Review by Ian Rusten
Fall 2015 Edition, Issue 111, Volume 28, Number Four
Let me just start by saying that this is a fantastic book and a must read for any true fans of the Beach Boys! James Murphy, a veterinarian by trade and a lifelong Beach Boys fan, decided to investigate the crucial early years of the Beach Boys and has uncovered a wealth of detail that escaped past chroniclers of their career, including myself.
Murphy has interviewed a wide range of important people from the Beach Boys’ past that, as far as I can recall, have never been interviewed before. He managed to track down Brian’s first serious girlfriend Judy Bowles, Shindig host Jimmy O’Neill (who hired the Beach Boys to play at his club Pandora’s Box in 1962) and the president of the Beach Boys fan club Jodi Gable, just to name a few.
Becoming the Beach Boys delves deeply into the family history of the group, revealing a ton of new (or seldom discussed) information. Past authors have concentrated solely on the Wilson family, but Murphy provides interesting information on the Jardine and Love families as well. He also looks more closely at important figures in the Beach Boys’ early success, like Hite Morgan, who recorded the group’s first single (indeed, in an appendix Murphy exhaustively details the legal history of the Candix recordings).
Murphy leaves no stone unturned in his attempts to unravel truth from fiction in the Beach Boys’ murky early history. Like any good historian, he refuses to accept established stories just because previous authors said so and doggedly pursues the facts. To name one example: troubled by conflicting accounts of the legendary weekend in 196 l when the Wilsons left town and their boys used the food money for instruments, Murphy scouted out Murry Wilson’s passport records to determine his movements that fall!
The book also provides a wealth of new information on the Beach Boys’ early concerts. Having attempted to track down every show the band played for my own tome (with Jon Stebbins), The Beach Boys In Concert, I am blown away (and envious) of how many he uncovered from 1962 that I missed! As might be expected, many of the early appearances show a degree of nepotism. The group played multiple times at their own school and schools that relatives attended (like Steve Love’s alma mater Morningside HS).
Like Timothy White’s The Nearest Faraway Place, the book occasionally meanders away from the Beach Boys for too long. There are long digressions in the book that you might want to skip. I must admit that I flipped quickly through the chapter focusing on the pre-Beach Boys career of Hite Morgan. But this obsessive attention to small details is ultimately what makes the book so valuable. Murphy takes his time to tell the story he wants to tell in the detail it deserves.
[Editors note: The companion website featuring stories and images that did not make it into the book because of space constraints can be located at: becomingthebeachboys.com]