Emitt Rhodes, a singer whose career began in the 1960s but who became critically acclaimed in the 1970s as a solo artist for his Paul McCartney looks and power pop stylings, died in his sleep on July 19, according to friend and record producer Chris Price. Rhodes was 70.
A darling of the Los Angeles scene then and now, Rhodes most recently released an album in 2016 on Omnivore Records called “Rainbow Ends” which featured collaborations with Aimee Mann, Jon Brion, Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles and members of Jellyfish and the New Pornographers.
One of Rhodes’ first rock credits, according to allmusic.com, was playing drums with the Emeralds, later renamed the Palace Guard. The group donned distinctive red uniforms and also was briefly the backing band for Don Grady, also known as Robbie on the sitcom “My Three Sons.”
Rhodes’ next band, the Merry Go-Round, had two top 100 hits on A&M Records in 1967, “Live” and “You’re a Very Lovely Woman.” “Live” had the bigger chart success, clocking in at No. 63. The group’s self-titled debut, with both songs, hit the back end of the top 200 album chart at #190. The group was seen on TV on ABC’s “The Hollywood Palace.”
But it was as a solo artist where Rhodes garnered acclaim from audiences and critics. His 1970 self-titled solo debut on Dunhill Records hit No. 29 on U.S. album charts during a 20-week stint. A single from the album, “Fresh as a Daisy,” which would have been at home on any Paul McCartney album of that era, hit No. 54 and stayed on the charts for nine weeks.
A multi-disc set of his early recordings, “The Emitt Rhodes Recordings 1969 – 1973,” released by Universal in 2009, collected his first four solo albums, the debut, “Mirror” (1971), “American Dream” (1971) and “Farewell to Paradise” (1973). Rhodes’ Paul McCartney comparisons were later the subject of a 2009 documentary, “The One Man Beatles.” Produced by Tony Blass, the film, lasting just under an hour, is available on Vimeo.
It took over 40 years after his ’70s releases to finally hear any brand new music from Rhodes. A cover of the Bee Gees’ “How Do You Mend a Broken Heart” was an ice breaker in 2015, followed by the full-length “Rainbow Ends,” produced by Price and released a year later.
Price said there were efforts to have Rhodes perform live at one of the annual Wild Honey benefit shows in Los Angeles in which performers recreate classic rock albums, but nothing ever came of it. Price said it had been hoped he would do the Beatles’ song “Rocky Raccoon” during the collective’s White Album tribute. “That would have been fantastic,” he said.
Musician and friend Jim McFarland, whose group Jimimax featured live appearances with Rhodes, described him as “very, very kind. … He’d give you the shirt off his back,” McFarland said.
In a 2009 interview with this writer, Rhodes talked about all the comparisons made between him and Paul McCartney and said he didn’t mind them. “Well, that’s a real compliment. What can you say? He’s a great singer, don’t you think? That’s what I thought, too.”