Machine and I’d say it sounds a lot like classic Iron Butterfly with some Steppenwolf and a bit of Strawberry Alarm Clock. Just keep in mind that none of these bands had released any albums at this time. The lighter psychedelic side along with the jazzy horns made up part of the album. But of course The Music Machine sound meant lots of fuzz tone and more of Bonniwell’s bitter proto-punk vocals. Lyrics included references to the coming “Me” generation, the notion of a kind of Matrix world before anyone popularized the idea, and the usual relationship and personal struggle themes, albeit from a Bonniwell perspective. With some lighter acoustic numbers, the album both carried on the sound that Bonniwell had worked so hard with the band to create and introduced more variety.

However, before long there were issues with management and someone’s co-song-writing credits mistakenly left aside. In short time, the band all quit, leaving Bonniwell with an album’s worth of songs ready for release and no band to tour them. He quickly assembled new musicians (with some coaxing and cajoling), but the new members found being under the iron rule of Bonniwell something to get used to. He told new bass player Ed Jones to get rid of his Precision bass and get a different one because the sound didn’t suit The Music Machine. Organ player Harry Garfield tried his hand at writing songs which he presented to Bonniwell only to have all but three rejected and even those were re-written. The new members all had to dye their hair but guitarist Alan Wisdom refused to wear the one black glove. The new line-up cut two tracks for the new album, both featuring a heavy dose of fuzz-tone guitar and one with a surprising and rare jam session included.

Because the original Music Machine line-up had split, the band name became The Bonniwell Music Machine. The self-titled release came out in February 1968, though “The Eagle Never Hunts the Fly” and “Double Yellow Line” had been released as singles during the summer prior. Bonniwell was never exactly pleased with what was recorded in the studio and spent endless hours remixing and dubbing to get the sound he imagined. Says the article on Wikipedia, “Bonniwell successfully expanded upon organ-driven garage rock into eclectic psychedelia, with traces of folk rock and orchestration.”

The album failed to make the top 200, and Bonniwell took the band into the recording studio again between January and April 1968. A variety of sounds came as a result, with three songs by Garfield joining Bonniwell’s efforts. Of the new recordings, “You’ll Love Me Again” had all the fire and guts of “Talk Talk” but without the angst of teenage alienation, and the hard-hitting “Black Snow” featured Bonniwell’s voice at its most acerbic, including screams that could compete with Janis Joplin. Unfortunately, the band fell apart around this time and all but drummer Jerry Harris left Bonniwell.

Undaunted and still writing prolifically, Sean Bonniwell found new musicians for a Mark III line-up. They cut seven new songs in July of 1968; however the sound of the band was changing. Only the funky groove of “Unka Tinka Ty” came close to packing the energy of the former band. A final few songs that were intended to be on a third album were recorded late in ’68. “Dark White” was released as a single, but in spite of its haunting and moody atmosphere, the song failed to dent the charts. Two other songs recalled the classic days of The Music Machine: “Advise and Consent” and “Mother Nature – Father Earth”, the latter of the two being one of the bands heavier pieces and dealing with environmental destruction. Then at last The (Bonniwell) Music Machine fell apart.

For fans of proto-metal, the music here takes us back to ’67/’68 when the concept of heavy fuzz-toned psychedelic music was beginning to take hold and become popular. But even bands like Iron Butterfly and Steppenwolf also explored lighter sides. The Music Machine were originally ahead of the game in 1966 and early ’67. But by ’68, their sound was becoming fashionable and commonplace. Sean Bonniwell’s voice and lyrics may still have distinguished the band from its contemporaries, but unfortunately for him the charts never welcomed his later work. There’s a lot of non-proto-metal on here and even the heavier songs include the sounds of the light and happy-sounding Farfisa organ. What you will find here is not proto-metal like Blue Cheer or Jimi Hendrix, but evidence of a lyrically and tonally darker approach to aggressive music. Though The Music Machine are often credited with being proto-punk, their music, though short in song length, is at times more complex and lyrically deeper than punk. If we could round up the ten best heavy hitters here and call them an album, you’d likely be really amazed with what Bonniwell and co. were doing back in the peak psychedelic years.

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