“When we started, most people thought it would last maybe three or four hits, and frankly that’s what I thought,” says Beach Boys longtime singer-guitarist Al Jardine whose legendary group has actually recorded 36 Top 40 hits, the most of any American band.
“I guess we proved them wrong.”
Jardine was born September 23, 1942 in Lima, Ohio. It was after his family relocated to Hawthorne, California, that he met the Wilson brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis, and cousin Mike Love, while attending high school.
In 1961, the quintet formed what became The Beach Boys. Although Jardine was present on their first single, “Surfin’,” a minor local hit on a small label, he left to attend El Camino College. However, when Brian asked him to return in mid-’63, he became a full-fledged member again.
Following Carl Wilson’s death in 1998, Mike Love, the primary owner of the Beach Boys name, had Jardine removed from the band, but in 2012, Mike, Brian and Al, along with early members David Marks and Bruce Johnston, who joined in 1965, reunited for a 50th anniversary tour. They also recorded a new album, That’s Why God Made The Radio.
However, just one year later, it was Love who allegedly fired Brian, Al and David, and resumed touring under the Beach Boys name with Johnston and other musicians, something he’s done for the past seventeen years.
Brian, though, has regrouped with Al and former Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin (the lead voice on “Sail On Sailor”), and two of Al’s sons, Matt and Adam, who are all currently touring, promoting Brian’s new CD No Pier Pressure.
The group will be coming to Englewood, New Jersey’s Bergenpac Theatre on Saturday, November 21.
Of the upcoming show, Jardine proudly exclaims, “Everybody should come because you’ll be getting a chance to see the maestro at his best. We’ll be doing a lot of songs from the Pet Sounds era, plus some new ones from Brian’s album.”
…and, of course, Al’s Beach Boys classic, “Help Me, Rhonda.”
Elliot Stephen Cohen: Prior to joining The Beach Boys, you and Brian were involved in an unusual high school football game incident that resulted in a broken leg.
Al Jardine: It was all an unfortunate accident. Brian was supposed to pitch the ball to me, what they call a “pitchout.” He was interrupted by another player who interfered with his pitch. Everybody was waiting for me. They all knew where the ball was going because I kept saying, “Over here. Over here.” Then I got my leg broken from the impact of the tackle. Years later, I said, “Brian, you’re finally off the hook!” (Laughs.)
ESC: Brian’s a lot taller than you and must have weighed a lot more, even in those days.
AJ: No, back then he was a stringbean, real skinny.
ESC: In the early days, you were more into folk music than Rock and Roll.
AJ: Yes. I wanted the group to record “Sloop John B” (which they made into a huge hit, five years later – Ed.), but Hite Morgan who was recording us wanted the group to record some of his son’s songs, which we did but didn’t like.
ESC: So, this is when the idea for original songs about surfing came in.
AJ: Yes. Dennis came in one day all excited and said to Brian, “Surfing is really a big deal, and you should write a song about it.” Mike became involved and finished it. So that’s how “Surfin’” came about, but I always thought Dennis should have shared some of the writers’ credits.
ESC: After the group signed with Capitol Records and their first records like “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.” became big hits, did you regret leaving the band too soon?
AJ: Well, right after the initial success, Brian was having some very difficult emotional problems with his father and was very troubled. So he called and asked me to come back into the band. He was very, very insistent about it. So I said, “Of course. I’ll come back and help out,” because I had already gotten through the roughest part of my academic year. I came back and never left … Well, I guess I did leave (in ’98), thanks to Mr. Love. (Laughs.)
ESC: When did you first become aware of The Beatles?
AJ: The first time I heard “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” I thought, “Man, this is weird.” I didn’t understand it. It had a different construction of sorts to what I was used to hearing, and very little harmony singing. Of course, the record went to number one all over the world. The Beatles’ visual image was as powerful as their music, and they changed the world with that image, which was distinctly unique.
ESC: It’s so ironic that, coming from thousands of miles apart, The Beach Boys and Beatles both would end up on the same record label, both of your band names started with the same letters, and your musical leaders were bass players, born the same year.
AJ: …and theirs was a left-handed bass player. (Paul McCartney – Ed.)
ESC: Did Brian perceive The Beatles as a threat to the Beach Boys’ popularity, and do you think it really spurned his creativity and competitive nature to try to outdo them?
AJ: No, not really, in the beginning. We were still doing pretty good. We had a number one hit, “I Get Around,” right in the middle of the whole British Invasion. We weren’t doing too shabbily. In fact, we were doing great. Later on, though, it did become a friendly competition with The Beatles, which became pretty serious around the time of Rubber Soul and Pet Sounds.
ESC: What is the story behind the creation of “Help Me, Rhonda”?
AJ: I haven’t a clue (laughs). Brian came up with an idea for a song about unrequited love … this lonely guy who just wants a little love and attention to make him feel better. I thought it was pretty clever, a totally different kind of song. I was asked to sing it because it wasn’t in Mike’s range or vocal style.
ESC: There are actually two different recordings of the song, the first one on the The Beach Boys Today! album, and then the rerecorded hit single that everyone knows.
AJ: Yes. The first recording was a little lame. I just didn’t feel right. You know, sometimes in life you just want a second chance at something. We just got lucky. So, we redid it as a single and it came out much better … a better bassline and tempo. It was just right … just “right-on.”
ESC: When I last saw you perform it at last year’s Beatles tribute show at Town Hall, it seemed that you’re still performing it in its original key.
AJ: Yes, I’m very proud of that.
ESC: Pet Sounds is still ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as the second greatest album of all time and, at the time of its release in 1966, The Beach Boys were at the top of their game, both commercially and critically. Do you think, in retrospect, that not releasing the projected followup album Smile, some six month later, irrevocably hurt the band? (Smile remained unreleased for 44 years – Ed.)
AJ: Well, it’s been pretty well documented what was going on with us at the time. Brian was just exhausted. Sometimes you just get to the point where you can’t finish something. Everything just collapsed on us, really. We were very lucky to finish (the single) “Good Vibrations,” but we had enough strength and determination to get that one in the bag. We just couldn’t do it with Smile.
ESC: If the Smile album had been released on time, you would have beaten the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper by some six months.
AJ: You know, everything in life is about timing. Our record company should have waited to include “Good Vibrations” on Pet Sounds, but they were always too anxious to keep moving forward by having us put out three albums every year. It’s crushingly hard to keep doing that. For the Smile sessions, we recorded two albums worth of material, and some of it came out on the Smiley Smile album.
ESC: At what point did you start meditating?
AJ: Well, originally it was Brian’s idea. Mike went to India with the Beatles and Donovan to study meditation with The Maharishi. We embraced it because the Beatles were doing it. They introduced us to the Maharishi.
ESC: It’s been fairly well documented that Carl and Dennis were very heavily into drugs. Do you think meditation helped you avoid falling into the same destructive lifestyle?
AJ: Well, Dennis was just a shipwreck waiting to happen. I was never into that lifestyle in the first place. Learning meditation gave Mike and I something to do besides, you know, … smoking dope … which we never did, anyway. The Beatles, for some reason, kept on smokin’ and dopin’, even though they were meditating. John dropped out (of the meditating) right away, and probably Ringo too, but I know Paul and George kept meditating. Carl, by the way, did meditate, but couldn’t beat the cancer.
ESC: Let’s talk about some of your wonderful compositions like “Lady Lynda,” which was based on a Bach melody. When it was retitled “Lady Liberty,” to celebrate the Statue of Liberty centennial, it became a huge hit in England, of all places.
AJ: I think it’s almost Brian’s favorite song. Interesting. He said it got him though a very difficult time with Dr. Landy (Wilson’s therapist in the ’70s and ’80s – Ed.). He was tortured at times, you know. He said my song kind-of gave him an anchor, a little anchor moment that he could cling to. That was very gratifying to hear.
ESC: Have you seen ‘Love and Mercy’? (The recent Brian Wilson biopic-Ed.)
AJ: I loved it. Loved it! I thought it was just so “right-on.” The Landy character, oh my God, (actor Paul) Giamatti was so strikingly good. We were invited to the filming of one of the last dramatic scenes, and the cast met us at the studio. We came into the room, and there was Giamatti looking at us with that upward glance of his, with the whites of his eyes showing. It just stopped me cold. I thought it was Gene.
ESC: What do remember about his relationship with Brian?
AJ: He was very dictatorial, a very demented person. He had just an instinct to control and, I might add, he put his name on songs written by Brian. He just got a little too close, maybe, a lot like Brian’s dad.
ESC: What was your inspiration for “California Saga”?
AJ: That’s just a little peon to California and the Central Coast. It’s a wonderful travelog, really, of my own experiences and all the great people who populated that area, like John Steinbeck. It’s a nod to the cultural significance and beauty of that area.
ESC: You’ve known Brian now for nearly 60 years. What is he like to perform with now? Do you think he’s finally gotten over his legendary stagefright?
AJ: Well, not entirely. When he’s onstage, he’s comfortably ensconced behind his big piano, which is nice for him because he’s been sensitive about his appearance his whole life. He’s a big guy and has always been shy about it. We also have monitors now, so we don’t forget lyrics, which can happen, especially with the newer songs. So, that gives him some extra confidence.
ESC: I just saw Brian perform, a few months ago, and I can tell you, you can really feel the love and affection that the audience has for him.
AJ: When we play “God Only Knows,” he gets a standing ovation every night. So, he’s getting some very good vibes from the audience.
ESC: The 50th anniversary tour of 2012 was such a big success. I’m sure a lot of fans were disappointed when it ended after only some 70 shows. Do you see any chance of the band reuniting again in the near future?
AJ: I doubt it. Mike pretty much put the screws on the reunion. So I’d says it’s not going to happen until East meets West (laughs). You know, I should never say “never,” but it doesn’t seem likely. On the other hand, I’m still singing pretty good, and Brian’s doing remarkably well, considering all he’s been through. I mean, it’s all truly a miracle.
ESC: When people read about The Beach Boys many years from now, what are you most proud of that you’d like the group to be remembered for?
AJ: Our singing. We were great singers. We couldn’t play our instruments very well in the beginning, but we had a great songwriter behind us.