Friday, November 27, 2015


Rhinoceros was a well-planned but poorly executed supergroup whose roots were based in a set of musicians collected by Elektra Records and called Project Supergroup. The record company wanted to mold the highly talented lineup of artists into the next big recording coup of the late '60s. Despite the fact that the band could not live up to the expectations that were raised by Elektra Records' publicity machine, Rhinoceros' contributions to rock still deserve more credit than subsequent rock histories give it. It didn't help matters any that the band's manager declined an invitation for Rhinoceros to appear at Woodstock several years after the group formed. The band's self-titled debut was impressive, thanks in part to the producer at the helm, Paul Rothchild, who also worked with the Doors. The band was the brainchild of Rothchild and Frazier Mohawk, a producer who helped craft supergroup Buffalo Springfield. Rothchild and Mohawk first auditioned about a dozen musicians in the autumn of 1967, including pianist Alan Gerber and former Daily Flash and Buffalo Springfield guitarist Doug Hastings. Two months later, an audition of almost two-dozen musicians brought into the lineup vocalist John Finley, who had worked previously with Jon & Lee & the Checkmates, and former Iron Butterfly guitarist Danny Weis. Before the year rolled to a close, the producers rounded out the band with the additions of keyboard player Michael Fonfara, who had been a bandmate of Finley's in Jon & Lee & the Checkmates, and bassist Jerry "the Bear" Penrod, who was one of Weis' buddies from Iron Butterfly. Several members of the group contributed to David Ackles' first solo release, entering the studio early in 1968. The band, by now calling itself Rhinoceros, went to work on its own debut album about four months later. By this time, the band had added former Mothers of Invention drummer Billy Mundi. That June, the group played live for the first time on the stage of the West Hollywood nightspot Whiskey A Go-Go. Rhinoceros played New York City's Café Au-Go-Go three months later. In between the band's East and West Coast debuts, Rhinoceros also toured with several different acts, including Taj Mahal and Love. While in New York, the band also performed during a free Central Park concert that drew an audience numbering approximately 12,000 and featured Wind in the Willows, Traffic, and Spooky Tooth. Remaining in the city for several months, Rhinoceros had the opportunity to share the stage at different venues with Muddy Waters, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, and the Moody Blues. Penrod dropped out in 1969 and Steve Weis, the brother of Rhinoceros' guitarist, joined the band. Not long after, Peter Hodgson took Steve Weis' place. Hodgson, who formerly performed with Jon & Lee & the Checkmates, was vocalist Finley's cousin. Tours followed with the Grateful Dead, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Tommy James & the Shondells, and Johnny Winter, among others. Hastings dropped out that summer and the band brought aboard Larry Leishman, whose career also included a stint with Jon & Lee & the Checkmates. At this time, the band was being managed by Sid Bernstein and Billy Fields. Fields made a disastrous decision for the band when he declined an invitation to appear at Woodstock in favor of sending Rhinoceros to play the Boston Tea Party. Unhappy with the Woodstock decision, Gerber left the band. Mundi left not long after, and the band brought in Eddie "Duke" Edwards. Rhinoceros headed to New York to perform and record in 1970. While in the city, the band played the Fillmore East, as it did on other visits to town, and shared a bill with Seals & Crofts and Procol Harum. Not long after the Fillmore East show, Richard Crooks of Dr. John stepped in to take over for Edwards. By the end of the year, Malcolm Tomlinson took over on drums for the departing Crooks. Performances followed in Canada, but before 1971 was halfway over, the band called it quits. Hodgson, Weis, Finley, Leishman, and Fonfara reunited early in 1972 as Blackstone Rangers, a band that evolved into simply Blackstone and disbanded in 1973.

Rhinoceros on Stage (1968)

Left to right: Michael Fonfara(organ), Danny Weis(gtr), John Finley(vcl), 
Alan Gerber(vcl), Billy Mundi (drms), Jerry Penrod(bass), Doug Hastings (gtr). 

In 1972, John Finley joined four ex-Rhinoceros members to launch the new band Blackstone Rangers (which was later shortened to Blackstone after a dispute with a motorcycle gang of the same name). Finley invited his old friend Paul Rothchild to Toronto to produce the album, which ultimately resulted in GRT Records album On The Line. Shortly after, the group disbanded.


John Finley (vocals)
Michael Fonfara (keyboards)
Peter Hodgson (bass)
Larry Leishman (vocals,guitar,harp)
Frank "Zeke" Sheppard (vocals,harp)
Richard Steinberg (drums)
Danny Weis (guitar)

Tracks 1-8   from the Rhinoceros LP 

Tracks 9-12  from the Satin Chickens LP

Tracks 13-19 from the Better Times Are Coming LP

Tracks 20-24 from the Blackstone LP


heylee said...

Thank you for all things Rhinoceros. I was fortunate to catch them at Philly's, Kaleidoscope,1969, The term, "kick ass" would apply here. Another great band from back in the day. Looking forward to hearing, Blackstone.

24HOURDEJAVU said...

HeyLee If you like Rhino you will also enjoy Blackstone essentially they were Rhinoceros continued same blues based power music

Anonymous said...

Thanks. Another "forgotten" band. I believe they even had a minor hit with "Apricot Brandy" before fading away. Larry

Pierre said...

Great write up, remember signing a petition years ago to get their albums re-issued on cd, which was ignored for along time before it happened.

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