Return To 60’s Main Menu Recording Artists Of The 60s 




(Thomas Sean Bonniwell)

Original Sound 61

No. 15    Jan. 14, 1967




Sean Bonniwell (b. 1940, San Jose, Cal.) was the founding father and leader of the Music Machine, one

of the most loved–if least played–garage bands of the ’60s.    Sean, now a born-again Christian, is quietly

living in Lindsay, California, where he and his wife run a small engraving shop.    His income from those

masterful Music Machine sides totaled $7, 000; his songwriter’s royalties are less than $100 [as of the late

’80s].    To free himself from a contract with Warner Bros.,  Sean sold off the group’s name and the rights

to all of the group’s recordings to producer Brian Ross–reportedly, for the paltry sum of one dollar!


Sean’s mother was a ballerina; his father was a military man and a trumpet player.   Sean started his own

music career in a folk trio, the Noblemen, and learned how to play guitar.    After a stint with the

Wayfarers (and three albums for RCA), Sean gathered together drummer Ron Edgar and former GALE

GARNETT bassist Keith Olsen to create a Beatle-influenced band, the Ragamuffins.


After several months of practice, the Ragamuffins evolved into the well-oiled Music   Machine, five

strong:  Bonniwell, Edgar, Olsen, Mark Landon (guitar), and Doug Rhodes (keyboards).   For their

concert appearances, each member dyed his hair black, dressed in an all-black outfit, and mysteriously

wore one black glove.    “I wanted to make a statement that was rebellious, but not for the sake of

rebellion,” Bonniwell explained to Goldmine’s Jeff Tamarkin.    “It was for the sake of a unified image.”


While the Music Machine was playing a bowling alley, producer Brian Ross discovered the act.   He

plunked down $150 to tape demos on “Talk Talk” and “Come On In,” quite a bargain in those days.   Art

Laboe at Original Sound–a label primarily known for instrumental hits by Sandy Nelson, PRESTON

EPPS, and the Incredible Bongo Band–offered to issue some sides, the first of which was   “Talk Talk.”

“I wrote the song  in about 20 minutes while I was waiting for my girlfriend to get ready,” Bonniwell

revealed.    “I just sat down with the guitar and wrote it.     All the good ones happen like that.   I wrote it in

’65, so it laid around for a year.”


The Music Machine began dismantling itself even as the single was mounting the     charts.    Sean was

at loggerheads with Laboe about which record to issue as the follow-up to “Talk Talk”; Bonniwell wanted to

put out “Hey Joe,” which no one had recorded yet.   In addition, the group was growing     resentful of

Bonniwell’s bossy ways.    They recorded the (Turn On) The Music Machine LP (1967) in one intense 10-hour session, but the strain was beginning to show.


A few more 45s trickled into circulation, and one even charted­–“The People In Me”   (#66,1967).

Bonniwell secured a contract with a big label, Warner Bros., but no Machine men stuck around long

enough to enter a studio again.    He renamed the “group” Bonniwell Music Machine and used session

players for several singles and an LP, Bonniwell Music Machine (1967).


During the ’70s, Bonniwell dropped out of the music scene and tuned in to a variety of psychedelic

experiences.    “I made a   practice of getting out of my body,” he told Rolling Stone’s David Fricke.   “I

became very good at it.”   During his more grounded moments, Sean hosted an astrology radio program

(”The Sun Sign Report”) in  Charleston, South Carolina; wrote a mov1e and mus1c review column for

The Charleston; trained Arabian horses; and made a brief appearance in the flick Swamp Thing (1982).


Keith Olsen has become the most visibly successful­ Machine member.   As a producer, Keith has worked

with the Babys, Russ Ballard, Kim Carnes, Fleetwood Mac, Foreigner, THE

GRATEFUL DEAD, Heart and Santana.