When the Beach Boys formed in late summer 1961, they were neither accomplished musicians nor a cohesive musical group. Brian Wilson, 19, had been playing piano and organ at home for many years, mastering the intricate vocal jazz harmonies of his musical idols the Four Freshmen after three years of intense home study of their albums. His brother Carl, not quite 15, had received an electric acoustic guitar for Christmas 1958 and, along with his friend and neighbor, David Marks, 13, had taken a few lessons from John Maus, later of the Walker Brothers fame. Carl and David were enamored with the first wave of Rock ‘n’ Roll with Elvis, Little Richard, Fats Domino, and enjoyed learning the guitar stylings of Chuck Berry and Duane Eddy. Brian’s Hawthorne High School classmate, Al Jardine, 19, had been playing acoustic guitar for many years and in late 1958 formed a trio at school which emulated the folk sensibilities of the Kingston Trio. The other two members of the band, Dennis, the middle Wilson brother, not quite 17, and the Wilsons’ cousin Mike Love, 21, did not play a musical instrument. Contrary to his rugged testosterone-driven nature, Dennis enjoyed romantic ballads and female vocal groups like the Paris Sisters. Mike attended well-integrated Dorsey High School, where he gained an appreciation for Rhythm and Blues and Doo Wop. These diverse musical styles—jazz vocal harmony, Rock ‘n’ Roll, folk, pop ballads, and rhythm and blues—coalesced and emerged as a familiar, yet radically new, musical amalgam.
In August 1961, at Dennis’s urging, Brian and Mike wrote a two-minute, three-chord song extolling the adolescent joy of spending a carefree day at the beach surfing. “Surfin’” became the first entry in the instrumental surf genre in which the artist actually sang about the West Coast craze. They called their impromptu band the Pendletones, a play on words on the Pendleton wool shirts favored by some surfers on chilly nights at the beach and inspired by Dick Dale and the Deltones. Dennis became their drummer by default, and Mike learned rudimentary sax, then a near-obligatory instrument in surf bands, that expanded his repertoire as lead vocalist and front man. In Los Angeles, “Surfin’” reached #3 on the KRLA chart in stores January 26, 1962, and the KFWB chart in stores February 9. With just one record, their first live shows were about fifteen minutes as “Surfin’” was supplemented with renditions of popular songs like “Bermuda Shorts,” “Johnny B. Goode,” and “What’d I Say.”
Reportedly unhappy with the band’s musical direction, Al left the band by February 11, 1962, to concentrate on his college studies and plans to forge a more secure and traditional career, perhaps dentistry. The rhythm guitarist vacancy paved the way for David to join the band. This new Carl and David alliance favored Rock ‘n’ Roll and, within the next year, their twin Fender Stratocasters electrified the band with “Surfin’ Safari” and “409,” and Carl added his new Fender Jaguar to “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and “Shut Down.”
Al kept in touch with the other guys and occasionally contributed vocals on recordings. In spring 1963, shortly after the release of “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” Brian recruited Al to fill in for him on personal appearances, especially on extended tours that would have taken him away from home and the proximity to LA recording studios. Brian, never as naturally comfortable on stage as his cousin Mike, had tired of performing and had begun feeling the weight of composing, arranging, recording, producing, and singing on the band’s studio output, as well as writing, arranging, and producing a staggering recorded output for a diverse group of other artists.
While Brian remained home working on new material, Al and David shared the stage for much of spring and summer 1963. The band’s second Midwest tour was a grueling trek through 35 cities in 16 states over 45 days. On an all-night, close-quarters drive from Chicago to Brooklyn, NY, on the night of August 30, David clashed with Murry Wilson, the Wilson brothers’ father and the band’s authoritarian manager. Although David had signed a Capitol Records contract May 24, 1962, providing him one-fifth share in the band’s royalties, he threatened to quit the band. Murry, seeing an opportunity to roll David’s twenty percent back into the family operation (his three sons and nephew), was happy to hold him to it.
The tour concluded August 31 and for the next five weeks David had plenty of opportunities to reconsider his decision. While one can understand and empathize with fifteen-year-old David having to endure the brash, often overbearing forty-six-year-old Wilson patriarch, it is difficult to fathom why David’s parents, Jo Ann and Elmer Marks, did not advise him to reconsider. Even if Murry tried to hold David to his impulsive threat, the Markses could have consulted an attorney who, with contract in hand, would have likely counselled them to hold their ground. In perfect hindsight, it was an impulsive, ill-advised move that cost David and the Marks family dearly. But David had dreams, reportedly encouraged by his mother, of fronting his own band, and writing and recording his own material.
On October 5, 1963, David played his last show with the band and his departure opened the door for Al Jardine, 21 and tired of the rigors of organic chemistry, to accept the band’s offer to rejoin. It was a seamless transition as Al was a reliable musician—he knew all the songs they performed live, could play bass and rhythm guitar, and his voice blended beautifully within the harmony structure Brian envisioned for the band.
It is important to keep in mind that only six months elapsed between the release of the Beach Boys first record “Surfin’” and the band signing a seven-year contract with Capitol Records on the strength of a three-song demo (“Surfin’ Safari,” “409,” and “Lonely Sea”) with an a cappella version of “Their Hearts Were Full of Spring” that Murry spliced on after he learned they would be meeting with Nick Venet who had recently produced Capitol’s newest vocal group, the Lettermen. That’s how fast they were thrust into the demanding and ultra-competitive music industry. In summer 1962, as the Beach Boys recorded their first Capitol LP, Brian had to scramble with his collaborators Mike Love and Gary Usher to write six new songs to fill out the album. Of the 12 songs on the album, three had already been released and three were cover versions of recent popular hits. This scarcity of new material is most tellingly exemplified by the existence of just one session outtake (“Land Ahoy”) which was only bumped from the twelve-song line up by the late decision to lease “Surfin’” from Hite and Dorinda Morgan’s Guild Music Publishing Company.
Even as they recorded and released additional material to fill out their live repertoire, they continued to play dances, record hops, proms, charity benefits, teen fashion shows, surf film screenings, grand openings, car dealerships, armories, women’s clubs, college fraternities, birthday parties, roller rinks, movie theaters, department stores—pretty much any venue that would hire them or, quite often, allow them to play for the exposure, practice, and any publicity the event may garner. Rock ‘n’ Roll shows—they weren’t quite elevated to concerts yet—were still in their infancy. They were held in venues with poor acoustics and primitive public address systems not designed to project live music, necessitating the band to play extremely loud through overdriven amplifiers resulting in their vocal harmonies being buried in the muddy mix. Complicating matters, as every musician knows, is that playing while sitting down in the comfort of a recording studio is considerably different than playing standing up in front of a live audience where there is no safety net of multiple takes. The Beach Boys honed their abilities as musicians and learned how to perform as a band by playing live in front of increasingly larger audiences.
“The Beach Boys, Personal Appearances, 1961-1963” is updated and expanded from what appeared as Appendix 1 in my book. It adds several new shows and details that have come to light since the book was published. Appearances are now accompanied by images of advertisements, articles, tickets, autographs, or photographs, many from my personal collection, as well as images of the venues. These complementary images were not possible in the book because of space restrictions.
Long before I undertook writing about the Beach Boys genesis and early history, many other writers and music historians made pioneering contributions to documenting the band’s personal appearances. Two come to mind. Andrew G. Doe and Ian Rusten. I am happy to provide links to both of their fine websites: Andrew’s, Ian’s. Andrew’s site has been in existence for many years and is the most comprehensive career-spanning source of reliable information about the Beach Boys on the internet. Andrew is the co-author with John Tobler of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, A Complete Guide to Their Music, a nifty pocket reference to the band’s released catalog with concise and incisive reviews of every song. Since the publication of Ian’s equally essential book, The Beach Boys In Concert: The Ultimate History of America’s Band On Tour and Onstage, he has unearthed several new shows in that critical and elusive early 1962 period, and has graciously shared that research with Andrew and me. We celebrate each new find, joking we may be the only three people on Earth who get this excited about finding a fifty-eight-year-old newspaper article or advertisement that confirms a new Beach Boys show and allows another date to be added to this increasingly comprehensive list of shows. Collectively, we have spent countless hours combing through yellowed, fragile publications, on-line libraries, the Library of Congress, microfilm readers, microfiche readers (Google it, millennials) until our eyes were about to drop out of our heads. Microfilm research begins as sort of fun and exciting, but quickly becomes the very definition of tedious.
So, please enjoy scrolling through all of the Beach Boys known personal appearances between 1961 and 1963. The list will be updated if and when a new show is discovered.
Finally, in full disclosure, I acted merely as a consultant and memorabilia gatherer for this important entry to the website. Bernadette Murphy, my lovely and talented wife, did all the heavy lifting—the coding, the formatting, the images, the importing—words with which I’m only superficially familiar. Some of you may recall I dedicated the book to Bernadette for her indefatigable reading and proofreading, and indispensable structural and literary advice. “Only God knows what I’d be without you.” No truer words. Thanks B!
One of the most enjoyable experiences in researching and writing Becoming the Beach Boys, 1961-1963, was speaking with Judy Bowles, Brian Wilson’s first serious romantic relationship, to whom Brian became engaged to be married Christmas 1962. Judy was engaging, funny, down-to-earth, and full of affection for Brian. Here’s her story.
As Brian finished his first year of classes at El Camino Community College in early May 1961, baseball season in Hawthorne got underway. Cities throughout the South Bay sponsored baseball leagues tailored to specific age groups. Hawthorne’s Middle League, for boys thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen, consisted of the American League and its cross-town rival National League. Brian volunteered as the assistant coach for the American League Pirates, whose manager and head coach was his Hawthorne High buddy Steve Andersen. As the former starting quarterback and student body president, Andersen excelled at leadership. He would later attain the rank of captain in the Army, become an attorney, serve on the Hawthorne City Council, and be elected Hawthorne mayor in the early 1990s. Although Brian was well-liked and respected by the team, Andersen was its clear leader and strategist. The Pirates played a twenty-game season, fielding two contests a week and alternating between Prairie Field and Cordary Field.
Brian’s involvement with the Pirates amounted to a five-month commitment. Tryouts began mid-March 1961 and the season ran May 14 to July 28. Stephen Curtin, then fifteen, pitched for the Pirates and occasionally played third base where Brian coached. “Brian was a really nice guy,” recalled Curtin. “He wasn’t full of himself. He was down-to-earth. You could tell he loved baseball and was a good athlete himself.”
Early in the season, Bill Hollon, one of the Pirates’ best players, suffered a nasty compound fracture sliding into second base. The team rallied around his injury to win the 1961 American Middle League championship. In the team photo, bookended by Andersen and Wilson, Hollon is the player on crutches. An interesting footnote to the photo involves the one player not shown—Bob Levey, the son of legendary jazz drummer Stan Levey. After his parents divorced, Levey moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Hawthorne in the late 1950s. Levey pitched, played third base, and was a strong pinch hitter. “Brian was a fabulous guy,” Levey recalled. “Just a real good person. He was always out there cracking jokes.”
Two brothers on the team would have a direct impact on Brian’s personal life and musical career. Jimmy and Jerry Bowles, fifteen and fourteen, were good athletes and their mother and stepfather attended all their games. Tagging along was their sister, Jerry’s fraternal twin, Judy. She was pretty and petite, with short blonde hair, big brown eyes, and a lovely smile.
Judy had a happy childhood and, with two brothers, became a good athlete and a bit of a tomboy. As a surfer with her own board, she spent a lot of time at the beach. “In summer 1961, there was a fair in Hawthorne,” she recalled. “I was there with my parents and Brian was about four feet away from us. He attempted a few times to come over to talk with me, but didn’t because of my parents.”
A short time later, Judy was at a Pirates game when Brian spied her in the grandstands and fell in love. “He was real bold,” Judy remembered. “He wanted to kiss me right away.” Curtin recalled a running gag in which team manager Andersen, knowing Brian was in the stands with Judy, bellowed, “Has anyone seen Brian? Brian, get your ass down here and your head in the game.”
Brian started visiting Judy at her house and was well-liked by her parents. He was a little bit older than Judy, but it wasn’t an issue back then. Judy didn’t have much money for new clothes so he bought her gifts, including a new pair of red shoes and cinnamon nylons. Intent on having their mothers meet, Brian dragged his mother Audree over one night before she could change out of her house dress and pink slippers. According to Judy, “If he had an idea to do something, he did it.”
Brian and Judy became inseparable. Most nights he’d pick her up in his 1957 Ford Fairlane and drive to a coffee shop in Inglewood where they talked over Brian’s favorite meal—a sirloin steak, baked potato with butter, and a salad with Thousand Island dressing. Sometimes they cruised to the A&W for cherry cokes and fries. After their dates, having told her he would call, she would pick up the phone real fast so as not to wake her sleeping parents. After Brian received his first royalty check from Capitol Records, he asked Judy’s mom if he could pay for a phone in Judy’s bedroom. She agreed and the telephone company came and installed a pink Princess telephone.
“He was a fun guy to be with,” Judy recalled. “He’d make you laugh so hard. Just giggle for hours on end once he got on a roll. He could have been a stand-up comedian. He was so smart and witty. Totally out of the box and so much energy. He was just enjoying life. He’d act on any instinct he had.”
As their relationship progressed, Brian began to witness things about Judy’s mother that troubled him. “Brian started to not like my mother so much. She was something else. He couldn’t feel any sense of family. One time, my parents weren’t home and Brian wanted to take me out. So we got in his car and went to leave. And we saw them coming home and we waved at them. And my mom said, ‘Get back here!’ So I went back and she said, ‘What is it you think you’re doing leaving without permission?’ And she slapped me across the face because the dishes weren’t done.” Judy retreated to her room and Brian left. Her mother called Brian later and he returned. He told Judy, “I cannot believe she slapped you in front of me.” Although he was angry about such harsh discipline, Brian never discussed his own home life. “He didn’t speak a lot about his father. I think he kept that hidden. I remember Murry was a volatile guy. He would get real mad, real quick.”
Judy recalled another incident that elicited Brian’s empathy. Judy bleached her hair blonde and her mom went “ballistic,” took her to the beauty salon, and had them dye her hair dark brown. “It was very traumatic. I ran home, burst into tears, ran into my bedroom, and called Brian. I asked him not to look at me when he picked me up the next day and to bring black flowers.” Not finding black, he bought her dark red roses. As she slid into the passenger seat he handed her the flowers and drove a few blocks keeping his head turned away. When he finally looked at her he told her “it didn’t look that bad.”
In fall 1961, while Brian began his second year at El Camino Community College and Al Jardine transferred to the community college from Ferris Institute in Big Rapids, Michigan, they reconnected and Al soon began going over to Brian’s house to sing with Brian, Carl, Mike, and Dennis. “Brian wrote a couple of songs about a girl he was going with,” Al recalled. “One was called ‘Judy’ and one was called ‘Surfer Girl.’”
Brian and Judy dated throughout the time the fledgling Beach Boys formed and she spent a lot of time at Brian’s house, including the time the guys rented musical gear from Hogan’s House of Music while Audree and Murry Wilson were in Mexico City. “Audree and Murry were away and the boys had a jam session in their den,” Judy recalled. “They had a party and maybe ten or so people from the neighborhood were over. Everyone was having fun and laughing and then Carl piped up and said, ‘Hi Mom’ and everything stopped. But he was only kidding. They played ‘Surfin’’ over and over. It was the only song they played. I met Al at that session. He had kind of a quirky smile like Brian.”
In late October 1961, as Judy turned fifteen, Brian finally agreed to let her drive his car. He coached her around an empty parking lot, but when she ventured tentatively onto busy Imperial Highway, they were stopped three blocks later by the police and ticketed. Another time, while Brian was driving, a cop pulled them over, asked for Brian’s license, and demanded his can of Coke to check for the smell of alcohol. “Brian was livid for being treated that way,” Judy recalled. When they cruised around, Brian often worked on new songs. “I joined in once and he leaned over to listen to me as we sang and said, ‘That’s incredible! How can you know the words when I just wrote the song last night?’ I just shrugged. I don’t know if the lyrics were so simple you could just guess them or what?”
When “Surfin’” was released November 27, 1961, on Candix 331, it was not as by The Pendletones, which the band had called themselves, or The Surfers, the name producer Hite Morgan favored, but rather the Beach Boys. The name was suggested by Russ Regan, a record promoter at Buckeye Record Distributors who handled the Candix account. Judy Bowles recalled Brian was not pleased with the new name. “He wanted to be called the Pendletones with the plaid shirts. He was mad because now they were the Beach Boys because some public relations guy named them that and they had to go with it.”
Judy recalled how “Surfin’” competed in the “Best of the Batch,” a weekly radio contest each Saturday on KDAY in which listeners voted for their favorite song. “My whole family, my dad, mom, Jim, and Jerry, we must have voted thirty times,” Judy recalled. “My mother showed Brian the telephone bill with all the calls to the radio station. It won the contest and for a week they played it every hour. I took my radio to school and I heard it so many times.”
Judy recalled, “I remember Brian taking me to Wallich’s Music City on Sunset Boulevard. They had small booths and you could listen to a record before buying it. I remember someone told Brian that Melody Music on Hawthorne Boulevard refused to carry ‘Surfin’’ because it was ‘only a one-hit wonder.’ Brian grimaced and, I believe, told himself he was not going to be a one-hit wonder.”
As inseparable as Brian and Judy were, she still enjoyed the attention of other boys and, if a boy she liked asked her out, she’d go out with him. Invariably, Brian found out and became upset and jealous. Another guy once took Judy for an ice cream sundae and accompanied her back home. “When we got to my house, Brian was there and he was not very happy.” She added, “The first Beach Boys concert I attended was at a local high school. They didn’t have much of a repertoire. They only knew about three songs. They played them and then they had to leave. Audree and Murry were there. A guy asked me to dance and I danced with him. Brian wasn’t too happy, but I wanted to dance.”
Judy recalled that while they were dating Brian kept in touch with a girl he had known, and perhaps dated occasionally, in high school. “One day he came over to the house and he had bleached hair. In the front it was kind of red or orange. I asked, ‘What did you do?’ And he said he went over to her house and she bleached his hair. He always went back to her for a visit. I was real jealous.”
In his memoir I Am Brian Wilson, Brian recalled Judy dancing with Mike Love at the Rendezvous Ballroom and worrying she might have had a crush on his brother Dennis. While these uncertainties made for a roller coaster relationship, it was fertile material for a young songwriter.
In mid-January 1962, Brian met singer-songwriter Gary Usher and they began writing songs together, including “Lonely Sea,” a love song that used a metaphor of the sea with its mysterious depths and endless swells to conjure up a complicated relationship. “What most people don’t know is that Gary wrote the music including the guitar intro to ‘Lonely Sea,’” recalled David Marks. “Brian helped with the melody, but his main contribution was the great lyrics. Carl and I helped them work out the arrangements on our guitars.” The spoken bridge, which some believe ruins the song by devolving into teenage melodrama, may reveal Brian’s feelings about his relationship with Judy (“This pain in my heart / These tears in my eyes / Please tell the truth / You’re like the lonely sea”).
On February 8, 1962, Hite and Dorinda Morgan produced a session for the Beach Boys at World Pacific Studio at 8715 West Third Street in LA to record the follow-up to “Surfin.” The band had rehearsed four new songs—“Surfin’ Safari,” “Surfer Girl,” “Judy,” and “Beach Boys Stomp” (aka “Karate”).
“Judy” offers a glimpse into their relationship as Brian questions whether Judy returns his affections and suggests she “take the blame.” Judy recalled the incident behind the lyrics. “I went to the beach with another guy. When Brian found out he was upset and angry.”
Brian’s insistence that “Surfer Girl” was his first song puzzled his closest high school friends who recalled his earlier compositions. It is unclear if any of those songs are extant. If “Surfer Girl” was indeed written first, then it precluded “Surfin’” as the group’s entry into surf music. Perhaps Brian bestowed such import on “Surfer Girl” because it was the first song for which he wrote both melody and lyrics, or simply because it holds a special place in his heart.
Another mystery about “Surfer Girl” concerns its inspiration. “At the time, I thought ‘Surfer Girl’ was written about me,” recalled Judy Bowles. “But I’ve read what Brian said in his book [ed. note: Wouldn’t It Be Nice, My Own Story] that he didn’t write it with anyone in mind. I remember my girlfriend, Diana, she was real little, she begged Brian, literally begged him, if she could be the ‘little one’ at the end of the song. And Brian kind of laughed and said okay.”
In 1964, Brian said, “‘Surfer Girl,’ a hit for us and a song I’m proud of, was directly inspired by a girl I was dating at the time.” And Mike, when asked if the inspiration for “Surfer Girl” was more mythical than real, responded, “No, she was definitely the existing person. Her name is Judy and she lived somewhere near Brian’s house. We just started doing records then and it was one of the first songs he wrote.” When Mike, Al, and Carl appeared on Today March 19, 1979, Mike told host Jane Pauley that Brian wrote “Surfer Girl” for Judy while driving to his orthodontist.
During one of the campfire sequences for the Endless Summer television show in 1989, Mike asked Brian, “So, let’s hear the story of the original surfer girl, Judy Bowles.” Brian responded, “No, she was not ‘Surfer Girl.’ There is no ‘Surfer Girl.’” Mike countered, “You told me a long time ago it was her.” After some bantering and laughter, Brian admitted, “Oh, I know which girl you’re talking about. Yeah, it was about her.” Judy was Brian’s first serious girlfriend and they dated for two and one-half years. It’s unlikely he would have forgotten her.
While the sentiment in “Surfer Girl” was inspired by Judy, the melody owed a debt to “When You Wish Upon a Star,” the 1940 Oscar winner for Best Original Song from Pinocchio. Brian may have been familiar with versions by Glenn Miller, Guy Lombardo, Rosemary Clooney, and Eddie Fischer. As a child, it was the first song he sang in front of his family. He also may have been familiar with versions by Joni James (April 1955), Little Anthony and the Imperials (January 1959), and the version re-popularized by Dion and the Belmonts in April 1960 during Brian’s senior year at Hawthorne High.
So perhaps Brian was driving around Hawthorne one day and Dion’s “When You Wish Upon a Star” came on the radio and he began humming the melody. And his thoughts turned to Judy, the girl he loved, and the image of her sitting atop a surfboard, rising and rolling under each warm wave, beckoning to him along the shore. Blonde, suntanned, and eternally beautiful. Could he make her dreams come true? And did she love him as much as he loved her?
By summer 1962, Brian and Judy had been dating for a year. “He was your normal, healthy American guy,” Judy recalled. “He just had a lot of energy. A lot of energy. It was like a discovery. We were treading unknown waters.” Like many young couples, they sought a place where they could be together without being discovered. With their homes off limits, that sanctuary was Brian’s new 1960 red Chevy Impala. And perhaps the best place to park for several hours at night without raising suspicion was the drive-in, a popular Friday or Saturday night destination, although they didn’t always get to see the movie. In spring 1964, Brian immortalized the youthful appeal of outdoor theaters in “Drive In,” in which he recalled the danger of attendants dressed in white scouring the parking lot for couples in the throes of passion.
“Brian was the athletic, collegiate type,” Judy continued. “He never drank or smoked. He had a butch haircut, practically shaved it was so short. In those days that was the clean cut collegiate haircut. He gave me a picture of himself which I had on my vanity for years. He had written on the picture, ‘To Judy, love forever, Brian.’” She added, somewhat wistfully, “I don’t know what happened to that.”
“I started smoking in my junior year,” Judy recalled. “I had one cigarette in the morning before school. When Brian picked me up he would kiss me and tell me he could still smell the cigarette on my breath. He was disappointed in me.”
After signing with Capitol Records and watching “Surfin’ Safari” hit #1 on KFWB in LA and #14 nationally, the Beach Boys’ career began to soar and the pressures on Brian mounted. “I went to Pandora’s Box a lot,” Judy recalled. “That was one of the first steady gigs they had. But it was an unpleasant experience for me.” Gary Usher invited Ginger Blake, his girlfriend and label mate on Titan Records, to see the Beach Boys perform one night at Pandora’s Box, a coffee house and live music venue at 8118 Sunset Boulevard on an island in the middle of an intersection diagonal from the legendary Schwab’s Pharmacy. Ginger invited her cousins Marilyn and Diane Rovell to come along. Brian spotted Gary and the Rovell sisters in the audience and during a break between sets joined them at their table. Brian famously spilled Marilyn’s mug of hot chocolate. But in that awkward innocence a new romance bloomed. Judy realized that when Brian became attracted to Marilyn, she was on the way out. Marilyn and Diane had a younger sister and Brian started going over to the Rovell home. One day he told Judy, “All I wanted was a family.” Judy recalled “That was the reason he went over there. They welcomed him with open arms.”
By late September 1962, with the line-up finalized, the Beach Boys first studio album, Surfin’ Safari, was being prepared for release—mastering, metal works produced, and album jackets printed. Brian took Judy to see the album being pressed at Capitol’s Los Angeles plant at 2121 North San Fernando Road. “I remember he was so excited to see the albums being made. And the little holes being punched out in the middle.”
December, with Christmas, and Dennis’s and Carl’s birthdays, was always a busy month in the Wilson home. In 1961, the Yuletide excitement had been the debut of “Surfin’” at #33 on the KFWB chart out December 22. In 1962, in addition to their chart success with “Surfin’ Safari,” “409,” and Surfin’ Safari, it was Brian’s plan to propose to Judy. He asked Audree to accompany him to Zales Jewelry Store where they purchased a diamond engagement ring on a payment plan. The ring had a silver band with a round diamond in the center and diamond chips on each side. Audree thought it appropriate for a young girl.
“It was Christmas and we were in his red Impala outside my parents’ house,” Judy recalled. “He was mad that I knew I was getting it and it wasn’t a surprise. He said ‘You know you’re getting this so here, here it is.’ It wasn’t especially romantic. It was like I received something and then felt guilty about it. It wasn’t a big rock, but I was very happy with it. I thought I was the cat’s meow. My mother asked me, ‘Do you really want to marry Brian?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I do.’” Brian and Judy made plans to marry in December 1963. Her mother suggested she attend summer school so she could graduate before getting married.
After the ill-advised “Ten Little Indians,” the follow-up single to “Surfin’ Safari,” the Beach Boys were worried their career in the music business may already be coming to an end. But Brian had an idea for another song that would put them back on the charts. Brian recalled, “I started humming ‘Sweet Little Sixteen.’ And I got fascinated with the fact of doing it. And I thought to myself, ‘God, what about trying to put surf lyrics to the ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ melody.’ The concept was about ‘They’re doing this in this city, they’re doing that in that city,’ the Chubby Checker ‘Twistin’ U.S.A.’ concept. So I thought of calling it ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’ I was going with a girl named Judy Bowles at the time and her brother, Jimmy, was a surfer and he knew all the surfing spots. I said to Jimmy, ‘I want to do a song mentioning all the surf spots.’ So he made a list and, by God, he didn’t leave one out.” Brian also may have been inspired by “Kissin’ Time,” Bobby Rydell’s #11 hit from 1959, which also borrowed heavily from “Sweet Little Sixteen.”
Brian took the surfing travelogue provided by Jimmy Bowles and crafted a clever set of lyrics. A demo of Brian singing and playing “Surfin’ U.S.A.” on his upright piano was released on the Good Vibrations box set in 1993. The lyrics underwent very little revision, although waxing replaced sanding as the preferred way to prepare one’s board for a day on the waves.
“Surfin U.S.A.,” backed with “Shut Down,” reached #3 on the Billboard chart. But that summer it was surpassed by another surf song that Brian had begun writing and then gifted to Jan Berry for him to finish and record with Dean Torrence. Judy Bowles recalled, “Brian just threw ‘Surf City’ away. He was so thrilled about working with Jan & Dean. He told me Murry was really mad at him for giving it away. Brian thought it was funny, kind of like a little dig at his dad.”
In early 1963, Brian and Judy were still very much in love and happily engaged, but their lives were beginning to take markedly different paths. Brian was immersed in the ultra-competitive music industry with the pressure of writing and producing albums, and delivering that all-important next hit single. His parents, brothers, cousin, and friends were depending on him. Judy was a high school junior worried about homework. For a writing assignment, she once submitted a poem Brian wrote from a young girl’s perspective. When she received it back, her teacher had written on it ‘Are you sure you wrote this?’ Judy was often asked if she could arrange for the Beach Boys to perform at Lennox High. “I asked Brian and he said, ‘No. Hawthorne High wanted them to perform, but they would not appear for free anymore.’”
This is the full page from the 1963 Lennox High School yearbook, the Troubadour. Judy Bowles, a junior, asked her date, Brian Wilson, to have the Beach Boys perform, but he declined. Also in attendance were Judy’s brothers, Jim and Jerry with their dates.
Brian and Judy attended her junior prom at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades in the Malibu Hills March 15 from 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. A photograph of them dancing appeared in the Lennox High School’s 1963 Troubadour yearbook. “While we were dancing, he leaned over and pretended to be giving me a hickey. The other guys on the dance floor saw this and imitated him. I had a photograph of the two of us that my mom took. My daughter took it to camp years later and lost it.”
Judy recalled that occasional fights and resultant chaos at some of the band’s shows did little to endear Brian to live performances. “He didn’t like it. And Murry was always saying, ‘Smile, smile!’ It was a drag for him. He just wasn’t the type of person who wanted to perform. Murry didn’t want Brian to take me to their concerts. He wanted the group to go together and Brian didn’t like that. Brian always wanted to stop and have something to eat, and was always late getting to the concert. It was like he didn’t want to go. Once he stopped for an ice cream cone and some guy said, ‘Hey, is that your car over there?’ Do you want to go for a drag?’ And Brian said, ‘Oh gee, I’d like to, but I can’t. I have to go to a concert.’ The guy recognized him and knew who he was.”
Judy accompanied Brian to an evening concert where the Beach Boys shared the bill with many top-name acts that was most likely the Show of Stars at the former LA Sports Arena on August 31, 1963. She was grounded that night, but Brian persuaded her parents to let her go. At the venue, an older girl approached Brian in a friendly manner and it was apparent he had invited her. During the car ride home that evening, Brian and Judy argued, and she asked him to stop the car. She got out, slammed the door, and walked the rest of the way home. “That was part of the breaking up cycle,” she recalled. “We were growing apart and he was moving on. We started getting used to each other and not respecting each other. He was spending more time with musicians and in Los Angeles. I probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer. He had his path in life and I had mine. It was very hard, very emotional, like a see-saw. He never asked for the diamond ring back. I pawned it two years later in Hollywood for fifty dollars.”
That October, as she turned seventeen, Judy worked as an usher at the Fox Theatre in Inglewood. “Brian came in to see me and we talked. He asked, ‘What’s going on? How have you been?’ My hair was frizzy from a bad home perm and he said, ‘How could you do that to yourself after being with me?’ I said, ‘Well, at least I lost weight!’ And he looked me up and down and said, ‘Yes, you did. No more steak dinners and baked potatoes!’ Then the manager of the theater told him ‘You have to leave right now.’ He was so mad at the manager for making him leave, he just walked out. That was the last time I saw him.”
“During the time we were breaking up, Brian once grabbed a pen and paper, and started writing furiously,” Judy continued. “He wrote me a letter and read it back to me. I think he was looking into the future because he was flushed and exhausted when he finished. He said I would have several men in my life, but no one like Brian Wilson.”
“It’s funny,” she added, somewhat wistfully, “but that turned out to be true.”
On November 22, 1963, the world mourned the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The Beach Boys were scheduled to play a concert that evening in the Marysville Memorial Auditorium in Marysville, California. Murry Wilson called Fred Vail, the show’s promoter, expecting Vail would advise canceling their appearance. Instead, Vail checked first with the venue and the radio stations in the Marysville and Sacramento area. Despite the tragedy, the consensus was the community needed something spiritually uplifting and that the show should indeed proceed.
The Beach Boys flew into Sacramento that afternoon and played the concert. Prior to the start of the show, Vail addressed the solemn audience and asked for a moment of silence for the fallen president. Then the Beach Boys entertained an audience in need of escaping, if even for an hour or two, the grim reality of the news. Later that evening, back at their hotel, Brian and Mike began writing “The Warmth of the Sun.” In the intervening fifty-seven years, the song has become associated with the assassination largely through interviews in which Mike Love has described a mystical and almost prescient aura about the lyrics. Often the most moving and memorable lyrics are not written ‘on the nose,’ describing the inspiring event in detail. “The Warmth of the Sun” lyrics do not correlate directly with the assassination. However, the words seem especially poignant in light of Judy’s recent break-up with Brian (“The love of my life / she left me one day / I cried when she said / I don’t feel the same way”). Jodi Gable, the first president of the Beach Boys fan club, noted, “We wouldn’t have had ‘The Warmth of the Sun’ if Judy hadn’t broken up with Brian. She said she didn’t love him anymore. Maybe she was just growing up or didn’t want to be around a musician.”
Perhaps the song was inspired by both Brian’s and Judy’s romantic relationship, and the tragedy in Dallas. The instrumental track was recorded at Western January 1, 1964, and the vocals at Gold Star a week later. “The Warmth of the Sun” appeared on Shut Down Volume 2 released March 2 and the B side of “Dance, Dance, Dance” that October. It remains one of the Brian’s and Mike’s most personal and deeply moving songs. It is sad, but comforting. Desolate, yet hopeful. A reflection on love, once so beautiful, now lost forever. It transcends the gloom through its sheer beauty. And, as a meditation on that tragic time in our history, a musical salve for the wound inflicted on the American psyche by the death of our young president and the loss of so much promise.
What does Herman Melville have in common with Brian Wilson you ask? Both were quirky, burly men who, at one time or another, sported a bushy beard, but the similarity goes deeper than that.
Born more than a century apart, both men were in their twenties when their first creations received such overwhelming success that thwarted a fuller appreciation of the works now considered the pinnacle of their creativity.
Melville’s Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, sold one-fourth of his first book, a title many would be hard pressed to name (read on for the answer). Upon its release in May 1966, executives at Capitol Records were so anxious about the sales of Pet Sounds they rushed out a greatest hits compilation to assuage the corporate bean counters. Now, both works are considered masterpieces.
Sadly, when he died at 72 in 1891, Melville had been largely forgotten and did not see his masterpiece revered as one of the greatest books ever written. Fortunately, Wilson, now 77, has enjoyed the accolades heaped on Pet Sounds and his creative renaissance helped him finish SMiLE decades after its initial sessions.
So, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of his birth, here’s a primer on the extraordinary life and literary career of Herman Melville, one of America’s greatest authors.
Melville at 200
A Look at the Life of the Author of Moby-Dick
Shortly after midnight on the morning of September 28, 1891, a seventy-two-year-old man died of heart failure at 104 East 26th Street in New York City. It came as a surprise to many New Yorkers, indeed most Americans, as it was widely believed he was already dead.
internationally celebrated author had not published a novel in nearly
thirty-five years. His books were out of
print and at a then-recent gathering of New York literati no one knew he was
living ten blocks away. The New York Times marked his passing with
a three-sentence obituary in which his greatest achievement, now a revered
masterpiece, was misspelled.
Melville—novelist, short story writer, poet, and author of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale—was laid to rest quietly in Woodlawn
Cemetery in the north Bronx beside his sons Malcolm and Stanwix, both of whom died
young and tragically. It was not until after
the centennial of his birth that Melville’s work began to be appreciated by
scholars, critics, and book lovers, and he would be acknowledged as one of America’s
Descended from Scotch,
Irish, and Dutch ancestry, Herman Melville was born August 1, 1819, at 6 Pearl
Street in New York City, the third of eight children of Allan Melvill (the
family later added the “e” believing it appeared more refined) and Maria Gansevoort. He was named after his maternal uncle. His maternal grandfather, General Peter Gansevoort,
had successfully defended Fort Stanwix, which guarded Albany and the vital
Hudson River, against the British in August 1777. His paternal grandfather, Major Thomas
Melvill, was known as the Hero of the Tea Party for his role in that historic rebellion
December 16, 1773. Until his death at
age 81, the major enjoyed regaling visitors with a vial of tea ensnared that
night in his high top boots. On June 17,
1825, Marquis de Lafayette visited the major while in Boston to dedicate the
cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument during his triumphant tour of America commemorating
the Revolution’s 50th anniversary. Family
gatherings were a time to relive his family’s military participation in the
nation’s struggle for independence.
On October 9, 1830,
eleven-year-old Herman helped his father clear out the remaining light
possessions from their home on Broadway in lower Manhattan. Allan’s import business had failed, and he was
fleeing creditors. They hurried to the
dock at 82 Cortlandt Street where they spent an anxious night aboard the steamer
Swiftsure before leaving the next
morning to journey 160 miles north along the Hudson River to join Maria and
their seven other children to live near her mother in Albany in a rented house
provided by her brother Peter. With his
father’s financial collapse, Herman’s comfortable world, tended to by nurses,
servants, tutors, cooks, and housemaids, came to an abrupt and jarring end.
Herman and his fifteen-year-old
brother Gansevoort enrolled at the Albany Academy. The family idolized Gansevoort and Allan often
described Herman relative to Gansevoort.
Herman was “more sedate” and “less buoyant.” When Herman was seven, Allan sent him to
visit his uncle Peter and cautioned, “He is very backward in
speech & somewhat slow in comprehension, but you will find him as far as he
understands men and things both solid & profound.” A year later, Allan wrote, “You will
be as much surprised as myself to know that Herman proved the best speaker” in
In January 1832, after
an arduous open-carriage journey in frigid two-degree weather, Allan became
delirious and died, leaving his family with crippling debt. That June, twelve-year-old Herman began work
as a clerk in the New York State Bank in Albany earning $37.50 per quarter year. The following month a cholera outbreak in
Canada threatened Albany via the Erie Canal, forcing Maria and her children to
move to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to live with her late husband’s older brother,
Thomas, on the family farm. Two days
after arriving at the farm, where he enjoyed the camaraderie of his cousins,
his uncle Peter demanded Herman return to Albany to resume working at the bank. He made the eight hour coach ride alone.
Portrait of Allan Melville, father of Herman, by John Rubens Smith (American, London 1775–1849 New York), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
By 1834, Melville was
clerking at Gansevoort’s thriving cap and fur store until a fire destroyed the
business. In September 1836, he
reenrolled in the Albany Academy, joined the Young Men Association, and the
Philos Logo Society, a debating club.
Although his education had been disrupted by his family’s financial plight,
his rigorous studies of Greek, Latin, and the Classics, coupled with his own
disciplined self-study of Milton, Spenser, Shakespeare, and the Bible, produced
an erudite young man with a keen and inquisitive mind, and a striking command
of the English language. Always a
prankster, he spiritedly terrorized his four sisters with memorized passages of
the witches from Macbeth. In his copy of Edmund Spenser’s epic poem
The Faerie Queen, the phrase “Each
godly thing is hardest to begin” is checked.
But, like many boys his generation, he was also captivated by the
adventures in Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe.
In May 1839, the
New York Knickerbocker Magazine ran an
article by Jeremiah N. Reynolds entitled “Mocha Dick: or, The White Whale of
the Pacific,” about the killing of a legendary albino sperm whale. That same month, Melville’s first published
writing (“No. 1 Fragments from a Writing Desk”) appeared in the Democratic Press and
Lansingburgh Advertiser. A
month later, he signed as a cabin boy aboard the St. Lawrence merchant ship from New York to Liverpool where he
witnessed abject poverty and learned a harsh lesson when the captain swindled
him from his wages. Upon his return that
October, he began teaching at the Greenbush &
Schodack Academy, across the Hudson River from Albany. In spring 1840, the academy failed and he went
On Christmas 1840,
in the wake of Richard Henry Dana, Jr.’s just published Two Years Before the Mast, Melville signed aboard the whaler Acushnet and was bid farewell at New
Bedford by Gansevoort. Eighteen months
later, the ship landed on the Marquesas Islands, where he and Richard “Toby”
Tobias Greene jumped ship, traveled inland, and lived among the Typee, who
occasionally cannibalized their vanquished foes. A month later, he boarded the Lucy Ann bound for Tahiti. Seven weeks later he boarded the whaler Charles and Henry for the Sandwich
Islands (now the Hawaiian Islands). He
landed on Maui and took the schooner Star
to Honolulu just weeks before the Acushnet,
the whaler he had deserted, docked at Maui.
He stayed in Honolulu three months working as a sales clerk and pin
setter at a bowling alley. Two weeks
after his twenty-fourth birthday, he enlisted for two months in the United
States Navy, sailing around Cape Horn aboard the frigate United States, on its way home to the Charlestown Navy Yard in
from the Navy, Melville visited his aunts in Boston and called on Judge Lemuel
Shaw at his stately home on Beacon Hill.
Shaw had been engaged to his aunt Nancy Wroe Melvill before she died in
1813, and Herman had not seen him in more than a decade. Judge Shaw knew Richard Henry Dana, Jr. and
spoke of Dana’s literary success, encouraging Melville to write his own
adventures. Melville was delighted to
reacquaint himself with Elizabeth Shaw, the judge’s twenty-two-year-old
daughter who he had not seen since she was a young girl. Lizzie, as she was known, had been kept apprised
of Herman’s adventures and whereabouts as his sisters received his letters from
Lizzie was attracted to this restless, mysterious wanderer. Melville had matured into a strikingly handsome and charismatic man. He stood 5’10”, with a mane of thick brown hair combed straight back, a sturdy, prominent nose, and a lush, meticulous beard. His small, piercing blue eyes were said to take you into himself. More than one sea and land companion named a child after him. He was tanned, athletic, and walked with a sensual rolling gait typical of a sailor after years compensating for the pitch of a ship.
He next travelled
to upstate New York, surprising his mother and siblings. He arrived October 23, but his homecoming was
slightly upstaged by Jesus who the Millerites, a religious sect led by New York
farmer William Miller, believed would return to Earth that day. Herman narrowly missed Gansevoort who, as he learned,
was now an attorney known as the “orator of the human race” for his tireless campaigning
that year for James Knox Polk’s presidential bid against Henry Clay. Gansevoort’s fiery speeches were printed in
newspapers throughout the country. Inspired
by Gansevoort’s oratorical and political success, and contemplating what to do
next with his life, Melville travelled to Manhattan to share in the culmination
of his brother’s victorious campaign that election day.
In social gatherings
with friends and family, Melville became such a spellbinding storyteller his sisters
urged him to write his stories down. And
write he did, composing ten novels over the next eleven years.
He was astonishingly
prolific considering mid-19th century writing technology. Dipping his steel-tipped metal pen into an
inkstand, which in winter rested on a hot brick to prevent the ink from
thickening, he wrote in cramped cursive to conserve paper. His sisters spent long days deciphering and
copying his manuscript for publishers to typeset. Although he preferred writing by available
daylight, describing his eyes as “tender as young sparrows” from a bout of measles
when he was seventeen months old, he often would not leave his room until after
dark when he would eat for the first time that day. One of the joys in his life was the discovery
of Shakespeare’s collected works in large print. Despite these challenges, his London
publisher later cautioned he was writing books too rapidly to allow for proper
marketing and sales of his current offering.
In early summer
1845, he pitched his first book-length manuscript to Harper and Brothers on
Cliff Street at the tip of Manhattan. He
sought Harpers because they had published Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast and for their reputation for an effective
marketing and distribution network. Harpers
rejected it, however, citing “it was impossible that it could be true and
therefore was without real value.” Family
members later recalled “the Harpers refusing it calling it a second ‘Robinson
Crusoe’ embittered his whole life.” In fall
1845, Gansevoort took the manuscript to London where, with a recommendation
from Washington Irving, he secured a British publisher (John Murray) and an
American publisher (Wiley & Putnam).
Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life
was published in spring 1846, dedicated with affection and gratitude to Lemuel
Shaw who, at the urging of Daniel Webster, had accepted the position of supreme
court justice of Massachusetts. Melville
proposed to Lizzie and they married August 4, 1847. Judge Shaw’s advances on Lizzie’s inheritance
would soon sustain Melville through lean financial times.
Typee was reviewed favorably by Walt
Whitman and praised anonymously by Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose observation of “a
well-dressed man” was a cheeky reference to cannibalism. Evert A. Duyckinck, the influential editor of Literary World, became Melville’s friend
and trusted literary adviser. That May, after
complaining of debilitating headaches and vison loss, Gansevoort died in London
at age 31. Herman was devastated by the loss
of his beloved older brother and literary champion.
In spring 1847, Melville followed Typee with Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas. This time Harpers sprang at the chance to publish the wildly successful twenty-seven-year-old author. Fletcher Harper was just entering his carriage for a European trip when his copy reader hurried to the curb advising Melville was offering them his new book. “Take it at once.” Harpers published Omoo sight unseen.
Typee and Omoo, appearing in such quick succession, made him a literary
sensation, scandalously admired and sanctimoniously scorned for his brooding sensuality
and inferred sexual liaisons with the beautiful Fayaway among the Typee in the
Marquesas. He successfully defended the
authenticity of his stories while fielding controversy for his view on the unChristian
behavior of some missionaries, his empathy and admiration for the native
peoples he encountered, racial discrimination in America, and the barbaric practice
of flogging abetted by tyrannical naval sea captains.
Melville began his
third book, Mardi: And a Voyage Thither
(1849), with more romantic seafaring adventures, but radically shifted course
with dense flights of philosophical musings, and obscure social and political allegory. The public wasn’t buying it. Literally.
On a trip to London, where Mardi
was published in three volumes, Richard Bentley, his new British publisher,
showed him unsold stacks, advising that readers loved volume one and finished
volume two, but no one read volume three.
Melville defended the disappointing reception writing, “Time would
His popularity and
reputation bruised, Melville responded with an extraordinary surge of
creativity, completing two novels in four months, Redburn: His First Voyage (1849) and White-Jacket; or, The World in a Man-of-War (1850), reestablishing himself
as a readable and reliable author, and profitable client. But Melville detested these works, dismissing
them as something he tossed off for tobacco money. But reviewers still unfavorably compared these
new books to Typee, which he resented
as he did not choose to be “indebted to some rich and peculiar experience in
life” for the sole source of his creativity.
While readers on
both shores of the Atlantic enjoyed his seafaring tales, Melville was driven to
become a great writer. At age 30, he
began work on his next novel, which he called his whale book. Melville drew inspiration from the albino
whale Mocha Dick and the shocking tale of the whaler Essex, attacked in the South Pacific in 1820 by an enraged sperm
whale which sank the ship after ramming it head on. From the crew of twenty-one, only eight
survived. When rescued three months
later, it was apparent they had resorted to cannibalism to survive.
In summer 1850, while
vacationing in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts and in the midst of
writing Moby-Dick, Melville met
Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose The Scarlet
Letter had been published that April and was living in nearby Lenox. That August, Melville interrupted his work on
Moby-Dick to write “Hawthorne and His
Mosses,” an anonymously-published essay about an earlier collection of
Hawthorne’s short stories (Mosses from an
Old Manse) so laudatory it helped propel the older writer into long-overdue
national recognition (“Hawthorne has dropped germinous seeds into my soul.”).
Melville was so enchanted
with the reclusive, darkly charismatic Hawthorne, that in September he moved
his wife, one-year-old son Malcolm, his mother, and four sisters from Manhattan
to Pittsfield, just north of Lenox, and bought a home he christened Arrowhead
for the Native American artifacts discovered while tilling the soil. Melville and Hawthorne enjoyed an affable, affectionate
friendship in which they discussed books, writers, life, death, fame, fate, and
In a lengthy
letter to Hawthorne in May 1851, during the final push to complete Moby-Dick, he vented his frustration with
the eternal struggle of artists, “What I feel most moved to write, that is
banned,—it will not pay. Yet,
altogether, write the other way I cannot.
So the final product is a hash, and all my books are botches.” He bemoaned his literary reputation as
“horrible” and worried about being remembered only as “a man who lived among
Two months earlier, Hawthorne had
followed the success of The Scarlet
Letter with the Gothic romance The
House of the Seven Gables. With his
next book, Melville hoped to establish that the United States could serve as
the setting of great literature and secure his place in the vanguard of a
burgeoning original American literature.
had a profound influence on Melville and Moby-Dick.
Fifteen years his junior, Melville’s
fascination with Hawthorne’s exploration of man’s darker nature informed Captain
Ahab’s vengeful, maniacal obsession to rid the world of evil incarnate embodied
in the malevolent white whale. With a
breathtaking view of a snow-covered Mount Greylock from his study and the warm
friendship of Hawthorne’s kindred spirit as an inspirational touchstone,
Melville transformed his modest whale story into a psychological masterpiece exploring
the darker depths of man’s nature.
On November 14,
1851, on the eve of Hawthorne moving 100 miles east to Concord, he and Melville
dined alone at the Little Red Inn in Pittsfield as scandalized townspeople
gawked and gossiped. What in the world
were these two—one, a recluse known for arousing Puritan sin, the other for his
brazen sexuality—talking about in such intimate tones? During dinner, perhaps over brandy and a pipe
of tobacco, Melville presented Hawthorne with one of the first copies of Moby-Dick. He watched eagerly as his dear friend read
the dedication—“In token of my admiration of his genius, this book is inscribed
to Nathaniel Hawthorne.”
In fall 1851, Melville’s
magnum opus was published in London in three volumes as The Whale (the title change did not reach London in time) and in the
United States in one volume as Moby-Dick;
or, The Whale. The early British
reviews were mixed and criticized him for something for which he had no
control. The one-page epilogue, in which
Melville explained his narrator Ishmael was the lone survivor of the
catastrophe, was inadvertently omitted from the British edition. Hence, some reviewers unjustly criticized him
for not adhering to literary convention that, in order for a narrator to convey
a story to readers, the narrator must survive the story. Other critical remarks included “incoherent
English,” “forced,” “stilted,” “violations of good taste and delicacy,” and
“vulgar immoralities.” Some declared the
book blasphemous. Writing in the Literary World, Duyckinck called it
“reckless at times of taste and propriety.”
The reviews in the
Athenaeum and the Spectator were the two British reviews
most often reprinted in the United States, and they were contemptuous of the
novel and the novelist. There were many
favorable British reviews in late 1851, but Melville may not have seen them as the
praise appeared in newspapers that seldom crossed the Atlantic. In contract, in 1847, as secretary to the
American Legation in London, Ganesvoort was able forward Herman virtually every
review of Typee.
Some American critics
lazily reprinted large passages of negative British reviews making it painfully
evident they had not read the entire book.
Others simply did not understand it.
Moby-Dick is indeed a
challenging read, incorporating many different literary styles with several
excursions from the main action. For all
the novel’s colorful musings on the history, anatomy, and physiology of whales (when
it was believed they were fish, not mammals), one cannot imagine a modern day
editor not wielding a judicious scalpel (think Chapter 32, “Cetology,” in which
Melville attempts a systematic description of all the world’s whales).
Moby-Dick remains a faithful portrait of
the nineteenth century whaling industry in which sperm whales were mercilessly
hunted for their blubber and the waxy liquid called spermaceti found in an
organ above their skull, which whalers harvested to meet the demands of many commercial
applications including candles, lubricants, and lamp oil. Although Melville extolled the whalers’ courage
and the “honorableness and antiquity” of the brutal work, he illuminated a poignant
tragedy in which victory was only achieved when the magnificent animal breached
to take a breath. Acknowledging the sole
motivation of the slaughter, he wrote the whale “must die the death and be
murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and
also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness
by all to all.”
Melville knew he
had written a great book. He borrowed
money to pay for the printing plates to be produced, hoping to sell the manuscript
himself to the highest bidder. When that
failed, he contracted with his usual London and New York publishers. He anticipated Moby-Dick would rival, if not surpass, the masterworks of English
literature. He hoped sales would ease
his mounting financial stress, but Moby-Dick
did not deliver him from debt. During
his lifetime, 3,715 copies were sold—less than one-fourth of Typee.
In addition to his
responsibilities to his wife and two young sons, Arrowhead placed unforgiving
demands on his time with planting, harvesting, renovations, repairs, and caring
for livestock. He was in debt to his
British and American publishers. He
borrowed $2,000 from an acquaintance, keeping it secret from Lizzie, to
forestall defaulting on Arrowhead’s mortgage held by the original owner. He protested the absence of an international
copyright law which left him and other American authors vulnerable to piracy, denying
them crucial royalties. He described his
financial woes as “Dollars damn me!” His
father-in-law remained a staunch supporter and, thankfully, his loans were not
expected to be repaid, but it was apparent Melville was borrowing on his
children’s inheritance. Lizzie’s
stepmother and stepbrother were not so kind, continually sniping at her
husband’s sagging reputation. His mother
rebuked him for embarrassing her by failing to attend church services regularly. He declined multiple requests from Evert
Duyckinck to have a daguerreotype made to promote his image and work. His procrastination led to an unsuccessful
bid for the steady paycheck of a political appointment to a foreign consulship,
unlike Hawthorne who parlayed his college friendship with Franklin Pierce, whose
presidential campaign biography he penned in 1852, into a consulship in
Liverpool the following year.
Reviews for Moby-Dick were still appearing as
Melville was near completing his next book.
On November 17, 1851, he wrote Hawthorne, “Lord, when shall we be done
growing? As long as we have anything
more to do, we have done nothing. So,
now, let us add Moby Dick to our blessings[s?], and step from that. Leviathan is not the biggest fish;—I have
heard of Krakens.” He envisioned his next
book would surpass Moby-Dick and
perhaps rival Macbeth or Hamlet.
Four months after Moby-Dick was published, Melville completed
his manuscript for Pierre; or, The
Ambiguities, a tragic drama with autobiographical tinges of a noble
American family living in pastoral upstate New York. It explored the complexities of the human
psyche, man’s darker psychosexual nature, the challenge of achieving
self-knowledge, and the eventual delusion of a young idealist struggling with Christian
ideals against the harsh realities of the world. It also hinted at an incestuous attraction between
the hero and a mysterious woman who presents herself as his half-sister.
Around New Year’s
Day 1852, Melville travelled eight hours by train to Manhattan to present it to
The Harpers. But the publishers were
strict Methodists and did not want to be associated with Pierre. Their solution was
to offer Melville a humiliating reduction in royalty from fifty to twenty cents
on the dollar after expenses.
have to sell two and one-half times the number of books to earn what he would
have under their previous contracts. Melville
brought his manuscript to Duyckinck who proclaimed it immoral and advised against
it to Bentley, his London publisher, who proposed half of the net profits, no
advance, and editing control to ensure suitability for English readers. Melville declined, countering with a request
for a flat £100,
pitching the book as “possessing unquestionable novelty” and “very much more
calculated for popularity than anything you have yet published of mine.” How, in 1852, Melville thought a book in
which the hero is drawn to an incestuous relationship as “calculated for
popularity” still mystifies Melville scholars.
A Bentley edition never appeared.
In late 1852, a few dozen copies appeared in England, published by Harper’s
London agent Sampson Low. Melville’s
refusal to let Bentley bowdlerize Pierre
denied him much-needed revenue and critical revisiting of his previous book (Moby-Dick), a practice which British
reviewers were wont to do.
reworked Pierre, clumsily inserting
an additional 150 pages toward the end to provide his hero a contrived literary
past, a platform from which Melville exercised his sardonic wit to rail against
self-righteous critics who condemned Moby-Dick,
the sad state of American literature, an indiscriminate reading public,
Duyckinck’s perceived betrayal, and greedy publishing houses (Pierre’s
publisher is Steel, Flint & Asbestos).
He cancelled his subscription to Duyckinck’s Literary World.
satisfaction Melville received by venting his rage and resentment came with an
awful price. His career was essentially
over. He had sabotaged his own book,
losing authorial control of the plot and introducing significant character inconsistencies. In 1995, the so-called Kraken edition of Pierre excised the ill-advised additions,
attempting to present the work before Melville unleashed his frustration.
Rather than offer
it to another publisher, Melville accepted Harper’s offer and Pierre was published in July 1852. The critical reception was devastating to
Melville’s career. Critics called it “monstrous,”
“repulsive,” “an outrage to morality,” “no ordinary depravity,” and
“unhealthy.” Duyckinck called it
“sacrilegious to family relations.” Melville’s
in-laws would have seen the August 5, 1852, Boston Daily Times review denounce Pierre
as “one of the absurdist and most ridiculous things that ever ink and paper
were wasted on.” The September 7, 1852, New
York Day Book headlined its scathing
review “Herman Melville Crazy,” hoping “one of the earliest precautions will be
to keep him stringently secluded from pen and ink.” Writing in the American Whig Review in November 1852, George Washington Peck took Harpers
to task for publishing “such abominations” and urged readers to avoid Melville’s
books “as some loathsome and infectious distemper.” Ironically, no reviewer picked up on how
Melville had marred a coherent work with his enraged intrusions.
Melville kept writing. On December 2, 1852,
he visited Hawthorne in Concord, offering him the idea for a novel of a true
story of a woman abandoned by her unfaithful lover-sailor which Melville first
heard during a visit to Nantucket with his father-in-law in summer 1852. When Hawthorne declined, Melville wrote the
story himself. He completed The Isle of the Cross in spring 1853,
but after Harpers declined to publish it, the manuscript was subsequently
lost. In November 1853, Melville began
work on Tortoise Hunting Adventure,
mining his adventures on the Galápagos
Islands in fall 1841. Despite a $300
advance from Harpers, he failed to complete it.
He began writing
short stories which required less time and provided a much-needed paycheck. Between November 1853 and May 1856, he wrote
thirteen short stories published in Putnam’s
Monthly Magazine or Harper’s New
Monthly Magazine. Putnam collected
its five serialized stories, Melville added a new story, “The Piazza,” and the
six were published as The Piazza Tales
in May 1856. It included three of his
most enduring stories—“Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street,” still
widely anthologized in short story collections, “Benito Cereno,” and “The
Encantadas, or Enchanted Isles.” The
stories were popular with critics and readers, helping to repair his
reputation, but sales did not appreciably reduce his debt.
had always drawn the ire of some prominent religious leaders and journalists. Harpers now distanced themselves from the
perceived damage Moby-Dick and Pierre had done to their relationship
with prominent Methodists and as a Christian bookseller. Melville’s relationship with Harpers further
soured when, in December 1853, a fire destroyed the publisher’s warehouse, consuming
494 copies of Pierre and 297 copies
of Moby-Dick, leaving only 60 remaining.
By his own account, the loss denied
Melville royalties upwards of $300 annually.
Harpers charged him $1,000 for new printing plates despite having
already charged those publication costs.
This was especially antagonistic since, in April 1849, at the Harper’s
urging, Melville had purchased the Typee
plates from Wiley & Putnam and gifted them to Harpers, from which they had
His next novel, Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile,
inspired by the true story of an exiled Revolutionary War soldier who had fought
at Bunker Hill, was serialized in Putnam’s
Monthly Magazine and published by G.P. Putnam & Co. in March 1855. His final novel, The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade, was published in New York by
Dix, Edwards & Co. in April 1857.
The publisher dissolved later that year without paying Melville
declined dramatically over the next three decades as he lectured and turned his
hand to poetry. In 1860, Harpers
declined a book of his poems which were subsequently lost. In 1863, he sold Arrowhead and moved his
family back to Manhattan. In 1866, after
six years of unemployment, his termination as a clerk at the New York Custom
House was averted by the intervention of Chester A. Arthur, an influential customs
official and future twenty-first President of the United States, who admired Typee, Omoo, and Moby-Dick. That year he published Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War, a collection of seventy-two
poems about the Civil War. The following
year, tragedy struck when his eighteen-year-old son, Malcolm, died from an
apparent self-inflicted pistol shot. In
1876, he published his epic poem Clarel:
A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, inspired by his journey there in
winter 1856. At 18,000 lines it is longest
poem in American literature.
In December 1885,
he retired from the Custom House. The
following year, his second oldest child, Stanwix, died at thirty-four from
tuberculosis. On March 9, 1887, in a heartrending
image of an artist obliterating his art, he requested Harpers melt the printing
plates for Mardi and Pierre.
When he died at 72 in 1891, he was survived by Lizzie, who died at 84 in
1906, and their two daughters, Elizabeth and Frances.
Within a year of
his death, Harpers reprinted Moby-Dick
and it is now celebrated as one of the greatest achievements in American
literature. Melville’s critical
reputation has steadily flourished and he is now admired as a literary genius woefully
underappreciated during his lifetime. Moby-Dick has been the subject of numerous
editions, translations, adaptations, critical analysis, television mini-series,
feature films, and other dramatic renditions. In his 2017 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Bob
Dylan remarked about Moby-Dick, “That
theme, and all that it implies, would work its way into more than a few of my
The manuscript of
his novella Billy Budd, A Sailor (An
Inside Narrative), which Melville was still revising when he died, was
discovered by Richard Weaver, his first biographer, in a trunk of his
belongings and published posthumously in 1924 at the beginning of the Melville
As we mark the
bicentennial of his birth, the question arises whether Melville will be read a
century from now? In fact, with increasing
demands on our time and the near constant distraction of social media, is
anyone reading Melville now? Perhaps not
as widely as he should be. Students of great
literature will always revel in discovering him. Lovers of great books will find solace in his
poetic, evocative language, joy in his warm, amiable voice, wonderment in his complex
thoughts and marvelous disorderliness, his incisive illumination of universal subjects
that still mystify us. For readers willing
to invest the requisite time to appreciate his intricate genius, reading Melville
is embarking on an enchanting, sometimes turbulent, always rewarding, journey—a
voyage still worth booking 200 years after his birth.
Posted by the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association on April 13, 2016
As with veterinary medicine, Dr. Jim Murphy approached a new venture in his life, chronicling the early days of one of America’s enduring bands, as both an art and a science.
The lifelong fan wrote “Becoming the Beach Boys, 1961-1963” because other books gave conflicting facts and short shrift to the band’s early days. He also created a companion website.
Dr. Jim Murphy autographs copies of his book.
Dr. Murphy spent eight years researching, doing interviews, and writing his book, weathering rejections until it was published in summer 2015, three days after a new movie about the band was released and a month before the group headlined at the AVMA Annual Convention in Boston.
“It is an academic look at the band’s origin and not always a light read for a day at the beach,” he says of the 436-page book with its 12 appendices, 1,100 end notes, bibliography, and index. Fifty of the photos had never before been published, except some in yearbooks. His scientific approach also drew on his right brain. As an undergrad, he had minored in creative writing, enjoying the precision. “Writing the book and using the less- scientific part of my brain was my own form of a wellness program,” he says.
The companion animal veterinarian at Capitol Hill Animal Clinic in Washington, D.C., was 40 when he graduated from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in 1997. Earlier, he was a speechwriter for the postmaster general. At 50, he starred in his first community theater production. He has appeared in three feature-length indie film comedies.
Goldmine Magazine Interview by Ken Sharp All images courtesy of James B. Murphy
From performing in school cafeterias to tearing it up on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl, James B. Murphy’s book, “Becoming the Beach Boys 1961-1963” chronicles the back story behind how it all happened in exhaustive detail. Culling original and archival interviews, newly discovered documents and illustrated with scores of previously unseen photographs and ephemera, the book is a marvel of research teeming with revelatory information about the group’s formative years, puncturing myths and setting the record straight about this seminal period in the group’s history.
Goldmine: Hite and Dorinda Morgan are key movers and shakers in the band’s early career. Tell us about them and their importance to the group’s career arc.
James B. Murphy: Hite and Dorinda Morgan, a husband and wife songwriting team in their late 40s, were friends of Audree and Murry Wilson for a decade before the Wilson brothers decided they wanted to make a record. The Morgans recorded aspiring artists in a make-shift recording studio in their living room and produced the first nine recordings by the Beach Boys, including “Surfin’” and early versions of “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfer Girl.” And yet, after 50 years, hundreds of magazine articles, more than a dozen books and several documentaries about the band, I knew very little about the Morgans and had never seen a photograph of them. When I first spoke with Bruce Morgan, their son, I told him I believed his parents were overlooked in the Beach Boys story and that one of my goals was to shed more light on their integral role in the band’s early history. Brian and the Boys went on to more sophisticated writing and production, but Hite and Dorinda Morgan were the first people in the L.A. music industry who believed in them. It seemed to me we should know more about them.
GM: Little is known about the background of Candix Records and its founders. Fill us in.
JM: Candix Enterprises Inc. released the Beach Boys first record. It was an independent record company founded August 26, 1960, in Fresno, California, by twin brothers Richard and Robert Dix, who enlisted the help of their younger brothers Albert and Sherman (a fifth brother, Theodore, and a sister, Sarita, were not involved). The Dix brothers were professional musicians and, for the previous two decades had toured the country as the Dix Brothers Orchestra. They hired William Silva Canaday for his knowledge of the L.A. music industry and the name of the record company was an amalgam of their last names (CAN from Canaday + DIX). The plan was for Sherman to funnel the profits from the brother’s real estate and home construction business in Fresno into the record company, but Sherman had other ideas. This resulted in a chronic shortage of capital, frustrating Joe Saraceno, their Artist and Repertoire director, and two record promoters who were always battling a shortage of records. In fall 1961, Hite Morgan, on the strength of a recommendation from Bill Angel, the record librarian at KFWB, brought the Beach Boys’ first record, “Surfin’,” to Candix. It was a great opportunity for Candix, whose biggest hit to date was The Frogmen’s “Underwater” that reached No. 44 in spring 1961, but it could not have come at a worse time. Bob Dix had discovered Saraceno diverted “Surfer’s Stomp,” a No. 31 hit by The Mar-kets, to his own recently formed Union Records. Saraceno resigned from Candix. Bob had also recently fired Silva and was pursuing legal action accusing him of embezzling $15,000 from Candix. Bob did everything he could (which I detail in the book) to keep “Surfin’” stocked in record stores nationwide. “Surfin’” reached No. 3 in L.A., but stalled at No. 75 in Billboard. It likely would have gone further had it been handled and promoted differently. In September 1963, Bob Dix chose not renew the company’s corporate status. He had released 41 singles on the Candix label, one (“Surfin’”) on his X Records subsidiary, and two on the Candix-distributed Storm label.
The Dix Brothers
GM: In the book, you follow the band playing house parties to the Hollywood Bowl in a short timespan. Take us through what shaped them as a live act.
JM: The key thing about the early Beach Boys in the studio and on stage is that only nine months after forming they were thrust into the national spotlight. Unlike The Beatles, who enjoyed a lengthy musical apprenticeship, honing their live skills and stockpiling songs, the Beach Boys scored a No. 3 regional hit with their first record, recorded a demo reel and landed a seven-year contract with Capitol Records. Their Capitol debut, “Surfin’ Safari” backed with “409,” was a double-sided hit and the pressure was on. Demand for their personal appearances skyrocketed. By most contemporary accounts, they were not a very good live band when they started. But they persevered and kept at it, propelled by Murry Wilson’s persistence and assertive personality. They played grand openings, record stores, hardware stores, appliance stores, birthday parties, gymnasiums, recreation centers, high schools, roof tops, back yards and parking lots. The hits just kept coming and, fueled by their songwriting and unparalleled vocals, they became one of the best and enduring live bands. For most concertgoers, seeing and hearing the Beach Boys live was an unforgettable experience.
GM: There are quotes in the book culled from members of bands that played on the same bill with the Beach Boys in the early days remarking they were not impressed with their performing abilities. When did they come into their own as a live act?
JM: The Beach Boys learned to play as a band in front of live audiences. Their first (April 24-May 5, 1963) and second (July 19-August 30, 1963) tours outside of California were hampered by the intermittent absence of Brian Wilson (Al Jardine was recruited to fill in for Brian on the road). Some early reviews are mixed, most likely because of Brian’s absence in the harmony stack. Brian grew tired of touring very early on and decided, quite wisely in retrospect, it would better serve the band if he stayed home to write, arrange and demo new material for the group. But when David Marks quit, Jardine was enlisted as a permanent replacement for Marks and Brian lost his road replacement and had to rejoin the touring band. Their October 19, 1963, performance at the 31st Annual Y-Day at the Hollywood Bowl is available online and that gives us a pretty good idea of how the Beach Boys, with Brian, sounded as a live band toward the end of 1963. They played “Little Deuce Coupe,” “In My Room,” “Be True to Your School,” “Surfer Girl” and an a cappella tribute to KFWB, the radio station that co-sponsored the show. These are solid, somewhat raw, but wildly exciting performances. Given the technological limits of recording a live show in an outdoor cavernous venue like the Hollywood Bowl, that they sound so powerful and exhilarating is quite remarkable.
GM: Murry Wilson, father of Brian, Dennis and Carl, and the band’s manager is a misunderstood figure in the band’s history. Were there new insights gleaned about his role and working methods?
JM: Let me first say I do not pretend to know what actually went on inside 3701 West 119th Street, Hawthorne, California, as Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson were growing up with their parents, Audree and Murry. Only the Wilson boys fully experienced Murry’s strengths and shortcomings as a father. In fall 1961, Murry was 44 years old, owned his own leased machinery business, had three teenage sons, each two years apart, and the family lived in a two-bedroom, one-level home. On his modest salary, Murry provided Brian with accordion lessons, a record collection, a meeting with his musical idols, the Four Freshmen, a Wollensak tape recorder and a used 1957 Ford Fairlane for his senior year at Hawthorne High. Al Jardine recalled Brian was a natty dresser in high school, especially noting his stylish Florsheim loafers. Dennis had a motorized go-kart, a BB gun, a memorable 10th birthday party and a 9-foot surfboard. Carl had an acoustic-electric guitar, an amplifier and guitar lessons. Now, material possessions do not make a childhood happy, but Murry did his best to provide his boys with things they enjoyed. And no one fought harder for the fledgling Beach Boys than Murry. Key players in the early Beach Boys’ story like Chuck Britz, Stan Ross (co-owner of Gold Star studio), Russ Regan and Fred Vail are all on record with positive comments about Murry, crediting him with much of the group’s early success. Interestingly, most of the negative things the brothers said about their father came after he died from cardiac arrest on June 4, 1973. Nick Venet, the band’s first staff producer at Capitol, provided much anti-Murry fodder. But keep in mind, in summer 1963, after Murry told Capitol the Beach Boys refused to work with Venet, Nick was gone from Capitol within a few months. Now, before I am accused of being a Murry apologist, by many accounts he was a flawed man, haunted by his own rough childhood. Perhaps Murry’s greatest shortcoming was not recognizing the need to provide a more protective environment for Brian, a sensitive soul who, at the time, was doing everything, and not knowing when to step back and allow his sons the freedom to pursue their own creative vision. But without Murry there would have been no Beach Boys.
GM: One of the many coups of your book was tracking down Judy Bowles, Brian Wilson’s girlfriend who inspired some of his music. Tell us about her, how you located her and characterize her place in Brian’s universe and her role as his muse.
JM: Judy Bowles was Brian Wilson’s first serious romantic relationship. Brian began dating Judy in summer 1961 just before the group formed. They dated during the formation of the band, the writing and recording of “Surfin’,” signing with Capitol Records, all of 1962 and most of 1963. Audree Wilson helped Brian select a diamond engagement ring that he presented to Judy for Christmas 1962. They planned to marry within the year. Judy was the inspiration for “Surfer Girl,” “Judy” and, after a painful break-up in fall 1963, “The Warmth of the Sun.” It took me a long time to find Judy, and I would not have been able to gain her trust and confidence without the help of a good friend of hers who, quite modestly, declined acknowledgement in the book. It was a real joy speaking with Judy – one of the highlights of researching the book. She told me I was the first writer who took the time to look for her and speak with her, and that nearly everything written previously about her was untrue. I found that astonishing. Judy was open, honest, funny, down-to-earth, grounded and had a wonderfully healthy perspective on that part of her life and how things worked out. She really loved Brian and he will always have a special place in her heart. After the success of “Love & Mercy,” I would like to see a film adaptation of their love story as Brian came into his musical gift, helped form the Beach Boys and the group experienced the ups and downs of worldwide fame.
GM: Cite the major revelations you were able to uncover that surprised you?
JM: The dates of September 15, 1961, for the “Surfin’” demo session, and October 3, 1961, for the “Surfin’” recording session, which have been accepted for the past 25 years, cannot be verified. That alters the entire chronology of certain key events, including the group’s rehearsal sessions, the demo session, when Al joined the group, the renting of musical gear, the recording session and when Hite Morgan shopped an acetate of “Surfin’” to record labels.
I believe “Surfin’” was written, a Standard Songwriter’s Contract with the Morgans signed and a demo recorded before Al joined the band. Then, after he runs into Brian on the campus of El Camino Community College, Al begins singing with the Wilson brothers and Mike. When Audree and Murry went to Mexico for a weekend, the guys rented musical gear, financed by Al’s mother, Virginia, in an effort to up their game. They continued rehearsing for about a month and then recorded the version of “Surfin’” released on Candix 331. Although “Surfin’” is credited to Brian and Mike, Carl contributed the guitar part and Dennis made some lyrical contributions that went uncredited.
As Murry suspected, the Beach Boys were indeed short-changed in royalties on the sales of “Surfin’.” They received $990, but should have received about $2,500.
GM: What are the major myths you’ve been able to solve while doing the book?
JM: Here are a few that come to mind: The rental of musical gear did not occur over the Labor Day weekend, September 2-4, 1961. And when Audree and Murry traveled to Mexico, they most certainly did not leave their sons $800, as one source noted, for food or an emergency.
The earliest footage of the Beach Boys singing live is their performance of “Surfin’ Safari” at the Azusa Teen Club on July 27, 1962, filmed for Dale Smallin’s documentary “One Man’s Challenge.” But the film crew did not just happen to show up on a night the band was performing. This was a scheduled taping and the group rehearsed for hours in the sweltering heat of the Azusa Recreation Center that doubled as the teen club.
“Surfin’” on Candix 331 was their first release. For reasons that I detail in the book, it was next released on X Records 301, Candix 301, the Era Records-distributed Candix 301. Also, an “Audition Only” copy was released on the Era Records-distributed Candix 301.
This is a minor myth, but when their first royalty check arrived in mid-April 1962, it was long believed Murry added $100 of his own money to bring it up to $1,000 so the five boys could each receive $200. But the royalty check was for $990, so Murry actually contributed $10.
GM: Are there still mysteries about that period of time that elude you that you’d like to uncover?
JM: A photograph of the Beach Boys with Al Jardine before David Marks replaced him has been reported to exist, but has never surfaced. Does anyone, especially the surviving members of the band, have such a photo? I would like this one further clarified. When did Al reconnect with Brian by the chance encounter of running into him on the campus of El Camino Community College where they were both enrolled in fall 1961? The school year began September 11, 1961, and the Standard Songwriter’s Contract for “Surfin’” was signed September 15, 1961. Brian’s handwritten list of the Pendletones as a quartet (the three Wilson brothers and Mike Love) is dated October 12, 1961. Hence, it may have been well into October before Al ran into Brian and began singing with the Wilson brothers and Mike. If that is true, as I believe it to be, then Al may have joined the band after the “Surfin’” demo was recorded, but before the recording session that yielded the version of “Surfin’” released on Candix 331.
Second, I wonder whether “Surfin’,” “Luau” and “Lavender” may have been recorded at Hite Morgan’s Stereo Masters, 5534-5538 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles. That would mean there was only one session at World Pacific Studio, 8715 West Third Street, Los Angeles — the one on February 8, 1962, at which they recorded “Surfin’ Safari,” “Surfer Girl,” “Judy” and “Karate” (aka, “Beach Boy Stomp”). Both Bruce Morgan and Dino Lappas, the recording engineer at World Pacific, independently recalled only one session at World Pacific. Intriguing.
And third, I would like to discover additional personal appearances the band made in 1962, especially between January and June, and the mysterious mini-tour Murry booked in California around Christmas 1962.
GM: Tell us about the Holy Grail most collectible Beach Boy records from that period and their value in 2015.
JM: The most collectible Beach Boys records from 1961-62 are the red and yellow splash wax of “Barbie” (b/w “What Is a Young Girl Made Of?,” Randy 422), the “Complete Selections from Surfin’ Safari by the Beach Boys” promotional EP with cardboard sleeve (Capitol PRO 2186), the “I Was There KFWB Day!” mailer sleeve that housed the promotional 45 “Spirit of America” (b/w “Boogie Woodie,” Capitol Custom) and “The Surfer Moon” (b/w “Humpty Dumpty,” Safari 101) by Bob and Sheri. As with most rare records, they’re worth whatever two people say they’re worth!
I would like to pose a question to Goldmine readers — has anyone ever seen and can anyone verify a white label promotional copy of “Surfin’” on Candix 331? [Not the black label “Audition Only” “Surfin’” on the Era Records-distributed Candix 301]. Candix produced white label promo records from Candix 303 through 330, but I have never seen a white label promo of “Surfin’” on Candix 331. I don’t think it exists, but I would like to be proven wrong. GM
In the 1991 film JFK, Joe Pesci portrayed David Ferrie who famously describes President Kennedy’s assassination as “a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma.” The quote was borrowed from a radio address Winston Churchill delivered over the British Broadcasting Company October 1, 1939, to bolster Britons’ concerns about an impending war with Germany. In that stirring address, Churchill described Russia as “a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”
But what does Churchill, JFK, or Joe Pesci have to do with researching Beach Boys concerts in 1962? Well, that quote aptly describes what it felt like trying to document the band’s appearances at Rainbow Gardens—a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma. Only there was no key. Until now. Maybe.
Rainbow Gardens c. 1930s
Rainbow Gardens was a nightclub and dance hall located at 150 East Monterey in Pomona, California, thirty miles east of Los Angeles. It held about 800 people. By early 1962, it was owned by LA record promoter Eddie Davis who managed the Mixtures, an ethnically diverse R&B septet from Oxnard who played there Friday nights and filled the role of house band backing up other artists. Davis became aware of the Mixtures through Dick Moreland, a former disc jockey on Oxnard’s KACY-AM and later program director on KRLA. Davis and Moreland conceived of the KRLA/Friday Night Dance and enlisted KRLA disc jockey Bob Eubanks as master of ceremonies.
The Mixtures’ sole album, Stompin’ at the Rainbow, was recorded live at Rainbow Gardens February 16, 1962, and released March 19 on Eddie Davis’s Linda Records 3301. The group’s first of six singles was “Rainbow Stomp – Part 1” (b/w “Rainbow Stomp” – Part 2,” Linda 104) released that March, the same month they played the National Orange Show in San Bernardino. The success of the live album led to gigs at El Monte Legion Stadium, Cinnamon Cinder (Studio City), Pacific Ocean Park (Santa Monica), Pop Leuder’s Park (Compton), and a show for the NAACP in Santa Monica April 11. They also appeared on local television shows P.O.P. Dance Party, The Wink Martindale Show, and the Rock-n-Rudy Harvey Show.
Meanwhile, on February 8, 1962, the Beach Boys recorded four songs—“Surfin’ Safari,” “Surfer Girl,” “Judy,” and “Beach Boy Stomp” (aka “Karate”)—at World Pacific Studio at 8715 3rd Street in Hollywood. By February 11, Al Jardine had quit the band, deciding to devote his time and energy to the rigors of his pre-dental academic curriculum. For about three weeks, the Beach Boys were a quartet before recruiting their thirteen-year-old neighbor David Marks to play rhythm guitar.
“When I was a disc jockey at KRLA, I would hire the Beach Boys,” Bob Eubanks recalled. “I would pay them a hundred and fifty dollars to come out on Friday night and play Rainbow Gardens. I had a good relationship with the guys. It was obvious the father was the true boss of what was going on. I always thought Murry was a bit of a bullshitter, but he was in there plugging for his boys. For that, I admired him. I tried to get them to change their name because I felt their name was so regional they wouldn’t have much success out of a coastal area.”
Eubanks asked Murry if any of the boys surfed. “Denny is the only one who surfs,” Murry replied. “They know a lot of kids who surf. It’s all image, the whole beach thing. You don’t have to surf to sing about it, do you?” When Eubanks expressed doubts about the group’s name, Murry said, “We tried some others, like the Pendletones, but changed it. Russ Regan over at Era Records came up with the name. I think the Beach Boys is fine. We’re sticking with it.”
It was once thought the Beach Boys may have played back-to-back Friday and Saturday nights at the Rainbow Gardens on February 9 and 10, February 16 and 17, and Friday night shows March 9, 23, and 30. However, neither I nor Ian Rusten, author of The Beach Boys in Concert: the Ultimate History of America’s Band on Tour and Onstage (Backbeat Books, 2013), could find any documentation for these dates. Keep in mind that in early 1962 the Beach Boys were just starting out and were not well known. Not even in Southern California. Furthermore, any promotion for these appearances was likely done on KRLA radio. Radio marketing was affordable and expedient, but unfortunately impermanent. It is likely the Beach Boys played the Rainbow Gardens a Friday night or two in the early months of 1962 as there are anecdotal reports of them singing and the Mixtures backing them instrumentally. It is, however, extremely unlikely they ever played there on a Saturday night. On Saturday nights, the Rainbow Gardens swung to the rhythms of Latin and Chicano artists.
Parade of Hits, a weekly live television show featuring guest stars and Top 40 tunes, premiered Tuesday, July 10, 1962, on KCOP-TV, channel 13, from 8:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. It replaced Dr. Albert Burke, a show hosted by the Yale professor who pioneered educational television. Parade of Hits was sponsored by White Front Discount Department Store and radio station KRLA, and hosted by Larry McCormick, who later became news reporter on KTLA channel 5 in LA. The Mixtures were the house band during the show’s twenty-six week run. The Beach Boys performed “Surfin’ Safari” live on Parade of Hits July 31, 1962.
While continuing his research into the Beach Boys’ appearances at the Rainbow Gardens after publication of his book, Rusten reviewed the Pomona Progress Bulletin for February, March, April, and July of 1962. He found only one documented Beach Boys’ appearance at Rainbow Gardens—Friday, July 27, 1962, four days before they appeared with the Mixtures on Parade of Hits. While it remains likely the band played the Rainbow Gardens one or more Friday nights in early 1962, further research is needed.
Here’s what we know about Fridays and Saturdays at the Rainbow Gardens January through April 1962:
Friday, January 5
Saturday, January 6
Friday, January 12
Saturday, January 13
Dance, Rudy Macia and His Orchestra, plus Joe Rios and His Orchestra featuring Virginia Ybarra, admittance only $1.75
Friday, January 19
Saturday, January 20
Dance, Johnny Martinez Cheda and Their Orchestra, plus Manny Armenta and His Orchestra, admittance only $2.00
Friday, January 26
The Beach Boys played in the cafeteria of Hawthorne High School at 7:00 a.m. as part of Black Friday activities bemoaning the distribution that day of report cards.
Saturday, January 27
Dance Tonite, In Person, Amalia Mendoza “La Tariacure” with Mariachi Los Camperos, plus “Vydreyras” Star from Mexico, plus Manny Armenta and His Orchestra, admittance only $2.75
Friday February 2
Saturday February 3
Dance Tonite, Mariano Merceron and His RCA Recording 20-Pc Orchestra, plus Joe Rios and His Orchestra, admittance only $2.50. The Beach Boys appeared on Dance Party television show broadcast live on KRLA-TV from the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium from 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Friday, February 9
It is possible the Beach Boys appeared, but were not listed.
Saturday, February 10
Dance Tonite, In Person, Loa Beltran, Queen of Ranchero Singers, plus Mariachi Occidental, plus Bobby Montez and His Orchestra, and Abby Chavez and His Orchestra, admittance only $2.75. The Beach Boys appeared on Dance Party television show broadcast live on KRLA-TV from the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium from 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Friday, February 16
A show with the Mixtures, the Citadels, and the Emeralds recorded for a live album.
Saturday, February 17
Dance Tonite, Rene Touzet and His World Famous Recording Orchestra, plus Treni Menor and His Orchestra, admittance only $2.00
Friday, February 23
It is possible the Beach Boys appeared, but were not listed.
Saturday, February 24
Dance Saturday Nite, Rudy Macais and His Orchestra, plus Manny Armenta and His Orchestra, admittance only $1.75
Friday, March 2
An advertisement for the Mixtures and “Special Guest Stars”
The Beach Boys played in the auditorium of Millikan High School in Santa Monica, CA, at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, March 3
Friday, March 9
It is possible the Beach Boys appeared, but were not listed.
Saturday, March 10
The Beach Boys played the Bel-Air Bay Club in Pacific Palisades, CA, at 8:00 p.m.
Friday, March 16
The Beach Boys played the Monica Hotel in Santa Monica, CA, with the Bel-Airs and the Vibrants from 8:00 p.m. to midnight.
Saturday, March 17
The Beach Boys played the Santa Monica Hotel in Santa Monica, CA, with the Bel-Airs and the Vibrants from 8:00 p.m. to midnight.
Friday, March 23
The Beach Boys played Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, CA, with Spencer and Allred, the Two Tones, and Tommy Terry.
Saturday, March 24
The Beach Boys played a short set during a Vibrants concert on the athletic field of Newport Harbor High School in Newport, CA, at 8:00 p.m.
Friday, March 30
An advertisement appeared for the Mixtures and “Special Guest Stars.”
Saturday, March 31
The Beach Boys played the National Guard Armory in John Galvin Pak in Ontario, CA, at 8:00 p.m.
Friday, April 6
It is possible the Beach Boys appeared, but were not listed.
Saturday, April 7
Dance Tonight, Chuy Castro and His Orchestra, plus Manny Armenta and His Orchestra, Free Pachanga Lessons, admittance only $1.75.
Friday, April 13
No dance held that night at the Rainbow Gardens.
Saturday, April 14
Friday, April 20
The Beach Boys played for an Easter Week Stomp in the auditorium of Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach, CA, that evening.
Saturday, April 21
Easter Holiday Dances, Rene Touzet and His Orchestra, plus Manny Armenta and His Orchestra, Twist and Pachanga Dance Contest, Pachanga Dance Lessons 8:30 to 9:00, admittance only $2.00.
Sunday, April 22
Easter Holiday Dances, Saturday and Sunday, Mariachi Occidental, plus Rudy Macias and His Orchestra, plus Manny Armenta and His Orchestra , admittance only $2.00.
April 27, Friday
It is possible the Beach Boys appeared, but were not listed.
Saturday, April 28
Dance Tonight, Nita Cruz and the Crescendos, plus Joe Rios and His Orchestra, Free Pachanga Lessons, admittance only $1.75.
Friday, May 4
The Beach Boys played the Inglewood Women’s Club in Inglewood, CA, from 8:00 p.m. to midnight.
Saturday, May 5
Dance and Show, Sat Nite, In Person, Cantinflitas, plus Medesto Duran and His Orchestra, Rachel and Her Conjunto, Roben Reyes, Maria Antonieta, Hollywood Twisters, Dancing 8:00 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., admittance only $2.00.
Friday, May 11
The Beach Boys played a Community Fair as part of Camino Welfare Week at El Camino Community College. As this was during the day it is possible they played elsewhere that evening.
May and June
Not yet fully researched regarding the Rainbow Gardens.
Friday, July 27
The Beach Boys recorded their appearance in One Man’s Challenge at the Azusa Teen Club in Azusa, CA. That evening they appeared with the Mixtures and the Paris Sisters at Rainbow Gardens at 8:00 p.m.
Reviewed by Robert Iannapollo
Association for Recorded Sound Collections Journal, p. 307-309, Vol. 46, No. 2 Fall 2015
Becoming the Beach Boys, 1961-1963. By James B, Murphy. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015. 422pp, including multiple appendices, extensive footnotes, photos, bibliography and index. ISBN= 978-0-7864-7365-69
Knowing I was quite the Beach Boys maven, my editor presented me with Becoming the Beach Boys, 1961-1963 by James B. Murphy for review. He wondered what a veterinarian could add to the vast Beach Boys bibliography, as did I. Quite a bit, as it turns out.
The years from the band’s formation in 1961 until the initial banner year of 1963 (the year of three top 10 hits, with their “B” sides also scoring well), has been covered in most bios in a cursory manner at best. Yet it was a very important time for the group in getting their act together (so to speak). The story is a confusing jumble of memories, facts, recording session credits, and concerts. Having occurred over 50 years ago, it gets murkier with every passing year. There are essential questions to be asked about the Beach Boys development. Who exactly was in the first formation of the group that recorded the first single? What were the circumstances that led up to that recording? With who was group mastermind Brian Wilson working when he made his various breakthroughs? These questions and many others are tackled by Murphy, relying in part on previous interviews with a cast of characters that are frequently self-serving: their father/manager Murry Wilson; their initial producer at Capitol records, Nick Venet; and Brian’s early collaborator, Gary Usher, all of whom are dead but have made various conflicting claims about certain incidents and credits. But Murphy has done a lot of his own leg work as well, interviewing a lot of peripheral characters (high school friends, early group members, studio personnel, etc.), digging back into the archives of city and high school newspapers, reproducing ads of concerts and performances, and digging up clips of early performances to study. The result is a substantial piece of work.
Initial chapters provide background on the group members: the Wilson brothers Brian (the eldest and the most musically inclined), Dennis (the unruly middle child who was the only one of the brothers actually to surf), and Carl (the youngest, who would go on to become an adept guitar player and singer in his own right). He also details cousin, lead singer, and early lyricist Mike Love, Al Jardine, a high school friend, and early member David Marks. But Brian is the rightful focus of this story. It was he who was most ambitious about creating music. The Wilsons’ father, Murry, was an autocratic, sometimes abusive parent who was an amateur musician and had written several songs that were subsequently recorded by people like Lawrence Welk (no small personage in those days). He tended to operate on the periphery of the industry but had fostered several relationships that would serve him well in the future when he became de facto manager of the Beach Boys. From a very early age, Brian was fascinated by music, picking out songs at the piano and easily figuring out melody and harmony lines. He was particularly enamored with the Four Freshman, and dissected their vocal arrangements. For one of the pivotal events of Brian’s life, in 1958 for his sixteenth birthday, his dad took him to a nightclub to hear the group. He met and talked with Bob Flanigan, who came away impressed by the young man’s dedication to their music. But that wasn’t Brian’s only musical interest. He also listened to rock and roll and black music stations, absorbing those sounds. He had an interest in folk music as well.
Among the interesting facts Murphy unearths was Brian’s first public performance during a school assembly in March 1960. He assembled a quartet of classmates to sing a song he liked on a Kingston Trio album, “Wreck of the John B.” Murphy even unearthed a photo of the performance, noting that one of the group members borrowed 13-year-old Carl Wilson’s Kay guitar for the performance. As most Beach Boy fans know, six years later he fashioned that song into one of the group’s most creative, complex, and popular singles, “Sloop John B.” This is priceless information and highlighting it demonstrates Murphy’s deep understanding of the creative development of the artist.
Murphy goes into detail about the various recording sessions and is particularly enlightening on the recording of their first release, the track “Surfin’,” recorded for the Candix label. The label was run by friends of Murry Wilson’s, Hite Morgan and his wife Dorinda. Murphy devotes several pages to the obscure recordings Brian did as a solo singer at the behest of Dorinda Morgan (to get decent recordings of her compositions), where Wilson learned about making records. While the Morgans are deceased, Murphy had contact with their son, Bruce, who had preserved many of the documents and recordings. Murphy pored over contracts trying to unweave the tangle of who exactly played and sang on what tracks. Al Jardine left after recording of the “Surfin’” single to go to college. It was a decision he would rue because the single took off, topping the charts in Southern California. Fifteen year old David Marks, a neighbor, replaced Jardine. Marks did very little recording with the band and whenever Jardine was available Brian would invite him to sessions to flesh out the harmonies and instrumentation. When they got to Capitol, Brian was able to use session musicians for his tracks. This was especially helpful since brother Dennis was a less than optimum drummer. Brian knew what he wanted and after recording their first album (Surfin’ Safari), Capitol in-house rock producer Nick Venet, eventually relinquished the reins of production over to him. Venet still retained credit on the cover.
There was much head-butting between then-manager Murry Wilson and the Capitol brass, causing various problems, which is satisfactorily detailed from multiple perspectives by Murphy. Murphy does not shy away from delineating the negative impact of Murry – especially vis-a-vis the band and its dealings with band outsiders – but he doesn’t dwell on these negatives as so many other books do. He also mentions the positive impact Murry had in certain instances.
There’s a lot to recommend this book. Murphy’s writing style is engaging and entertaining, not an easy thing to do when delving into the minutiae of music. The best book on the Beach Boys’ music is still ARSC Award-winning Inside the Music of Brian Wilson by Philip Lambert, but Becoming The Beach Boys, while maintaining a different focus, is a close second. And that, in a nutshell, is what a veterinarian can do to add substantially to Beach Boys literature. Reviewed by Robert Iannapollo
One of the legendary stories of Brian Wilson’s early songwriting career is how he met occasionally with disc jockey Roger Christian after Christian’s shift on KFWB ended at midnight. Huddled over ice cream sundaes, they talked about music, girls, cars, and songwriting. The twenty-eight-year-old Christian, a hot rod enthusiast later known as the “Poet of the Strip,” kept a notebook of original poems about cars he had been writing since high school. The Beach Boys recorded at least ten songs written by Brian and Christian, including “Shut Down,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Ballad of Ole’ Betsy,” “Car Crazy Cutie, “Cherry, Cherry Coupe,” “Spirit of America,” “No Go Showboat,” “I Do,” “In the Parking Lot,” and “Don’t Worry Baby.” Brian found a wealth of inspiration in Christian’s notebook. Together, they would solidify the Beach Boys’ reputation as America’s premier hot rod vocal group.
It has never been entirely clear when Brian first met Christian, when they began meeting over ice cream sundaes, and, to some extent, where these late night songwriting sessions took place. So, let’s examine this songwriting relationship a little more closely.
Roger Christian grew up in Buffalo, New York, a blue collar steel mill town. In 1948, at age fourteen, he hitchhiked to California in search of his perfect car—a 1932 Ford Coupe, called a Deuce Coupe after the “2” in 1932. He worked cleaning dishes in a Chinese restaurant in Long Beach and saved his money for his dream car. An ad in the LA Times caught his eye and he hitched a ride with a passing trucker sixty-five miles north to the old Southern Pacific Railway town of Lancaster, California. He paid $375 cash for a beautiful Deuce Coupe. Incredibly, without a license or insurance, the fourteen-year-old Christian drove his cherry coupe back to Buffalo. A few years later, he got his start in radio on WSAY in Syracuse and then moved to WWOL in Buffalo. But the upstate New York winters were harsh and the call of California too strong.
In summer 1960, Christian moved to LA and landed the noon to 3:00 p.m. spot on KRLA. In late March 1961, he left KRLA and went to KDEO in San Diego. On July 11, contract negotiations broke down between AFTRA and KFWB over the union’s demands for higher wages for announcers and newscasters, and AFTRA called for a walkout against the station, the first strike in LA by the twenty-year-old union. Some KFWB disc jockeys walked out in solidarity with the announcers while others, including program director Chuck Blore, remained on-air and were fined $5,000 before resigning from the union. Meanwhile, KFWB recruited jocks from other stations and enlisted management to man the microphones. Record librarian Bill Angel covered Sunday morning 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. from August 12 through October 6, and Blore, using the name Charlie Brown, did a noon to 3:00 p.m. shift for one week in mid-August.
On October 6, 1961, Christian began working for KFWB from midnight to 6:00 a.m. The station was a twenty-minute drive east from his new 1,500 square foot, three-bedroom home at 22470 Cass Avenue in Woodland Hills. The strike ended November 12 and Crowell-Collier Broadcasting Company, owners of KFWB, agreed to a pay announcers and newscasters an increase of $32.50 a week.
Murry Wilson and Gary Usher, Brian’s first songwriting partner outside of cousin Mike Love, each recounted stories of introducing Brian to Christian.
Here’s Usher’s version.
Gary Usher first met Roger Christian in March 1961 when Usher performed his then current single “Driven Insane” at the National Orange Show in San Bernardino at a show hosted by Christian, then a disc jockey on KRLA. Also on the bill were Ginger, Usher’s sixteen-year-old label-mate on Titan Records, and Carol Connors (real name Annette Kleinbard), whose haunting vocal propelled “To Know Him Is to Love Him” by the Teddy Bears to #1 in fall 1958.
“After the show, Roger and I struck up a friendship that centered around his customized 1955 Corvette,” Usher recalled. “I drove to Hollywood and met Roger after he got off the air at midnight. There was a coffee shop below KFWB where we sat and talked about cars until dawn.”
Usher did not, however, keep in touch with Christian. So it was a bit risky when Usher took Brian to KFWB one night to introduce him to an old friend. “When he came up that night he looked different,” recalled Christian. “Gary said, ‘Do you remember me, Gary Usher?’ and I replied, ‘Gary who?’ Brian laughed and then I said, ‘Oh yeah, now I remember. It hurt Gary I didn’t recognize him because [Usher] had told Brian he knew me.”
Here’s Murry’s version.
Murry Wilson recalled listening to Christian play “409” on the air one night and explaining, for the benefit of his automotively challenged listeners, terms like dual quad and posi-traction. Murry, always looking for ways to promote the band, called Christian, complimented him on his automotive knowledge, and asked if he ever wrote any songs.
Brian Wilson and Roger Christian
Brian met Christian July 3, 1962, when the Beach Boys played a dance from 8:30 p.m. to midnight in the cafeteria of Dykstra Hall, a women’s dormitory on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), hosted by Christian. The dance was one of a series of summer dances sponsored by the Dykstra Hall Residents Association. But this may not have been the first time Brian met Christian. Usher’s and/or Murry’s introduction of Brian to Christian may have occurred sometime between the June 4 release of “Surfin’ Safari” (b/w “409,” Capitol 4777), the Beach Boys debut single on Capitol Records, and the July 3 dance at UCLA.
“I got together with Brian and we started writing,” Christian recalled. “I came up with a story lyric and a rough idea for a melody, which Brian would promptly dismiss! Brian’s melodies were so unique, original, imaginative, and melodic that I would just write a lyric and he would put a melody to it. Sometimes, he would improve on a lyric, which is hard for a lyricist. But Brian was phrasing them so they’d sing better.”
“Shut Down,” Brian’s first released collaboration with Christian, was recorded January 3, 1963, at Western Recorders and was the B side to “Surfin’ U.S.A.” March 4, 1963.
“Shut Down” began life as a thirty-two line composition called “Last Drag” Christian wrote in high school about a race between a Chevy Impala and an Oldsmobile 88 that ends at a treacherous patch of road called Dead Man’s Curve. The song referred to the cars as “shorts,” slang for a hot ride or cool set of wheels, and the relatively short wheel base of the cars. For those in the know, the race was illegal because it happened on the strip where the road was wide.
The opening lines of the poem inspired the melody and, with judicious editing and a rewrite to fit song structure, Brian and Christian captured the drama and danger of a street race in a two-minute song. The cars changed to a Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray and a 413 Super Stock Dodge Dart (try rhyming Impala or Oldsmobile), shortened to Sting Ray and 413. The song begins with a wall of double-tracked vocals throwing down the gauntlet—“Tach it up, tach it up, buddy gonna shut you down.” The record takes off fast, mimicking a drag race as the cars peel down the road and the listener is pulled along full throttle. The car jargon, most of it unfamiliar to the non-car enthusiast, added mystery and doom as we’re propelled forward at break-neck speed dreading some horrible wreck. In fact, according to BMI, its alternate title was “Attention Accident.”
Mike’s nasal tenor, double-tracked and drenched in treble, is young and vibrant, perfectly suited for the lead vocal. But Mike had trouble double-tracking his vocals and part of the third verse is muddy and difficult to understand. He also played a simple two-note sax solo over a guitar lead from Carl, both complementing the sheer exuberance of the track. “I’d blow a tonic to complement what Carl was doing or whoever was singing lead,” Mike recalled. “I wasn’t exactly Coltrane. I mean, less is more!” The AFM contracts for Surfin’ U.S.A., on which “Shut Down” appeared, have the handwritten notation “bill for sax.”
So, when did Brian and Christian begin getting together to write songs? Well, “Shut Down” had to be written sometime between July and December 1962, and likely closer to the end of the year. Although it was their first recorded collaboration, it may not have been their first written collaboration. So, during this six-month period, were Brian and Christian meeting after Christian signed off from KFWB at midnight? No. And here’s why.
KFWB’s weekly survey charts printed the names of their disc jockeys and their on-air shifts. When Brian and Christian met, in either June or July 1962, Christian was working midnight to 6:00 a.m. on KFWB. Christian did not move to the 9:00 p.m. to midnight shift until about March 2, 1963. Hence, Brian meeting Christian after Christian got off at midnight could not have happened before March 1963. Of course, it is entirely possible that between July 1962 and February 1963 Brian and Christian met before Christian began his midnight to 6:00 a.m. shift.
Christian later believed “Shut Down” shortened his writing partnership with Brian because he had released “Last Drag” in April 1963 as a dramatic reading for a label co-owned by Tony Butala of the Lettermen. “When ‘Shut Down’ hit the charts, I heard from Tony. He was going to sue the Beach Boys because they stole his song. Murry Wilson was a little concerned that if Brian wrote with me there would be trouble. Brian and I wrote sixteen songs in the course of two years. Then the threat of this lawsuit popped up and we never really wrote together after that.”
As Brian and Christian both recalled meeting around midnight, it seems likely most of their collaborations were written after March 3, 1963.
So, where did Brian and Roger devour their ice cream sundae concoctions?
In 1974, Brian told Jim Pewter on KRTH, “He [Roger Christian] was like a really kind of a guiding light for me. He’d get off at midnight. He did a night show from nine to twelve. We’d go to Aldo’s and we’d get a hot fudge sundae. We’d sit there for hours talking, writing lyrics. He and I must have written fifteen songs.”
In 1981, Christian recalled, “I did a nine to midnight radio program on KFWB. Brian would come up to the station at midnight and we’d go down to Aldo’s Restaurant and have hot fudge sundaes and write songs. The first song we wrote was ‘Shut Down,’ which was about a drag race.”
Aldo’s Restaurant was at 6413 Hollywood Boulevard, a few doors east of the street entrance to KFWB at 6419 Hollywood Boulevard. Singers, songwriters, producers, A&R men, and hangers-on looking to hustle a deal, often met at Aldo’s, pouring over the trades and swapping the latest industry gossip. Aldos suffered extensive damage from a fire on Thursday, September 30, 1965, as reported on the front cover of KFWB/98 Hitliner October 6.
Aldo’s was located in one of the storefronts beneath KFWB on Hollywood Boulevard prior to a fire in 1965.
Another coffee shop, Coffee Dan’s, was at 6415 Hollywood Boulevard and CANDIX Enterprises, Inc., was a little further down the block at 6425 Hollywood Boulevard.
If Brian and Roger really wanted a special ice cream treat, they could have walked a few blocks west, past Grauman’s Chinese Theater, to C.C. Brown’s at 7007 Hollywood Boulevard. In 1906, confectioner Clarence Clifton Brown introduced the hot fudge sundae in his store on South Flower Street in downtown Los Angeles. At C.C. Brown’s, amidst the aroma of farm fresh eggs, ripe bananas, sugar cane, Dutch cocoa, and heavy cream, ice cream aficionados slid into a black walnut booth with pink leather seats and enjoyed a Buster Brown, the house specialty made with a fresh sliced banana topped with a scoop of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, roasted chopped almonds, and whipped cream, served in a metal goblet that kept the ice cream cold. Thick hot fudge, sweet and smooth, was served on the side in a ceramic pitcher. Waiters dressed all in white scurried around the parlor beneath wrought iron Victorian lights suspended from the vaulted ceiling.
Becoming the Beach Boys, 1961-1963 By James B. Murphy
McFarland Publishing, 436p.
Published June 8, 2015
REVIEW: Author James B. Murphy has done a brave, and difficult thing in writing what, is essentially a densely-packed microcosmic look at the formative forces that created “The Beach Boys”. Echoing Timothy White’s similarly dense, but wider-ranging The Nearest Faraway Place, which traced The Beach Boys within the scope of California history and mythos, Becoming The Beach Boys 1961-1963 takes a much narrower view, examining social, economic, cultural and familial tidal forces which helped shape the band’s work ethic, musical approach, and ambition. What’s truly impressive about this book is how much detail Dr. Murphy has included – everything from interviews and newly-discovered documents trace how an essentially untrained group of musicians, raw and undeveloped, wrote, played and sang their way from a local hit single on an independent label, into a nationally-recognized phenomenon, all within the space of just a few months. He delves into recording label practices of the time, which allowed for young artists to be discovered, developed, and nurtured past what might only have been a flash-in-the-pan “one-hit wonder”. But for all the swirling detail that’s packed into this four-hundred-plus book, the author impressively never loses sight of the human struggle at its core; all of the fears, hopes, and insecurities of the band are laid bare – along with their amazement of how everything broke their way. This is an important book for Beach Boys fans; it chronicles the band’s quintessential reality of the American Dream, which in turn became part of the American story. Personally, I would be very interested in seeing a sequel or two which looks at later milestones in the band’s career. Absolutely essential.