In spring 1959, Gary Winfrey, Al Jardine, and Bob Barrow formed a folk music trio called the Tikis, inspired by their shared admiration for the music of the Kingston Trio. When I began researching the book, Bob and Gary graciously spoke with me about their days at Hawthorne High School, their friendship with Al Jardine, and the Tikis. I am happy to share more of their stories.
As the Kingston Trio’s Tom Dooley hit big in fall 1958, the start of their junior year, Bob Barrow, Al Jardine, and senior Gary Winfrey, discovered a shared musical interest in the Kingston Trio and began singing selections from the Trio’s eponymous debut album after football practice in the locker room of Hawthorne High School. By spring 1959, they formed a folk music trio called the Tikis. Although Brian knew Jardine, Barrow, and Winfrey from football, he didn’t socialize with them off the field. But he certainly knew of the Tikis. Everyone at Hawthorne High did. The musical spark that motivated Jardine to help form the Tikis later played a key role in the development of the Beach Boys.“The Kingston Trio had just come out with Tom Dooley and we would sing it after football practice in the locker room,” recalled Gary Winfrey.
“We enjoyed singing so Al, Bob, and I formed a group called The Tikis. We would spend hours practicing Kingston Trio songs and writing some of our own songs at my parents house.” Al encouraged Bob to learn how to play guitar and Bob began taking lessons. Bob recalled, “I took one guitar lesson at Hogan’s House of Music, but then I broke my thumb playing football so I quit taking lessons, got chord books, and learned from Al. The Tikis were nothing more than just me, Al, and Gary playing guitars over at Gary’s house most of the time. I think Al came up with the idea of the name for the group. I think it was an extension of the beach thing. A tiki was a wooden Hawaiian carving that you wore around your neck. We did whatever kind of folk music we could at the time, which was mainly the Kingston Trio. I think the only one of us that had any thoughts of getting serious about the music business would have been Al. I think there was a little more in Al’s mind than just kicking back and having fun. He was a natural musician. He had a love of music and music was in his blood. At that time, people were all into ‘Well, you know you need to go to college and get a career.’ He was planning on taking a traditional path, but I’m sure in his mind that if an opportunity opened up in music that would be something he would love.”The temperate southern California climate allowed the Hawthorne gridiron guys to play their favorite sport even during the summer. Barrow recalled, “On Saturdays, especially in the summer prior to football season, we’d meet at Richard Henry Dana Middle School’s playing fields and play touch football. People would wear their cleats, but also wear shorts. We’d have as many as twelve or thirteen people on a team. We’d play for hours and then go down to the hang-out, the A&W on Hawthorne Boulevard. We’d get a couple of gallons of root beer and go over to Gary Winfrey’s house because Gary had a reel-to-reel Wollensak tape recorder. We thought it was big deal that he had a tape recorder. That’s the reason why we’d go over to Gary’s all the time. You could actually record and then listen to yourself. It was just for fun. We’d have a touch football game, get some root beer, go over to Gary’s house, put our feet up, play guitars and sing, and then listen to ourselves. We’d spend the good part of a Saturday on a pretty regular basis doing that. It was a really good time. That’s where the notion of calling ourselves the Tikis and then, I understand, later they used the name the Islanders, but that notion came about from those sessions. It was really kind of a garage band type activity except it was folk music oriented. We’d play a lot of Kingston Trio. We never played any concerts outside of our living rooms. And Al took the words of The Wreck of the Hesperus by Longfellow, which we had in our English class, and put it to music and we would sing that one.“Al used to come over to my place quite a bit. My mom and dad just loved him. They called Al ‘Hungry’ because the first thing he would do when he showed up was ask if there was anything in the fridge. We were sitting on the back porch and there was a dryer vent there and there was steam coming out of it and Al said, ‘What’s that?’ and I said, ‘That’s steam from the washing machine.’ So he starts strumming away a big blues riff and singing this song called “Steam from the Washing Machine” just for fun. He would make songs up from whatever would be around.”
Barrow recalled, “Al is a really sincere, good-hearted person. He has a sweet spirit about him. That’s why my mom just thought the world of him as one of the friends I had in high school that she just really loved. He had a real charm about him. He’s a stable, dependable guy. The Beach Boys had some tumultuous lives and, as they were having their issues and their problems, Al was always stable. He wasn’t going out doing a bunch of stuff that would make him incapable of performing. Al was always able to step up and be under control. Al started me playing the guitar. He also showed me the basic chords on the piano in the key of C.”
Bob Barrow was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1942. Shortly after the end of World War II, his family moved to California and settled in Culver City. Bob has two brothers, one eight years younger and one sixteen years younger. Bob attended sixth and seventh grade at Culver City Junior High School. “I was kind of a bookish type person in junior high school,” Barrow recalled. “My dad was never involved in sports. As a kid he never threw a baseball to me, never threw a football to me. That wasn’t an area of interest. So I had no sports skills. But when I hit junior high and they had PE (physical education), I would ask ‘Well, what position will I play?’ when we were going out to play baseball and they would say ‘left out.’ And I can remember hiding in the locker room and crying because I didn’t want to go out to PE at Culver Junior High. So I never intended to go out for sports.”
In 1955, the Barrows bought a house in Hawthorne on Judah Avenue just over the fence from Richard Henry Dana Middle School, at 135th Street and South Aviation Boulevard, where Bob enrolled for eighth grade. Like many Dana students, including Gary Winfrey, Bob then went to Hawthorne High School. “During my freshman year at Hawthorne High School, my mom, who was a checker at the Thrifty Market grocery store beside Hawthorne High School, had a box boy who was a big, burly wrestler and football player. He got me behind the gym and twisted my arm, literally, and marched me into the coach’s office and told the coaches I was going out for wrestling. I found out that I had some sports ability and ended up playing sports and ultimately I got a football scholarship to Brigham Young University.”
Barrow’s early musical taste was shaped by a chance encounter with one of the radio stations in Los Angeles that played music by black artists. “I heard some music on the radio that I really found intriguing and I thought, ‘Wow, this is some really good music.’ It was “Smokestack Lighting” by Howlin’ Wolf, classic electric blues that didn’t get played on the radio much in those days because it was black music. I loved the guitar riff in it. [Note: “Smoke Stack Lighting” b/w “You Can’t Be Beat” by Howlin’ Wolf on Chess Records 1618 was released in March 1956]. Chuck Berry, Little Richard, stuff like that, were my favorites. When I was on the football team as a senior, they paid me fifty-cents to stand up on top of a table in the cafeteria and do a Little Richard imitation doing “Long Tall Sally.” Then folk music started coming in and we started listening to the Kingston Trio.”
Gary Winfrey was born in January 1942 in Phillips, Texas, a town named for the Phillips 66 petroleum company at which Gary’s father was employed. Because gasoline was such an essential commodity during the war years, Gary’s father was not initially affected by the draft. However, as the war continued into 1945, the need for additional service personnel increased.
Gary’s dad was drafted and was completing his basic training when the war finally ended. In 1946, the Winfrey family moved to Hawthorne, California. Gary attended two elementary schools in Hawthorne—Juan Cabrillo on 135th Street and Juan De Anza on Hindry Street. From there he attended Richard Henry Dana Middle School from grade six through eight. In September1955, he enrolled at Hawthorne High School and graduated in June 1959.
“In my junior year at Hawthorne [September 1957], I played on the B football team. That’s when Al joined the team. I really didn’t know him that well. We knew each other from the football team, but we weren’t friends. We were teammates, but I don’t think I knew him as a friend at that point. I didn’t go over his house or anything. So, when he broke his leg during a game that season, at the time I probably said something like ‘Oh, yeah, Al got hurt.’ But it didn’t stick in my mind that my friend got hurt.”
“The music I was listening to before high school was the typical rock and roll, which was in its infancy then. In the beginning of my senior year, and Al’s and Brian’s junior year [September 1958], the Kingston Trio came out with ‘Tom Dooley’ and it was a big hit. We all liked their music so we started singing ‘Tom Dooley’ in the shower after football practice. We kind of thought that was fun. So in spring 1959, just before I graduated from Hawthorne High, we started a group called the Tikis with Bob Barrow, myself, and Al. We just started practicing and we actually didn’t have a name at the time. We just got together and liked to sing the Kingston Trio stuff. We tried to learn every song they had. I don’t remember how we got the name The Tikis.”
Bob Barrow, interview by author, July 12, 2008.
Gary Winfrey, interview by author, July 2008.