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Beach Boys Producers Alan Boyd, Dennis Wolfe, Mark Linett Discuss ‘Made in California’ (Q&A)

Written by: Ken Sharp

Alan Boyd: My Solution was recorded Halloween night 1970 at Brian’s house. It’s kind of jokey track, Brian is playing a mad scientist and talking like Boris Karloff while the Beach Boys are singing (recites lyrics) “What I have done with my solution, my instant aim to evolution.”  It’s interesting because Brian took the melody of it and later turned into the verse of a song called Happy Days which showed up on his Imagination solo album.

Mark Linett: Thank Him is an early Brian demo; it’s not a Beach Boy demo at all. There are things that don’t even exist that are being asked about. For the most part it does seem a bit like whatever you put on there’ll be somebody objecting to something. With a late ‘60s song like Walkin’, Brian’s doing the vocal and he gets so disgusted singing it that you hear him throw down his headphones and that’s the last time anybody ever heard of it.

So I wouldn’t say they’re all bottom of the barrel things but for the most part I think we’ve picked more representative things to go on the box. There should be enough on the box for the hardcore fans but you also want the material to be something that 99% of the casual listeners will appreciate as well. It can’t sound like a bootleg. While for the most part, with a few exceptions, there’s no real objection to some of this stuff they’re requesting to be released, it’s just doesn’t belong in this context. Honestly, if we had another CD to work with we would have filled that up too with more unreleased material.

RCM: As archivists and keepers of the flame, what are the Beach Boys’ holy grails for you?

Alan Boyd: Well, there’s a half inch reel of SMiLE masters that we’d love to get a hold of if it wasn’t destroyed or left behind at Capitol back in ’68. Also, the Good Vibrations final eight-track multi-track, for example.

Mark Linett: We have a safety copy of Good Vibrations that seems to have been made around ’67. We have a four-track with a whole bunch of stuff on it, some SMiLE stuff. None of the original half-inch tapes exist for a bunch of things like Cabin Essence and Wonderful. As for the Good Vibrations eight–track multi-track master, nobody remembers seeing it after the original record was finished. Presumably it was left behind at CBS Studios.

We did get two ’65 era tapes from the Summer Days, Summer Nights!! Album. This came about when all the tapes were returned when the band’s deal was up with CBS in 1990, 1991. All the tapes that were stored at CBS were delivered to the Beach Boys and there was an eight-track that had half of Summer Days, Summer Nights!! and a tape for And Your Dream Comes True.  The Good Vibrations reel was not among them and I’ve been told by people who worked at CBS at the time that when they closed the studio they left a tremendous amount of tapes there.

About ten years later somebody at CBS decided the tapes had to get out of there and rather than go through all of the tapes, they sent somebody over there with a bandsaw and cut all the reels in half and threw them into the dumpster. Nobody cared. It’s a shame.

RCM: For some, the Beach Boys story resides in the sun and surf era and for others, in more experimental fare ala Pet Sounds and SMiLE, what was the primary artistic story you were trying to tell with the box set?

Alan Boyd:

The story we wanted to tell for the box set was to go as far beyond the stereotype of the Beach Boys as possible.

One of the things that hooked me about the group when I was younger and have always been fascinated by is the fact that they did so many kinds of music so well. I talk about this in the producer’s notes in the box.

They ended up with multiple and divergent and sometimes incompatible fan bases. It’s a real mind blower to think the same people who crafted this happy sing-along called Surfin’ Safari also brought us God Only Knows and SMiLE and Surf’s Up and Holland and all that type of music. There was an awful lot of talent within that group and each one of the band brought something singular and important to the fabric of the Beach Boys story. We really wanted to impress people with the fact that this band was incredibly versatile. They had a very diverse catalog and we wanted to show off all the different aspects of it. Going from Surfin’ U.S.A. to Blondie Chaplin singing Wild Honey, it’s the same band, I mean, wow! (laughs)

RCM: There are horror stories about RCA Records trashing session outtakes of many of Elvis Presley’s key 50’s era recordings. How did the Beach Boys manage to avoid this fate?

Mark Linett: A number of things in the Beach Boys canon are lost to us, most notably the eight-track tape Good Vibrations multi-track tape, which we think was destroyed. The fact that the group has always controlled their own tapes has actually meant the sessions, by and large, post-Surfer Girl, have survived and any tapes we do have survived because the Beach Boys kept them.

A record label typically would only keep at best the very last multi-track used for the final mix down. In the early days, if you were recording and starting on three-track and you filled up the tracks already and needed more tracks, you would combine those three tracks into one track and bounce them to another three-track tapes as many times as you needed to. Just in terms of space, the record labels would only keep that final three-track recording.

Linett with Brian Wilson at the sound board.

Linett with Brian Wilson at the sound board.

Also, in terms of practicality there would be no reason to go back to the previous tape generation once the finished master was done. The only exception to that is The Beatles. EMI was smart enough at the time to figure that everything was worth saving although there’s a few cases that even some of The Beatles stuff has gotten lost. So the blessing is we have so many session tapes and for a group like this, you can really hear how an awful lot of these songs came together, both early and later material.

Had the label controlled all the tapes we‘d probably have practically nothing in terms of session tapes. I should mention what’s amazing is tapes are still coming out of the woodwork. For the Beach Boys’ Summer Love Songs album that came out five, six years ago we were contacted by a guy named Lance Robison who lives up in central California. He contacted the writer, Jon Stebbins because he read an article about him writing a book about Dennis. Amazingly, he had three outtake reels from the Shut Down Volume 2 album, which is an album we never had any tapes of. Because he had the multi-track for Why Do Fools Fall in Love?, which was never done in stereo and session outtakes for Don’t Worry Baby, Capitol and Brother Records was able to purchase the tape and use them for that release and we’ve also used them on this box set.

This find wasn’t heavily publicized but the fact that it got any publicity at all has caused other tapes to turn up. About three years ago somebody turned up with about 28 tapes that had, shall we say, gone missing from the Beach Boys and Capitol archives in 1980; this included the eight-track master to Do it Again and We’re Together Again and several of the albums that ultimately didn’t get released like Adult Child and a version of California Feelin.

Clearly there is still stuff out there.

We’re all kind of myopic thinking if somebody had any Beach Boys tapes they’d have come forward years ago but we’re talking thirty, forty, fifty years ago so who knows what’s hiding in dad’s closet.

Alan Boyd: If anybody out there has anything that they think might be of interest for the Beach Boys archive, whether it’s vintage tapes and especially acetates, drop me a line at info@boyd productiongroup.com.

RCM: I understand you have interesting promotional plans for the box set.

Dennis Wolfe: The company that I work for now, Tongal, is a leading crowd source video creation company and we’re going to do two really exciting promotions around the box set. One is going to be a guitar solo contest for the track Going to the Beach (click here for information on the contest). It’s a great uptempo unreleased track that recaptures that fun in the sun sound from the ‘60s even though it was recode din ’79. It was recorded with bass, drums, piano and vocals but very limited guitar.

http://youtu.be/a8er-kxIPhA

There’s a break in the song that should have a guitar solo in it and there isn’t one there. So we are going to allow the world to submit a video tape of themselves playing  what should be the guitar solo for this song. The grand prize winner is going to get a custom ’65 replica Fender Strat that is made in California—it comes out of their Corona, California plant—and it’s gonna have a custom Made in California pick guard on it and it’ll be signed too.

There’s a whole slew of other prizes but the killer special sauce is your performance will then get mixed into the track by Mark Linett and Alan Boyd and we’ll make that available on the various Beach Boys online properties, web site and Facebook. The other promotion we’re doing is a little more closely aligned with what Tongal does which is making music videos and making videos for brands. We’re going to have a contest to make a brand new music video for the previously unreleased track California Feelin’.

Tongal has a huge community of filmmakers we can access for the project but we will also be reaching out to the greater Beach Boys community and see if we can find some fans out there with some chops, some film, animation and editing skills who cam make a killer music video. There will be substantial cash prizes for that.

RCM: Fill us in on the background behind some of the most essential unreleased tracks on the box set starting with (Wouldn’t It Be Nice To) Live Again.

Alan Boyd: It was written by Dennis Wilson and Stan Shapiro and was recorded as part of the Surf’s Up album sessions. It’s a gorgeous song, just absolutely beautiful. There are numerous reasons I’ve heard cited through the years as to why it didn’t show up on that album. A lot of it has to do with internal group politics and management things. But the first time we heard this we were blown away. I think it’s Dennis’ best vocal performance ever. We played the song for Mike (Love) and he really liked it and was really supportive of it being included.

As a matter of fact, Mike was talking about how one of his dream projects would be a box set with one disc highlighting each of the group members’ strongest moments over the years, which is incidentally something that Mark (Linett) has been wanting to do for many years too.

RCM: California Feelin’.

Alan Boyd: That was one of the first songs recorded for the L.A. Light album in 1978 at Criteria, the Bee Gees studio, in Miami. A rough mix has been circulating for many years but we did a little track editing and pulled some things out on it. I’ve always loved the song and there are multiple versions of it out there. There’s a version by The Honeys, Brian (Wilson) has recorded it. But we’re finally getting the Beach Boys master out. It features a beautiful vocal by Carl. The song almost has a gospel tinge to it. We even used part of Brian’s original first attempt at a lead vocal on it too, which no one has heard.

RCM: Sherry She Needs Me.

Mark Linett: That’s a 1965 instrumental track with a 1976 vocal. They were considering finishing the song and putting it on the Love You album. It got as far as Brian adding a lead vocal. That’s happened a lot where they go back to a song from years ago. For example, the song Back Home got resurrected twice. The original version and the first resurrection weren’t released but they’re now on the box. The third time they recorded it, it wound up on 15 Big Ones. What’s interesting are some of the songs they never finished, which are really good.

There’s a full on track of Old Man River that sadly never got a complete set of vocals but you can tell by what little they did do on it that it would have been really spectacular had they finished it.

RCM: You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling.

Alan Boyd: You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling is totally a Brian one-man production. It’s from the Love You sessions. I talked to (engineer) Earle Mankey about it and he remembers the session vividly. He recalls that Brian came in one day and recorded the whole song. He plays everything on it, did all the vocals. Everything was pretty much done in one take. Apparently when he was singing both vocals parts at the end–the Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield parts–he really got into that.

Earle described his head bouncing back and forth from one side of the microphone to the other. Like a lot of the material from Love You Brian was working very quickly on his own. It’s a very simple production. Everything is anchored by that tack piano.

Brian did this very interesting thing and it goes back to his early days too, for rhythm he’d often use guitars and piano to fulfill the same rhythm function as a high-hat. He’d always have these eighth notes but there’d be these chord clusters. I think he liked the tack piano because it had that sort of percussive click on it and it sort of fulfills the same function as a high-hat except with all these notes so it makes everything sort of swirl.

His version of You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling is very dark and it’s very raw. It almost has kind of a punk edge to it.

Mark Linett: Brian returns to You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’ all the time. He cut a version here at my studio in the ‘90s. It’s just a song he enjoys recording (laughs).

Alan Boyd: We feature four songs from the Love You album on the box set. It’s a fascinating record. I’ve never heard a record before or since that sounded like it. It’s got its own sonic texture that no one has ever tried to do before. Even though the album is synth based it doesn’t sound like synth pop. It’s very quirky and childlike.

Some of those songs and chord progressions are among the richest and the deepest that Brian ever did. At the same time, the music was recorded very much off the top of his head. He wasn’t into spending a lot of time on it. I think Carl did a very good job of producing the mix down in terms of adding some dynamics to some of the tracks.

There are things on Let Us Go On This Way where Carl deliberately pulled certain things out of the first verse so the song would have some build to it. If you listen to the original multi-track everything is going full blast throughout the whole song. I love the instrumental textures on all that Love You stuff.

RCM: Transcendental Meditation (instrumental track).

http://youtu.be/xW8IlbJCfKA

Mark Linett: I’ve had the privilege of listening to all the Beach Boys session tapes because we’ve been archiving and transferring the library for many many years. It’s fun to hear the songs but I get to hear them in ways that are different than the record. When I transferred Transcendental Meditation I heard it and gained a new appreciation for the backing track. It’s got an interesting jazz feel and thought it would be a nice addition for the box.

RCM: Where is She

Alan Boyd: Where is She? was on one of the original Sunflower project 16-track project reels. It appears to be all Brian. It’s one of those times that the band’s engineer Steve Desper recalls Brian simply getting an idea and he built this song from the ground up. We had to edit a couple of pieces together but it’s a gorgeous piece. Vocally, Brian goes up in the stratosphere of what people used to call his “angel voice.” It’s almost a demo and it’s sort of avant-garde in the instrumental approach. It’s reminiscent stylistically of The Beatles song She’s Leaving Home. It’s a beautiful song that we were excited to find when we were transferring tapes. We were like, “Oh my God, where has this been hiding?”

RCM: Be With Me (demo).

Alan Boyd: The demo is from 1968 and it was done not long before Dennis recorded the song for the 20/20 album. There are a lot of Dennis tapes in the vaults and we found this one reel from 1968 where he’s trying out a bunch of different things on the piano. The demo is just Dennis singing and playing piano. Very rough. He probably had just written it. It’s fascinating to compare it to the finished version of the song.

RCM: Barnyard Blues.

Alan Boyd: Barnyard Blues is a Dennis track that dates back to 1974. It was a song he was working on back in the Surf’s Up days. We found a tracking session of the same progression but it never really went anywhere back then. This is an unfinished piece with a scratch vocal that features Dennis with Ricky (Fataar) and Carl singing along with him. It’s a real change of pace and doesn’t sound like anything the Beach Boys ever did or Dennis in his solo career for that matter. It sounds a little like The Band.

RCM: My Love Lives On.

Mark Linett: That’s an unreleased Dennis Wilson and Steve Kalinich song from 1974 that apparently never got any farther than just a demo from Dennis. One nice thing about getting songs like this one released is that they’ll hopefully be discovered and covered by other people.

Alan Boyd: It’s just a gorgeous, beautiful, life-affirming little Dennis and Steve song.

Dennis Wolfe: It’s this haunting, emotional track form Dennis. It’s him singing and playing piano. It’s the most pure rendering of a song I’ve heard in recent memory.  You cannot argue with a single thing that’s coming through; the chord progressions and the lyrics and the sincerity and the rawness he’s bringing to that performing absolutely floored me. There’s a real neat child-like quality to what Dennis does but underneath that there’s a rich, deep pool of experience and vulnerability.

Mark Linett: It seems appropriate placing My Love Lives On near the end of the sixth disc with the unreleased material. It’s a real nice way to sum up Dennis.

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