When the Beach Boys announced their 50th anniversary reunion tour last year, many longtime fans were thrilled to see original guitarist David Marks in the lineup. Marks lived down the street from the Wilsons when the group formed in the early 1960s and played guitar on their early albums, but he split in late 1963 after butting heads with their manager, Murry Wilson. In the late 1990s, he briefly rejoined the Mike Love-led Beach Boys, but this upcoming tour will be his first time hitting the road with Brian Wilson since he quit almost 50 years ago. Before rehearsals begin in late April, we spoke with Marks about the early days of the group and how their reunion came together.
This reunion has been rumored for years. How did they first tell you about it?
Well, we've been talking about it together for years, Mike (Love) and I. I finally got a call to do a session for "Do It Again." That's pretty much how I was informed and it just took off from there and plans continued.
To go way, way back, can you tell me how you first started playing in the Beach Boys?
It started when I was seven years old and I moved in across the street from the Wilsons. They were a very musical family, and they had Sunday sing-alongs. I used to go over and sit in. They actually kind of stood around me and sang. Audree Wilson, the mother of the three boys, showed us all how to play boogie-woogie on the piano. Then Carl and I started taking guitar lessons at a very young age. I was ten and he was 12. Our guitars just created a style of our own that attracted Brian to use on his songs that he started writing. So Carl and I were very involved in the creative process.
Are you playing on "Surfin'" at that first Beach Boys home recording session?
I was not present at that. I was at school. We rehearsed that song in the music room and it was in the afternoon and I was at school. Shortly after that, however, we did the "Surfin' Safari" demo for Capitol Records.
How old were you during this?
It was right before I turned 14.
What was Brian like back then? Just a normal high school kid?
Yeah. My first impressions of Brian…he was very athletic, involved with the high school sports thing. He was always recruiting us neighborhood kids to play football in his front yard. Even then, he exhibited the leadership qualities that he had for music.
The Wilson brothers were close, but they had quite different personalities, right?
Yeah, they were totally different personalities. They were all unique, and they all had specialized talents. Dennis just picked up the drums out of nowhere and became one of the stylistic drummers of the time, and Carl's voice was one of the best voices in the world. And Brian had his writing and vocal arranging talents. They were all extremely talented in their own right.
Did you ever witness even the slightest hint that Brian was going to face mental difficulties later in life?
No. There was no exhibition of that in the early days at all.
Tell me about the earliest tours.
When we first started touring, we would fly into a major city and then get a station wagon, rent a U-Haul and pack our gear in the back. For the most part we would drive from one show to the next, a few hundred miles. I usually roomed with Mike Love. We just promoted the heck out of those songs. We worked our butts off.
The group took off pretty quickly.
Yeah. It was exciting to hear our first songs, "Surfin' Safari" and "Surfin' U.S.A.," blasting with sound over the radio.
They brought in session musicians later, but you guys actually played everything on those early albums.
We were a totally self-contained band. We played all of our instruments on our first five or six albums. It wasn't until later in the 1960s that Brian started to recruit some of the session guys. However, we did use Hal Blaine on drums for a couple of the early album cuts, like "Hawaii" and "Our Car Club."
The story tends to go that you and Murry Wilson didn't get along. Is that accurate?
Well, Murry was just a typical father looking out for his son's welfare. We didn't always see eye to eye. I was sort of a punk kid, and Murry was strictly business…But he had a lot to do with the success of the band in those early days.
He's often described as a tyrant and a bully. Do you think that's unfair?
I wouldn't call that unfair. He did all he could to whip us into shape because we were, for the most part, a bunch of unruly kids and he had to put his fist down.
Did your parents pull you out of school once the group started to take off?
Yeah. Actually, we discovered we were getting popular when we started causing disturbances in school and Carl and I had to end up going to private schools in Hollywood.
When I look at photos of the band from those early days, I'm always struck by how insanely young you all look, especially you and Carl.
It was amazing. We weren't the only ones, either. There was a lot of young artists back then: Stevie Wonder, Dee Dee Sharp…
It was an interesting time in the rock world. Most of the 1950s guys had disappeared from the scene, and the Beatles had yet to hit America.
That's part of the reason we became so successful. We had a very unique sound with those rock & roll guitars. And Brian's beautiful vocal harmonies and his arrangements with the rock guitars created something that people hadn't really heard before. It was a new sound that was very unique at the time. There was a wide opening. There just wasn't very much happening then.
Was it clear from Day One that Brian was the musical leader?
Yeah. Brian had a very clear road. He had everything in his head. His music was very clear and he knew what he wanted when he went into the studio.
Was Al Jardine around for much of this time period?
Yeah. Al Jardine was in the very, very beginning of the band. When they were doing local gigs he played the standard bass. He was very into folk-oriented music, like the Kingston Trio. He really wanted to go in that direction. He did stick around for the first Capitol stuff that we did. He wasn't on the first contract, but he did end up participating on the albums. We were actually on "In My Room" and some of those songs together. He was also on "Catch a Wave" from the Surfer Girl album.
Al also did a lot of work with us on the road when Brian decided to stay home on those first tours. Al came on the road with us and did Brian's bass parts and sang his falsetto parts. I would say there were six original Beach Boys, if you really want to get technical.
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