I am going to quote you to begin: This is more like a family reunion than anything. When were together, we get along great. The chemistry always works the same as the last time we were together, and the five of us become a single element. Your mention of chemistry ties into the Beach Boys biographer Jon Stebbins, when he said that it was your guitar chemistry with Carl Wilson that changed the sound of the band. And even Al Jardine said that it was you and Carl that brought the electric drive into the band. What do you have to say about that?
That’s true. Actually, when the band started off, they were headed down sort of a folky road, and Carl and I pretty much introduced the electric guitar to Brian. He liked the sound of it, and when he incorporated his jazz vocal voicings to the grunge-sounding electric guitars, it just created a unique sound that no one had ever really heard before. It caught on, needless to say.
You started with the band when you were just 13, played with them for almost two years, appearing on four albums, right?
I moved in across the street from the Wilsons at a very young age; I think I was about six or seven years old, an only child, so I was there every day, and they kind of adopted me, the Wilson brothers. It was a very musical family; the parents both played and sang, and what happened was we automatically formed the band. It was something we did every day.
With the 50 years from then to now, how do you reflect on the time when you left the band?
I did do the first five albums in a very short period of time. As a matter of fact, we did so much material in a short period of time that some of the stuff I was on leaked into the sixth and seventh albums. And through the years, I stayed pretty close to the boys, socially and musically. There were a few years where we weren’t in that much contact. I moved away to Boston, went to music school. I was receiving Beach Boys royalties, so I was able to pursue some other musical endeavors. I studied some classical. I took a shot at being a composer. I became a studio musician. In the late ’60s, early ’70s, I went out anonymously, without my Beach Boy credentials, and played in a lot of studio environments. I would say that I had a just as fulfilling a musical experience as if I had stayed with The Beach Boys.
You’ve played with Warren Zevon, Delaney & Bonnie, even producer Mike Curb. What led you to leave Los Angeles and head back east to study jazz and classical?
What prompted me to do that was I was roommates with Warren Zevon in the mid to late ’60s. We hung out extensively, and he had been studying classical music with Robert Kraft, who was involved heavily with Igor Stravinsky, so he had a very solid, strong classical background, and he introduced me to that world. That’s kind of what prompted me to go to Boston in the late ’60s to pursue some musical education.
Did you ever just want to stay in the academic world, or were you trying to use that to carry over to a more advanced musical career?
Well, what I had learned at that time I still use. It had to do not only with music, but philosophy and life. I had a very good teacher. Avrin David was his name. He was a very, sort of, eclectic guy. He composed classical, played jazz trumpet. He was interested in blues and rock. He had a teacher, Margaret Chaloff. He introduced me to his teacher, and she was incredible, and she just opened up my world with philosophy, beyond music, stuff I use today.
I’m familiar with Mike Curb and The Mike Curb Congregation, but I’m only familiar with him as far as being a deep crate-digging, soul kind of producer. What kind of work did you do with him?
Mike Curb had a producer’s workshop back in the late ’60s. One of the producers there was Larry Brown. I had been playing in a band with Matt Moore, who was accumulating a lot of songs that he was writing, and he wanted to do an album. So, he recruited me to come in and do guitar with him. We literally spent months in the studio. We did two albums. We never left the studio; we lived in there. Empty pizza boxes and oxygen tanks, all kinds of stuff laying around. We didn’t know what time of day or night or day of the week it was.
We produced two albums. The band was called The Moon. They were released on Liberty Records. Unfortunately, the distribution didn’t go along with it, or the promotions, but it has since become sort of a cult thing. The albums have been re-released on Cherry Red on CD, and you can get those now.
Cherry Red is a great reissue label. When Mike Love asked you back into the band in 1971, why did you decline?
Oh, in ’71? I was still pretty heavily involved with my own musical endeavors, and Carl actually wanted me to play bass at that time, and I was just so wrapped up in my guitar that I wasn’t ready to give it up to play bass. And that’s pretty much why I didn’t stick around in ’71 when I was asked to rejoin The Beach Boys.
You came back when Carl was sick in the late ’90s?
Yeah, I came back in the late ’90s for a few years. Unfortunately, we were expecting Carl to return, but tragically he passed away during that time.
What was it like making the new record after so many years? Were you more actively involved in the actual creation of the record beyond just vocals and harmony? Were you actually in there playing the instruments this time around?
I was given free reign to fool around with guitar parts and that kind of stuff, which is really nice.
Are you excited about the new tour?
We’re really excited about the tour; it’s going really well. We’re being received tremendously in every city. We’re getting along great. Everybody’s loving each other and having a good time. It’s just totally positive.