Apricot BrandyRhinoceros
I Will Serenade YouRhinoceros
You're My GirlRhinoceros
It's The Same ThingSatin Chickens
Along Comes TomorrowRhinoceros
When You Say You're SorryRhinoceros
That Time Of The YearRhinoceros
Better TimesBetter Times Are Coming
I Need LoveRhinoceros
Monkee ManSatin Chickens


Rhinoceros playlist



Contributor: Jerry Tenenbaum

Rhinoceros – what might have been. The expectations were great when Elektra Records signed this group of musicians in 1967 on the heels of The Doors. We watched in Toronto while Levon and the Hawks and Ronnie Hawkins and David Clayton Thomas and the Shays and Jon and Lee and the Checkmates ruled the bars on Yonge St. and beyond. Paul A. Rothchild (Elektra talent scout) with his colleagues conceived the idea of bringing talented musicians together for this project and is said to have auditioned them in Los Angeles. John Finley was chosen as vocalist and joined Danny Weis, guitar (Iron Butterfly), Doug Hastings, guitar, and Alan Gerber, keyboards and vocals. Former Checkmates keyboard player, Michael Fonfara, who was a member of Electric Flag, joined soon after. Peter Hodgson was yet another member of the Checkmates, while Jerry Penrod, Weis’ Iron Butterfly bandmate, joined as bass player. Others came along including John Keliehor (Daily Flash) on drums, and shortly after, Billy Mundi, former drummer for the Mothers of Invention.

In 1968, Rothchild produced Rhinoceros, an album with excellent production and below average sales. Apricot Brandy charted on Billboard while I Will Serenade You from this album was released as the first US single and subsequently covered by Three Dog Night (Let Me Serenade You). You’re My Girl was the UK debut single.

With the second album in 1969, Satin Chickens, there were personnel changes. Ultimately, other Checkmates moved in including guitarist Larry Leishman, guitar, and Duke Edwards, drummer. The third album, Better Times Are Coming, was released in 1970 The end came by 1971, when the band Blackstone formed with a predominately Checkmate-Rhincoceros membership. Dissolution followed (with a brief reunion in 2009 at the Kitchener Blues Festival).

So, why Rhinoceros? It was a time of growth and lots of musicians were arriving. And there was a veritable explosion of music. Why did Rhinoceros not achieve in the way other had achieved? We all walk down the street and hear street musicians with tons of talent and stand there and listen and ask why they are not recorded by the music machine (thanks to the internet at least they are at times heard) and why the world does not know them. We all go to bars and hear excellence and wonder when someone is going to notice and make it happen for this/these musicians. In 1963, I sat at the Concord Tavern in Toronto on Saturday afternoons at the alcohol-free matinees and listened to Levon and the Hawks and asked myself, even as a 15 year old, how it could be that I could hear this and most of the rest of the world did not have the privilege. The next year, it was Jon and Lee and the Checkmates in the same venue and the same question struck me again. Mary Martin and John Hammond Jr. and the rest hadn’t made it happen yet for the Hawks, but that was imminent. The difference I guess was Dylan and Grossman and a world tour and influence and management. Being with the right people at the right time was the essence of ultimate success. Talent and work was (and still is) not enough clearly. John and Michael and the rest had it as much as Levon and Robbie and Garth and Rick and Richard had it! The difference was a little bit of luck and superb management and exposure.

I know this Toppermost is going to elicit comment and that you will all add to this list or deny some of it or tell me I’m crazy and I don’t know what I’m talking about. That’s OK. Listen to Rhinoceros and you will see that they had ‘it’ in a way different than Levon and the Hawks had ‘it’; but they had it and they should have been ‘big’. Suffice to say, to me and to my sensibilities, they are great even if the majority of the listening world did not know it. So it goes with so many today. I keep going to small clubs in Seattle and in Victoria BC and in Toronto and in New York City and wherever else I am lucky enough to be and hear the excellence and marvel at the ability and wish I could do what they do. The pleasure is all mine! Enjoy Rhinoceros and it will be yours too.


Rhinoceros – The Elektra Supergroup

Rhinoceros biography (Apple Music)

TopperPost #275


  1. Peter Viney
    May 14, 2014

    Apricot Brandy is incredibly familiar to British BBC Radio listeners, serving as the theme to “Scene & Heard” on Radio 2 for years. It ranks with Jessica by The Allman Brothers (theme to Top Gear) as an instrumental that most people in Britain are familiar with, but probably couldn’t put a title to, nor say who played it.

  2. Ian Ashleigh
    May 15, 2014

    Thanks Peter, I had remembered Apricot Brandy was used as a TV or Radio programme theme but not which one. My daughter developed a fascination with the animal at a young age and (remembering Apricot Brandy) I found the eponymous CD on Amazon some years ago. So Jerry, I agree with you there was quality and why not world-wide mega-sales success? Off topic but related: who remembers Weekend World hosted by Brian Walden, what was the opening music?

  3. Andrew Shields
    May 15, 2014

    Wemember Bwian Walden – how could I forget? The music was Mountain’s Nantucket Sleighride.

  4. Kasper Nijsen
    May 17, 2014

    Thanks for this introduction! I only know these guys from their involvement in David Ackles’ wonderful debut album but will check them out soon, having read this.

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