Emitt Rhodes, a beloved 1970s singer-songwriter whose pop creations earned him a cult following after a string of sunshiny solo albums, died at age 70 on Sunday (July 19). Rhodes’ fiancee and social media manager, Valerie Eaton, confirmed the news to Billboard. She said no cause of death was available at press time, but it appears Rhodes died in his sleep.
Born on Feb. 25, 1950, in Decatur, Ill., Rhodes got his start in music as the teenage drummer for Los Angeles’ The Emeralds (sometimes referred to as The Emerals). That project morphed into another mid-1960s psychedelic band, The Palace Guard, who landed a standing gig as the house band at the Hollywood nightclub The Hullabaloo. It was during that residency that Rhodes occasionally got a chance to step up to the mic according to an official biography.
Enamored with the Beatles, Rhodes left the group in 1966 and formed The Merry-Go-Round, initially with some high-school friends, moving to guitar and landing a recording contract with A&M Records, which released the hometown hit “Live.” Rhodes’ ringing, McCartney-esque vocals on the single displayed the huge influence the British Invasion had on his songwriting — he is credited with penning 10 out of the 12 songs on the group’s self-titled A&M debut — which also evinced inspiration from the Byrds and The Who, among others.
Another single, “You’re a Very Lovely Woman,” also hit in L.A., but by 1969 the group split after several lineup changes and Rhodes went solo. He recorded, played, produced and engineered songs in a shed behind his parent’s home, using then innovative, densely layered recording techniques for what would become his beloved eponymous solo debut, released in 1970 on ABC/Dunhill Records. In a 1996 article, Billboard called it one of the “best albums of the decade” after the collection hit No. 29 on the albums charts, with the single “Fresh as a Daisy” charting for nine weeks.
He cut two more albums for the label, 1971’s Mirror and 1973′ Farewell to Paradise, before going silent for 43 years until 2016’s Rainbow Ends. The album featured a number of his modern pure pop acolytes, including Aimee Man, Jon Brion, Jellyfish’s Roger Joseph Manning and Jason Falkner, Wilco’s Nels Cline and the Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs.
Check out some of Rhodes’ work below.