Beach Boys: A California Saga, Part II

Page 5 of 6

"I'm really glad the way things have turned out. I'm really grateful, actually, the way everything has happened. The most important thing was that we had a chance to sort of cool out and develop, you know? That was necessary for the group to really carry on and do anything. 'Cause you could make hits all week long, but it just wouldn't mean shit. As far as making good music, you need time, I mean some of us do. Brian advanced 'way beyond the rest of the group, and we really had to start to catch up."

Since then the others have caught up considerably, although Carl is quick to emphasize, "We're far from becoming Brian Wilsons, believe me." All but Mike Love can play many instruments, including the Moog, and Mike can play Theremin. Each Beach Boy is capable of producing an entire song by himself – playing and singing all parts – and, theoretically, an entire album. Carl, perhaps, has grown the most dramatically and now unofficially leads the group both on the road and in the studio. And the future lies ahead.

"Speaking for myself," as Carl usually does, "musically I'm most influenced by Brian. I mean that's obvious. And I've been writing a lot of songs lately. Dennis is writing a lot of beautiful music, and Brian's writing some beautiful songs. Everybody's writing. I don't know exactly what's gonna happen yet. I just know there's gonna be a lot of music.

"The main trip is music for sure. Brian was always more into music as a vibration, a sound feeling and vibration, right? more than lyrics or anything words could ever say. And it's really true. Music, a really heavy vibration, says a lot more than a million words could in eternity say. As far as really holy sounds go."

* * *

"The music business has been good to the entire Wilson family," adds Murry. "And, this album, which has been mixed as emotionally as possible, retaining color, shading and warmth, is humbly offered to the public."

– Notes to 'The Many Moods
of Murry Wilson'

* * *

See, the whole trade has given Brian credit for everything. Truthfully – I'm not beating myself on the back, but knowing them as a father, I knew their voices, right? And I'm musical, my wife is, we knew how to sing on key and when they were flat and sharp and how they should sound good in a song. And we put the echo on they wanted, and we got the balance; we used Telefunken mikes and we surged on their power here and there to make them sound better. When they'd run out of wind at the end of the sentence, we'd surge on the power to keep the level of their musical tone the same. Or if they were singing a phrase weak, when Mike was singing 'She's fine, that 409,' we'd surge on the part. Without their knowledge, at first.

"A lot of artists think they're doing it all because they get in front of a mike and open their damn mouths. But most artists have an engineer, a smart engineer, surging on the power here and there to help them when they're weak and tired and run out of gas, to put an echo on them here and there and make them sound like gods. He's got a lot of beautiful people, unsung heroes, under him, helping him make his career. Not to mention the record company and all the promotional people in the field, and the jobbers that push the records and everybody else that helps, you know? A lot of people. Artists don't make themselves."

That was Murry Wilson describing how he helped produce "409," one of the Beach Boys' earliest songs.

Here's Carl describing how he produced "Feel Flows": I played piano first and then I played organ. I played piano twice, overdubbed it, and used a variable speed oscillator to make the track different speeds so that the piano would be a little bit out of tune, sort of a spread sound, do you understand what I mean? You play the tape at 30 inches per second, and then you may slow it down to about 29 and 3/4 inches per second. It wouldn't be that great actually, I got my cycles mixed up with inches per second. But say at 60 cycles and then 59. So that makes the piano sound like the effect of a 12-string guitar, you know? When the two strings are at the same octave but just a tiny bit out of tune? you know that real ringing sound?

"And then I put the organ on and put it through the Moog at the same time, so that one side of the stereo had the direct organ sound and the other side had the return through the Moog synthesizer. It's sort of like a vibrato, but the frequency changes, there's a tone change, like a graphic tone. Do you know what a graphic equalizer is? Well, it just springs out, you can amplify any particular part of a sound spectrum, like from 50 cycles to 10,000 cycles. The Moog did that automatically; there's a component called a sequencer and you can time it to react and go through a series of circuits all connected to a different frequency, and it does that back and forth. And therefore it sounded sort of like a vibrato or a wah-wah, sort of both at the same time.

"Then I put on the bass, played the bass guitar. Then I put on the Moog for that part where the piano comes in by itself after the instrumental part, you know? Then we put on the bells, and a guy named Woody Thews played percussion on it, and I sang it. I put the guitar on about the same time.

"Then I think it was the next day Charles Lloyd came by and we did the flute and saxophone. And I might add, he heard it one time and then started playing, he started recording right away. It was really a thrill for me to have him play on it 'cause he's a gifted musician. It was really great. And then the next session we did the vocals, the background part, and that was it."

Why did the Beach Boys record monaurally for so many years?

"Well, Brian had control of all the production," said Carl, "and he liked it better. Plus he can't comprehend stereo, really."

He still can't?

"No, not with one ear. Only one works, you know. He had an operation but it wasn't successful at the time. Whenever his ear is fatigued, his bad ear, his right ear, will start to work. But it will be very painful and sound very low fidelity, like one of those tin can walkie-talkies, you know? That's how he explained it, anyway, and he gets out of balance and everything. It's been that way for many years. Ever since he was an infant.

"I believe that his hearing is going to return. I just have a feeling. And he will be very inspired when it does."

* * *

"When he was 11 years old," Murry remembered, "Mrs. Wilson discovered that he kept turning his head. And she found out that he couldn't hear very well out of that ear. Then it got worse and he became deaf in that ear. He was injured in some ... either a football game or some injury of some kind. Or it just happened, who knows?"

There's a rumor going around that you might have hit him on the ear when he was young.

"Oh, I spanked his bottom, you know, like any father would do to a kid, just whap him a little bit. No, I never hit my kid on the ear. No. No. I was too strong. If anyone caused that rumor, all I hope is that they have itchy piles for ten years. Because I never hit my son Brian on the ear. Never. No."

Murry also denied the story of Brian's dumping on his father's dinner plate.

"No, that's absolutely not true. No, no. I don't know who said that, they're putting you on. In fact, we wouldn't put up with any of that crap."

What did you think when you read Brian had experimented with LSD?

"I told him . . . we were driving to a recording session, and I said, 'I heard that you experimented with LSD. Is that a put-on to the newspaper, or did you do it?' And he said, 'Yes, Dad, I did,' and I said, 'Well tell me, Brian, do you think you're strong enough in your brain that you can experiment with a chemical that might drive you crazy later?' He says, 'No, Dad, it's opened a lot of things for me.' And I said, 'Brian, who you trying to kid?' He said, 'Well, I had weird, weird hallucinations, it made me understand.' And I said, 'Who you trying to kid, Brian? What did you understand, except seeing a bunch of different like nightmares in your brain, colors and things like that?' And he agreed that he'd never do it again.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Long Walk Home”

Bruce Springsteen | 2007

When the subject of this mournful song returns home, he hardly recognizes his town. Springsteen told Rolling Stone the alienation the man feels is a metaphor for life in a politically altered post-9/11 America. “Who would have ever thought we’d live in a country without habeas corpus?” he said. “That’s Orwellian. That’s what political hysteria is about and how effective it is. I felt it in myself. You get frightened for your family, for your home. And you realize how countries can move way off course, very far from democratic ideals.”

More Song Stories entries »