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interview 2001
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interview 1980
john haeny
interview 2001
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Rhinoceros Site

The John Haeny Interview

by Nick Warburton (August 2000)

John Haeny is the engineer that recorded the first Rhinoceros recording sessions in Los Angeles. He became a close friend of the band during their formation and early development and subsequently went on to record the first album 'Rhinoceros'.

As an engineer and producer, John has also worked with many other artists, including The Doors, Jackson Browne, The Beau Brummels, Judy Collins, The Great Society, Bonnie Raitt and more. His status as an engineer/producer is legendary.

John spoke to Nick Warburton about his memories of Rhinoceros...

Nick: Thank you very much for giving up your time to talk to us about Rhinoceros. Could we start by talking a little bit about how you first got involved in the L.A. music scene?

John: I got my start in the folk music scene in Minneapolis, that's where I was from. I was managing folk groups when I started messing around with some recording gear that was owned by a company I was working for. I quickly became addicted to recording music. Eventually I made my way to Los Angeles and ultimately I moved to San Francisco. I got there just when the San Francisco music scene was starting to happen. I was recording lots of people like the Great Society (later to become the Jefferson Airplane), Sly Stone (then DJ Sylvester Stewart), Bobby Freeman, The Charlatans, The New Breed, The Tikkis (later to become Harper's Bazaar) and the Beau Brummels. In fact I did lots of work with the Beau Brummels including two albums and a bunch of singles. It was an extraordinary period, although while it was happening none of us really understood the significance of that time.

After a bit over a year in San Francisco I found myself in Los Angeles. I worked as a studio engineer in a number of major Los Angeles studios for about five years. The day came when I landed a job as staff mixer and chief engineer for Elektra Records, which is what eventually led to my involvement with Rhinoceros.

How the first Rhinoceros album was recorded

John Haeny says "Part of my calling has been the ability to recall studio set-ups and even mixes from memory"

Here's some details from John about the recording:

Danny Weiss Danny and Doug mostly used Fender Twins or Supers (Supers are somewhat like the Fender Bassman with 4 x 8's or 10's ... I think it was 8's).

I remember using AKG C-12's on the amps (they looked like a 414 but were valve (actually Nuvistor). Pretty much down the throat of one of the speakers, in the centre of the cone, say about 6" away.

Danny and Doug played Strats and Teles, but that should be obvious. Fonfara was probably two 87's on the top of the Leslie (with wind socks) and a 87 on the bottom of the Leslie.

Drums: Tops were Sen 405's, Toms were AKG D1000E's, Snare was a SM57 (or perhaps a 545 in those days), Kick was a old Altec Lansing dynamic 633 which was originally designed as a paging mike for boiler factories. I still have one of these and I still use it for kick.

Bass was most likely a passive DI. I probably only compressed the bass, kick and vocals with URI 1176's.

Vocals were probably AKG C-12's which I'm not too proud about. The vocal sound and the overload was quite shocking and I'm not too happy that my vocal recording was so shitty. I can only presume it was all the drugs we were using in those days!

A PA was used in the room for the vocals and no headphones were used.

Nick: At what stage did you start to work with them?

John: I was building a West Coast studio facility for Elektra Records and managing their existing East Coast facility. I was also busy engineering and occasionally producing records for Elektra. I had done a lot of work with Paul Rothchild. Paul occasionally swung between Bruce Botnick and myself. As I remember Bruce was not on board full time during the very beginning of Elektra's West Coast studio, he joined us full time a bit later. I'm not sure if anyone ever made a conscious choice between Bruce and myself for Rhinoceros. Rhinoceros happened during the very early days of the Elektra West Coast studio. They were one of the first projects on the studio's agenda. I had built the Elektra studio as an advanced 'state of the art' facility. We had early Dolby equipment, lots of early solid state gear, fancy monitors … all the new 'lights, bells and whistles' we could con Jac Holzman into buying. That meant that we had lots of problems as well. I remember that the first sessions with Tim Buckley sounded so awful that we shut the studio down for months. It seems to me that it was during the second opening of the studio that Rhinoceros came together.

I've recently read all the stuff on the web site about Barry Friedman (aka Frazier Mohawk, Diablo the Fire Eater and Duckie the Clown) and Paul Rothchild conceiving and forming the band. I sure don't remember Barry being a big part of the project once it got to me. I was pretty close to Barry then and I do remember some talk, but then Barry was always having brainstorms. Barry was good at conning people into pulling off his ideas. He was a really serious hustler! Unfortunately as soon as someone bought into one of his ideas, he seemed to back off or lose interest and go do something else. I remember that most of the drive was coming from Paul Rothchild and Jac Holzman. Jac had the resources and Paul had the contacts and the energy. It's possible that Barry was part of the genesis of the idea. Barry knew lots and lots of people and it's probable that through all his contacts he was responsible for seeding some of the original members of the band.

I was very casually approached by Paul Rothchild, who I was also pretty close to during those days. As I remember Paul said: "You know we're putting this super group together, we've got all these great musicians gathered and I'd like you to do the project". I said: "OK!" It was as simple as that.

From my point of view, none of Rhinoceros were 'super' in that none of them were big time established rock musicians. The concept of Rhinoceros was not to go out and steal front line players from great established bands. It was more a matter of scouring the planet for lesser known players that had exceptional talent and put them together with funding by a record company so they could be given an opportunity to succeed. Of course, everyone hoped for 'greatness'.

In some ways Rhinoceros was an offshoot of Elektra's Paxton Music Ranch. At that time Elektra was experimenting with very low level development in artists. Paxton was a disaster of a major magnitude … but that's another story.

Nick: I believe that you lived with the band during its first six months.

John: Well that's not entirely true. I didn't actually live in the same house with them. I guess what I was trying to say was that during that time the guys in Rhinoceros were a major part of my life. We shared the same social group that hung around the Ridpath area of Laurel Canyon and we were working on their music together. It was a truly great time and Ridpath was a hot spot for music. The canyons 'rocked' in those days … quite literally! Lots of drugs, lots of incense, lots of music … it was that classic 'warm and fuzzy' time in the late '60s with hippies bounding up and down the streets. It wasn't unusual to see the likes of Stephen Stills or David Crosby or Carole King wandering the streets or stopping by for a smoke or a visit… but they weren't stars then … they were just part of the neighbourhood colour.

I was living down the street from Barry and across from Billy James; and around the corner and up the hill was the Rhinoceros house. Most of my really solid memories of the band begin during the rehearsals at the Las Palmas theatre. I remember spending lots of time at the Las Palmas theatre making, what I still consider to be, good friendships with the band.

Nick: What was your initial impression of the band?

John: I can remember being absolutely blown away by Delaney & Bonnie. I don't remember any reaction like that to Rhinoceros. They were presented as a work in progress. Certainly when I first heard the band, they were not yet fully formed. They were a rag tag group of divergent musicians and a couple of singer/songwriters. They were all just kind of poking around trying to work out what Rhinoceros was going to be. Any idea that when they got together to play all of a sudden Rhinoceros emerged is utter nonsense. It was hard work!

Think what would happen today if you got a talented bunch of musicians together and said: "You are a band - play!" What are they gonna play? Mostly they are probably just going to sit there and scratch their heads asking: "What are the songs? Who's going to sing? What are the changes and who is going to play what part?" It's a long, involved and occasionally painful process.

And that's exactly what was happening at the Las Palmas theatre. What went before were just auditions and meetings to see whether people were available, interested and had the potential to get along together. Of course then reality set in! It was always my understanding that Rhinoceros was Paul's baby and that Paul had sold it to Jac who had agreed to underwrite it. Paul had masterminded selecting the musicians and if Paul didn't want someone in the band there was no way anyone else was going to countermand Paul. Paul laid out the agenda for the individuals to become a band … and a great one at that. After all, Paul was going to produce the band once they got into the studio and, at that time, Paul was riding high with the success of the Doors and he wasn't about to make a bad record with a weak band if he could avoid it.

Once I met the band, we became friends individually. Obviously some of the friendships were closer than others but I remember liking them all and I think it was mutual. In those days I tended to become an additional member of the bands I worked with. I was involved in the rehearsals, most of the gigs and of course we shared pretty much the same social life. Rhinoceros and I lived only a few houses apart and they were frequently at my house and I was frequently at theirs.

I also have vivid memories of the band working days on end at the Las Palmas theatre and then Paul Rothchild would walk in, they would play a couple of songs, Paul would march down from the back of the room, make some critical comments and then turn around and storm out. I think this was a difficult period for Paul, he was always pretty tense. In any event the band would just stand there dumbfounded and say: "Jesus what the fuck was that about" … recover their balance and continue rehearsing. It appeared that Paul's involvement with the band was really quite limited during those rehearsal days. His first major involvement, other than putting them together, was when he walked into the studio to produce the first album. I think Paul had other matters working on him at that time. He didn't volunteer any information and I didn't ask.

That pretty much left things to the band and me. It's not like I was the producer, but it seemed the band and I were the only people that would be involved in the development of the music and the sound of the band during the rehearsals and early engagements. The band needed another opinion and lots of support and encouragement and I was always glad to help, after all, these were friends first and a project second. As part of that process I took Rhinoceros into the studio without Paul.

Nick: Could you tell me more about that recording?

John: It was extraordinary! We went into the newly re-opened Elektra studio for two or three days. I had a multiple agenda in mind. I wanted to check out the new studio, find a sound for the band and give them a chance to hear what they were doing. I set them up so they could record live with vocals. The Elektra studio wasn't what I would call large and we used a PA without headphones. They were a little ragged and there was lots of leakage … but it was hot and it was live. Everything went down as a stereo mix with no overdubs. We recorded the entire album plus most of the songs that didn't make the cut for the first released album. The band was raw and hot! We didn't know it then, but I've always suspected that was the musical peak of the band. All I could say was Wow!

That two-track tape still stand for me as the first true Rhinoceros album. When I read about the guys making reference to some mixes I made, I think they are confused. What I think they are talking about is the original live two-track album.

Nick: It sounds like a great recording.

John: For what it was … it is! My memory is that it was outrageously good. You know, one of the reasons Rhinoceros was such a good name was because the band, much like the animal they were named after, sometimes started a little slow, building momentum as they went, but once they got into gear … nothing could stop them. Never, to this day, have I ever encountered a band with that kind of primal energy. Visceral and gutsy, almost a little scary and the first live recording captured that. The playing was first rate, the energy was amazing and their approach was brilliant.

I played it for Paul, and as I remember, all he did was grunt. Kind of hurt, you know, we all still knew we were working because of and for him. Paul was 'Chairman of the Board'. And then we went into the studio and cut the first album. You know in the course of your life you sometimes learn the most from people who do things the way you would never do them. In that regard Paul was the antithesis of me. Paul was very exacting and detailed in the studio. I felt he carried it to such an extreme that he sometimes missed the 'soul' of the music.

Because Paul was such a perfectionist he took take after take after take. OK for some bands, terrible for Rhinoceros. Of course Paul was at the top of his career enjoying all the fame, money and adulation that comes with that territory. I suspect he may have had too much of his ego invested in that debut Rhinoceros album. I think Paul thought that he had to put out the record the world expected of him. At that point in time Paul might not have been the right person to decide what was best for Rhinoceros. Because of his lack of involvement with Rhinoceros during the rehearsals, Paul was also a little out of touch with the band. Rhinoceros was fragile and new … you had to see into the cracks to know when they were ready to explode.

I suppose this is another example of how the 'super group' thing hurt! Not only were they supposed to be a 'super group' but they were created by a 'super producer' who was going to make a 'super record' … that was just too much pressure for everyone. I suppose I also felt that it was my job to make a 'super sounding' record. We all got into trouble with the hype … in hindsight it's easy to see, but I don't think we had a clue then.

When we made that debut album my feeling was that we were off the mark. But Paul was 'the producer' and it was his show. Paul was an extraordinarily strong personality and in the studio things went the way he wanted them to go or they didn't go at all … anyone will tell you that. That was the bottom line! My view is that the debut Rhinoceros record never quite equalled those earlier live studio days in terms of the band's performance, energy and sound. The recording of the band got so detailed it lost most of its life and energy … downright sterile. I share much of that responsibility … I was the engineer on the debut album and very much part of the creative team, the band and Paul were my friends and I let it happen. So goes it when you're young!

I've held on to those two-track recordings for decades now and, without going into the gory detail, I have reason to think they may have been irreparably damaged. The day may come when I have the time and the courage to address this possible loss. If the tapes are alive and well they probably should be released … if not they will just have to fade into memory as a great, lost rock and roll moment … on the other hand I might give them a listen and say: "Oh no, really? Whoops!". Sometimes that's what happens!

Nick: You said that you struck up a good relationship with the individual members.

John: Sure … from the start. We had endless adventures and, as I said, I felt like I was part of the band. There were some frictions, the details of which are a bit hazy in my mind. It was not the ideal combination of personalities and they certainly weren't each other's best friends all the time.

I remember Alan Gerber was distant and seemed to be on the outside of lots of stuff. It seemed that John Finley was sometimes living on another planet. I don't remember John being into drugs but he could certainly get off into a metaphysical haze. Also John could get pretty intense. Doug Hastings, on the other side, was this really sweet earthy kid who got roped in to this high pressure, high-energy rock and roll fast lane and I don't think he took to it too kindly. I think he found it all a bit rude and abusive and, as I expected, he was to eventually say: "I'm not happy doing this, I'm going home." But God, was he a great guitarist. Doug and Danny together were just amazing!

I have particularly fond memories of both Michael Fonfara and Danny Weis. Danny and Michael were a match pair. They were good time rock and roll goblins and seemed to be having the time of their lives in this crazy thing called Rhinoceros. They were both full of energy, never stopped chasing the ladies and were always up to some mischief. We used to call Danny the chicken because of the strange hairdo he had in those days. I remember them both as brilliant, funny and extraordinarily talented.

Billy and Jerry seemed to move in their own circles, I think both of them had partners and lived pretty normal lives. Emotionally they were both rocks … really solid no bullshit guys. Great qualities for a bass player and drummer. They laid down amazingly solid rhythm tracks, really the musical 'glue' that held the band together. I don't ever remember either of them ever being involved in any emotional shit and if it ever got too chaotic, Billy, in his big nasty gentle way would say: "behave yourselves and cut the crap." And everyone would go "okay" and settle down. Physically both Billy and Jerry were pretty intimidating, but the truth was that they were both sweethearts. Everyone knew that, but no one ever dared say that to their faces.

So no … they weren't a perfect group. But when it came time to play all the differences were set aside for the music. It was an extraordinary group of players and I think originally it was their differences that contributed to their early magic.

Nick: What was the reaction to their first live performances in Los Angeles?

John: I don't remember them blowing folks away. Rhinoceros would always start their set with this old instrumental, whose name I can't remember. Once they got rolling they would launch into their own material with an almost frightening amount of power.

Apricot Brandy Single Label I suppose one needs to remember that, aside from the sound of the band, their music was quite unique. Both John and Alan were writing great songs, but I wouldn't describe their songs as the 'plain vanilla' rock songs that were popular in those days. If they would have had a hit record, I'm sure the uniqueness of their material would have been accepted by a wider audience. As it was, their only really successful 'radio record' was the instrumental "Apricot Brandy". To this day everyone thinks that was odd!!!

John, as a singer, was very unusual sounding … quite brilliant, but a little fragile to be fronting a band that powerful. Alan was a good singer, but he always looked a little uncomfortable on stage. I always felt both singers were a little overpowered by the band. Nevertheless they were appreciated by their audiences, I just don't remember them being received live the way everyone hoped a 'super group' would be received.

In those early days, when they were playing the Kaleidoscope, they were mostly playing for the 'punters'. I don't think they were advertised as a 'super group' so the audience just reacted to them as they would to any new group.

Those were the golden days of rock and roll in LA. The Kaleidoscope was massive. It was originally called the Moulin Rouge and it was a famous Hollywood night club built for the big live stage shows of the '50s and '60s. It had this huge rotating stage and when one band finished playing the next band started as the stage rotated one band on and the other band off … Wow! It was no big deal to go to the Kaleidoscope to hear some bands. I don't remember that they served liquor or that tickets were a very big deal like going to a concert today. It was very casual and just a great place to go and listen to music. Fantastic! Too bad we don't have venues like that today.

The first time they played the Kaleidoscope it was a good set. Nothing spectacular, but I remember everyone feeling pretty good when they finished. I don't remember what I was doing at those gigs but I was probably either mixing the house sound, acting as a roadie, being a groupie, just doing my usual duty as a 'cheerleader' or all of the above. When the set was over we all piled in the van, got stoned and went home. I don't remember a lot of other playing in Los Angeles. I just remember the band arriving in Los Angles from around the country, rehearsing at the Las Palmas, the initial live recording in the studio, playing at the Kaleidoscope and then going into the studio to make the first album. Then Rhinoceros went to the East Coast and disappeared.

I visited them once or twice on the East Coast. I spent a night at the Rhinoceros house at Lake Mahopac where we all got stoned and spent the night looking for a ghost that was tossing things around in a deserted room on the top floor of the house, scaring some of the band shitless. As I remember we eventually figured out who the ghost was and why it was unhappy. We set matters right, the ghost settled down and I went back to Los Angeles.

Nick: Were you involved with the band when it started to fragment?

John: No, once they moved to the East Coast I lost contact with them. I remember them coming back out to California to do a second album. I think it was recorded at the Elektra studio. I had probably left Elektra by then. I knew Peter Hodgson was playing with the band and that David Anderle was producing the second record. Most of my memories of Peter Hodgson are centred around the ill fated Elektra Music Ranch at Paxton. I only have some very vague memories of Peter playing with Rhinoceros which must have been in the very early days. I think, in retrospect, I understand why the band picked David Anderle. David is a kind and gentle soul and outwardly he has a very easygoing nature, quite the opposite to Paul Rothchild in the studio. The band needed that! David was a great producer but not for rock and roll. I remember hearing some of that record and thinking "Oh shit … not again … too bad!"

Nick: Do you think the band had already lost much of its fire and energy by that point?

John: The first album took some of the life out of the band and everybody seemed to slowly lose heart after that. Everyone had high expectations of that record and it was a disappointment. Prior to that record the band was a truly amazing machine. It was just awesome when they got fired up.

I'm sure they had some great moments later on, but after the first album I don't think they ever got that old fire going on a regular basis again, certainly to the best of my knowledge it never got recorded.

Nick: You mentioned some songs that didn't make it onto the first album.

John: They were all on that live recording I made in their early days. It was a demo of all of the material that they had worked out for recording. Paul, like all producers, decided what songs would make it onto the album and what songs wouldn't. Alan Gerber's "Fine Day", "Once Again", "Nothing To Say" and "Horace the Rhino" were some of songs recorded on the live demo that were ultimately eliminated from the final album. If I can ever get my head around what happened to the early recordings I'm sure I can update you with all the song titles on deck for that first album.

Also, one has to understand that in those days it would have been impossible to include all the songs. Compared to CD's, vinyl LP's had a very limited playing time and the record companies were pretty strict about the number of songs they would license on each album … profit margin you know! Rhinoceros was a prolific band and having enough good material was never a problem. I think there was also a degree of internal band politics about which songs would be included on the first album. It's fairly usual for this to happen, although it frequently becomes a nasty game that creates some sullen losers.

Nick: Why do you think they weren't as popular as they were intended to be?

John: I have always thought there were two contributing factors to Rhinoceros' downfall. One of them certainly was the hype that surrounded them. I think it pissed everybody off! You need a lot of friends in the music industry to be successful. Certainly having the respect of other artists and people in the music industry can contribute significantly to a band's career. I think many other bands and lots of people in the business thought: "What do you mean 'super group' … what about us? Does this mean you think we're shit … only second class?" From what I know the hype was mostly Elektra's fault. I believe they went over the top on the super group thing. I believe what you say is: "here's a good band, good music, good sound take a listen to it" and leave it to others to say it's a super group … if they ever say it at all. Otherwise just let the music stand on its own without leading the audience and the critics by telling them what to think. I believe that the audience buys music because it connects with it on an emotional level and they don't necessarily understand where that's coming from … nor do they need to.

And of course the other issue was that lots of the 'X' factor was lost while making the first record. Combine too much hype and a weak first album and you have a recipe for failure. Because the first record was below people's expectations, especially given the hype, I don't think the band ever really got a chance. A weak second album sure didn't help either. The record buying audience never heard just how great Rhinoceros was.

Nick: Can you ever see anyone issuing the Rhinoceros records on CD?

John: Wouldn't that be great! Even with its problems, I hope Rhino Records will eventually release the first album again. It's still extraordinary music and it stands as a document of some of the best music of those times. The original artwork may still exist and hopefully Elektra has the tapes, which I'd love to remix. It wouldn't be that hard to pull it all together. All they have to do is mix and master the CD, package it, release it and do a bunch of promotion on it. There … doesn't that sound simple! OK … it's not! Nevertheless I hope Rhino considers doing it! If those original live tapes can be saved they should also be released, perhaps as a two disc set. It's all part of the same story!

Nick: Did any other well-known musicians come over and jam with the band?

John: No … I don't remember any jamming with other players. Rhinoceros had a full-time job getting it together for the record. It seemed that they went straight from rehearsals into the studio, then some West Coast gigs and they were gone to the East Coast.

Nick: Do you have any particular memories that you took away with you from your time with Rhinoceros?

John: Maybe that's two questions. Memories and lessons are different things. Memories … plenty of them, all wonderful. A great band with great songs at a great time in the LA music scene. Interesting people with lots of heart and some very special friendships.

Lessons? I suppose if you asked me what lesson I learned from that experience it would have to be that you can't MAKE a rock and roll band! Rock and roll bands HAPPEN! You can't take divergent personalities and put them in a band because you have a business plan and you expect it to be exceptional. It isn't going to happen. Music is magic! Even if it happens, it has the potential to self-destruct. There wasn't a person in the band that initially chose to be in Rhinoceros because they wanted to make music with the other members. There was a Chairman of the Board that they reported to. Initially they only played together because they were being supported to be members of Rhinoceros. That, in my mind, is a formula for disaster. If it isn't organic, it just isn't going to happen. Too bad … great group … bad business plan!

Nick: And what are you doing now John?

John: Well I'm very much alive and well and living happily in Sydney, Australia. After a very long and round about path through post-production for film and TV I have returned to my one true love of producing and recording music. Although I sometimes consider myself semi-retired I'm still heavily involved with, and fully committed to making records with Australian artists. Some say I should write a book, but at the moment I'm busy living some of the most interesting and exciting chapters thus far… so that book's presently on hold for a few more years.

Nick: Thanks very much for giving up your time to chat. It has certainly given a new insight into the band's early career and is much appreciated.

Copyright © Nicholas Warburton/John Haeny August 2000