A Time of Incredible Talent and Creativity
It's surprising that Brian Wilson would be the last surviving sibling of a band that defined rock music throughout much of the 1960s and decades to follow. Brian is the oldest of the three Beach Boy brothers. Born on June 20,1942 in Inglewood, California, Brian was the creative force behind the Beach Boys, composing the vast majority of their many hits. It's not for nothing that Brian has been called a musical genius by so many inside and outside of the music industry. His fans include Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Tom Petty, Paul Simon, Keith Richards, Stevie Wonder, David Crosby, Neil Young, and the list goes on and on. Along with genius, Brian was also plagued by years of depression, years in which he was confined to his bed. Brian was often painfully shy and unable to tour with the Beach Boys, preferring instead to stay home and write some of the most beautiful, complex and iconic songs of the 1960s. He has been compared to such great musical minds as Bach and Mozart.
Though I was too young to realize it then, I just knew I was in the presence of greatness when I was around him. I felt it in my bones. Then in 1976, just two years out of high school, fortune came my way when brother and band member Carl Wilson invited me to some of the band's production sessions at Brother Studios in Santa Monica. The studio was an offshoot of their record label, Brother Records that they'd formed in 1966.
As can already be guessed, Brother Records/Studios was named after the band's three founding brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson. Opened in 1974, Brother Studios was housed in a one-story building at 1454 5th Street in Santa Monica. The studio had a simple exterior and was by no means big. What the studio lacked in size it made up for in songs that were recorded there - some of the biggest and most beautiful melodies of the 20th century.
On entering the studio, you couldn't help but notice the many gold and platinum records that hung along the hallway's wall of fame. The studio housed a large "live room", where musicians would set up and play. There was also a viewing room, some small offices and a good sized control room where engineers and record producers would mix and edit the music. This is where much of the magic happened. Much of it, if not all of it, was done by Brian Wilson.
I was nervous and thrilled at the same time to be in the studio. It was one thing to babysit Carl's kids or go backstage at a concert. But to be invited to the studio was something else. We had to sit quietly in the viewing room. I watched my favorite band record a new album, led by the master, Brian Wilson. The new album would be called "15 Big Ones." Among the songs I remember hearing was the Chuck Berry classic, "Rock and Roll Music." Their other songs included "It's OK" and "Had to Phone Ya."
The studio was filled with musicians, and not just The Beach Boys. Members of the famed Wrecking Crew contributed a lot of music to the album.
Who was the Wrecking Crew?
They were a group of all-purpose, highly revered studio musicians in Los Angeles. Their music was used on thousands of studio recordings in the 1960s and 70s.
You can hear them on hundreds of top 40 hits, massive hits, such as "Mr Tambourine Man" by The Byrds; "California Dreamin’’ by The Mamas and the Papas; Phil Spector’s "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes and Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson." And who can forget "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," by the Righteous Brothers, another Phil Spector classic.
Of course, The Wrecking Crew participated on numerous Beach Boys albums including "15 Big Ones". The Wrecking crew also provided the background music on some of the most popular films and TV shows of the time, such as "Bonanza," "Mission Impossible," "Batman," "Hawaii Five O" and too many others to list here. The Wrecking Crew defined the sound of popular music during the 60s and 70s.
Looking back at this period I can now see how it was pure magic, a time filled with extraordinary talent unlike any other.
The Beach Boys music makes up a huge part of this. It is so much a part of me that it goes beyond words.
After leaving Brother Studios, I would hop in my car, lower the top down, and cruise the Pacific Coast Highway with their songs blasting from my car's stereo. You can be sure I sang along with every song.
Little did I know at the time about the many sad and tragic events the band would face in the years to come. They include Dennis Wilson's untimely death while swimming at Marina del Rey in 1983, just seven years after I'd visited them at their studio. Fifteen years later my friend, Carl Wilson, would be taken away from us way too soon by lung cancer. He was just 51. His headstone reads, "Carl Dean Wilson, The heart and voice of an angel. The world is a far lesser place without you." This is so true. It's hard for me to think of many men, especially in the music and film industry, that were as kind and generous as Carl.
Since Carl's death, Brian has gone back to concert touring. The Beach Boys have had a long tradition of performing on Independence Day throughout America.
With President Biden's recent announcement last week that he hopes Americans will once again be able to safely gather on July 4th after more than a year and half of being locked down by the coronavirus, this could mean that the Beach Boys will again perform this summer.
Wouldn't it be nice?