Halfnelson (band)

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Origin Los Angeles, California, USA
Genres Rock, pop, Psychedelic pop
Years active 1968–1971
Labels Bearsville Records
Associated acts Sparks
Members Ron Mael
Russell Mael
John Mendelsohn
Earle Mankey
Jim Mankey
Harley Feinstein

Halfnelson (sometimes spelled Half Nelson) was an American rock band, which was a precursor to the more successful Sparks. Halfnelson was formed in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles in 1968 by brothers Ron (keyboards) and Russell Mael (vocals), the first incarnation also including friend and electro-whizz Earle Mankey (guitar).


In the late sixties, Russell Mael was finishing high school , while Ron Mael was entering college and becoming involved with Cinema and graphic design. Earle Mankey met with the brothers by an ad in which Earle Mankey had advertised for a recording studio and when they came over there. He also convinced the Maels to hire him as a guitar player at $ 2.50 an hour. Apart from being a guitarist, he was a wizard of sound effects and has a degree in engineering from UCLA.

The trio made dozens of home recordings during the late sixties and the most famous one was this famous Halfnelson's "A Woofer In Tweeter's Clothing" demo (not to be confused with the second official Sparks' Bearsville album) of twelve songs, all written by the Maels. Halfnelson decided that a demo album should be professionally recorded and for that reason, the band badly needed a rhythm section. A drummer was found in the person of rock-critic John Mendelsohn, and a bass player in Ralph Oswald. Ron Mael's use of organ as a key instrument was much more prominent. About one hundred copies of the "A Woofer In Tweeter's Clothing" demo were sent out to record companies. None of them reacted positively.

After this recording, John Mendelsohn and Ralph Oswald quit the band, being later on replaced by Harley Feinstein and Earle's brother Jim Mankey, respectively. Mendelsohn and Oswald later formed Christopher Milk.

Todd Rundgren producer of Bearsville Records signed the band with a contract and became the producer of their Halfnelson debut in 1971, which was one of Todd Rundgren's first outside production jobs since his own group, The Nazz. In retrospect the band was not all that happy with his production and one year later Ron Mael stated that "Todd Rundgren is extremely nice, but if you had to work with him, you wouldn't have much space for your own ideas. We did not feel his way of producing was suitable for our music. However, he could not be convinced otherwise. We started to behave a bit nasty and aggressive towards him and finally he didn't turn up anymore."

This first album was a startling debut, with its crude yet experimental rhythms—the band used to beat on cardboard boxes with reverb on and run it through amplifiers—and ad hoc inventiveness. They managed to explore a bewildering array of styles using backwards tape loops and generally messing about with whatever lo-tech gadgetry they could find. This was music designed in the recording studio whose intricate arrangements would be nigh-on impossible to perform in concert.

Later on, Albert Grossman of Bearsville suggested they change their name into "Sparks Brothers", as they reminded of the Marx Brothers. In the end it was decided only to use the first part, aka Sparks.