Emitt Rhodes, 70, Dies; Singer-Songwriter Vanished After a Splash


By 1965, the teenage Mr. Rhodes was playing drums in a garage band, the Palace Guard, which, like many groups of that era, took musical cues from the Byrds and the Beatles and cultivated a sartorial gimmick; theirs was the red uniform of royal British guardsmen. In his next band, the Merry-Go-Round, which was signed to A&M Records, he was the leader and primary songwriter.

Mr. Rhodes was signed to ABC/Dunhill as a solo artist, which in 1970 released his debut, “Emitt Rhodes.” On songs like “Fresh as a Daisy”— filled with baroque piano lines, rich harmonies and catchy guitar parts — he came across as a fully formed singer-songwriter with a clear debt to Mr. McCartney.

The album reached No. 29 on Billboard’s chart. To capitalize on its success, A&M released “The American Dream,” a compilation of tracks that Mr. Rhodes had recorded with studio musicians during his Merry-Go-Round days. It confused consumers and stunted Mr. Rhodes’s momentum.

He also struggled to meet his contractual obligations, which had called for six albums in three years. A perfectionist, it took him nearly a year to complete his first record alone. He made two more LPs — “Mirror” and “Farewell to Paradise” — but ABC sued him for falling behind schedule, and he ceased recording. Friends described him as feeling betrayed by the business.

“From the first moment he signed his deal, he was already behind the eight ball,” said Mr. Price, a fan who sought out Mr. Rhodes in the mid-2000s and, after years building his trust, produced “Rainbow Ends,” a 2016 album and his first major release in 43 years.

For most of the intervening years, Mr. Rhodes had been a phantom in the Los Angeles music world. He had worked as a staff producer for the Elektra label, producing an album for the Canadian performer Bim and a 1976 novelty single by the actor and comedian Gabe Kaplan, “Up Your Nose” — a catchphrase from Mr. Kaplan’s hit TV show, “Welcome Back, Kotter.” He also recorded bands at his home studio and made at least one abortive attempt to restart his recording career.

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