Rhinoceros was an American rock band established in 1967 through auditions conducted by Elektra Records, rather than organic formation by musicians. The band, while well respected in many circles, did not live up to the record label’s expectations. It was also poorly received by fans, producing a slow selling debut album and two even less successful LPs before breaking up. One reviewer commented, “Despite the fact that the band could not live up to the expectations that were raised by Elektra Records’ publicity machine, Rhinoceros’ contributions to rock still deserve more credit than subsequent rock histories give it.”
Paul A. Rothchild, then Elektra Records’ talent scout and house producer, and fellow producer Frazier Mohawk (formerly Barry Friedman), decided to individually sign talented young musicians and form them together into a group in this fashion. While Mohawk had been instrumental in coordinating band membership for what became Buffalo Springfield (encouraging Stills to form Buffalo Springfield following his Monkees audition), the establishment of what became Rhinoceros involved a more formal third party role.
Rothchild and Mohawk initially invited twelve musicians to audition in September 1967, at Mohawk’s house in Laurel Canyon. Included in this initial group were Doug Hastings (guitar) and Alan Gerber (keyboards and vocals). A second audition was held at a Los Angeles motel in November 1967, where approximately twenty musicians were reviewed. After this meeting, John Finley (vocals) and Danny Weis (guitar) were chosen to work with Hastings and Gerber. Finley and Hodgson were both former members of Jon and Lee & the Checkmates, a band which Rothchild had expressed an interest in signing as early as 1965 that had broken up in September 1967.
Weis had been an original member of Iron Butterfly and played on their debut album. Hastings had been a member of Seattle’s Daily Flash, and briefly served as Neil Young’s replacement in Buffalo Springfield, during one of Young’s departures from the group. Other members of the Daily Flash were invited to audition for Rhinoceros, though only Hastings was chosen.
Weis then suggested former Iron Butterfly bandmate Jerry Penrod as the bass player for Rhinoceros; his suggestion was accepted. Former Checkmate keyboard player Michael Fonfara was then invited to join the lineup. Fonfara had joined The Electric Flag in mid-November 1967, for sessions and a brief tour of the northeast U.S. and California. During mid-December, he ran into Finley and Hodgson at the Tropicana Motel in Los Angeles, and was encouraged by Finley to sign on to the Rhinoceros project. Based on Finley’s recommendation, Fonfara was brought into Rhinoceros, following the completion of his obligations to the Electric Flag. John Keleihor, former drummer for The Daily Flash, contributed to some of the group’s early recordings, but departed early on. The final member chosen, in early 1968, was Billy Mundi, former drummer for the Mothers of Invention.
The band first recorded together as the backing musicians for David Ackles debut album, released in 1968. Rhinoceros’ self-titled debut album, produced by Paul Rothchild, was also released in 1968. Despite heavy promotion and critical acclaim it did not sell well. However, the instrumental “Apricot Brandy”, written by Weis and Fonfara, reached #46 on the Billboard Charts and was later used as a signature tune by BBC radio, and covered by Danny Gatton for the 1990 compilation Rubáiyát. Another of the album’s songs, “I Will Serenade You”, written by John Finley, was covered by Three Dog Night as “Let Me Serenade You” and went to #17 in the US in 1973. In addition, their cover of “You’re My Girl (I Don’t Want To Discuss It)” was covered in 1969 by Amen Corner on their National Welsh Coast Live Explosion Company album, and in 1970 by Rod Stewart, on his Gasoline Alley album. “I Will Serenade You” was the debut single of Rhinoceros in the United States, while “You’re My Girl” was the debut single in the United Kingdom, both being released in 1968.Both songs were released on the same single, with each song being the “B-side” of the other, depending on the country of release.
The next two years saw many changes of the line-up and two more albums. From the time of their second album Satin Chickens (1969), Rothchild and Mohawk were no longer involved with production. The album was instead produced by David Anderle. Bassist Jerry Penrod abruptly departed from the band after the album’s completion; he was briefly replaced by Danny Weis’ brother, Steve, and later by Finley’s cousin and former bandmate in Jon & Lee & The Checkmates Peter Hodgson. Hodgson had lost out to Jerry Penrod in the initial auditions and had then joined David Clayton-Thomas in Toronto for his “David Clayton-Thomas Combine”. He later returned to Los Angeles to work with Jackson Browne before finally joining Rhinoceros in April 1969. Three more band members would leave before the recording of the third album: first was guitarist Doug Hastings, who left that summer to be replaced by another Checkmate, Larry Leishman, who had played with “Freedom Fair” and “The Power Project” until mid-1968 and then with Bobby Kris & The Imperials. A bit later Alan Gerber left the band due to disagreements over band manager Billy Fields’ decision to not have them perform at Woodstock; Billy Mundi would follow him shortly after. The two roles of singer and drummer were taken up by The Checkmates’ manager/drummer Duke Edwards, who had also played with Rhinoceros newcomer Leishman in The Duke Edwards Cycle in early 1969. The lineup of John Finley (vocals), Danny Weis (guitars), Michael Fonfara (organ), Peter Hodgson (bass), Larry Leishman (guitars) and Duke Edwards (drums, vocals) moved to New York and recorded the third and last Rhinoceros album, “Better Times Are Coming”, in 1970. Then the band did some shows at Fillmore East, after which Edwards was replaced by Dr. John drummer Richard Crooks, who in turn would be replaced by Malcolm Tomlinson, who stayed with the band until their dissolution, before mid 1971.
In 1971, after the breakup of Rhinoceros, John Finley, Michael Fonfara, Peter Hodgson, Danny Weis and Larry Leishman formed a new group called Blackstone, later referred to by Weis as “an attempt to re-capture some of the fun we had in Rhinoceros”. They recorded an album for Canadian label GRT, produced by Paul Rothchild. The musicians then went their separate ways.
On 7 August 2009, original members John Finley, Alan Gerber, Danny Weis and Michael Fonfara reunited at the Kitchener Blues Festival in Ontario, Canada with bass player Peter Hodgson, along with Bernie LaBarge (replacing original guitarist Doug Hastings), and Mike Sloski on drums. (by wikipedia)
Despite the fact that the band could not live up to the expectations that were raised by Elektra Records’ publicity machine, Rhinoceros’ contributions to rock still deserve more credit than subsequent rock histories give it. (by Linda Seida)
All in all it´s a really nice album, but … Rhinoceros was never a real super group !
Duke Edwards (drums, vocals)
John Finley (vocals)
Michael Fonfara (organ)
Peter Hodgson (bass)
Larry Leishman (guitar)
01. Better Times (Edwards/Finley/Fonfara) 2.46
02. Old Age (Edwards/Leishman) 3.02
03. Sweet, Nice ‘N’ High (Edwards/Leishman) 3.33
04. Just Me (Draper) 2.13
05. Happiness (Draper) 2.34
06. Somewhere (Weis/Finley) 3.43
07. It’s A Groovy World (Draper) 2.55
08. Insanity (Draper) 2.22
09. Lady Of Fortune (Edwards/Leishman) 3.06
10. Let’s Party (Draper) 3.06
11. Rain Child (Edwards/Leishman) 5.27
Billboard review, June 3, 1970: