Sunday, August 14, 2016

Rhinoceros - 1970 - Better Times Are Coming

Better Times Are Coming

01. Better Times
02. Old Age
03. Sweet Nice n' High
04. Just Me
05. Happiness
06. Somewher
07. It's A Groovy World
08. Insanity
09. Lady Of Fortune
10. Let's Party
11. Rain Child

John FIinley - Lead Vocal
Michael Fonfara - Organ
Danny Weis - Lead, Rhythm Guitars
Duke Edwards - Drums, Vocal
Larry Leishmann - Rhythm, Lead Guitars
Peter Hodgson - Bass

Despite the excellence of Satin Chickens, several key Rhinoceros members jumped ship following a tour to support the album. Co-lead guitarist Doug Hastings was the first to bail, followed in quick succession by pianist/singer/songwriter Alan Gerber and drummer Billy Mundi. According to Gerber - who had written some of the band's finest material (some of it unreleased, such as "A Fine Day (For Loving You)," "A Sin To Take Life" and "Horace The Rhino"), "The original concept of the group was to do something different and really creative. And it was different, but it ended up being a funky R&B/ rock band... it started out to be something much different, much more experimental; and that's really the reason I left.

I wanted to do something experimental...! was writing all of these songs, and the guys loved 'em, but some of them didn't even get recorded...they didn't fit into the 'Heavy, Horny Beast...'" The remaining original Rhinoceri (lead vocalist John Finley, guitarist Danny Weis, bassist Peter Hodgson and organist Michael Fonfara) were now augmented by two former John & Lee and The Checkmates alumni, guitarist Larry Leishman and drummer/vocalist Duke Edwards. Finley, Hodgson and Fonfara had been members of that Canadian band, and a more accurate name for the new Rhinoceros group would have been "John & Lee and The Checkmates &Weis".

Also gone was producer David Anderle, and in his chair was Guy Draper, who, oddly enough, ended up writing almost half of the Better Times material. Duke Edwards nearly dominates the album with his gritty soul growl, which is strongly reminiscent of Lester Chambers. The album in fact does sound like a different band, which it really was. There are a few fleeting flashes of the real Rhino, such as the melancholic and intense Weis/Finley collaboration, "Somewhere", which was apparently a leftover from the band's 1968 debut.

The song's gentle, spacey verses are juxtaposed by some startling, near-orchestral crescendos and water sound effects. The title cut may be the album's finest moment, combining a Chambers Brothers feel along with the instantly recognizable vocal harmony of Finley, Weis' funk guitar and Fonfara's wailing Hammond. New members Leishman and Edwards came up with some fine material, such as the moody, anti-war album closer, "Rain Child," and "Old Age," which features a blistering guitar passage that could easily be called "fusion." "That's Larry Leishman," comments Danny Weis. "It was a flurry or cluster of notes and phrases, and very bluesy.

I thought he was a very fine guitar player, and he had a real nice feel. Doug (Hastings) had his own style, and was very unorthodox, but it worked, but Larry was really funky. I liked playing with him very much." Organist Michael Fonfara also shines brightly throughout the album, particularly on the instrumental "Insanity" and a sing-along party breakdown aptly titled "Let's Party." Better Times would be the end of the road for the group. "My guess would be that there was some contractual obligation to do that record," Weis speculates. "By the time Better Times happened, the enthusiasm was less than up there, and we were kind of forced to do certain things that we wouldn't normally do as a band." Despite this, the record, as you will hear, does indeed have some brilliant - albeit fleeting - moments. 35 years later, the band's legacy is remarkable.

"I think it's amazing," comments Alan Gerber today. "Wherever I go, all over Canada, the United States and Europe, people know and respect Rhinoceros. I'm very surprised, because the amount of records that the group sold was not that great; maybe 200,000 total, but people know and respect the band all over the world." "It reiterates the fact that over the years I thought we had a pretty strong underground following," concludes Weis. "A lot of people knew about us that I didn't think knew about us, though we didn't sell a lot of records...still, we had quite a following.

I'm pleasantly finding that a lot of people still remember us to this day. I listen to the stuff now, and I still like a lot of it. It was a good band; it wasn't necessarily a perfectly 'tight' band; but that band always had a lot of heart, and that remained a constant throughout with most of the players. I would love to be able to have that kind of feeling again with a group.