Tanner started out as a trombonist, and later developed the unusual insturment that he played on the Beach Boys songs “Good Vibrations,” “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” and “Wild Honey.”
Born to a musical family in Skunk Hallow, Kentucky, Tanner joined Miller’s group after the bandleader saw him play while Tanner was on tour with his father and brothers. The trombonist performed with the Glenn Miller Orchestra from 1938-42, when Miller joined the Army Air Force during World War II and started a military band. The bandleader, who also played trombone, went missing in action in 1944.
Tanner stayed in Hollywood for a few years, picking up studio work, and eventually enrolled at UCLA at age 39, graduating four years later. Tanner taught at music at UCLA for 23 years, and also worked with the ABC orchestra.
Tanner was interested in early forms of electronic music, and developed the Electro-Theremin with inventor Bob Whitsell in the 1950s. In addition to appearing on Beach Boys songs, the Electro-Theremin was featured in films and on the TV series My Favorite Martian. Tanner later gave the unique instrument to a hospital, where it was used to measure hearing.