Emitt Rhodes, the prolific singer-songwriter and recording engineer, has died at the age of 70. Rhodes performed with The Palace Guard and The Merry-Go-Round in his youth but will be forever remembered for his enduring career as a solo artist.
Rhodes’ death on July 19 was confirmed by his friend Jim McFarland who posted on Facebook at 3 p.m. Eastern time, “Arrived home from my 6 mile walk to the police in the front yard. Emitt Rhodes has passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 70.”
Rhodes was a native of Decatur, Illinois, but grew up in Southern California. Rhodes’ most recent release was a 2016 album titled, Rainbow Ends, that received widespread critical acclaim and boasted appearances from singers such as Aimee Mann and Jon Brion.
Another of Rhodes’ friends, Tony Blass, who produced a documentary about Rhodes titled The One Man Beatles, tweeted:
Emitt Rhodes passed away last night at the age of 70. I feel honored and blessed to have worked and spent time with him for the past 12 years. I tried my best to tell his story, share his music and spend some quality time with him. We usually got completely drunk together.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Rhodes Said Although He Was Constantly Compared to Paul McCartney, He ‘Idolized John Lennon’
According to Brooklyn Vegan’s tribute to Rhodes, he went by the nickname “The One Man Beatles.” Rhodes’ official Facebook page, which is managed by the singer’s friends, refers to him as a “prodigiously gifted songwriter and recording artist.”
Rhodes told The Daily Breeze in February 2020 that although he was regularly compared to Paul McCartney because of their similar singing styles, he idolized John Lennon.
Rhodes said in a 2002 interview with The Washington Post that in his youth in California as a burgeoning musician, women would regularly throw their underwear at him. Rhodes said, “It was like being in A Hard Day’s Night.” The Post’s Eli Attle wrote:
Unlike most Beatle disciples, Rhodes somehow cracked their secret code — for soaring melodies with a touch of melancholy, for bass-and-guitar counterpoint that fits together like a jigsaw puzzle, for music that finds joy even through its own root sadness.
2. Rhodes Started His Music Career as a Drummer in The Emerals When He Was Just 15 Years of Age
Rhodes’ official website bio says that his music career began in Hawthorne, California, in southwestern Los Angeles County, where he performed as the drummer of The Emerals. It’s not clear at what age Rhodes joined the band but his bio said that he left at the age of 15. From the remnants of that group, Rhodes and others formed The Palace Guard in 1965. The bio said that around this point, Rhodes would occasionally come from behind the drum kit to sing for the group.
By 1966, Rhodes was on to another band, The Merry-Go-Round. Rhodes also changed instruments becoming the group’s guitarist. Rhodes is quoted in the bio as saying, “I learned how to play guitar because it was easier to carry around…I wrote a song on a guitar that I had picked up — it was my grandfather’s or something — and I thought, wow, this is fun! That led me to writing songs and playing the guitar, and that led to The Merry-Go-Round, because I needed a band.”
Rhodes’ bio says that The Merry-Go-Round released their self-titled debut album in 1967. The bio describes the band influences as being The Beatles, The Who, The Small Faces and The Byrds. Fellow member Gary Kato is quoted in the bio as saying that the group knew The Beatles’ albums “inside out.” In 1969, the band broke up. Rhodes is quoted again in the bio saying:
Being in a band is kinda like a marriage. It works out for a while, then cracks start to develop. Rhinehart and I just didn’t get along. He was older, like 20. I wanted my way: ‘I don’t care if you’re bigger and older, I WANT MY WAY!’ It all got to be a pain in the ass. You spend a lot of time together, you get on each other’s nerves, you can’t help it. There was no psychologist in the group; it was more, ‘I HATE you!’ We used to spit in each other’s faces, bloody each other’s noses. In the middle of the studio — can you imagine?
3. Rhodes Said in a 2001 Interview That He Was ‘Just Trying to Stay Alive’
Rhodes said in a January 2001 interview with Perfect Sound Forever that he suffered a series of commercial flops after going solo in 1969. Rhodes said that these flops left him without a record label for many years. Keeping up with his music, Rhodes continued to record in his home but few, if any, of his material saw the light of day. Rhodes went on to say that in 2000 he signed a deal with the indie label, Rocktopia, but plans for an album fell through when the company ran out of money.
Rhodes said of his life in 2001, “I’m just trying to stay alive. “I have a small studio and I rent studio time … I’m not a rich person. I make a living.” Rhodes added that he was now living across the street from his parents’ former home. In February 2020, Rhodes told the Torrance, California, Daily Breeze that he was still living there. Rhodes also described himself as being “fortunate” as in his youth, his parents supported his music career. Rhodes said that he was able to make money from music as he didn’t have any bills to pay. He said, “Music was pretty much the focus of my life, just making noise. Now it’s making noise to pay the landlord.” Rhodes said in a 2020 interview that he bought the house across the street from his parents.
4. Rhodes’ Song ‘Lullaby’ Was Featured in Wes Anderson’s Breakthrough Film ‘The Royal Tennenbaums’
In 2001, Rhodes’ song “Lullaby” was featured on the soundtrack for Wes Anderson’s breakthrough movie, The Royal Tennenbaums. Rhodes told The Washington Post in 2002 that at the time he was struggling for money, his daughter had to pay for him to see the movie in a theater.
The Post article said that it was actor Jason Schwartzmann who introduced Anderson to Rhodes’ music. The same piece mentions that at the time of “Lullaby’s” release in 1969 he was hailed by Billboard Magazine as “one of the finest artists on the scene today.”
5. Rhodes Is Being Celebrated as a Musical Icon on Twitter
As news of Rhodes’ death spread, many of his fellow musicians and fans have taken to social media to celebrate his life and career. Here are some of the most poignant tributes: