Beach Boy Dennis, the wild Wilson brother, died 31 years ago on Sunday. I met him a few times during my time on Melody Maker and always found him good company. He was in New York in March of 1976, and I interviewed him at his hotel. Accompanied by his wife, the lovely Karen Lamm, whom he’d married earlier that same year, he was in good spirits, clearly optimistic about The Beach Boys and brother Brian’s ongoing recuperation. Karen promptly divorced Dennis, only to remarry him a year or so later but that was the kind of thing that happened to him. I found this picture of them together on the net, credited to ‘Keep The Summer Alive’.
I remember reading about Dennis’ death in Rolling Stone and being dumbfounded by the circumstances. He drowned after drunkenly diving from a yacht in Marina Del Ray in a futile attempt to recover jewellery he’d thrown overboard from his own yacht a few years earlier. He was buried at sea a week later by special permission of President Reagan.
My interview with Dennis, published by MM in April 1976, is below. I really like that quote about his desire to ‘stand behind Brian, being a tool for his disposal for the rest of my life no matter whether it’s music or mowing his lawn for him’.
A new studio album is in the works, Brian Wilson is back in business and The Beach Boys are planning to visit England in late summer.
These were the main points to come out of a chat with Dennis Wilson, who passed through New York last week to spread the word that The Beach Boys are no longer going to rely on their golden oldies to maintain their current status as a major concert attraction in the US.
Over the past three years, the group has found a change of fortune here. While they were considered unfashionable at the turn of the decade and early Seventies, The Beach Boys have made a comeback of great proportions, helped not a little by Capitol, their old record company, releasing a couple of double albums comprising numerous Beach Boys hits during the summers of 1974 and 1975.
Two other factors have helped them re-attain their status as a major touring band. After years of management problems, the rock mogul James William Guercio, who owns Caribou Studios in Colorado and manages Chicago took over the handling of their business affairs. Guercio had a lifelong desire to join The Beach Boys and, while also playing bass with the group, brought a good deal of well-planned strategy to their management.
In addition, The Beach Boys were suddenly befriended by a whole host of other, more successful, groups, whose Good Samaritan attitude hoisted them back on the concert trail. They toured with Chicago in a double bill last year, were invited by Elton John to play at Wembley in London, and found themselves playing massive arenas with such top draws as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
While all this was going on, however, they had no current record to plug, only the classics of the Sixties and a few songs from Holland, their last album for Warner Brothers. This is about to change: “We’re doing a new studio album which we hope will be out in June,” says Dennis. “We’ve been working on and off on the album for about nine months, and the personnel includes the original Beach Boys, including Brian.
“He has already recorded six cuts with us and the way it looks is that most of the album will be Brian, although there’s one song of my own that may get on. Actually, we’ve put together something like 40 odd tracks over the past few years but never released them. I guess you could call the songs rather like choral religious music that moves into rock and roll later. What we want is an album where every track is great, no low spots, a total concept that we can be proud of.”
It must be hard shaking off the oldies image and getting down to new material, especially as the old material was finding a new life with new fans? “On the new tour that’s coming up we will be doing the new stuff as well as some old material,” says Dennis. “There will always be people wanting to hear the older tunes. I don’t get bored with them... they’re fun.
“I have to say, though, that I get tired of playing some of the old tunes, but many of them are timeless to me. As a musician you can let go with them instead of making them sound contrived. You can play them in a new way each time and bring in little variations.”
Nevertheless, it’s the old tunes that have brought about The Beach Boys current renaissance. “There was a time, long ago, when The Beach Boys were a very big touring group. Then, after a while, there was a time when it was uncool to be into The Beach Boys. Somehow The Beach Boys didn’t fit at one period, but now... well, I guess we’re just fitting again. It’s not uncool to like The Beach Boys any more. Personally I’ve always liked them,” he says, laughing.
“But that is a fact,” continues Wilson, serious again. “The group really wasn’t hot at one time, and the record sales weren’t hot, but we got back on to the concert trail and changed things around. It was hard work, but worth the effort because we’re very respected now.”
Wilson argues that the increased touring activity was primarily responsible for the enormous sales of Endless Summer and Spirit Of America, rather than the other way round. “There were problems with Warner Brothers but we couldn’t help that,” said Wilson. “We were drawing 100,000 people to concerts yet they couldn’t move our more recent albums at all. I’m sure a lot of people had never heard the group until those records came out. I see 14 year olds at the shows who were not even born when we started.”
And Jim Guercio’s influence? “Well, I think we were already coming back as a concert band when he joined us, but we have a great respect for him and we also like Chicago’s music.
“I think that now The Beach Boys represent the truth in the creative sense instead of the pop sense. There’s no hustle to get the three or four albums out in a year, just a desire to create something meaningful... and that’s why there’s been this delay in putting out a new album.”
Having consolidated their position again, Wilson says the group intends to relax live appearances in favour of the studio in future. “It may sound funny, but I want to concentrate the next ten years on making albums. As a Beach Boy I want to stay with them and stand behind Brian, being a tool for his disposal for the rest of my life no matter whether it’s music or mowing his lawn for him.
“He is a master, musically. I am dumbfounded at him. I am in awe of him. I’ve grown up with him and watched him go through changes, and he is the most vulnerable human being I know. The depth of that guy... I mean... he changed the world with his influence. When you sing on something like ‘In My Room’ and then sit back and listen to what he’s done, not just with my part, but with the song... then you realise. I’m devoting my life to Brian on a musical level, and the rest of the group all feel the same way. When Brian plays something for us, we just gape. It gets very emotional.”
Last year The Beach Boys opened their own studio in Los Angeles, a studio that Dennis describes as the best in the world. It is available to others for hire, but so far its only incumbants have been the group themselves, clustered around Brian Wilson, shaking down harmonies that he’s written.
“Brian is like a little kid in the studio, like a kid who’s just discovered sex for the first time. He rushes around playing this and that, and telling us to play this and that. The enthusiasm he still has is infectious, really.”
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