Sean Bonniwell admits that when he formed the L.A. protopunk band the Music Machine in early 1966, “all I had in mind was a Top Ten record and a good-selling album. I had no plans after that.” By 1967, the sinister-looking quartet — each member wore all-black gear, including a single black leather glove — was in Hitsville with the garage classic “Talk Talk.” Bonniwell remembers playing Melodyland in Los Angeles (“We headlined over the Carpenters”) and being attacked in the parking lot by female fans.
Bonniwell’s lack of planning and tangled finances cost him dearly. His income from all of his late-Sixties sides, including “Talk Talk,” totaled only $7,000, he says. He later sold his rights to the Music Machine name and the band’s recordings to producer Brian Ross for one dollar in order to get out of his contract. In the past twenty years, Bonniwell says, he has received only one royalty check — for $90.
In the Seventies, he dropped out of music and sampled every hippie religion on the market. “I made a practice of getting out of my body,” he says. “I became very good at it.” He also built up a rather eclectic résumé. He has hosted an astrology radio show in Charleston, South Carolina, trained Arabian horses on a California ranch and played a bit part in the 1982 monster flick The Swamp Thing. “I was one of 14 commandos who captured Adrienne Barbeau,” he says. “I even got to speak a line.”
Bonniwell, 45, who has two sons from an early-Sixties marriage, became a Christian in 1978. He currently lives in Lindsay, California, with his new wife, Jyll. When he isn’t writing a new chapter for his autobiography, Candle in the Wind, he works with Jyll’s parents in a small engraving business called Christian Visions.
Alice Cooper’s 1980 remake of “Talk Talk” and the reissue of several Music Machine records have also rekindled Bonniwell’s interest in music. He leads a gospel-rock group called Star Witness and works some of his old tunes into his Christian repertoire — but not without an occasional alteration here and there.
“I changed one line in ‘Come On In,’ ” he says. “Instead of singing, ‘Come on in/And close the door,’ I changed it to ‘Come on in/To the Lord.’ But I would have no problem with ‘Talk Talk.’ It speaks of a timeless problem of teenage misunderstanding.”