Though the early days of The Beach Boys are well-documented, the role of founding member Al Jardine is often overshadowed by the Wilson brothers. Inspired to play guitar by The Kingston Trio, it was Jardine who first suggested he and Brian Wilson sing together. It was also Jardine who thought adding Brians brother, Carl, and their cousin, Mike Love, would work, thus forming The Beach Boys. In addition to guitar, Jardine sang lead on some of The Beach Boys biggest hits, including Help Me Rhonda, Sloop John B, Heroes and Villains, and a cover of Leadbellys Cotton Fields, which Jardine rearranged to make a bigger hit.
David Marks joined The Beach Boys after the bands first year and after Al Jardine temporarily left the band to go to college. Marks phenomenal guitar playing and the chemistry between him and Carl Wilson is often credited as creating The Beach Boys sound. Appearing on the bands first five albums, Marks shared guitar duty for a couple of years upon Jardines return to the group; however, by the time he was 16, Marks left The Beach Boys. Marks became a successful studio musician, working with such artists as Leon Russell and Delbert McClinton. When Carl Wilson was sidelined with cancer in 1997, he returned to The Beach Boys.
Consequence of Sound had the opportunity to talk with both of these legendary musicians as The Beach Boys embark on an international tour in support of the bands 50th Anniversary and their latest album, Thats Why God Made the Radio. We discuss what it was like making this album compared to the bands first releases, the division of labor in the bands early days between their appearance and the studio, why it took Jardine so long to do a solo album, and why both men left and what brought them back.
You’ve said: Weve come full circle. Sharing our memories and our present in the studio has been really remarkable. I can especially feel it when were all singing around the mic together, because we all hear each other and we really lock in.
What was it like making this new record? Were you more actively involved in the process rather than just doing vocals and harmonies this time around?
We’re recording brilliant songs, I think. Or had recorded, I should say. But not in a way I had anticipated; it wasn’t all getting around the piano together and singing. These are songs that Brian had been writing, has been writing, in his head and in his own studio for the last, oh, I don’t know, six, eight years. So, these are new creations, and we all just got together and sang our parts, our various parts, that he had already outlined for himself, something he might have done on his own solo album for instance.
So, all I had to do was drop, shoot, whatever you call it, my own part in, and it sounds pretty good. It’s a wonderful production. Very Pet Sounds-like in scope, very deep and moving. I think people will appreciate his continuing output.
Prior to joining the band, you were more of an athlete, were you not? What led you to pick up the guitar?
Brian and I were on the football team together, if that’s what you mean. Folk music. I was a big Kingston Trio fan. When Brian and I were in school, they had the number one records. They were the hot new act in town. They had the striped shirts and that collegiate look, and so I always aspired to do that kind of music; Brian had other ideas. But being similarly afflicted by the bug, we compromised with each other, and I sang some of his music, and he sang some of mine.
What did Brian say to you to convince you to come back to the band after you had left to go to college?
Oh, he was just fit to be tied. He had so many things going on in his domain, his musical domain, meaning his creative processes. And then his dad was pushing him to go out on the road and be more of a musician instead of a composer. And Brian… he just wasn’t able to do it all. Eventually, he did have a nervous breakdown over it. His dad forced him back into the group a little bit later on. So, it was always a conflict between the appearance band and then the recording band, so I was able to take some pressure off of him for a while by coming back into the touring band and ultimately into the recording studio, well, immediately into the recording studio after a short hiatus.
With regard to the difference between the touring band and the recording band, at what point in time did the recording process change in the studio?
When we were on the road for so many days out of the year, we weren’t available to record anymore. We recorded on the first couple of albums ourselves, and then when we weren’t around anymore, Brian was really left with no other alternative but to use studio musicians, and so, ergo, the Wrecking Crew.
Let’s talk about your Leadbelly cover, Cottonfields. That was the last single The Beach Boys did with Capitol Records, and the arrangement that was released as a single features you on lead vocals, and you actually rearranged the song. What was behind all that? Why did you rearrange it? What was wrong with the original? Or was there something you were trying to grab?
Well, I thought Brian was going to give me another Sloop John B. We went into the studio, and it just didn’t happen. It was quite flat, I thought, and very un-Beach Boy-like. It sounded more like a country thing. Not even that, it just sounded like a demo. So, I picked up the gauntlet and took the appearance band into the studio, and we re-recorded it with my band, which is much more powerful than the studio guys we were using at the time. And I thought it was great. And Dennis Wilson kind of helped me out. He was, you might say, our spark plug guy; he was our energy guy, and he really believed in it.
And a couple of new additions, one being a steel guitar, kinda gave it a country flavor, which, in hindsight, I wouldn’t put on today, but it’s there, and that’s what it is. It was a famous guy, a famous steel player named Red Rhodes. But anyway, that’s how my production ended up being the single. It was just a good live band recording.
You released your first solo album in 2010. Why did it take so long?
I don’t know. I’ve always been a Beach Boy, and I haven’t had time to concentrate on that. Since I hadn’t been touring with the band for so many years, over the last 10 years I got kind of homesick for singing and getting behind the mic, not producing, but singing again. And I used my good friends up and down the coast–Neil Young, America, Dewey Bunnell, those guys, even Brian Wilson and some of The Beach Boys–to fill out my album. It really was a nice panacea for me while I was out of the band.
What was behind the band’s withdrawal from the Monterrey Pop Festival?
Politics. And we were busy making an album at the time, if I recall. But there was some politics about it. And it was the first one, and we weren’t so sure that we really belonged in that particular group that they were putting together. Of course, we were wrong, dead, dead wrong. We should have gone. But sometimes managers and agents don’t all get along, one thing or another. But we did finally make the ’71 appearance, I think. The last one. We were at the last one. The crowd really loved it. I remember singing Sloop John B up there, and the crowd just went crazy.
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.