emitt rhodes songwriter profile

Songwriter Profile: Emitt Rhodes

With his much-lauded solo debut in 1971, his capacity for playing multiple instruments and his aptitude for penning majestic pop anthems, Emitt Rhodes was heralded as a “one man Beatles.” But tethered to a toxic record deal, the disaffected artist retreated to his home studio in Hawthorne, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles, to engineer and produce projects by others.

Decades later, musician and producer Chris Price reinvigorated the sequestered Rhodes to create a consummately crafted suite of songs revealing an artistry as fresh as if it has been preserved in some alchemy of sonic amber for the 43 years. The project is titled Rainbow Ends. “I’ve gotten all sorts of comments about it being vintage,” says Rhodes. “I write a song and I think it’s good when I consider that it touches my heart.”

To craft the Omnivore Recordings release, Price assembled a cast of notable players as a core band and added special guests including producer/musician Jon Brion, vocalists Aimee Mann, Susanna Hoffs from The Bangles and Probyn Gregory, a multi-instrumentalist and a member of Brian Wilson’s band. The instrumental tracks were all cut in two days, says Rhodes. “They took tracks that I wrote slower and played them faster,” he laughs. “It was all done on a laptop. I am in awe of Pro Tools and the new technology. I think it’s wonderful.”

When he was writing the songs, Rhodes says that he was conveying his inner truth. “I never thought about what the record would sound like; I was trying to make sure the lyrics were from my heart and that everything was coherent, and did what I wanted them to do. Chris and the musicians made the record and they are wonderful players.”

Prior to his foreshortened solo career, Rhodes was a member of two late ’60s bands, as the drummer with The Palace Guard before joining Merry-Go-Round where he played a variety of instruments. The latter group scored modest chart placements including “Live,” that hit No. 63 on the pop charts.

“The song ‘Live’ was one of the first things I wrote,” Rhodes recalls. “I heard it in my sleep and got up and tried to replicate what I’d heard. I did a poor job of it, but got as close as I could. These days I am more meticulous. I love chords that progress in a manner that has a focus, and the lyric has to be focused on the chorus. I have all of these priorities that have to be followed, when at one point it was from the hip.”

A collection of stuffed manila envelopes holds a wealth of lines that have yet to find melodies, according to Rhodes. “I write way more words than I wind up using. I have envelopes full of lyrics that are unused. One of these days one of the lyrics might end up in another song.”

Despite his pop abdication and subsequent hermitage, the upbeat Rhodes sounds more philosophical than rancorous. “I worked for a major label and I signed a contract I shouldn’t have signed. I knew it at the time but I was told to. I was 20 years old. Later I worked for Elektra-Asylum as an engineer and producer. It was a good job. Then I operated a studio. That’s how I was employed.”

Asked if this indicates that future projects may be in the works, Rhodes doesn’t speculate that far ahead. But due to the doors that have been opened and the subsequent opportunities that exist because of Rainbow Ends, Rhodes is optimistic and ambitious. “No question about it. As a songwriter and an artist you do this to create an effect. So the bigger the effect, the better.”

The title track “Rainbow Ends” is a poignant and openhearted litany of wishes and hopes. “I wanna be loved no matter what/Not just for now/Till better’s got/I wanna be someone’s only one/Not just for now/Till better comes.” With his heart prominent on the proverbial sleeve, Rhodes reveals the essence of human need with lyrics of remarkable candor. “It’s not difficult for me to be honest at all,” he surmises. “I don’t know anything else.”

Contact Cary Baker, conqueroo.com