By Bill Harriman
The never ending drama of the Beach Boys continues to this day. The Beach Boys are Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, their cousin Mike Love and their friend Al Jardine. If there’s a sixth Beach Boy it’s Bruce Johnston who came along a little bit later. Dennis died in 1983 and Carl passed on in 1997. Today the Beach Boys have splintered into three factions with Mike Love holding the rights to the “Beach Boys” name and touring with Bruce Johnston as The Beach Boys. Brian Wilson, who continues to enjoy a remarkable comeback, tours with his band. And Al Jardine tours with the Al Jardine Beach Band which features members of his own family along with Brian’s daughter’s Carnie and Wendy.
I had the honor of meeting Al Jardine in New York City last year when he was promoting his new children’s book called “Sloop John B A Pirates Tale.” Earlier this year I was stunned to see a picture of the surviving Beach Boys smiling together at a photo op celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the “Pet Sounds” album. Rumors of a reunion were rampant. We didn’t get a reunion for reasons that are explained in this interview. However, it was announced in early October that Al would play a series of shows with Brian Wilson’s band. For that reason alone I thought it might be a good time to catch up with Al Jardine. When I called him at his home in Big Sur on Tuesday morning October 12th he had no idea who I was or why I was calling. I hate when that happens! However, when I called back a couple hours later all was cool!
BH Am I catching you at a good time now?
AJ - “I just got back from the studio.”
BH Are you working on a new record?
AJ - “Today I had a crew in here cleaning up for me while I was gone. I went to Europe for my son’s wedding. Adam Jardine, one of my band members, decided to get married in Italy so I spent a couple of weeks globe trotting and I just got back. It was fun but arduous and I’m still on Italy right now so it’s probably nine o’clock at night in my head. (It was noon actually) But I feel a little more awake, I just had some coffee but what a day. What a year it’s been! Actually I’ve been working on a new record for quite some time. I’m trying to finish up my California Suite comprising of the California Saga trilogy and then expanding on that, you know those values from the central California lifestyle. We’re always thinking of our future recording projects.”
BH Tell me about the upcoming shows with Brian Wilson? How did that come about?
AJ - “The reason is we attempted to get Mike Love to join us in a reunion of the Beach Boys and he refused. He said there was too much litigation and so on and so forth, which of course he brought about himself. So he says it’s really not in his best interest to reunite with Brian and myself. So I suggested to Brian that we celebrate the fortieth anniversary of ‘Pet Sounds’ together and Melinda (Brian’s wife) agreed that it was appropriate and also it satisfied some of the rumors of a reunion. So I’m really excited about it. I love the idea of working with Brian again. I think it’s terrific and of course it’s important to remember the accomplishments of forty years ago which is hard to believe but it is also forty years ago October 10th that ‘Good Vibrations’ was released. And to me that was probably the pinnacle of the career right there and of course ‘Pet Sounds’ was released earlier in the year. Ironically ‘Good Vibrations’ was not included on ‘Pet Sounds’ but that’s an entirely different discussion, however we recorded all that material at the same time. So in my brain it is still part of the legacy of ‘Pet Sounds.’”
BH I think the rumors of a reunion started when pictures were taken of you, Brian, and Mike at the Capital Records building earlier this year. But then in September I read about a lawsuit being dismissed regarding the rights to the Beach Boys name and I thought ‘here we go again!’
AJ - “Well that’s because one of the members proceeds against the others in a unilateral way. It’s like Bush going after the axis of evil, that kind of thing. He seems to have this need to sue people and there’s probably a term for that but when you start making more money suing your partners then why should you work with them? It’s a sick mind that works that way. I’m not naming names of course but I think we can all figure out who it is.”
BH I know you were called Al Jardine Beach Boy and Friends but you know Alan, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a band being called The Al Jardine Beach Band. I think that’s a nice catchy name.
AJ - “Yeah well I was pursued to the ends of the earth and it cost millions of dollars to defend myself and they’re still not happy. I shouldn’t say ‘they.’ The Love camp is still unhappy with my success. And really what it boils down to is success and an individual’s right to have success, particularly after you’ve built a name for over thirty-seven years. That’s when I left the band, after about thirty-seven years. Can you believe that? Some people don’t even live that long but we were lucky enough to have this wonderful career but we can’t share it.”
BH But it does seem like you’re all successful. Mike and Bruce have done well. Brian’s career is happening again and you’re doing well.
AJ - “Yeah that’s great but we all have an investment in this thing called The Beach Boys. What you don’t understand is that tens of millions of dollars are being made by the reincarnation of the Beach Boys which of course, here’s where the money is. That’s where the success and that’s where the recognition is. If the parent group cannot help the individual there’s something supremely wrong with that and unfortunately it gets down to the corporate structure of America which in this case is how we are owned. Our name is owned by a corporation and corporate codes don’t always work in the favor of the individual, it works in favor of the corporation. Anyway, getting back to your point about having success, yeah I’m having success. I’m happy to have my wonderful band. But John Fogarty had the same problem. He couldn’t even use his own name for a while because the other members (of Credence Clearwater Revival) were hostile to him. So as long as there’s hostility there won’t be a reunion in this particular lifetime for the Beach Boys because one of the members is hostile to the others. And that creates this environment whereby success is measured in a different way. I like to be successful and I like to be happy. Particularly in the golden years when we should all be sharing the rewards. Brian is certainly getting wonderful accolades from songwriting but he and I can not participate in a reunion which is insane. So that in a roundabout way is saying we’re fine in our joy and happiness in working together at least in this way expressing the music that we helped create.”
BH Did you happen to read Peter Carlin’s new book called “Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson”?
AJ - “I haven’t read any of the books.”
BH I was going to ask you if you thought it was a fair assessment.
AJ - “Why would I read any of those books?”
BH You were portrayed well.
AJ - “Yeah but what would they know about me?”
BH You were quoted in it
AJ “What would they know about Brian?”
BH The book is about Brian
AJ - “I’m sure he didn’t participate in it. These are wonderful attempts to understand the workings of a band that is very complex and they will never understand it. Now if someone writes a meaningful autobiography that’s different.”
BH Is that something that you’re thinking of doing?
AJ - “No but people have asked me about it. You know I have thought about it and I’ve contemplated it from several different directions and it’s a fascinating story but none of these feeble attempts at writing biographies ever get to the truth. We would just have to find the right angle, if there’s an angle that should be pursued that hasn’t been tried before and be truthful but not hurtful. It should be something non blameful yet interesting to the reader. And just show the inner workings of a family really and from the outside looking in. Because as you know, I’m not related to anybody. It’s a little harder on me because think of one of your partners dying and the estate takes over you see? The estate of Carl Wilson or the estate of Dennis Wilson, they don’t know me from a hole in the wall. So you get a different set of partners to work with, let’s put it that way. And it does make it difficult to continue. Frankly I’m quite happy here in Big Sur. I don’t need the negativity or the unwarranted attacks on my personal character or my wonderful band that I get from time to time from particular entities that support the culprit point of view. So I’m just happy to be wanted in the way that I am in Brian’s camp. They’re open and warm about it and that’s the way to go. Forget about a Beach Boy reunion because it won’t happen as long as litigation is the way of making money. And that’s a sickness in the American corporate atmosphere I think.”
BH Let’s talk about something a little more pleasant like the children’s book you wrote last year called “Sloop John B - A Pirates Tale.” What was the thought process behind that and did writing a book help give you some insight into that industry?
AJ - “A gentleman approached me to write a children’s book on behalf of a publisher in New York who unfortunately recently passed away. The idea was to get artists like myself and movie stars to lend their name to a project and of course that will help sell books. And my angle was through folk music which I still love very much and of course the production of the song ‘Sloop John B.’ So that kind of tied in to the idea of doing a little travelogue you might say with a young character going on a trip on the Sloop John B with his grandfather. So it was like a little takeoff on a very familiar tale which coincided with the recent popularity of pirates vis-a-vis Johnny Depp and we thought it would really be kind of cool. So it all kind of worked out.”
BH When I saw you in New York last year you told me that another children’s book using the Beach Boy song ‘Vegetables’ would be a good idea.
AJ - “Oh yeah I remember. That would be something that maybe I’ll talk to Brian about. But I don’t know if there’s any market for this kind of thing unless it’s really well promoted. Again I wasn’t able to use the Beach Boys name. I wasn’t able to launch properly without the help from my parent group. It’s very difficult to get anything done I couldn’t even put ‘Beach Boys’ on the cover.”
BH You mean to say that you can’t call yourself a former Beach Boy?
AJ - “No and it’s so wrong. Well Mike Love simply had better lawyers. I’m sure Brian had nothing to do with that. He’s not a litigious type person. But without that kind of support it makes it far more difficult because I couldn’t get on the talk shows. And that’s where you really need to sell your book. But I had a wonderful response from many, many people and I got so many kind letters and just great reaction from everybody throughout the country. So the possibilities of doing another one, it’s always there, but it requires a team and unfortunately the guy passed away and he was really in a great position to help me and it would have been a great sequel. You know, who knows? ‘Vegetables’ would be cute, it’s such a darn cute little song and hell, we own the publishing on it, we have the rights to the music and we have the wherewithal certainly. It’s a good idea. I’ll mention it to him. We have three days rehearsals coming up in L.A. for the ‘Pet Sounds’ tour. I’ll make a note and maybe we can do it in the show or something.”
BH Tell me about the new Beach Boys CD called “From Here & Back.” I guess you can only buy it at a Hallmark store right? I liked your song “PT Cruiser.”
AJ - “Hallmark started their own distribution obviously for music as well as their greeting cards. And it’s another profit center for them. And I guess they had success with a couple of people. Oh yeah they had big success with Carly Simon and James Taylor because James Taylor did about two million units in their stores alone. So they were very excited of course and they thought the Beach Boys would be a great idea which, as it turned out, it worked out ok. We didn’t work together on it. It was something we each did in our own studios. And I’d have been much happier to have them on my song because frankly I think the production might have been a little better because I was very hurried. I didn’t have that much time to put it together. And when you’re working with a team, the team you’ve been working with for years, you just know how to do it. It just gets done automatically. My band did a good job, I think the boys sang well but I don’t like the digital thing.”
BH I hear that you’re planning a big tour next year.
AJ - “Damn right. I signed with an agency that’s putting a tour together of the performing arts centers. And the neat thing about these venues is that you can actually talk to the audience and share interesting stories with them and memories and it’s nice. People like to hear what’s going on.”
BH These venues are usually in smaller cities and towns too. It’s a good way to see America I suppose.
AJ - “Mike comes out to the Westbury (New York) music fair every year. We used to do that every year with the Beach Boys and I guess they still call themselves the Beach Boys (lol). I mean let’s face it, they’re not. I don’t mean to go there, I keep going there, I apologize. But apparently it still works. Those kind of small arenas are wonderful for people like us because you get a good core audience and the quality is great. The sound and lights are always good. And it’s just a lot of fun. And I hope Jake Hooker (Alan’s manager) and Entourage come up with about thirty or forty dates. That would be great.”
BH I read that another Beach Boys compilation called “The Warmth of the Sun” will be coming out this spring. How is this one different from some of the other greatest hits packages?
AJ “On the last one ‘Sounds of Summer’ we had three cuts from the Warner Brothers years, the more recent stuff. So we made a deal with Capitol that they can use the masters from all of the Warner Brothers years to beef up the existing masters that they’ve been using. I mean it’s been the same running order for last forty years. So now they have a fresh new catalog to draw from. And a lot of the seventies Beach Boys music hasn’t really been fully explored. They didn’t have access to it and now they do.”
BH Which Beach Boys albums do you think have been overlooked by the public? What are some of your favorites?
AJ - “Oh gosh, that’s a tough question because there are so many of them. I really love ‘Holland,’ and ‘Surf’s Up.’ ‘Pet Sounds’ was just a bear. That was a lot of hard work and I can’t say it was a pleasure making it. It was just one of those very difficult projects and it’s just a miracle that we got through it because we were really making three albums at the same time when we did that. Although it turned out wonderfully, I think if I had a favorite it would be ‘Holland.’”
BH These past few years I really liked the “Endless Harmony” soundtrack and the “Hawthorne, California” double disc. I always enjoy getting Beach Boy stuff that I haven’t heard before.
AJ - “Oh you’re going to hear a lot of stuff you haven’t heard. We’ve got so much stuff, just a ton of stuff. In fact I’m looking over ‘The Warmth of the Sun’ list now. I just got it in the mail, the running order. There are twenty-eight cuts on it and it’s a good mixture I think. We actually all got together and really hammered out the running order. We had a nice conference call on it and I think it’s going to be a really nice blend of sixties and seventies stuff. ‘Til I Die’ is on there along with ‘Sail on Sailor,’ ‘Don’t go near the Water,’ ‘California Saga,’ ‘California Dreamin’,’ ‘The Warmth of the Sun.’ ‘All This is That and my favorite ‘The Little Girl I Once Knew.’”
BH That’s the song Brian opened with when he first made his comeback.
AJ “Well I’ll be. That was Carl and my first duet together!”
BH Thanks for your time Al. I’ll see you at the Beacon Theater.
AJ - “Thank you too and thanks for your suggestion about ‘Vegetables.’”
BH Actually that was your idea!
On Tuesday evening November 21st I found myself on 74th and Broadway sitting in the 4th row of the Beacon Theater. Just after 8:00 pm the Brian Wilson band took the stage and opened up the show with “Surfer Girl.” Soon after that Brian introduced his special guest and Al Jardine walked out on stage, strapped on an electric guitar, and sang “Then I Kissed Her” sounding just like he did when he first sang the tune over forty years ago. It was a joyous night of music as Brian and the band played the “Pet Sounds” album in its entirety. Al of course sang lead on “Sloop John B” just as he had back in 1966. The pair seemed genuinely happy to be reunited. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could do this more often? God only knows how much all the Beach Boy fans would love it.