My Summer Tour with The Beach Boys
It was the summer of 1983. Dad was gone and I was was in-between marriages.
Living in Marina del Rey, California with my boyfriend Tom, life was fun, but unsettled.
Tom and I met through mutual friends in the film industry. He was a Key Grip, the supervisor for those who build and maintain all the equipment that supports cameras during filming.
The Beach Boys were scheduled to do their Spirit of America Tour. And, no matter what, this girl was going to be there. I called my friend, Elliott Lott (The Beach Boys manager) to ask for my usual pair of tickets and back-stage passes. I was set. What I didn't know at the time was that my boyfriend, Tom also had an in with The Beach Boys. He had spent quite a few evenings hanging out with Dennis Wilson in Venice Beach. I found this out later that evening.
It was a hot August night as we drove down to Costa Mesa eagerly anticipating the concert. We had great seats 10th row center at the Pacific Amphitheater. The crowd was lively as beach balls bounced through the stands.
The lights dimmed and then: "Ladies and Gentleman, America's Band" - The Beach Boys! Everyone jumped to their feet as they began.."Well, East coast girls are hip. I really did those styles they wear..." There was an energy in the air - a magic, that only the Beach Boys could illicit. We danced and sang along for the following three hours. All of the guys were performing that night including Brian and Dennis. I later found out that was one of the very last concerts that they all would be playing together. They played 30 songs that night, ending with Surfin' USA and doing a five-song encore, culminating with Fun, Fun Fun.
And it was- fun, fun fun. As always, amazing.
Tom and I rushed out moments before they ended, making our way back stage. There were snacks and chilled drinks - all non-alcoholic. You see, the guys had had some issues with alcohol and drugs throughout the years. I mean..what band hadn't? It was a part of the music culture. To insure that none of that stuff would come between them again, they made a pact, a contract in fact, that if any of them consumed any intoxicants while on tour, they would not be allowed to play.
A few minutes later, out they came, welcomed by friends, family and special invited guests. Dennis came right over giving Tom a hug. I was surprised. Tom hadn't mentioned he knew Dennis. Then Dennis looks at me and says, "Hey mama. You guys are together?" We told him the quick story of how we met. Dennis asked Tom if he was still living in Marina del Rey to which Tom replied yes.
"Ok, Cool. Is it OK if I come by later?" To which we both replied, "Of course!" "Later", Dennis replied as he darted back to his dressing room. We socialized for a few more minutes then headed back to the car to drive home.
It was after midnight when we arrived back. We kept wondering if Dennis would really stop by so late. I was really excited. Dennis and I had spent time together on his boat Harmony when he was dating a friend of mine, but I hadn't seen him in nearly a year.
It was 1 am when we heard a tap at the door. There he was, wearing a smile, a pair of jeans, and tee shirt that said No Sweat..which he later gifted me.
We sat down and poured some cocktails--Dennis' favorite was Vodka and OJ. A part of me couldn't believe he was sitting in our small living room. I felt a bit like a third wheel and asked Dennis if I should invite one of my girlfriends over. He said heck yeah! Give her a call. When I called Cindy, she thought I was playing a joke on her at 1 in the morning. When she finally realized it was the truth, she jumped in her car and arrived at our house in a flash. The rest of the night was spent telling stories, laughing, drinking and so on. I couldn't keep up.
By 4am I was spent. Even Cindy called it a night and went home. We partied on until sun up.
At which point Dennis asked Tom if he would join him on the tour as his bodyguard...not only for protection, but to help keep him sober as well. (Remember the contract?) Tom agreed. We said our goodbyes and I was left alone in a messy cottage. I somehow got a second wind, and started cleaning. I called a couple friends to recount the story. No one believed me!
It was about 10 am when I decided to lay down for a long nap. The phone rang. It was Dennis.
"Hey mama. Listen. I was thinking. It's just not cool leaving you behind like that. So here's what I did. There's a ticket waiting for you at the airport to fly into Salt Lake City tomorrow afternoon. Once you get to Salt Lake page Brother Records. Make sure not to page me or the Beach Boys- just Brother Records. Got it? Great see ya tomorrow." I was shaking with excitement. I immediately got up and packed all the cutest clothes I could find. I think it was about 4pm when I passed out in complete exhaustion. I'm sure it was with a big smile across my face.
The next thing I remember it was 6am. I had slept nearly 14 hours. I woke up fresh and ready for what awaited me in Utah. Another fabulous concert. But this time I was flown in as a special guest. Wow! I couldn't wait.
My flight was at 2pm. I arrived way too early in eager anticipation. We landed around 3:30 pm at SLC International Airport. I remembered Dennis' words- "Page Brother Records" I found the a paging phone and did just that. Within 10 minutes, a chauffeur met me and escorted me to a beautiful stretch Limo. He opened the door and to my surprise, Carl Wilson and his girlfriend, Gina Martin (Dean Martin's daughter) were inside.
Carl looked surprised as he said, "Hey Mara..Wow! Good to see you..but uh, what brings you here?"
We laughed and I told him the story. Carl was very close to Dennis and also very concerned about his health and bad habits. He made it very clear to me that as much as he loved his brother, he would not tolerate any drugs and alcohol on tour. I assured him that Tom would do his best to keep him on track. The rest of the ride up the mountain was pleasant, police escort and all. Gina and I chatted, getting know each other. We shared stories and talked about our mother's going to the same hair stylist in Beverly Hills. Girl talk.
We were about 10 minutes outside the resort when the mood changed. There were hundreds of fans, mostly women, screaming and throwing themselves on the Limo. It may sound exciting. But it wasn’t. It was scary. Short of running them over, the police did their best to get them to move. Alas, we were only moving at about 15 miles per hour. I looked at Carl wide eyed. "How can you live with this all the time?" I asked. "As grateful as I am for everything. It's very hard. That's why I bought a home near Caribou Ranch in Colorado." (Caribou Ranch was a famed recording studio nestled in the Rocky Mountains, operating between 1972 -1985 when sadly it burned down by a fire.)
Upon arrival to the massive ski slope, the doors of the Limo flew open and we were grabbed by bodyguards and swept up the stairs to the back stage area. I barely knew what hit me!
Everyone was scrambling around doing sound checks and prepping for the show..
I found my comfy spot by the trailers, motor homes and dressing rooms. Tables and chairs were set up and snacks and beverages provided. I had a good view of the stage and the THOUSANDS of crazed fans covering the slopes festival style. As always, balloons and beach balls were flying around while people danced to playbacks of Beach Boys music.
Carl and Mike Kowalski (a back up drummer for Dennis) came over to me. "Let's go," they told me.
"Let's go where?" I asked dumbfounded. They told me I would be going on stage with them in a few minutes to sing, dance and play some percussion. My answer was a clear "No. I'm not!" The said, Oh yes you are! And proceeded to lift me under both arms and take me up to the stage! I was frozen. Mike was so kind to me. He told me to just relax, dance, sing a little back up (I knew all the words to every song) . He handed me what looked like two big bones and told me to tap them in rhythm to the music.
And so it went.. After a couple songs, I got the hang of it and was having a blast!
A few hours later, the excitement was over . I couldn't believe what an incredible experience I had just had! I assumed I would head to the airport back home. To my surprise, the guys asked me to join them on their next two stops, Las Vegas and Paso Robles. Holy cow!!
We all jumped into Limos and headed to their private jet. That was the first time I'd ever been on a private jet. It was gorgeous. Couches and recliners instead of seats. Tables of treats and beverages and two sweet flight attendants to help. More Fun, Fun, Fun!
The flight was short as we started our descent into Vegas. Once again, Limos awaited us. We were driven to one of my favorite hotels, Caesers Palace . Tom and I checked into an adjoining penthouse suite with Dennis. It was stunning. We each had our own bedrooms joined in the center by a massive living room filled with beautiful furniture and a white baby grand piano, that Dennis requested. Huge windows supplied a magnificent view of the Vegas strip. It was heaven. But all was not perfect.
Tom had done a good job keeping Dennis straight for Park City, even though Dennis was far too exhausted to play. Dennis was rested up and ready to party in Vegas. This was Tom's biggest challenge.
He stuck to him like glue, but I honestly can't remember if Dennis was able play that evening. I seem to think he wasn't up to it. Ominously, Tom told me after the show that night, that he felt Dennis was in very bad shape and that he feared he wouldn't live much longer. Dennis would be dead four months later, drowned in Marina del Rey, CA. Even today, nearly 40 years later, I still can't believe he's gone. The same goes for Carl who died in 1998 from lung cancer. I miss them both.
I had one more stop with the guys. That was Paso Robles. Another incredible event at the state fairgrounds and the last one for me.
I realize I was one lucky girl. My experience with these very special, talented men brought me more joy and incredible memories than anyone should expect in a lifetime. I am grateful for the friendships I forged that have lasted to this day. One in particular is drummer Bobby Figueroa and his sweet wife, Joanne. I met them back in the early 80's and though we don't see one another often, it's special when we do. Much of Bobby's more than 40-year career as a percussionist was spent with the Beach Boys.
I am forever grateful to have been a small part of their lives. They really made me feel like a Surfer Girl.
Below is a recent interview I did for Irish Podcast, "Let Christy Take It" A great show about all things music and film. Enjoy!
Let Christy Take It - Episode 26: https://open.spotify.com/episode/7GKk30uBVGkQ0jFw2YzthR?si=1xqpXekySYqTzmw6lV4o_A