Rhinoceros was an extremely talented, yet, ill-fated band formed in 1967 that released its first album the following year. I say ill-fated because they would never gain the mass market appeal of other L.A. based acts of the time. Also, they were invited to the Woodstock festival and their management turned down the invitation. Truth be told, their albums only sold about 200,000 copies. Yet, if you can get your hands on the remastered CDs of their first two albums or stream them on Spotify You will hear some funky, exciting and soulful music.
Elektra records did the band no favors by dubbing them a “supergroup”. This label of supergroup also probably doomed Blind Faith. They did this because two group members were from Iron Butterfly, One was formerly with Buffalo Springfield and drummer Billy Mundi was with Frank Zappa’s Mothers.
Subsequent biographies of Rhinoceros have portrayed the band as not being the result of an “organic” group because the members initially auditioned individually for producer Paul Rothschild and Barry Friedman (better known as Frazier Mohawk). However, two members (Three by the second album) came from a Canadian band, Jon Lee and The Checkmates, and, as previously noted, two came from Iron Butterfly. And Billy Mundi had recorded with the Canadians previously and had filled in as drummer for Buffalo Springfield. So this was not a prefabricated band. This view of the band is further proved disingenuous by the knowledge that most rock bands have been formed this way. Rock bands as far back as the Beatles usually didn’t all start off together but changed lineups by auditioning new members or getting recommendations from others.
The music speaks for itself. This is the funkiest white band you are ever going to hear. And the musicianship is top notch. There is nothing dated here. You will hear great classic tone on guitars, bass, drums, electric and acoustic piano and Hammond organ. No over the top psychedelic effects. Moreover, they really gel as a group. The interplay between group members is almost telepathic, very tight. The vocals are soulful and the music is very reminiscent of The Meters or Booker T and the MG’s. For this very reason they were probably more popular as a live act than an album oriented rock group. By 1968, many musicians were over the summer of love but much of the music buying public were just catching on to it.
I first heard Rhinoceros in 1969. Their song Top of the Ladder was getting airplay on WNEW FM in New York and my older sister had their first two albums. A few years later, a friend of mine who was in an integrated funk band would perform their song That Time of the Year regularly to appreciative audiences.
Listening to them now it is hard to understand why they have been so neglected. They had some great original material. Their cover of Bobby Womack’s Your’e My Girl was definitely influential on Rod Stewart’s subsequent cover. Their instrumental Apricot Brandy was used as a signature tune by the BBC and was covered by Danny Gatton. I Will Serenade You was covered by Three Dog Night as Let Me Serenade You. You couldn’t ask for a better lineup; two great vocalists, two great guitarists, two great keyboard players and a solid rhythm section. Indeed, this was a time when much less talented groups were gaining mass acceptance.
Contributing factors may have been the missed opportunity to play at Woodstock, and the fragmented nature of FM rock radio in the late 1960’s. It was still not uncommon, until perhaps the mid 1970’s, for a group to only find success in a few major markets such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and New York City, much like today with technology startups.
If you can appreciate Steve Cropper and Booker T or the Meters you owe it to yourself to check this group out. If you like soulful music played by talented musicians you won’t be disappointed.
Check out their reunion in 2009 on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-o7pyw8n2Kc