EXPIRED: 12/20/11 – Sean Bonniwell, 71, was the godfather of punk. No disrespect to Iggy Pop or the Ramones, but Bonniwell was doing it first.
Bonniwell was 15 when he first heard the song “Only You” by the Platters and knew he needed to be a rock star. After a couple of false starts, he finally formed a solid group, The Ragamuffins, in 1965. The next year they changed their name to The Music Machine and released their debut album, ‘(Turn On) The Music Machine.‘ The album is highly regarded as one of the most played, but least known, garage-punk predecessors.
The Music Machine only had two hits. “The People in Me” peaked at #66. But “Talk Talk” reached #15 on the charts and was considered to be raw, angry and superbly anti-establishment. It was a perfect song for the times. Accompanied by a Farfisa organ, a staccato backbeat and fuzzy guitars, Bonniwell and his band wore all–black clothing, died their moptop hair black and sported a single black glove on their right hand. And they menaced with the lyrics:
“Here’s my situation / And how it really stands / I’m out of circulation / I’ve all but washed my hands / My social life’s a dud / My name is really mud / I’m up to here in lies / I guess I’m down to size. / Talk Talk!”
Despite the success, by 1967 every band member except Bonniwell were fired. The band was renamed The Bonniwell Music Machine, who released a second album with little success. A 3rd album was recorded in 1969, but never released.
To get out of his record contract, Bonniwell sold the rights to the band’s name and released ‘Close,’ a softer solo album, which fared no better.
By 1970, Bonniwell quit the music business and – despite earning some royalties by Alice Cooper’s 1980 version of “Talk Talk” on his ‘Flush The Fashion‘ LP– kept a low profile until 2000, when he released an autobiography entitled Beyond The Garage. While it too gained little interest, The Larksmen, a young garage band, were intrigued. In 2006 The Larksmen invited Bonniwell to play on their self-titled debut and do a handful of shows around Los Angeles.
It’s sad that someone who influenced so many of the 70’s and 80’s garage bands saw such limited success. It’s sadder still that lung cancer took this guy away before his influence was rightfully acknowledged.