Beach Boys: A California Saga, Part II

New developments, musical and political, in a group that has already influenced rock more than we probably know.

November 11, 1971
The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys
GAB Archive/Redferns

Part Two: Tales of Hawthorne

I'm bugged at my old man
And he doesn't even know where
it's at

– Brian Wilson

Father Murry Wilson and his wife Audree raised their three famous sons in the post-World-War-II stucco community of Hawthorne, Calif. A strict, self-made rugged individualist, Murry borrowed on their modest home to start his own business, dealing in heavy machinery. But his real love was music. He wrote songs, sang them to his family and friends, had some published. No hits. Once he wrote English lyrics to the B side of some Gordon MacRae single but says he never got paid for it.

Eventually, in 1960, Murry realized his most promising musical creations were his sons, Brian, Dennis and Carl, and decided to sink heavy machine money and time into producing their first hits and selling the boys to Capitol Records. He managed the group until 1964, when ulcers and arguments forced him to semi-retire and devote most of his energy to publishing his own and Beach Boys music. He continued dabbling with new singing and songwriting talent, including a Beach-Boys-type group called the Sun Rays, who had two hits, and a song-writing plumber named Eck Kynor, whom Murry discovered while having some pipes repaired in his home. Murry even got an album of his own songs, The Many Moods of Murry Wilson, released on Capitol. ("The talented father of the famous Beach Boys presents instrumental interpretations of his and other original compositions.")

But the Beach Boys remain his real management success and, of course, his proudest achievement. Today he lives in the less modest surroundings of Nixonian Whittier, on the other side of Los Angeles County. Yet, as Murry fondly recalls those good-fighting show biz times with his boys in the early Sixties, one can still detect a little Hawthorne in the man.

"See, the Beach Boys," explained Murry, "the Wilson Boys, have always heard music in their home from my writing songs and friends of ours who came over. We were all so poor we'd just sit around singing and on occasion drinking a glass of brew. Not the children, the adults. And then I bought a Hammond electric organ, on time, and we'd play duets, my wife and I. And then Brian would get in the act and sing. All they ever heard was music in their house. And, on occasion, family arguments."

Murry let out a hearty laugh, then got serious again.

"So, you understand, their training has been Americana type music, stuff that our friends would come over and sing; and their cousin, Mike Love, was hearing a lot of music in his home at the same time, and they'd sing. Americana. See, a lot of the public doesn't realize this, but the Beach Boys' style has had a flavor of Americana. Brian sings about, he's written a lot of his songs about his own life and himself, like 'In My Room.' That was written, you know, about his room. He'd go in there and ponder the worries of the day, an argument with a girlfriend, or the happy times. And then he later on wrote a song called 'I'm Bugged at My Old Man,' and he meant it as a put-on, but he meant it.

"It was early 1961 when Mike Love and Al Jardine were coming over to the house and Brian was teaching them songs, with Carl. They sang Four Freshman songs almost like the Four Freshman, except they had a sweeter, younger sound. So, eight months before the record 'Surfin'' of December 8th, 1961, is when the Beach Boys really started.

"Brian taught himself. He's a musical . . . he thinks in six-part harmony, instead of two- or three-part. He's not only a writer, he's an arranger, and he has a concept of harmonics which is uncanny.

"When Brian was eight years old, he sang in a concert, singing one of Mike Love's songs."

A public concert?

"Well, my sister – Mike's mother, Mrs. Love, Emily Love – loved music. She didn't play piano or anything, but she loved music and she gave this concert in my honor as a songwriter. And they featured several of my songs--she even hired a trio, a musical group, to play my songs for this concert."

This was for an audience?

"Yes, it was for school friends and teachers and friends of hers. And Mike Love wrote a song called 'The Old Soldier,' about a soldier that died, you know, in the war? He was only nine and a half when he wrote it. I heard it over at my sister's house, and I thought it was just darling. But I heard it as a hymn, it was a song in hymn form."

Murry started to sing, slowly, with great reverence, "'Da-da da da/da-da dee da/dee-dee da da/da-dee da.' See? I went home and composed other lvrics to it: 'When Jesus Calls His Soldiers – When Jesus says to follow, I will be there.' It's called 'By His Side,' subtitled, 'When Jesus Calls His Soldiers.'

"So when he was eight years old I bought Brian his first suit with long pants, and he sang both versions of Mike's song at this concert. We taught him both sets of lyrics, Mike's and mine, and he brought the house down.

"So Brian showed early promise. In fact – now this is the truth, you may not believe it – when Brian was born, I was one of those young, frightened fathers, you know? But I just fell in love with him, and in three weeks he cooed back at me, responded. And when he was eleven and a half months – it was just at World War II – I would carry Brian on my shoulders with his little hands up above, and I would sing, 'Do do do, do do do,' you know, 'Caissons Go Marching Along'? And he could hum the whole song – 'Do do do, do do do, do do do dee do do do.' But he didn't know how to end the last line.

"When he was 11 months old he was very clever and quick. I taught him how to say Mississippi. When most children were saying 'Da-da ma-ma, da-da mama,' he said 'Mi-sez-zip-py,' you know? He's a very smart kid."

* * *

I'm bugged at my old man

'Cause he's makin' me stay in my

(Darn my dad)

* * *

The first man manager Murry Wilson ran into at Capitol Records was Producer Nick Venet. Their association, in fact, was a series of run-ins, which Venet has a talent for recounting rather colorfully. Before he gets started, however, Carl Wilson would like to put in this disclaimer:

"I must say Nick Venet is really full of shit. Regarding us. He did an interview with a large magazine, the Saturday Evening Post, and he really lied his balls off in it. See, actually, he hardly had nothing to do with the group. He would be in the booth, and he would call the take number, and that was about it. I wouldn't call him a musical heavy by any . . . Brian didn't want anything to do with Venet.

"The people at Capitol didn't like my dad at all, because he really gave them a hard time. If he thought that something was unfair. A lot of the executives didn't like him at all – which is perfectly understandable, but we were his kids, you know?"

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