Cult Classic: The Bonniwell Music Machine-The Bonniwell Music Machine.

In 1955, Sean Bonniwell’s life changed when he heard The Platters’ Only You and decided to become a musician. Eventually, his dream became a reality, and he became one of the most influential and innovative musicians of the mid-sixties. With his band The Bonniwell Music Machine, Sean would influence a whole generation of musicians. The Bonniwell Music Machine’s music  would influence psychedelia, garage and punk bands. Their most important album was their 1968 eponymous sophomore album, The Bonniwell Music Machine. It was the result of a nine year musical journey for Sean Bonniwell.

Sean Bonniwell was born in August 1940, in San Jose, California. He was inspired musically, by his father, who played trumpet. However his life changed the day he heard The Platters’ Only You. That’s when Sean, who was still a high school student, decided to make a living as a singer-songwriter. Four years later, aged nineteen, Sean formed his first band The Noblemen. 

This was 1959, and Sean was a college student. The Noblemen were a folk group. Sean wanted to be part of the burgeoning folk movement, so founded The Noblemen. They were a short-lived group, lasting until 1960. It would be another three years before Sean joined another group, The Wayfarers

The Wayfarers were an existing band and Sean joined them in 1963. They’re best described as a pop-folk quartet and Sean’s time with The Wayfarers was part of his musical education. It was during this period that Sean recognised the importance of a band being prepared. For The Wayfarers, second best wasn’t good enough. They were determined to be the best, so honed their sound. During this period, The Wayfarers released a trio of albums.

Having signed to RCA, The Wayfarers released their debut album The Wayfarers At The Hungry I in 1963. Sean featured on their sophomore album, The Wayfarers At The World’s End. During that period, The Wayfarers shared the stage with some of the biggest names of the sixties. However, in 1964, Sean decided to leave The Wayfarers. He decided to form The Ragamuffins.

Although it might have surprised many people that Sean left The Wayfarers, he had a good reason for doing so. He felt frustrated artistically. He was  a member of a clean cut folk pop group. This Sean felt, was too conservative. He needed to push himself and find himself as a singer and songwriter. What better vehicle for this was there than his own band, The Ragamuffins.

Formed in 1965, The Ragamuffins featured Ron Edgar, Keith Olsen and Sean. Straight away, Sean set about reinventing himself and finding his own voice. The shackles were off. No longer was he restricted. He set about finding himself as a songwriter. His timing was perfect. The psychedelic era was just about to dawn. The doors of perception were well and truly opened.

After a year as a trio, The Ragamuffins added guitarist Mark Landon and keyboardist Doug Rhodes in 1966. It was then that The Ragamuffins realised they needed a new name. Sean Bonniwell’s reasoning was “artistic survival.”  He was fed up of managers asking him to play cover versions. What he wanted was the band to get up on stage and just play constantly. The band would be like a machine. So, he hit on the name, The Music Machine. 

With new members and a new name, The Music Machine’s fortunes changed. They signed a recording contract with Original Sound. They then began work on (Turn On) The Music Machine. It was recorded at Original Sound Studios. A total of twelve songs were recorded, seven of which were written by Sean Bonniwell. They became (Turn On) The Music Machine.

On the release of (Turn On) The Music Machine in 1966, the singles fared better than the album. (Turn On) The Music Machine was a fusion of garage, pop, rock and psychedelia. It was groundbreaking and influential. Sadly, it wasn’t a commercially success. At least the singles were.

Talk Talk, the lead single, became a top twenty single in the US Billboard 100. The follow-up  single, The People In Me, stalled at number sixty-six in the US Billboard 100. Sean felt the single should’ve fared better, but alleged problems between the band’s manager and someone at the record company didn’t help matter. Another bone of contention was the four cover version on (Turn On) The Music Machine. This was the record company’s idea. Relationships it seems, were strained. The problem was, nobody knew how badly.

After the release of (Turn On) The Music Machine, The Music Machine headed on a  tour to promote their debut album. On their return home, four of the five members of The Music Machine left the band. Then there was one.

Now that The Music Machine was just Sean Bonniwell, he decided to change the group’s name again. He decided upon The Bonniwell Music Machine. This was the band that signed to Warner Bros.

With The Bonniwell Music Machine reduced to just Sean, this could’ve presented a problem for Warner Bros. After all, how was a one man band going to record an album? One solution would’ve been to bring in sidemen. That wasn’t necessary. Luckily, Sean had an album up his sleeve.

During the first six months of 1967, The Music Machine had been on a gruelling touring schedule. They decided to record some music. This includes some of the music on The Bonniwell Music Machine. Originally, these tracks, which were recorded in New Orleans, were going to be demos. The plan was for The Music Machine to rerecord them in Los Angeles. Then when the band listened to them, they realised they were good enough to release. For Sean, this was a result. He at least had an album to present to Warner Bros. 

What became The Bonniwell Music Machine, features fourteen tracks. They’re a mixture of the songs recorded in New Orleans, plus some singles. Sean had penned thirteen tracks and cowrote The Day Today with Keith Olsen. Although this was hardly ideal for The Bonniwell Music Machine’s major label debut, there was no alternative. After all, Sean had a band, but no band members. It was a case of making do and mend. So, The Bonniwell Music Machine was released in 1968.

When The Bonniwell Music Machine was released in 1968, it didn’t make any impression on the US charts. Neither did the single Bottom Of My Soul. For The Bonniwell Music Machine their eponymous sophomore album hadn’t proved a commercial success. 

Everything from blues, garage, pop, proto-punk, psychedelia, R&B and rock was combined by The Bonniwell Music Machine on their eponymous sophomore album. It was produced Brian Ross, who played an important role, in turning what was originally a bunch of demos into an album. This saved Sean Bonniewell from an embarrassing situation.

After all, The Bonniwell Music Machine had just signed to Warner Bros. The only problem was, that the band was no more. Sean was The Bonniwell Music Machine. However, out of a bunch of demos reworded in New Orleans, plus some singles came The Bonniwell Music Machine. This was the band’s Warner Bros. debut. 

Sadly, The Bonniwell Music Machine wasn’t a commercial success. Some critics felt that The Bonniwell Music Machine was too eclectic. How wrong they were. The Bonniwell Music Machine went on to influence several generations of musicians and they were the founding fathers of psychedelia and punk. As if that’s not enough, The Bonniwell Music Machine were also one of the most important garage bands. That is why The Bonniwell Music Machine’s importance can’t be underestimated.

After the release of The Bonniwell Music Machine, Sean went on to release another four albums. Then in 1970, Sean Bonniwell turned his back on music. He was lost to music for eleven years. 

Sean decided to become a westernised guru era. This affected every part his life.  Sean became interested in transcendental meditation, vegetarianism and a whole host of Eastern religions. That was Sean’s life for eleven years. However, throughout that time, Sean continued to write music. That was a constant in his life. Throughout the rest of his life, Sean Bonniwell continued to make music. That was the case right up until his death on 20th December 2011. The most fruitful part of Sean’s career was as part of The Music Machine and The Bonniwell Music Machine.

Throughout their career, The Bonniwell Music Machine released innovative and influential music. They influenced several generations of musicians. Some people would go as far as to say that Sean Bonniwell was one of then most influential and innovative musicians of the mid-sixties. With his band The Bonniwell Music Machine, Sean would influence a whole generation of musicians. The Bonniwell Music Machine were founding father’s of both psychedelia and punk who would influence psychedelia, garage and punk bands.  Their most important album was their 1968 eponymous sophomore album, which is a groundbreaking cult classic that has influenced severla generation of musicians. 

Cult Classic: The Bonniwell Music Machine-The Bonniwell Music Machine.


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