Why Did Mike Love Sack Brian Wilson From The Beach Boys?

I still, two years after the end of the Beach Boys’ reunion tour, get people coming to my blog looking for an answer to this question. I thought it probably worth laying out the facts for those people.

The simple answer: he didn’t. For the longer answer, read on.

At the end of the Beach Boys’ reunion tour in 2012, there were a lot of news reports claiming that Mike Love “fired” Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys, and that he owned the Beach Boys’ name. This is wholly untrue, but to see why, we have to look at a bit of history.

Mike Love does not own the Beach Boys’ name. The name is owned by Brother Records Incorporated (BRI), who are in turn owned equally by Love, Wilson, Alan Jardine (another former member of the Beach Boys) and the estate of the late Carl Wilson (another former member of the band). BRI in turn license MELECO, a company owned by Love, to put on shows as “the Beach Boys”. That license has various conditions attached — Love must pay a (hefty) fee to BRI, must use only male vocalists, must do shows that feature a lot of fun and sun songs, and so on — in order to make sure that Love’s band don’t damage the value of the Beach Boys brand name, so Love definitely doesn’t own the name.

That license is non-exclusive, but between 1999 and 2012 Love was the only person to have been granted a license. However, in 2012, a second license was issued by BRI, to a company called 50 Big Ones. This company had three owners — Love, Wilson, and an outside producer, Joe Thomas.

Thomas was an integral part of the reunion. He had control of a number of tapes of songs he’d co-written with Wilson which were needed for the reunion album, he had experience putting on live shows for TV specials (which was part of the package), and he’d worked with all the Beach Boys without too much of a problem in the past. But while he was someone who was (at least at the start) acceptable to both Love and Wilson, he was definitely “Brian’s man”, and this meant that Wilson had de facto control over the reunion, although both men had to compromise enormously.

(The other Beach Boys didn’t really get any say over the reunion. David Marks and Bruce Johnston aren’t corporate members, and Al Jardine, while a full corporate member, isn’t part of the family. More to the point, Love is the frontman and Wilson was the one who would make the reunion a big event that would get news coverage and record company interest).

We know that there were things Love didn’t like about the reunion tour — in particular, he complained about the large band (mostly Wilson’s musicians, although two crucial members were from Love’s band), disliked the album (into which he had comparatively little creative input — it was mostly Wilson and Thomas’ work), and didn’t like the experience of working with Brian’s “people”.

On the other hand, he did like the setlists (which were one area where he was in charge), working with Jeff Foskett (Wilson’s right-hand man, who he’s since hired for his own band), the intro music (which he’s kept for his own shows) and the video screens used during the show. He’s also kept some of the changes that were made to arrangements during that tour.

So Love didn’t think it was a wholly positive thing, but nor did he think it was a wholly negative thing. So why did the tour end?

The reason was only recently made public, in a Facebook comment by Love’s daughter, but it’s been obvious to those who have been paying attention since it happened.

The reunion tour was originally meant to last fifty shows only, almost all in North America. But a short while after the tour started, an agreement was made to extend the tour by twenty-something shows and visit Australia, Japan, and the UK.

And when that agreement was reached, an email was sent to Love, by someone in Brian Wilson’s organisation with the power to make statements like this, saying that “these will be absolutely the last shows for Wilson”. This was an open secret among Beach Boys fans a while ago, and was made public in that FB comment. I have spoken to people who’ve seen the email in question, and I know those people to be trustworthy.

Having been told a fixed end date, after which the reunion tour was over, Love booked shows after that date with his MELECO license, for the band he’d been touring with for years.

However, in the last week of the tour, long after contracts had been signed and tickets sold for Love’s band’s shows, it became clear that Brian Wilson and Al Jardine were both quite keen (at least at that moment) to continue with the reunion tour, and Wilson said in a statement “it feels a bit like being fired”. This, and similar statements from Jardine, along with a hell of a lot of jumping to conclusions from reporters, led to reports that Love had sacked Wilson, Jardine, and Marks.

Now, it’s entirely possible that Wilson was not informed of the ultimatum sent out by the person in his organisation. It’s also possible that he forgot it or changed his mind between then and the end of the tour. We can’t say for sure whether Brian Wilson brought the tour to an end and later regretted it, or whether someone in his organisation overstepped themselves and messed things up as a result. But what we can say is that Mike Love didn’t fire him.

It may well, of course, be Love’s choice that there hasn’t been any further reunion activity — I don’t think he was especially unhappy for the reunion to end — but he didn’t set the end date on it. Someone else did.

(An extra note for the hard of thinking — I am NOT saying that Mike Love didn’t do whatever other bad thing you’re about to accuse him of, nor am I calling Brian Wilson a liar, nor am I “taking Love’s side over Brian”. Brian Wilson is responsible for at least 85% of what I like about the Beach Boys, and a vastly more talented artist than Love. If I had to pick a side, I would pick Brian over Mike every time, but I simply don’t think there is any value whatsoever in choosing goodies and baddies and fighting for one side in interpersonal problems between people I don’t know.

Nor am I saying “Brian is being manipulated by people in his organisation”. He might be. Or he might be manipulating the situation. Or there could have been a genuine error. Or any of half a dozen other things.

If you don’t know why I add these caveats, just count yourself lucky — you’ve clearly never been involved in the less salubrious parts of Beach Boys fandom).

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15 Responses to Why Did Mike Love Sack Brian Wilson From The Beach Boys?

  1. Lawrence Sojka says:

    Jeez, Andrew – you run the risk of having your brain explode with all this. Still, it’s helpful for BB fans to understand what is going on with those personalities they’ve read/talked about for years…

    • Mark McGovern says:

      Yes, it is important to know the real facts of this lengthy, litigious battle between Love and Brian Wilson’s lawyers and corporate minions. BUT this does not take away from the fact that Love is a narcisstic jerk. Just read a review of one of HIS beach Boys and he can barely hit the melodies. (By the way, Love was the ONLY one who needed assistance of Auto Tune on both “That’s Why God Made The Radio” and the Reunion Tour). Mike: your net worth is 50 Million! Give it up. Do us a favor. (Bruce can barely get through “Disney Girls” – Bruce: give it up and rake in your $$$ from Manilow and “I Write the Songs !!). That is it from NH !!

      • Andrew Hickey says:

        I’ve no way of knowing if Love’s a nice person or not — I’ve spoken to him, briefly, on three occasions over eleven years, and that’s not any basis on which to make a judgment of someone’s character. I’m frankly not interested in his character, short of him actually killing someone, or using his platform as a way to promote racism, or something like that, what he’s like as a person is his own business.
        Having seen Mike perform thirteen times in the last fourteen years (and I’ve got tickets for two more shows next month), rather than just having read reviews, I can say that he’s lost a bit of projection in his top end, and become slightly huskier. But on the other hand, he’s *far* less nasal and pitchy than he used to be — in terms of actually singing the melody, he’s as good as he ever was, and he’s still one of the best bass singers in the business.
        None of the Beach Boys *needed* autotune in 2012 — by the time I saw them, in Rome, Milan, and London, they’d stopped using it, and they all sounded fine. Unfortunately, it was applied to *all* of their vocals on early dates of the tour, on That’s Why God Made The Radio, and on the live album.
        Given that Mike and Bruce both presumably have far more money than they could realistically spend in the rest of their lives, I assume they don’t give up because they actually enjoy performing. Their audiences certainly enjoy their shows, and they wouldn’t be doing you, or anyone else, a favour by giving up, because them continuing to tour doesn’t affect you in any way unless you choose to go to the shows.

  2. TAD says:

    The Beach Boys make the Middle East problems look uncomplicated, in comparison.

  3. Mark says:

    Interesting perspective. But it brings up more questions. If the reunion breakup really just happened because of one little email, why didn’t any of the BB’s or their staffs confirm this with each other? And why did Brian and the others repeatedly tell the media that they were confused about why it ended, when numerous people could have/should have told them? And if there was an email from Brian’s staff, why didn’t Mike talk about it either? People talk about Brian being isolated and handled by his “people,” but this makes it look like all the Beach Boys are equally clueless, which is unlikely. It still seems very suspicious. Maybe they are all gaming the PR system to get more publicity.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Well, it’s not just “one little email”, and it *was* from Brian’s staff — the point is that the tour was meant to be of a finite length, arrangements were made to extend it, and Brian’s staff specifically said “that’s it, no more after that — it gets extended this far and no further”.
      As for why Mike didn’t talk about it, I have to presume that he thought it would shut down discussion more quickly by saying “it was always meant to be a finite thing with a set end-date, and now it’s over”, which is technically true. I suspect he believed that putting out press releases blaming someone else would just then cause another round of “he said/he said”. Plus it’s not like anyone would believe him anyway — Mike has such a poor reputation that he’s never going to get the benefit of doubt from anyone.
      And with Brian telling the media he was confused about it (though not “repeatedly”, I think he only ever made one or maybe two statements about it), Brian says all sorts of things to journalists, often with little relation to the last thing he said or the next one.

      • Mark says:

        Thanks, you make some valid points, especially about Mike’s possibly wanting to avoid a “he said/he said” situation. I used the expression “one little email” because only one was mentioned in the original post, and because I would have thought that an official document would have been sent instead of an email, which are often informal ways of communicating, particularly in the corporate-like world of the BB’s. Maybe there was a document?
        You may be right about Brian only making a statement or two about this – it might seem like more just because most websites just re-post the same thing over & over. But I seem to recall Brian making the statement that year, and the next year in different interviews. I’ll have to look again.

        Why do you suppose the media got this story so wrong in the first place? Part of it IMO is that a “firing” has more drama than one guy leaving a tour. Another part is that I think the media are largely clueless about who the Beach Boys really are, so the guy that tours under the name is just assumed to be the boss.

  4. berniek1 says:

    Not the way I heard it from a very famous songwriter who left the US almost 2 years ago. Mike has openly stated how happy he is not to have Brian and Al on tour claiming things go smoother without him and that he made sure they were gone. Off topic, I went to one concert with my daughter at a small venue, an old movie theatre (they mostly are), Bruce was a sweetheart to approach us when we didn’t go into the meet & greet., chatted up a storm for quite some time, educated me about a lot and was a kind man who is very talented IMO. I personally have no respect for Mike especially after viewing the Beach Boys 1988 R&R Induction on you tube and how he tortured Brian on stage AND knocked many famous artists for not being there for him?

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Mike may well prefer touring without Brian and Al. That’s not the same as him sacking them, and he *couldn’t* “make sure they were gone” — they have two corporate votes to his one.

  5. SV1 says:

    What did the contract say?

  6. Paul Kelley says:

    All I can say is The 60s and 70s were the best years to grow up in. Cruising to the Beach Boys.

  7. Chris Baylis says:

    I find it weird that the band touring with most BB members isn’t known as the Beach Boys. Brian is currently touring as Brian Wilson and has Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin (2 BBs) with him. Mike has Bruce with him and calls the band the Beach Boys.I understand the discussion and information that preceded my writing and I haven’t seen Mike and Bruce BBs, though I did see the 50th Anniversary show. Of yesterdays show, Brian cannot carry many songs now and Matt Jardine does all the high parts and is ready to step up when Brian’s voice falters a bit. Al just seems to be out there having fun – he is the ultimate Beach Boy and epitomises what the band has been for me since I first heard them in 1963 – a good fun group of excellent musicians. Keep Rockin’ Brian and Al, and maybe if Mike gets anywhere near us in the UK I will get to see his BBs too. But for now Brian, Al and Blondie and the great band behind them ARE the Beach Boys (for me at least).

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Brian’s band *are* a truly exceptional group of musicians, and the two shows I’ve seen with them this year are among the best gigs I’ve seen them do (which is to say among the best gigs anyone has ever done…)
      However, Mike and Bruce’s band (and David Marks, who plays with them fairly often, including on their UK tour last year) are also extremely good and worth seeing — if you’ve seen the reunion lineup you’ve seen almost all of them, as the band is Mike, Bruce, (sometimes David), guitarists Jeffrey Foskett and Scott Totten and drummer John Cowsill, all of whom were part of that lineup, along with keyboardist Tim Bonhomme and bass player Brian Eichenberger (who was briefly in Brian’s band a couple of years ago before changing bands). Their sixty-song sets on the UK tour last year, including songs like Til I Die, Surf’s Up, All This Is That and more, were astonishingly good too.
      I prefer Brian’s band overall, but I always recommend that anyone who likes the Beach Boys see either band.

      • Chris Baylis says:

        Thanks Andrew. I somehow missed seeing Mike’s band tour the UK, unusual for me so I must have been unavailable for some reason, perhaps on vacation. I have seen the BBs many times, initially in the 60s and through to their 50th anniversary. I must admit to having sort of given up on buying the CDs and such nowadays -I still have 32 vinyl LPs a few singles and a dozen or so CDs plus most of Brian’s solo work. I wasn’t too keen on That’s Why God Made the Radio on the whole. There were a couple of nice tracks but I felt in the main it was very through the motions. Once again, thanks for your reply. All the very best.

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