Cult singer-songwriter Emitt Rhodes has died at the age of 70. The news was shared by Tony Blass, who directed a documentary about Rhodes’ career called The One Man Beatles, via Twitter. It was later confirmed by Pitchfork that the power pop pioneer passed away in his sleep.
Rhodes was born in Decatur, Illinois in 1950 and joined multiple bands throughout his lifetime, including garage rock group Palace Guard and psychedelic rock outfit The Merry Go Round. The latter attracted the attention of A&M Records, which signed the band and released their self-titled album in 1967 while Rhodes was still in high school.
The singer then left the group to pursue a career as a solo musician and set up a recording studio in his parents’ garage. He released his first proper solo album, called Emitt Rhodes, in 1970 and followed it up with 1971’s Mirror and 1973’s Farewell To Paradise. Despite the albums’ intricate, layered baroque pop arrangements, he played, recorded, and mixed all the instruments himself.
After a dispute with the label ABC/Dunhill – Rhodes was sued for not sticking to his contractual obligation to record two albums every year – he went on to work behind-the-scenes as a producer and engineer for Elektra Records. It wasn’t until 2016 that he released another studio album, called Rainbow Ends, a collaboration with the then 21-year-old Chris Price that featured appearances from Aimee Mann, Jon Brion, the Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs, Nels Cline, and Richard Thompson, all of whom admired his early work.
Many artists, including Mac Demarco and Sadie Depuis of Speedy Ortiz and Sad13, have cited Rhodes’ home studio work as a major influence. In 2009, his solo songs were collected onto the compilation The Emitt Rhodes Recordings (1969-1973).