UPDATED: Meet The Rhodes Kids, Houston's Mobbed-Up '70s Family Band
UPDATE (April 10, 2014): According to a letter we received today from Gary Rhodes, currently a worship pastor in Waco, the Rhodes family had very little idea who they were really doing business with in the early '70s. "We (including our parents) were totally unaware of any ties the record company owner had with the porn industry," he writes. "We had barely been with this company a few months when we heard about it, and after finding this out immediately terminated the relationship. Only a couple singles and one album recording had been done. Shortly after that, contact with Mr. Cammarata was also terminated." The activities mentioned in the 1988 Chronicle article about Cammarata did not happen until years after the Rhodes severed contact with him, he adds.
The early 70's was a glorious time for the "family showband." The Cowsills started it all a few years earlier, and the lifestyle was soon immortalized on the screen by the fictionalized Partridge Family. But for every group like the Osmonds or the Jackson 5, there were dozens of others, perhaps less talented, certainly less famous, who crisscrossed America in their leaky busses from cocktail lounge to county fair, hoping for that big break that would get them the invite to Vegas or Hollywood.
Houston's own Rhodes Kids, largely forgotten unless you're a thrift-store record-bin regular, was one of those bands who did get the invitation to the Big Time. The seven Rhodes Kids were the children of an Exxon engineer and a concert pianist, and had already been playing together casually before relocating to Houston in 1970.
It was here that Paul, Ron, Gary, Patty, Marsha, Brett and little Mark got serious, hiring a manager, choreographer, and practicing daily. Their first gigs were at Village Inn Pizza. It may not have been glamorous, but hey, free pizza.
The kids' "big break" came in 1972, when they were discovered by "producer" Michael Thevis, who wrote the liner notes on their first album, Rock 'N Rhodes Christmas, on Atlanta's GRC records:
The last thing in the world I wanted to do, after spending eight hard days in L.A. looking at rough cuts of a movie I had produced, was to fly to Houston and spend the evening in a noisy hotel lounge listening to a group of kids whose lead singer was only 10 years old.
But a friend had called. It was one of those "you-have-got-to-see-them-to-believe-them" conversations. Before I knew it, I heard myself saying "Yeah, sure" So there I was in Houston, suffering a combination of jet lag and fatigue, wishing the night were behind me so I could get on to Las Vegas where I planned to relax for the rest of the week listening to the "real pros" perform.
Then the house lights went down, the spots flashed up... and POW! Seven kids, all members of the same family, sang and played not one, but two to three different instruments. I learned the new meaning for the words "real pros." In 40 minutes the Rhodes Kids made me forget jet lag, forget fatigue, forget Las Vegas and the pros.
After the show I talked to the entire family while Mark, the 10-year-old who had just packed it all in with his incredible imitation of Tom Jones, literally demolished the hotel lobby. I knew then I was going to sign them up.
But there's something about Thevis you won't find in any album liner notes. Some Christmas music blog did a bit of research and found... damn... turns out he was a mobbed-up "porn king" and gangster who used his music and film productions to launder his ill-gotten gains. Did the Rhodes Parents discover this at some point? The remaining Kids albums have no mention of "The Scarface of Porn," but still have some other shady connections.
In any case, the Rhodes Kids were on the move, and fast. Soon they were performing at the Las Vegas Hilton alongside Elvis and B.B. King, appearing on Jack Paar and Michael Douglas' TV shows, gigging on American Bandstand and in a Walt Disney World special, and hobnobbing with Wayne Newton and Sammy Davis, Jr.
The Rhodes Kids went on to release three more LPs, Live at the Las Vegas Hilton, Add a Little Beauty to the World and Caught Medleying, the latter featuring the eighth Rhodes, little brother Rick. These records were locally produced by Rho-Cam Productions, 511 W. Alabama, and managed by Sam Cammarata. Get it, "RHO-CAM"?
Being the curious guy we are, Cutout Bin did a bit of Googling on Mr. Cammarata and found that he was a boxing manager, even onetime manager of legend Rocky Marciano. A 1972 Billboard article describes Cammarata's new foray into music management with boxer Joe Friazier's new group The Knockouts (what??), and from Houston, the Rhodes Kids. So far so good. But we kept Googling.
A 1988 Houston Chronicle article about an organized-crime fugitive mentions the "Cammarata family," led by late Houston nightclub owner Sam Cammarata and described by federal officials as an international dope-smuggling ring responsible for at least six killings."
The Rhodes Kids' ride ended in 1977, when the older Kids decided they'd rather go to college than be teen rock stars. Cutout bin sees no evidence that the Kids, or even their parents, had any idea at the time of the grisly antics of their "managers." But it does go a little way in explaining how a little family band from Houston could go from Village Pizza to the Vegas Hilton in a matter of months.
One can only imagine the goodfella types these kids must have met and performed for, probably without even knowing who they were. Ah, the '70s.
See Nick DiFonzo's Web site at Bizarrerecords.com.
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