Rhinoceros were Elektra Records' 'project super group', a collection of talented musicians that the label planned to make into instant stars. Unfortunately, the label's publicity campaign backfired and the band struggled to live up to a reputation it couldn't match. As a result, rock biographies have tended to write the band off or worse still, have neglected to mention them at all. This is unjust, as Rhinoceros did produce some excellent material, most notably on their stunning debut album, produced by the brainchild of the band, Doors' producer Paul Rothchild.
The band undoubtedly looked great on paper. Former Daily Flash guitarist Doug Hastings (b. June 21, 1946, Seattle) had briefly covered for Neil Young in The Buffalo Springfield, while drummer Billy Mundi (b. Sept. 25, 1942, San Francisco) had been an integral part of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention and was a top session player. Danny Weis (b. Sept. 24, 1948, Huntington Park, California) meanwhile, had become a local hero in southern California as the fiery lead guitarist in the original Iron Butterfly and was responsible for bringing in another ex-Butterfly member, bass player Jerry Penrod (b. Sept 25, 1946, San Diego). The band was completed with a talented singer/songwriter and pianist Alan Gerber (b. May 27,1947, Chicago) and two Canadians, singer John Finley (b. May 6, 1945, Toronto) and organist Michael Fonfara (b. Aug. 11, 1946, Stevensville, Ontario) from Toronto's premier R&B outfit Jon and Lee and The Checkmates. (Fonfara had also played on The Electric Flag's debut album and briefly supported a pre-Blood, Sweat & Tears David Clayton-Thomas).
The band rehearsed intensively throughout the early months of 1968 and recorded its debut album live (without any overdubs) in Los Angeles, before relocating to New York later in the year. The resulting album was a critical success and included some of the band's best work, most notably Gerber's reflective 'That Time of The Year', Fonfara and Weis's punchy instrumental 'Apricot Brandy' (later adopted as a theme tune by BBC radio) and Finley's 'I Will Serenade You', which became a North American hit in 1973 when Three Dog Night covered it.
Sadly the album didn't sell well and the band immediately began to fragment. By the time the group's third album, 'Better Times Are Coming', appeared in 1970, Finley’s former cohorts from The Checkmates, bass player Peter Hodgson (who was earmarked as original bass player), guitarist Larry Leishman and that band's former manager, drummer/vocalist Eddie 'Duke' Edwards had been drafted in to plug the gap left by departing members.
Rhinoceros returned to Toronto and in 1972 made a final album as Blackstone in an attempt to recoup the group's losses, but it was not a success. Weis and Fonfara subsequently became top session players; Fonfara led Lou Reed's road band throughout the '70s while Weis played in Bette Midler's band in the film 'The Rose'. Alan Gerber meanwhile, contributed two tracks to Bob Dylan's little known film 'Renaldo and Clara' and recorded in impressive solo album for Shelter Records.
Original members John Finley, Michael Fonfara, Alan Gerber and Danny Weis have continued to perform on the Californian and Canadian music scenes and reformed Rhinoceros in Toronto in the summer of 2009 with Peter Hodgson, guitarist Bernie LeBarge and drummer Mike Sloski.
For more information visit: www.rhinoceros-group.com
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