Sean Bonniwell, 71, lead singer and songwriter of the Music Machine, a 1960s Los Angeles band regarded as one of the most original of the garage-punk era, died Dec. 20 of lung cancer at a medical center in Visalia, Calif.
A former folksinger, Mr. Bonniwell was recognized as the chief force behind the band that honed its sound during a regular gig at the Hollywood Legion Lanes bowling alley. The group's one big hit was "Talk Talk," a proto-punk single that broke into the Top 20 in 1966.
It was "the most radical single" then on Top 40 radio, "garage psychedelia at its most experimental and outrageous," Richie Unterberger wrote in his 1998 book, Unknown Legends of Rock 'n' Roll.
The band's success was largely due to Mr. Bonniwell, a gifted songwriter who penned "torturous but catchy, riff-driven songs," according to the All Music online database.
The band started out as the Ragamuffins in 1965 but soon was known as the Music Machine, a nod to its energetic performing style.
By 1967, members started leaving the group, a turn Mr. Bonniwell blamed on poor management and pay. They had released one album, 1966's (Turn On) The Music Machine, which featured "Talk Talk" and the minor hit "The People in Me."
Mr. Bonniwell kept the Music Machine going for two more years and released a solo album. In 1970, he stopped actively recording and entered what he called "my transcendentalized Western guru period," traveling the United States in a Volkswagen bus.
He eventually moved to Porterville, Calif., and published an autobiography that reflected, he recalled in Unknown Legends, "my having been a teenager in the '50s, a rock celebrity in the '60s, a guru in the '70s, and a Christian from the '80s on. My life has paralleled the decades of American change."
- Los Angeles Times