In a business that is constantly changing, few bands can boast that they have had a successful career for more than fifty years. Maintaining a strong fan base and generating new fans throughout the entire course of time, The Beach Boys should absolutely boast of their successes every chance they get. Inducted into the Rock & Roll Music Hall of Fame in 1988 and being awarded the NARAS’ Lifetime Achievement Award Grammy in 2001, their achievements have not slowed them down from doing what they love most, playing music.
First making waves in 1961 with their hit song “Surfin'” it didn’t take long for these California teenagers to get signed and record their first album featuring hits such as “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfer Girl” as well as the B side single of “Surfin’ Safari” – “409”, which incidentally was re-released as the A side later on. To date, the original record showing “409” as the A side has never been found. To all collectors out there, if you have it, don’t let go of it. They quickly followed this album up with “Surfin’ U.S.A.” which became their first Top Ten album going to number three on the charts. With a total of 29 albums, these bandmates have had successful careers both together, and as solo artists, riding the waves with its ups and downs throughout that time period.
NYSMusic.com had an opportunity to talk with frontman, Mike Love, about his upcoming show at the Turning Stone Casino Showroom April 21, 2015, his career, personal relationships, and what it’s been like to live life as a Beach Boy.
Kathy Stockbridge (KS): Thank you so much for speaking to our readers here at NYSMusic.com. We’re really excited to have you here in the Central NY area this week at the Turning Stone Casino. I have been a personal fan for years. I won’t say how many though as that may give away this girls age. You have had an iconic career. Fifty plus years in one of the most legendary bands ever is quite an accomplishment, and very hard to achieve in the music industry today. So congratulations for that. It’s a career you began this many moons ago with your cousins? The Wilsons?
Mike Love (ML): Yes, they are first cousins. Yes, my mom and their dad are brother and sister. My cousin Brian and I are just about a year apart. We grew up together and we actually had a lot of the same experiences that we actually put into songs when we first started to do this. Experiences relevant to southern California.
KS: I can just picture you folks harmonizing together around a piano on holidays? Is that how it came about?
ML: That’s exactly how it was. My mom was, Emily “Glee” Wilson, Murray Wilson’s sister, the father to Brian, Dennis, and Carl. Every birthday, every Thanksgiving, every Christmas, was a really big deal and we would do Christmas carols and whatnot together. Brian and I would get together and go every Wednesday night for Youth Night at the Angeles Mesa Presbyterian Church to sing songs there, and then on the way back to my house from there we would sing Everly Brothers songs and the doo-wop songs back in the late ’50s. So that’s how we got our start through family connections, through family Christmas’, birthday parties, and holidays. My mom was a big music enthusiast. She had recitals of all kinds, she sang in the opera, such as Madam Butterfly and such so we got that influence. We grew up with a grand piano, an organ, and a harp in our living room. That was such an omnipresent aspect of our young lives was music.
KS: That is really cool, and a cool way to grow up having music surround you. Your careers took off in a time that was in such turmoil and civil unrest. However most of your music reflected sunny southern California. Explain to me how your writing stayed so positive in a time of war and civil unrest.
ML: It was a conscious decision that we made, at least on my part. Although there were lots of issues going on during that time. We were all post WWII babies, and there was still attention to the Cold War and we were taught to drop under our desks because the Russians were going to bomb us with A-Bombs. So that type of thing was definitely going on around us but what I chose to do is accent on the positive. And so we sang of the things that were positive in our life and our life style growing up in southern California. Not to far away was the beach so there was surfing, surfer girls, high school experiences. In 1962 we wrote a song “Be True To Your School” and that was all about our high school spirit and the spirit of Friday night football, the cheerleaders, and all that. And how do you get to these places whether it’s school or beach? In southern California things are pretty spread out so you needed a car. We all had our favorite cars, that we ended up acquiring once we started to make some money. So it was cars, and beach life, and school life and of course we did a song in 1965 called Barbara Ann. ‘Went to a dance, lookin’ for romance’ . That became a big hit for us. However it was done original by an east coast group called, The Regents. It became a huge hit for The Beach Boys. We do it every night on our shows. It brings back a lot of memories for our original fans of course, but its amazing how some of these songs resonate with children. I have a 19-year-old daughter that when she was a little toddler would go up to our cd player singing “Ba Ba Ba, Ba, Ba, Bar Ann “. She wanted to hear “Barbara Ann”. She would play that twenty times in a row. So it’s kinda incredible how multiple generations are connecting to The Beach Boys and our sound, (which is primarily harmony), and the subject matter, which we said. Then as we get a little older, we get a little more introspective, then our sounds change like when the “Good Vibrations” came out in 1966 and it went to number one. It was our biggest selling single until Kokomo came along in 1988. So we had a wide range there of feelings and moods and subject matters to work with over those years.
KS: I read that after the JFK assassination you and Brian sat down to write “Warmth of The Sun”. Talk to me about where you were mentally that day as you were writing that song. How did it help you and a whole generation get through some of those difficult times going on around you?
ML: Well actually, the way it happened was, I went to Brian house. He had just recently moved out of his household where he had grown up with his brothers and his mom and dad, The group had just moved out of the home in Hawthorne, CA and had rented a house. I went over to visit him and we started writing this song. It was a very melancholy song, with beautiful harmony, very pretty melody, and I wrote the words to it from the perspective of (it was so melancholy) the loss of a love you’d once had. That the other person didn’t feel the same way any more..and that happens to a lot of us growing up over the years. We went to sleep after writing this beautiful song and we were awakened in the morning with the news that President Kennedy had been taken to the hospital in Dallas.
KS: So it preceded the events of the assassination then? Wow!
ML: It was very eerie knowing that all these feelings while writing this song and I don’t know if we were in tune with an ominous mood to come. We must have finished the song around two or three in the morning and slept until hearing the news that President Kennedy had been taken to the hospital in Dallas the next morning. So that was an enormous shock and we didn’t change the lyrics or anything like that. It’s still about the loss of a love. Although you still have the moment of having felt that way at one time. It was recorded a couple of weeks later actually in the studio. But when we recorded it obviously it was charged with a lot of emotions. When we do that song it takes me back to that time period and still to this day carries a lot of emotion. The song itself is very beautiful and haunting and the harmonies are incredible.
KS: Now speaking of things you recorded around that time, one of them was what has been deemed your “Best Unreleased Album” of all time which was “Smile”. Then the following year you re-worked that album and released “Smiley Smile”. Explain to the readers the story surrounding these two albums.
ML: Well the first one had some great tracks on it and music on it. Then Brian had an experience with LSD, in which he went from being very dynamic and resourceful in the studio to becoming a recluse. When people ask me what is my one biggest regret of The Beach Boys career, it was the influence that drugs had on some of the members. In particular, Brian. So he felt that he couldn’t go forward any more with that particular album, the “Smile” album, so he shelved it. So then we worked on something a lot more lighter, a lot more whimsical and lighter and called it “Smiley Smile”.
KS: You mention that your experiences with drugs or the choice of not using drugs. You actually chose the latter and chose to learn meditation. Talk to me about that. We see the choice today even of doing meditation and/or yoga to eliminate the stresses in life. In the ’60s you had to have been experiencing just as much stress that we do today. And do you still continue today with your meditation?
ML: Yes I do. It’s a choice. You can do things to relax or achieve a high. There’s ways of doing it chemically with drugs or people choose to drink alcohol. The problem is that many of the things people do to escape or just feel better or feel relaxed they have a not so great side effect. So experiencing that, and looking and seeing that happening around me firsthand, it made me appreciate the fact with mediation I could do something that had no negative side effects, just all beneficial, and achieved that deep relaxation is one of the most wonderful things about it to be completely relaxed without any influence of any drug or alcohol or anything like that. And it has no side effects other than you feel good and gives you more energy and creativity and clarity. So that was so obviously to me so much more beneficial than the other paths to relaxation or escape. That it lead me to not only learn TM (Transcendental Meditation) in the summer of 1967, but I was invited by Maharishi to go to India in early 1968. In fact George Harrison and I both had our birthdays (we’re both Pisces) and we both had our birthdays in the spring of 1968 at Marishi’s place in India. Rishikesh, India is where the Ganges comes out of the foot of the mountains…it’s a beautiful spot. And that was a remarkable journey. It was most fascinating to me because we meditated for long hours and then listened to Maharishi lecture virtually every night and sometimes a couple of times a day too. So it was a fascinating period of my life and one that forever gave me the appreciation of the value of meditation.
KS: It sounds surreal. It had to help as you were all on the road and in close confines and you have such stressors from your record label and fans, and having to constantly churn out musical hits one right after another, that I’m sure that this was as assistance to you, especially for your creative side. Did you find it to help stimulate you creatively?
ML: Yes. What it helped me to do is to not get into the pitfalls of drugs and alcohol that was presented to so many people. Not only in the group, but in the world. So when there was a clear decision to be made, are you going to do something life supporting or life damaging. So in the case of “Smile” I was never opposed to the music or the experimental nature of it, or anything like that. In fact there are some brilliant tracks on that, and we all contributed our voices. But what I was very concerned about was the changes I saw occurring in my cousin Brian’s behavior. He became virtually a recluse for a period of time.
KS: That had to be hard to watch occurring.
ML: It was terrible. Because you see the same thing happen to my cousin, Dennis, who passed away in 1983. He had a long struggle with alcohol and just about every drug you could possibly imagine. And to see a guy go from very handsome and vital and viral and active and dynamic on stage to just acting like and looking dissipated and to the point where I believe was the cause of …the reason they say was drowning, but he was under the influence at the time so.
KS: That’s just so sad. And you see that still today with people choosing to use those methods for relaxing and escape. Now changing stream here, I’m kinda curious about this…in 1980 you played a show at the Washington Memorial, but then three years later in 1983 you were not allowed to. What happened? Then in 1984 Nancy Reagan invited you back and you were able to again. What was that all about?
ML: That’s right. That was a fascinating time period when James Watt, who was Secretary of Interior, under the Reagans , a cabinet member, he was head of Secretary of Interior and the Parks Department is a division under that (under the Secretary of Interior) and so he made a decision (James Watt) that rock music wasn’t appropriate for July Fourth. He wanted military bands and I actually think he actually had Wayne Newton come out that day…
KS: Not to say Wayne Newton isn’t American, but come on, rock and roll and The Beach Boys can’t get much more American to me.
ML: As you had pointed out, we had done July Fourth concerts prior to that and they went over great, with hundred of thousands of people came out, and so when we were able to come back it was incredible. In fact one year we played Philadelphia in the afternoon and Washington DC in the evening. And we played to over a million and a half people on one day. It’s a Guinness Book of Records kind of thing.
KS: That’s so karmic, to be banned and then the following year have more than a million people come to see you.
ML: Nancy Reagan could not have been nicer. And Ronald Reagan just made fun of the whole thing, and treated it all as a funny joke. So Nancy was very very sweet and always has been. I got an award early last year called “The Ella Award”, named after Ella Fitzgerald. A lot of people have gotten that award, i.e. Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, a lot of great singers and such. I was given the honor to receive that award, and Nancy Reagan made a little recording to be played that evening to congratulate me. So even many years later she’s still be so very kind and sweet towards me and towards the group.
KS: How sweet…she is amazing! As we fast forward to your career in the 1980’s I have to tell ya that “Kokomo” is one of my all time favorite songs. As you mentioned before, you have collected new fans as the generations evolved and talk me a little about how you regenerated yourselves into a whole new generation?
ML: It wasn’t a conscious effort to go after a new generation of fans, it just so happens that The Beach Boys music appeals to all ages. It’s a pretty awesome thing that people will tell us, people we just meet at concerts and meet & greets, they’ll tell us that younger generations have their music, and that’s always so. When I was growing up we had Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis, and all the doo-wop groups. And our parents had the type of music that preceded that time such as the big bands, the Andrew Sisters, the Mills Brothers, and all those of that generation. So every successive generation their people who are coming out with music that appeals to them and are the most popular groups of the day. But the thing that is remarkable about The Beach Boys is grandparents like The Beach Boys as well as children and everybody in between. So that is a pretty phenomenal achievement. It’s not a conscious achievement, it’s just that our music with the melodies and the harmonies which is what distinguishes The Beach Boys from so many others, are just so compatible. And then the subject matter appeals to the older people from the standpoint from the nostalgic point of view, but for the youngsters they are experiencing some of the things that we sang about in the earlier records. In Kokomo goes “Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya, Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama”, well it could be the older guy saying let’s get in the RV and go to Florida or it could be the young child thinking that his mom is a pretty momma.
KS: Yes, it’s upbeat, it’s positive, that’s what makes it appeal to them.
ML: Yes, the chorus has an appeal to multiple generations right across the board which is very cool. And I pat myself on the back because I came up with that chorus.
KS: Well, I have to say well deserved because you did good. One of my favorites. You’ve had a lot of other stars cross over to do some remakes of your songs, Fat Boys did “Wipe Out”, Van Halen did “California Girls”. If you had an opportunity to go on the CMT show “Cross Roads”, who would you love to perform opposite with on there?
ML: Bruno Mars. I love his brand of entertainment because he reminds me a lot of James Brown.
KS: Love Bruno Mars, and I can see that.
ML: His total R&B thing, he does ballads just as well, and rock, and he has a great band. So I would love to collaborate with him.
KS: That would be a great one!
ML: There are plenty of great singers every generation, and sometimes music or the way it’s produced or the subject matter doesn’t appeal to everyone but we’ve been fortunate enough that our stuff has been given a bit of respect by successive generations for five decades now.
KS: You had the foresight to purchase the name or license the name “Beach Boys”. Were you always the business savvy one in the bunch?
ML: Well no, I didn’t purchase the name. What it was I was given the license to travel as The Beach Boys, and Bruce Johnson and I do that. Brian has pursued a solo career for many years, for the last 15 or more years, and he goes as Brian Wilson as I continued on with The Beach Boys as I have done since the beginning.
KS: Now you folks had the opportunity to come back together in 2011/12 to record a new album and celebrated a 50th Anniversary Tour for a set number of scheduled events. At the end of that you all once again disbanded and went on your own separate ways again. Do you foresee any other reunions in the near future? Do you want to dispel any rumors that may be floating out there about your not continuing on together?
ML: Well, there were a lot of things that were not done according to the agreements we had that left a not so great impression on me to the point where it suffices to say that the tour was great, from the standpoint of the original fans got to see us all together, those of us the remaining members, but there is no intention to do anything like that again at this point and time.
KS: Well you are a Grammy Award winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award, you are an inductee in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, what’s on the horizon for you? What would you love to accomplish still?
ML: Well, I’ve been writing a lot of music over the last several years and we’re looking for ways to let that music to see the light of the day. So that’s been something that we’ve been hoping to accomplish over the next several months. So, there’s plenty to do. We continue to tour, we did 142 shows last year.
KS: That’s a big tour schedule. Wow! Will I get to hear some of the new music at your show this week at the Turning Stone Showroom?
ML: The song “Pisces Brothers” which I wrote as a reminiscence of George Harrison and the time we spent in India for our birthdays in 1968, we do that in our shows. So that’s one of the newer things. And people seem to really like it.
KS: I can’t wait to hear it, especially since I have an understanding of the back story to accompanies it. I have to thank you so much again for taking the time to speak to me today. It was truly an honor.
As our interview concluded I could see why their music had touched so many during the 60’s and how it continued to span numerous generations. Throughout the 60’s when so many were writing and singing about how to make love not war, The Beach Boys continued to sing about the things that made our country great, the simple things in life during times of sadness and fear. It wasn’t because it didn’t effect them too, as it so clearly did. They just chose to take the positive approach in their writing. It suited them I believe. It suited their voices and harmonies. Mike Love had a positive attitude about life. I could hear it in his voice as he shared about his times in India. It made me want to look into this beautiful place he and George Harrison visited. I also heard the sadness in his voice when he cautiously spoke of the drug problems that faced his cousins. They are his family. They were childhood friends. But what rang out loud and clear though was the love he had for both his music and his fans throughout a career of 50+ years, and the excitement about his new music and sharing the one song especially about a time that truly was a life changing event for him. He very well could have gone a different path in life, however he didn’t. He chose to take the positive approach to making his life and career the best experiences possible. He continues to do this still today.
While researching different articles over the years about The Beach Boys, putting together questions I wanted to ask Mike (which I must add were so numerous I couldn’t possibly burden him in one interview to learn everything) I came across what seemed to be a thread of negativity. I found articles on problems he and his cousins had. I came across criticisms of his acceptance speech at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And I came across half written stories of speculation about the 50th reunion tour and why they didn’t remain together. As a journalist we want to have a sensational story full of juicy tidbits that the next reporter didn’t get. We want that scoop. And after speaking with Mike I believe I did just that. I got that juicy story no one else seemed to write about. I got to hear the feelings behind the voice. These young men were not only a band, they were a family in every sense of the word. The voice I heard didn’t depict any animosity or any ill will or any negativity at all. The voice I heard carefully chose his words wondering if they would be twisted into meaning something totally different that one day he would have to explain in another interview. The voice I spoke with wanted to share how The Beach Boys were a great band that made great music during a time of ill will and despair. They were family and friends that came together to sing in perfect harmony during a time we needed harmony the most. And they still today sing in harmony, whether on the same stages or not, they still share their love of music with those that love their music, and it was apparent..they hold each other in high regard. So there’s your scoop folks, for every story, there’s always another viewpoint to those words that are written. From my viewpoint, this is the story that needs to be written. A story of the music, the family, the love from Mike Love.
Join The Beach Boys, Mike Love and Bruce Johnson, together with their amazing band as they play The Turning Stone Showroom April 21, 2015. Tickets can be purchased at The Turning Stone Box Office or online at http://www.turningstone.com/entertainment/the-showroom.