Talk Talk

A group of college-age folk singers calling themselves The Wayfarers were talented and disciplined; they first got together in 1961 with guitarists Dick Bailey and Sean Bonniwell, standup bassist Tom Adams and banjo player Ray Blouin. A recording contract with RCA Victor (despite there having been a completely different group with the same name on the label several years earlier) resulted in three albums: studio recording Come Along with the Wayfarers and concert LP The Wayfarers at the Hungry i were released in the spring and fall of 1963, live set The Wayfarers at the World's Fair nearly a year later; selections ranged from traditional standards to originals penned by Hylton Sacher and Jim Patton, some in collaboration with the group's members. There were a few singles: Woody Guthrie's often-recorded classic "This Land is Your Land," Revolutionary War narrative "Ticonderoga" and the mildly humorous Jeff Barry-Art Resnick ditty "Crabs Walk Sideways," a song better known as part of The Smothers Brothers' act.

None of the Wayfarers' records sold particularly well. The problem was one of timing and, sadly, lack of originality. The quartet, running at least a couple of years behind folk music trends, basically recycled the sound and presentation of earlier groups like The Kingston Trio, The Brothers Four and The Limeliters, all fresher and all successful, though each to a lesser degree, depending, at least partly, on their initial moment of impact. The Wayfarers broke up after a few years and only one stayed active in the music business; as it turned out, Sean (born Thomas Harvey Bonniwell), while still strumming and singing folk tunes with his 'faring bandmates, had already been making plans to start a rock band.

He had met Keith Olsen, a bass player, and drummer Ron Edgar, during his folk period. The three started out in Los Angeles as The Ragamuffins, with a repertoire of current hits (never performed too close to the sound of the originals) and some of Sean's material. In short order the band graduated from dive bars and bowling alleys to the trendier Hollywood nightclubs, soon finding themselves rubbing elbows with up-and-comers Love and already-made-it folk-rockers The Byrds. Organist Doug Rhodes and lead guitarist Mark Landon were added to the lineup by 1966. Bonniwell was into branding; he talked everyone into dying their mop-toppish hair black (though one or two may have donned wigs instead) and each wore a single black glove, giving off a tough-guy vibe. The name was changed to The Music Machine, based on the band's tendency to perform nonstop without breaks between songs.

Music biz wannabe Brian Ross saw them perform one night and before they knew it he was calling the shots, hooking them up with local disc jockey Art Laboe, who signed them to his Original Sound label. A session was set up in the summer of '66 at RCA's Studio C on Sunset Boulevard and, thanks to Bonniwell's strict practice ethic honed during his Wayfaring years, the ultra-prepared band recorded an entire album's worth of songs in a few hours, some tracks in as little as one take. "Talk Talk" concerned the "in" concept of being an outcast (' social life's a dud, my name is really mud!'); a power punch in under two minutes, it connected right away, going top ten in Los Angeles that fall and top 20 nationally at the end of the year. Music publications made special note of the "five black-clad, page-boyed men from California" while favorably comparing Sean's singing to Arthur Lee of Love (a mild vocal similarity fooled some at first, including myself, into thinking "Talk Talk" was a new Love 45). So far, so good...time for the Music Machine to start crankin' out more hits!

From the start, Bonniwell wanted to rock harder than other American garage bands and the earlier folk-rockers; taking a quick glance at the guitar-crunching bands of '66 that had managed a hit single or two, it appears he achieved his goal (with the possible exception of Lee's Love, responsible for the hot-and-heavy "7 and 7 Is"). Second single "The People in Me" increased the attack with Mark's sharply exotic guitar work, Doug's buzzing Farfisa organ and Sean's mazelike lyrics. It made the charts in January '67 but stalled by March; an album, Turn On the Music Machine, featuring the two singles, a mix of original songs and covers of five current hits (at Laboe's insistence), sold in fair amounts that winter and spring. Two more singles, "Double Yellow Line" and "The Eagle Never Hunts the Fly," had hit potential in the grooves. But momentum slipped away very quickly; these quixotic Bonniwell creations have taken a number of years to be properly appreciated as trailblazing hard rock songs.

The band rapidly fell apart and suddenly only Sean was left. Ross secured him a limited deal with Warner Bros., where a second album as The Bonniwell Music Machine was released containing the third and fourth singles and several tracks recorded with session musicians. Songs like "Bottom of the Soul" and "You'll Love Me Again" ventured further into psychedelia (appropriate for 1967 and '68) but didn't jibe with what radio programmers were looking for. Original Sound pulled a track from the first album for release as a single; "Hey Joe" had a seriously slowed-down, somber arrangement in contrast to the hit '66 version by The Leaves and other artists who'd done it, the exception being The Jimi Hendrix Experience, whose unhurriedly impactful recording hadn't initially been popular in the U.S. By mid-1968, though, word had gotten out; Jimi's album Are You Experienced, from which the track was taken, was just hitting the top ten, well over a year after its release. The Music Machine single couldn't compete.

Warner Bros. ran out of patience by late '68; Sean's efforts were sounding more and more abstract. There was one final Music Machine single, "Advise and Consent," on the Bell label in 1969. He recorded a one-shot album for Capitol as T.S. Bonniwell, then a really oddball single appeared on Original Sound by The Friendly Torpedoes called "Nothin's Too Good For My Car," masterminded by Sean and Paul Buff, the engineer on the early Machine records. Sean Bonniwell called it quits as early as 1970. Of the five bona fide group members, Keith Olsen went on to greater things, producing the early recordings of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks prior to their joining Fleetwood Mac in time for the band's massive late-'70s success. After that, Olsen worked with many of the hottest acts in rock.

- Michael Jack Kirby


Talk Talk