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Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine of the Beach Boys – Interview (Pt. 1)

Written by: Ken Sharp

Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love

Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love

The location: 3701 West 119th Street, Hawthorne, California, 1960.

Holed away in his family’s music room, 18 year-old Brian Wilson, future music genius/visionary of The Beach Boys, is cocooned safely in his private sanctuary, immersed in what would become his life’s quest and salvation: making music.

Made in California, showcasing a beautifully stylish design by Grammy nominated designer Mark London, is an expansive 6-CD career spanning retrospective that was released on August 27th.

The box set, crammed with essential singles, deep album cuts and previously unreleased live and studio tracks, is also augmented by a spectacular yearbook styled book, which culls a dazzling array of rare and previously unseen photographs, vintage ephemera and original Beach Boy album artwork (Surf’s Up). From its extraordinary design to the music in the grooves, this magnificent release offers definitive proof of the enduring glorious legacy of Brian Douglas Wilson, his brothers Carl and Dennis, cousin Mike Love, Al Jardine, David Marks and Bruce Johnston.

beach boys made in california box

‘Made in California’ in all its glory.

From the rudimentary 1960/1961 rehearsal version of what would become their first hit, Surfin’, to Soul Searchin’, the last track to feature the late Carl Wilson, Made in California is manna for Beach Boys fans and serves as a towering monument to 50 years of incomparable musical invention.

RCM was fortunate enough to be granted interviews with Mike Love, Brian Wilson and Al Jardine regarding Made in California and the legacy of the Beach Boys’ music.

**Note Each interview was conducted separately and edited together into this piece for purposes of concision and relevance.**

Enjoy Part 1 of our three-part chat below (and check back in the next two months for Parts 2 and 3).

Rock Cellar Magazine: What story does The Beach Boys’ Made in California box set tell?

Mike Love: There are a lot of tributaries of all the different types of American music—folk, R&B, blues, country, doo wop–and you can hear all that on the box set. We’ve dabbled in and have been touched by all kinds of music. The inspiration of the Everly Brothers, doo-wop, blues, rock and roll, jazz, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, The Kingston Trio, that fabric is all part of our sound and you can hear all those influences on the box set.

RCM: Brian, In My Room is a special song for you, where was your special room in your house?

Brian and Al in the studio.

Brian and Al in the studio.

Brian Wilson: We had a music room that used to be a garage. My dad turned it into a music room. It didn’t turn into a music room until I was about 14. We had a jukebox in there and there was a piano and a Hammond B-3 organ in there too. Gary (Usher) and I worked in that music room. He was on guitar and I was on piano and we wrote 409 and In My Room.

RCM: Al, it was your love of folk music that provided the spark for The Beach Boys to record Surfin’.

Al Jardine:  We went into the studio quite early on with the intention of just recording a couple of traditional folk songs. Brian had come up with this tune shortly before going down to the studio, this surfing idea. The surfing idea was actually Dennis’ idea. Brian prepared this track bed called Surfin’. I played stand-up bass on it. My mother had to rent the equipment because the Wilsons had gone on vacation to Mexico and the food money was gone. So we had to go and beg, borrow and steal from my mother who came up with three hundred bucks. That was a hell of a lot of money in ’61.

We cut Surfin’ real quickly. We did it all at one time. We sang and played. We just stood up in front of the microphone and basically played the song for Murry and the publisher and that’s the one they liked. Hite Morgan’s son, Bruce, wrote a song called Luau, which was a cute kind of song. The single was on two labels, X and Candix Records which must have been the same label when you think about it, just two different ways to steal money. They only paid us nine hundred dollars in royalties for the whole thing so they definitely buried a little money.

They probably paid us on the one label, the one that sold the nine hundred dollars worth and kept the other label’s worth somewhere else in a vault. Murry (Wilson) added a hundred dollars to the check to make it an even thousand dollars so we could each get two hundred dollars, which was very nice of him.

RCM: The Help Me Rhonda session is circulating in collector’s circles. Looking back, why was the song so problematic to nail a lead vocal?

Al Jardine: Brian had it in his head of it going one way and I had it going another way. It was my first big lead vocal—I had a lead before that—but primarily I’m an “ooh” and “ah” guy. I can nail anything that way but when it comes to rhythms I’m just not as sharp as maybe someone else. What made it problematic for me is Help Me Rhonda had a rhythmic movement that I found very difficult and I finally got it. Brian’s dad. Murry was trying to help me but that was like the blind leading the blind. It got very confusing.

RCM: Brian was obviously a gifted songwriter. At what point did you realize that his talent was far greater than you imagined?

Al Jardine: There wasn’t a realization like that at all.

From the very beginning we were challenged by everything we did together with Brian.

We were the messengers. Our first song was a hit and we never stopped to think that it had something to do with the writing. We were so young and taken up in the whole thing that we thought, “Aren’t we great!” Of course, I didn’t think so for very long because I quit the band right after the single because I wanted to finish school. So I wasn’t that taken by it. As a rule, we all felt we contributed something. But as Brian grew and grew and grew, I think we just expected it. We didn’t know any different.  We loved everything he did He got a lot of feedback from us. I remember suggesting he put some sevenths into Surfin’ U.S.A. and he said, “No, we don’t do sevenths” and brushed it off.

Then I left the band shortly thereafter and when the record came out there were those sevenths all over the place. (laughs) He was totally open to things and we had such a great relationship. He was so pissed at me when I left the band. Man, I’ve never seen him so mad like that or ever again. He doesn’t lose his temper. But I thought I owed it to my parents to finish school. It was like one of those crossroads deals. Brian called me and said, “Please get your butt back here!” By then, I was going “Yeah, that was a dumb move. I’m with you, I’m back for keeps.”

RCM: When Brian was at the top of his game as a producer, what was it like being in the studio working with him?

Al Jardine: He wasn’t a take charge kind of guy outside of the studio but as soon as he got around the piano some electricity happened. I will say he was operating out of pure consciousness as the vedas imply in the All This is That statement.

He became one. He tapped into that pure consciousness, no question about it. Somehow something was coming through from the other side or from his inner purity.

He knew exactly what he wanted. It was fantastic. It was like a gift from heaven. Did we appreciate it? Yes, but not as much as we should have probably because there was such a volume of work coming out that it was almost impossible to keep up. Our touring schedule got so heavy. We didn’t really get any rest. It was “Go in the studio and when you’re done get back out on the road.” It was quite a marathon.

RCM: Mike, your collaborations with Brian were extremely successful. Around ’64 when Brian began writing with outside collaborators like Gary Usher and Roger Christian and later with Tony Asher and Van Dyke Parks, how did that make you feel, did you ever question him why he was “taking it out of the family” so to speak?

Photo courtesy of the Beach Boys

Photo courtesy of the Beach Boys

Mike Love: I never had a problem with him working with other writers. If you track the hits, there are a lot of those with a Wilson-Love credit so I’m proud of that.

I was the one who suggested doing a song about a girl who borrows her father’s car and wrote all the words for Fun Fun Fun and told Brian it needs to start with a Chuck Berry style guitar intro.

So Carl came up with that, Brian wrote the music, I wrote the lyrics and that was a great collaboration.

Another time I went to the beach with my high school friends and came back and talked to Brian, “We gotta do a song about going back to the beach”, which ironically is the title of the newest gem from the vaults on this box set, and that song turned out to be Do It Again.

We sat down at the piano and only took a few minutes to write it and it went to number one in England. Those are two examples of where I suggested concepts for the songs and did the lyrics and Brian did the music. Brian’s falsetto on the end of Fun Fun Fun is one of the most euphoric moments in rock and roll. (Laughs) With Van Dyke Parks.

It’s a whole other issue and that involved some heavy drug usage, some serious L.S.D and I didn’t like the impact it had on Brian and therefore the rest of the group.

That kind of involvement coincided with Brian’s period of retreating and extreme mental and emotional challenges for him. Brian told me on the 50th anniversary tour that he was doing L.S.D. when he did California Girls, I never knew that. What an amazing track, beautiful arrangement, great harmonies. He had the chorus “I wish they all could be California Girls” but no other lyrics so I went out in the hallway and came up with (recites lyrics) “Well East Coast girls are hip I really dig the styles they wear and Southern girls with the way they talk knock me out when I’m down there…”.  So I wrote this poem touching on four corners of the U.S. and then over to Hawaii and all around the world.

Some people misunderstood the meaning of the song that we were saying California girls were the best.

What we were really saying if you listen or read the lyrics, we were appreciating the fact that even though we went all around the world we’d like to bring them all back to California with us.

And in a sense, California is a microcosm of the macrocosm of what’s out there in the world in terms of all the pretty girls. We’ve been all over the world—Japan, Australia, Germany and England—that was the perfect song to encapsulate all the experience. As far as Pet Sounds, Tony Asher did a really great job on the lyrics. I also think Roger Christian was amazing. In addition to being a gear head into cars and hot rods, his lyrics on The Ballad of Old Betsey, the sensitivity is really impressive. When we first did that song I’d get choked up, it was so emotional. The music was so fantastic and the harmonies, melody and Brian’s voice. The song is about a car that’s getting a little older and it’s falling apart but you still love it anyway. It could have to do with a couple too, (recites lyrics) “Betsey took some beatings but she never once complained, she may be rusted iron but to me she’s solid gold and I just can’t hold the tears back ‘cause Betsey’s growing old…”

It’s about a car but it’s more than that. It’s good he found Roger Christian because I was not a gear head per se. I came up with the lyrics for Fun Fun Fun and did the predominance of the lyric for I Get Around. Roger came up with stuff I couldn’t write like on Shut Down (recites lyrics)…”The Superstock Dodge is windin’ out in low but my fuel injected Stingray is really startin’ to go. To get the traction I’m ridin’ the clutch. My pressure plate’s burnin’ that machine to much…” He was a great collaborator with Brian on that song, Little Deuce Coupe, The Ballad of Ole Betsey.

Pick up the Beach Boys' 'Good Vibrations Tour' DVD - click the image.

RCM: Brian, when did you first realize you had good voice?

Brian Wilson: I first felt I had a good voice when I was about seventeen or eighteen and was able to sing along well to records by The Four Freshmen. By singing along to those records that’s how I learned how to sing falsetto.  I would sing along to songs like I’m Always Chasing Rainbows, I’ll Remember April and Day by Day. Those were the songs that I sang along to get my voice into shape.

RCM: Growing up, when did it hit you that being a songwriter/musician was the only way to go?

 

Brian Wilson: When I wrote Surfer Girl I liked it so much that I said that I’m gonna keep on writing songs.

Then we wrote Surfin’ and Surfin’ Safari and 409 and In My Room. I always worked to try and write better songs because I wanted to impress the other Beach Boys.

I’m embarrassed when people say I’m a “musical genius.” I’m not a musical genius. I just work really hard at what I do.

RCM: Brian, being deaf in one ear, have you managed to not find that to be a liability?

Brian Wilson: When you have a deaf ear like me–my right ear is deaf–your subconscious mind says, “I’m not good enough, I only have one ear.” I think it’s helped me and it screwed up my life up too. When I sing I only hear it on my left side. Being deaf in my right ear has been two things: it’s been a horrible hang up for my ego and my mind and it’s also been a tremendous way to outdo other people because I have this burning desire to want to do something great.

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