The Ongoing Soap Opera That Is The Beach Boys

Tomorrow and Wednesday, I am going to London to see The Beach Boys. A week on Saturday, I am travelling down there again, this time to see the same number of Beach Boys, playing largely the same songs, but with none of the same people on stage. I will, of course, be reviewing the shows (I’ll probably do a joint review of both), but I thought it would be a good idea to explain what the current Beach Boys situation is for those who don’t know, so that when I write the reviews, I don’t have to explain.

The Beach Boys’ classic line-up — the one that made hits like California Girls and Good Vibrations, and most of their actual good albums, consisted of six people:

  • Brian Wilson — wrote all the music, produced the records, sang the high falsetto leads, played bass and keyboards. Can no longer cover the vocal parts he used to, though.
  • Mike Love —  wrote the lyrics of most of their bigger hits, sang the nasal leads and the bass parts. Frontman.
  • Carl Wilson — sweet-voiced singer who took a lot of leads in the late 60s and early 70s, including God Only Knows, Good Vibrations and Darlin’. Lead guitarist, and onstage bandleader once Brian decided not to tour any more and just make records. Died 1998.
  • Dennis Wilson — drummer and sex symbol. Died 1983.
  • Al Jardine — rhythm guitarist, occasional bass player, and backing vocalist. Also had the occasional lead vocal, most notably Help Me Rhonda, but also songs like Lady Lynda and Cottonfields that were hits in the UK but not the US.
  • Bruce Johnston — keyboardist and backing vocalist, who joined in 1965 when Brian stopped touring. Never sang many leads, and is not an equal corporate member of the band. Roughly the Ronnie Wood of the band.

There’s also another man, David Marks, who was briefly the band’s rhythm guitar player in 1962 and 63, and played on several of the early hits.

When Carl Wilson died in 1998, the Beach Boys split up. Mike Love licensed the band’s name for a touring band that featured himself, Johnston, and (briefly) Marks (who rejoined in 1998 but had left again, for health reasons, within about eighteen months or so). That band was, to start with, utterly terrible, but over the years several line-up changes have made it a very, very tight band, with the ability to perform all aspects of the Beach Boys’ music remarkably well, even though they’re a small band (largely because Scott Totten, the band’s excellent lead guitar player and musical director, is the kind of person who insists on singing the wrong words when harmonising on Sloop John B because Al made the same mistake on the record, but also because they have, in John Cowsill, the most impressive live drummer I’ve ever seen in my life).

Brian Wilson, meanwhile, started a solo career. This involved him touring with a much larger band, based around younger (though not that young now — he’s been touring solo for sixteen years, so they’re all around fifty now) indie musicians. Wilson’s band has had various line-up changes, too, but the core of the band was always the members of the LA pop band Wondermints (all of them wonderful multi-instrumentalists and singers, especially Probyn Gregory, who usually plays about six or seven different instruments per show), plus keyboard player Scott Bennett, saxophonist Paul Mertens, and falsetto vocalist Jeff Foskett, who also acted as onstage MC and as Brian’s offstage minder and assistant.

Brian’s solo band started by touring sets of pretty much all obscure album tracks, with only a handful of hits, while Mike’s band started by touring abbreviated sets where they ran through the hits plus any hits by anyone else that the audience might recognise, but over the years Brian has done more and more greatest hits sets, while Mike has become more and more likely to perform fifty-song sets with plenty of obscurities.

Al and David Marks, meanwhile, were pretty much relegated to the D-list, often performing together with Dean from Jan & Dean on corporate gigs under the name The Surf City All-Stars.

But then 2012 happened.

2012 was the band’s fiftieth anniversary, and Wilson, Love, Jardine, Johnston, and Marks got together for a one-off tour and new album. The tour used all of Wilson’s band, plus Totten and Cowsill from Love’s, and essentially consisted of Love’s longer theatre sets, but performed by a much larger band — one that could actually play the French horn, or clarinet, or vibraphone parts on the real instruments, rather than covering them with synths. And Jardine was a revelation, singing as well as he had ever done in his life.

That tour ended as planned, and Love, Johnston, Cowsill, and Totten went back to touring with Love’s son Christian, keyboardist Tim Bonhomme, and bassist Randell Kirsch as “the Beach Boys”. However, Wilson, Jardine, and Marks all said that they wished the tour could have continued. Jardine and Marks (along with 70s Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin) both went into the studio to add parts to Wilson’s forthcoming solo album, and they all took part in a tour last year with Jeff Beck, who also recorded some parts for the new album, resulting in the bizarre situation where four (or three, because Chaplin wasn’t on all dates) Beach Boys were on stage billed as “Brian Wilson” while two Beach Boys were being billed as “the Beach Boys”. There was also some public acrimony, with Jardine saying that the reunion tour should never have ended, and that “we’re the heart of the Beach Boys anyway”, and referring to Love as “that other guy”, rather than by his name.

However, that tour came to an end, too, and Brian Wilson was booked in for some solo gigs this year, with no mention of Jardine or Marks.

Then this year, Mike Love was presented with an award, and asked his favourite singers to guest at the award ceremony. Joining the touring Beach Boys on stage were Bill Medley, Micky Dolenz… and Jardine, Marks, and Jeff Foskett. Jardine and Love started publicly saying very nice things about each other on their Facebook accounts.

And then in May, there were several shocking announcements:

Christian Love, Mike Love’s son, was quitting the touring Beach Boys.

Jeff Foskett, who had been Brian Wilson’s right-hand man for the last sixteen years, was replacing him.

Matt Jardine, Al Jardine’s son who’d sung falsetto with the Beach Boys in the 90s, was replacing Foskett in Wilson’s band.

And Jardine and Marks would be guesting with the touring Beach Boys at a show on July 5, and Love said he’d been discussing a songwriting collaboration with Jardine.

And that status lasted a whole six weeks.

The first public clue that that would not be happening was when Jardine played a rare solo set a short while ago and someone called out “where’s Mike?”, and Jardine replied “he’s busy pretending to be the Beach Boys”.

A few days later, Jardine announced on his Facebook that “Despite some reports to the contrary, I am not touring with Mike Love and the Beach Boys this summer. I will, however, be joining Brian Wilson on July 4th in Cork, Ireland and July 5th at the Hop Farm Music Festival in Kent, England.”

So now Jardine and Wilson will be appearing as “Brian Wilson” in the UK while at the same time Love, Johnston, and Marks, along with Wilson’s right-hand man, will be performing as The Beach Boys.

Of course, as Andrew Doe has said, there’s a week and a half til the fifth of July, so who knows what will change between now and then?

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3 Responses to The Ongoing Soap Opera That Is The Beach Boys

  1. John baily says:

    Great summary Andrew.I am looking forward to reading your review of Hampton Court.

  2. Tilt Araiza says:

    I know you’ve been away from the net, Andrew, so I don’t know if you’ve heard the latest. On Facebook, Drew Jardine said that Al had been invited to the Jones Beach show by Live Nation and there was a later complication between Jardine, Love and Live Nation that caused Al to pull out. Meanwhile, Ambha Love has said it was Brian’s people who told Mike in an email that Brian wouldn’t be doing any more Beach Boys shows after the reunion dates ended.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Yes, I saw that *just* before I left, and chatting about it with people in the know (not sure if I’m allowed to say who, but people we both know) my understanding is that Ambha’s comment is entirely truthful, and someone I trust has seen physical evidence to that effect.

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