This is the first in a series of articles in which I will discuss researching Becoming the Beach Boys, 1961-1963.
The topics will include locating and interviewing people connected to the story; searching for newspaper articles, advertisements, handbills, posters, programs, telegrams, tickets, records, and rare memorabilia; finding photographs that had not been published in other books about the band; unearthing heretofore unknown personal appearances and attempting to place dates on appearances for which dates were unknown.
First, a little bit about the mystery of human memory. When I interviewed people for the book we discussed events that happened nearly half a century ago. I knew it would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to recall exact dates. I tried to gently jog their memories by asking if they could associate the event with something specific—the season, the weather, a national holiday, songs on the radio, national or world news, events in their own lives—anything that might spark an additional clue. I found with many people the simple act of strolling down memory lane and discussing an event improved their recollection of that event. Often, they would recall additional details on subsequent interviews. With some people I conducted multiple interviews over days, weeks, months, or even years. For instance, Bruce Morgan did not mention “Dennis,” the song his mother, Dorinda, wrote in tribute to her favorite Beach Boy, until several years after we first spoke. Bruce had a lead sheet with lyrics and wanted to know if I was interested in it. With his kind permission, I reprinted the lyrics to “Dennis” in Appendix 12. One of the most interesting, albeit time consuming, aspects of researching the book was trying to document early personal appearances. Some gave up their secrets more easily than others. So, first up, let’s discuss two of the band’s personal appearances for which specific dates still elude us, and why in the book I would now change the estimated time period of these two dates. When the Beach Boys first appeared in Seattle, they played two shows on two consecutive nights at two different venues. On a Friday night they played the Spanish Castle on the Seattle-Tacoma Highway, just south of Seattle in what is now Des Moines, Washington. A young local kid named Jimi Hendrix played there with his early bands and later immortalized the venue with “Spanish Castle Magic” in 1967.
The following night, the Beach Boys played the Party Line, a teen dance club located at 707 First Avenue near Pioneer Square in the historic district in downtown Seattle. Both shows were booked by Pat O’Day, the popular Seattle disc jockey and program director at KJR who co-owned the Party Line with a few silent investors.
According to O’Day, Murry Wilson called him expressing interest in bringing the Boys to Seattle to provide them exposure in another West Coast market. O’Day agreed and sent Murry five (or six as Murry may have accompanied them) round-trip airfare tickets at $110 apiece. The group, with Brian, flew into Seattle on a Friday afternoon and O’Day footed the bill at a nearby hotel. The Spanish Castle held 2,000, but less than 300 people showed up. Attendance the following night at the 200-seat Party Line was light.
Perhaps the earliest mention of their first appearance in Seattle was in the concert program for an event at the Seattle Center Coliseum on January 30, 1965, at which the Beach Boys headlined a multiple artist show that included Jan & Dean, and the Astronauts. As the concert was promoted by O’Day and Dick Curtis, O’Day may have had input into the artist’s write-ups in the program. The program stated “Did you know that on the Beach Boys’ first visit to Seattle in the summer of ’62 they played to a crowd of 300 at the Spanish Castle? They had just released their first record titled “Surfin’ Safari” and Seattle hadn’t yet been able to associate itself with the surfboard and the five young guys from Los Angeles who were heralding the arrival of a new music trend.”
In Peter Blecha’s Sonic Boom: The History of Northwest Rock, from “Louie, Louie” to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Backbeat, 2009), O’Day recalled, “The Beach Boys had two hits then [‘Surfin’’ and ‘Surfin’ Safari’]—but it’s one thing to have a hit and a whole ’nother to be a dance attraction. Well, we brought them up for the weekend to play the Spanish Castle and then they played my club, the Party Line. And it was a disaster. The Beach Boys were booed off the stage their first time in Seattle!”
I contacted Peter Blecha through his publisher. I wanted to ask him if he added the parenthetical “Surfin’” and “Surfin’ Safari,” or whether O’Day specifically recalled those two songs. I also wanted to ask if Blecha had any insight on when these two appearances might have been. However, I am uncertain if my message was relayed to Blecha as I did not receive a response.
When I spoke with O’Day in August 2013, he explained, “Seattle teens were accustomed to rock ‘n’ roll dance bands dressed in peg pants, sports jackets, narrow ties, and leather boots. They didn’t know what to make of five guys from Southern California with sun-bleached hair, denim jeans, and Pendleton shirts playing surf music.” Although O’Day could not recall exactly when these two shows occurred, he estimated early 1963.
I could not find any documented proof or even anecdotal information about these shows. There were no advertisements, reviews, or mention of either show in the Seattle Times.
So, based primarily on the 1965 concert program, O’Day’s quote in Blecha’s book, and the poor attendance at both venues, which likely meant they were not yet popular in Seattle, I reasoned these two shows occurred in summer/fall 1962. Quite frankly, O’Day’s estimate of early 1963 did not convince me. I placed greater emphasis on the January 1965 concert program since it was written a little more than two years after their first Seattle appearances. In general, recollections recalled closest to an event tend to be more accurate.
I have the pleasure of exchanging emails with fellow Beach Boys writers and historians Ian Rusten and Andrew G. Doe. We share a common interest in early Beach Boys history, a drive to set the record straight, and a somewhat obsessive need to pin dates on as many personal appearances as possible, especially in pesky 1962. Ian and Andrew have done remarkable research into chronicling the Beach Boys personal appearances and my book was built on the very secure foundation of their groundbreaking work.
If you have not already (and, seriously, what are you waiting for?), pick up a copy of Rusten’s seminal The Beach Boys in Concert: The Ultimate History of America’s Band on Tour and Onstage (Backbeat, 2013) and visit Doe’s essential website http://www.esquarterly.com/bellagio/gigs.html, compiled with input from Rusten and hosted by David Beard at Endless Summer Quarterly.
In his book, Rusten placed these two Seattle appearances in early March 1963. Doe believes they may have occurred then or even a little later, perhaps early/mid-April or mid-May 1963, citing the possibility that O’Day had never heard of “Surfin’” and the two hits he referenced may have been “Surfin’ Safari” and either “Ten Little Indians” or “Surfin’ U.S.A.”
Doe questioned whether O’Day, at great personal expense, would have taken a chance on the band in summer/fall 1962. We all agreed that, since these two appearances required both a free Friday and Saturday in the band’s schedule, other documented Friday or Saturday shows could be used to exclude many potential weekends. In a later conversation, perhaps most tellingly, Doe distinctly recalled Murry Wilson stated in a December 1962 interview in Sweden that the band had not yet appeared outside of California. (You can read more about Murry’s December 1962 trip to Scandinavia and Europe in a forthcoming article.)
Needless to say, these discussions prompted me to reexamine these appearances, revisit the evidence, and attempt to determine if, in our ever-expanding digital age, any new clues could be uncovered. I had placed these appearances in summer/fall 1962, but in the words of playwright John Patrick Shanley, my fellow Cardinal Spellman High School alum, I now had “so much doubt.”
I reasoned if I could determine when the Party Line opened and closed, I might be able to exclude either summer/fall 1962 or spring 1963. Unfortunately, O’Day could not recall when the club opened or closed.
My additional research included another interview with Pat O’Day, another pass through the pages of the Seattle Times, a trip through the history counter and the northwest history index in the Seattle Room at the downtown Seattle Public Library, the 1961-1964 Polk Directories, the Seattle telephone directories, the assessor’s office for King County in Washington State, property record cards, real estate archives for King County in Washington State, and 1962-1963 KJR Fabulous Fifty Surveys.
Apart from veterinarians (shameless plug, sorry), the two most helpful professions are librarians and archivists. So, a debt of gratitude for his indefatigable research goes to Greg Lange in the King County government. If Greg was a bounty hunter you would not want him on your trail. Thanks Greg!
So, let’s fast forward to the results. I suffer for my obsession, but there is no reason you should.
The Party Line opened July 27, 1962, and closed eleven months later. O’Day seldom charged admission at Party Line. He recalled, “We may have charged for acts like Ron Holden and Johnny Tillotson, but for most acts we did not charge. And we could not make enough money just selling Cokes and Pepsis.” By June 28, 1963, O’Day launched a new club at the same location called Sweet Chariot and began having success booking the Mt. Zionist Baptist Church Choir and other Black gospel groups.
So, I now had the opening and closing dates of Party Line, but they did not help eliminate either summer/fall 1962 or spring 1963.
Let me add that Pat O’Day is one of the most pleasant, down-to-earth, great radio guys you could ever meet. Warm, sincere, funny, and generous with his time. It is always a pleasure speaking with him. Of course, the intervening years had still not produced firm dates, but this time I approached the interview with a new angle. I asked O’Day what the guys were like backstage, what did they talk about, what was on their minds before going onstage. And, like so many times before, time and a new approach jostled another memory that may provide a new clue.
O’Day recalled there was tension in the group because some members were angry with Murry because he was slipping Dennis extra cash as Dennis wanted to buy a Corvette. This caused resentment and there was some rumbling the group may break up over this inequitable allocation of money. Dennis wrecked his car around mid-February 1963 and was observed driving a Corvette when the band played at the grand opening of Dennos’ Record Shop in Garden Grove, California, March 30, 1963. Hence, it seems likely he purchased the Vette shortly after crashing his old car, perhaps by late February to early March 1963.
I also asked O’Day why he booked the Beach Boys. “I was willing to experiment. The record ‘Surfin’ Safari’ had done well and I figured they were a hot record act. What the hell.” I asked if he thought he booked them shortly after opening Party Line or sometime (i.e., six months or more) after the club had been opened. He thought it was sometime after the club had opened and reiterated his estimate of early 1963.
So, what about the band having two hits at the time or “Surfin’ Safari” having just been released?
KJR was the first radio station to be licensed in the Pacific Northwest. On June 7, 1958, Lester M. Smith and John Malloy sold their interest in KJR (and KXL and KNEW) to Frank Sinatra and Danny Kaye for $2.5 million. Lester Smith became KJR’s general manager and ushered in the rock ‘n’ roll era when he hired disc jockey Pat O’Day in 1959. By March 1960, KJR had thirty-seven percent of the Seattle market. I located a fairly complete of set of KJR Fabulous Fifty Surveys and was able to piece together chart information for the Beach Boys first four singles.
“Surfin’” did not chart on KJR.
“Surfin’ Safari” charted most likely sometime in August 1962, peaked at #16 September 3, and disappeared October 8. Keep in mind “Surfin’ Safari” was released June 4, 1962, and debuted at #85 in Billboard on newsstands August 4, 1962.
“409” was often listed along with “Surfin’ Safari” at the same number on the KJR survey. On October 8, as “Surfin’ Safari” dropped off the chart, “409” charted at #40 by itself for just one week.
Surfin’ Safari was the KJR Pic Album of the week October 29, 1962.
“Ten Little Indians” did not chart on KJR.
“Surfin’ U.S.A.” debuted at #44 on March 18, 1963, charted nine weeks, peaked at #2 May 13, and, somewhat mysteriously, dropped off the chart the following week.
“Shut Down” was first listed along with “Surfin’ U.S.A.” at #4 April 29, 1963, charted eight weeks, peaked at #1 May 20, and was gone June 24.
The December 30, 1963, end-of-the-year KJR Fabulous Fifty Survey listed “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and “Shut Down” at #7. Hence, “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and “Shut Down” were very popular in Seattle. “Little Deuce Coupe” and “Surfer Girl” was #23, and “In My Room” was #42.
The real shocker in reviewing the 1962 KJR charts was discovering that “The Revo-Lution” by Rachel and the Revolvers (listed as “Revolution” by Rachel) debuted November 5, 1962, charted four weeks, and peaked at #34 for two consecutive weeks November 26 and December 3. Ironically, it fared better in Seattle than it did in Los Angeles and well before the Boys were popular in the Pacific Northwest.
The only two hits the Beach Boys had in Seattle in 1962 were “Surfin’ Safari” and its B side “409.” Hence, the statement about the band “having two hits at the time”—at least as it played out in Seattle—could not have referred to “Surfin’” or “Ten Little Indians.” And “Surfin’ Safari” having “just been released” could conceivably refer to any time between August 1962 and March 1963.
In late 1962—excluding documented Friday or Saturday commitments, taking into account how “Surfin’ Safari” b/w “409” performed on KJR, allowing some leeway for when they may have actually played Pandora’s Box in LA, and considering the Thanksgiving holiday and the mini tour Murry booked circa Christmas—there are a few weekends when the Boys could have travelled to Seattle. These may include October 5/6 and 12/13, and 19/20; November 9/10 and 16/17; and December 7/8, 14/15, and 21/22.
In early 1963, there are a few weekends when the Boys could have travelled to Seattle. These may include January 11/12; February 22/23; March 1/2 and 22/23; and May 10/11. The January dates seem unlikely as they were in the midst of recording Surfin’ U.S.A. The poor attendance at the Spanish Castle and Party Line would seem to indicate “Surfin’ U.S.A.” had not yet made much impact on Seattle teens and would tend to exclude the May dates. On March 1/2, “Surfin’ U.S.A.” had not yet been released. But by March 22/23, “Surfin’ U.S.A.” was #36 on KJR (if, in fact, KJR charts were post-dated one week like KFWB and KRLA charts were in Los Angeles).
So, what do you think? Late 1962 or early 1963?
I now tend to think March 1 and 2, 1963, are strong contenders for when the Beach Boys travelled to Seattle and played the Spanish Castle and Party Line to sparsely attended houses.
If I ever have the opportunity for a second edition or a hard cover deluxe edition with color photographs—a dream that keeps me up at night—I will move the two Seattle shows to March 1963.
Ironically, if the March 1 and 2 dates are correct, the Beach Boys most likely introduced and performed their soon-to-be-released single “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” and perhaps its B Side, “Shut Down,” which helped pave the way for their future popularity in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.