Dennis Wilson -
Pacific Ocean Blue
Produced by Dennis Wilson & Gregg Jakobson
Released August 22, 1977 - Caribou PZ 34354 (CBS)
Pacific Ocean Blue - Legacy Edition
Original Recordings Produced by Dennis Wilson & Gregg Jakobson
Bonus Tracks Produced by Dennis Wilson, John Hanlon & Gregg Jakobson
Executive Producer: James William Guercio
Released June 17, 2008 - Caribou/Epic/Legacy 88697-07916-2 (Sony/BMG) Disc One
Sessionography researched & compiled by Craig Slowinski
Essays by Craig Slowinski
Thanks to Jon Stebbins, Ed Roach, John Hanlon, Alan Boyd, Ken Sharp
Dennis Wilson had always been considered the quintessential "Beach Boy": not in a musical sense (that, of course, was Brian), but definitely in a lifestyle sense. His love of surfing inspired the others to adopt the image that launched the band, and his further adventures in the worlds of fast cars, fast bikes, and fast women continued to fuel the imagination and song catalog of his older brother Brian and cousin Mike. But in the first five or six years of their career, Dennis' musical contributions were limited to drumming and singing backup (and sometimes not even that), with an occasional lead vocal opportunity (either covers of other artists or new songs that Brian and Mike would throw his way). However, with Brian Wilson's retreat from full artistic control of the band in 1967, the other members (Dennis included) began to be relied upon more and more for compositional and production efforts. Dennis' first contributions in this respect appear on the 1968 Friends album, and would continue over the next five years; tunes like "Little Bird", "Be With Me", "Celebrate The News", and "Forever" were highlights of the late '60s-early '70s Beach Boys era.
In order for Dennis to evolve musically into something more than "just the fun-loving playboy drummer", he needed to master a melodic/chordal instrument well enough to compose on it. His mother Audree had taught him the fundamentals of boogie-woogie piano playing as a kid, while David Marks recalls Dennis teaching himself Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata"; Bruce Johnston showed him some more advanced chords while on the Boys' January 1966 tour of Japan. Dennis' first wife, Carole, recalls, "The very first thing after we got married, before we even bought one piece of furniture, he bought a piano...which we still have; a baby grand piano...it was white-and-gold, it was the ugliest thing, but he didn't care, it was his piano, and he immediately started playing around on the piano. Before that, on the road, whenever we'd go anywhere for concerts and things, he would always go backstage, either before or after the performance, and if there was a piano onstage, he'd always play piano, trying to work out something for himself. He had ideas in his head right from the beginning of the kind of music he wanted to make. But he just played around at first, (and) didn't, I don't think, have the confidence to move forward right away." When his second wife, Barbara, went to his home for the first time (he was living in friend Gregg Jakobson's basement at the time), she found him playing the piano, totally absorbed in a new song he was working on. Hal Blaine, who was hired to play drums in Dennis' place on many of the Beach Boys' biggest hits, said "Dennis also played great piano, maybe better than drums." In fact, there was a time in the early '70s when Dennis was unable to drum due to a serious hand injury; for a three-year period ending in late 1974, he would play keyboards live with the group or simply stand at the mic and sing.
In late 1970, Dennis was able to release a solo single in several countries (but not the U.S.) as a "trial balloon" to test the waters for a possible solo recording career: "Sound Of Free", backed with "Lady". Encouraged by the positive reviews it generated, Dennis recorded several more tracks with Beach Boys auxillary keyboardist Daryl Dragon, in hopes of completing an entire solo album. Sadly, most of these tunes were never completed and Dennis abandoned the project. He did contribute a smattering of new songs to Beach Boys albums over the next couple of years, but the creative burst he experienced between 1968 and 1972 flickered and died. And yet, the second era of great Dennis Wilson artistry was about to dawn...
Origins of a Solo Career
Pacific Ocean Blue grew out of the work Dennis and Carl did with engineer Stephen Moffitt in setting up Brother Studio for the group, beginning in late 1973/early 1974. Dennis Wilson, 1976: "In putting the studio together I was looking for different sounds and new approaches to record, and in doing that I suddenly found myself making an album of my own. Music is like a hobby for me and this album just came out of me following my hobby..." In 1974 and 1975, Dennis recorded such titles as "String Bass Song" (an early version of what became "Rainbows"), "Barnyard Blues", "Symphony", "10,000 Years", and "Holy Man". Some of these were proper songs, while others could be better described as experiments in sound. "I've been planning this solo thing for four or five years," he said. "I was writing and completing songs, taking my time and never really feeling that I would do an album because no one was behind it".
Enter James William Guercio, the powerful record business mogul who both managed and produced the jazz-rock band Chicago. By early 1974, Guercio (who'd known Dennis since the mid-sixties) was playing bass with The Beach Boys live on the road, and he soon began co-managing them as well. In 1975, Guercio brought both bands together for a hugely successful stadium tour that outsold The Rolling Stones in some markets. Backstage at sounchecks and in hotel rooms after shows, he and Dennis would "bang away" together on tunes Dennis was writing. Dennis originally asked Guercio to help him remix some of his ongoing productions and produce an album with him: "It was James Guercio who convinced me. I called him up one day and said, 'Look, I wanna make an album with you', because I really loved some of his ideas. But after hearing the tracks I had so far he said, 'You do it and I'll get behind you and support you all the way.' I said 'Uhhaahaayaayaa, shit! That's scary!'...But I finally said okay, and asked a lot of my friends to play on it, like Ricky Fataar, Jimmie Haskell, Jimmy Bond, Hal Blaine, Ron Altbach, who is the keyboard arranger for Beach Boys' concerts, and The Double Rock Baptist Choir." As Guercio puts it, "His music was honest, pure and original. His writing style was really unconventional too. He'd sometimes have three-to-five movements in a song. I sensed that Dennis' music was very special and felt he could do a great album, so I signed him to my label...The way this record sounds is because, from the first presentation, the first listening with me, where Dennis said, 'Can you come and remix, can you...what can you do?', and it was so raw, I said, 'Dennis, if I help you mix this, it will not be your record. I want YOU to finish this.'"
The Creative Process
When asked to compare his solo music to that of the group, Dennis replied, "My own album is different in that I've messed around with the 'ips' (inches per second) on the tape machine and used a synthesizer a lot. Track-wise it's different because I'm not a Brian or a Carl when it comes to vocals. They have that real pretty soft voice but I have a rougher vocal sound, so the tracks are a little coarser than something you'd expect from the group." A year later, he said "It will sound like a Beach Boy record in points, because I am a Beach Boy, and many of the vocals and vocal harmonies I am doing alone...so, it's gonna sound a little like one part of something." In the same interview, he described his creative process: "Truthfully, I'd play the piano with a click-track, and I would close my eyes, and then I would hear something, and I'd move on...and move on, and move on, and move on, and move on, and one thing led to another, and that's how it happened. I don't know...the experience of experiencing an artistic moment...is I guess fantasizing. To be very truthful with you, technically-speaking, I uh...it took a lot of work."
Although Dennis had never been blessed with a singing voice as beautiful as those of his brothers, his vocals on tracks like "Little Bird", "Slip On Through", and "Sound Of Free" were earnest and energetic; they were also clear and youthful-sounding. In the mid-'70s, though, three factors would have a devestating effect on his voice, destroying whatever youth and sweetness was there, and leaving him with a gravelly, sandpaper-esqe growl similar to Joe Cocker or Bruce Springsteen with the croup. The first of these three factors was Dennis' ever-increasing substance abuse: both Dennis and his younger brother Carl were regular smokers by their late teens, and marijuana eventually supplemented the tobacco. Added to this was Dennis' growing reliance on alcohol, and by 1974, cocaine. The booze, nicotine, and coke gradually stripped away the higher reaches of his vocal range. The second factor was more practical: Dennis sustained a throat injury in 1974 (reportedly, he was karate-chopped in the throat by an overzealous bouncer at the Red Onion restaurant in Redondo Beach, when he attempted to push past the doorman and onto the dance floor, barefoot); the result was permanent damage to his larynyx. But the third factor, it seems, was more psychological, yet nonetheless real: Murry Wilson passed away in mid-1973, and Brian and Dennis, the two brothers who had the most volatile relationship with their dad, were also the two most devestated by his passing. Both of them began to drown to an even greater extent in their own personal vices, and both of them seem to have subconsciously tried to allow Murry to live on in them by taking on the gruffer dimensions of his persona; from that point they both began to speak (and therefore sing) in the deep, manly chest register of their father. This rougher vocal delivery definitely allowed Dennis to project a more mature and macho image in the songs he sang on Pacific Ocean Blue, but continued abuse over the next several years simply made things progressively worse. By the early '80s, Dennis' speaking voice, when he had one, was hoarse at best, and his singing voice was virtually non-existent. In the last year of his life he underwent numerous operations, including laser surgery, in an attempt to salvage what was left.
Life Influences Art
Dennis' appearance also changed markedly around this time, as he spent countless hours in the sun and wind, working on and sailing the Harmony, the name he gave the 62-foot ketch he acquired in 1974 and docked in Marina Del Rey. He would frequently sail it to Catalina Island, and sometimes even Hawaii. His muscle tone increased, and he soon lost his youthful, teen-idol look while taking on a more rugged, outdoorsy appearance, one which matched his deeper, huskier voice. He grew his hair to his shoulders, and regularly sported a full, dark beard. He was no longer a "boy", but a "man".
The main themes of Pacific Ocean Blue would seem to be nature, friendship, love won and lost, music, and spirituality; in other words, life...in particular, love won and lost. Besides his music and the Harmony, Dennis had another great love in his life at this time, whom he'd met in October of 1974: Karen Lamm, a model and actress who, coincidentally, had been briefly married to Robert Lamm of Chicago years before. Dennis had already been through two broken marriages at this point, but at least they were with two different women: his next two broken marriages would both be with this same woman. It seems he couldn't live with her, but couldn't live without her either. Dennis and Karen's turbulent relationship had a monumental impact on the music of Pacific Ocean Blue; during the course of the album's production, they married (for the first time) and separated (on the way to their first divorce), but were back together within a week or two after its release. The emotional joy and the turmoil of this relationship are both embedded within the music here. Author Jon Stebbins: "A lot of people think of her as a very negative and divisive person. She threw a brick through the window of Brother Studios; she pulled a gun on Dennis. But at the same time she was motivating him creatively. I think it really shows in the passion of his music."
Musical Ability and Inspiration
Beyond his rough but expressive singing, Dennis had the innate ability to get enough from most any instrument he desired to use. John Hanlon, who had just started as an engineer at Brother Studio and soon found himself working frequently with Dennis, told writer Adam Webb: "He was extremely creative. He would play the drums, he played the bass, he played a lot with synthesizers like the Mini-Moog, the ARP, all the analog synths. They had harmoniums, Chamberlins, they had a clear plexi-glass electric harpsichord, they had a lot of really cool instruments there in the back of the studio." Dennis' creative use of keyboards and synthesizers is reminiscent of Stevie Wonder's work on such early '70s albums as Talking Book and Music Of My Mind. James Guercio, to author Ken Sharp: "He'd tell me, 'I'm really not a piano player.' And I'd say, 'You're crazy, what you're doing is like Beethoven and Chopin to me.' I'd go to the studio and he'd be working with a Mini-Moog. I've worked with some great keyboard players over the years, including Rod Argent, Billy Joel, Lincoln Majorca, and Bobby Lamm, and I couldn't believe what Dennis was getting in terms of sounds." In a 1976 article called "Dennis Alone" for his regular Melody Maker column "The New York Report", Chris Charlesworth wrote: "Dennis plays most of the instruments on the album himself, though a couple of extra drummers, including one-time Beach Boy Ricky Fataar, were brought in when he became dissatisfied with using a rhythm box to back his own keyboard work." In a September '76 interview with Timothy White, Dennis also revealed a little of his working habits, as well as the name he originally considered giving the album: "I've been in the studio from 10:00 am until late evening every free day I've had, and on some of the tracks, I play everything myself...As for the title of the record, right now I like Freckles, 'cause they're nice - especially freckles and red hair." The following January, while still hard at work on the album during breaks from Beach Boys tours, Dennis spoke by phone to Jim Girard for the Cleveland-based Scene magazine, and elaborated on his frantic work schedule: "I'm not structured like your normal eight-hour-a-day guy is. For example, my work schedule today is that I came into the studio this morning at 9:00 a.m. From then until 3:00 p.m. today I worked with The Beach Boys. From 3:00 p.m. until I leave tonight - probably around midnight - it's myself working on my album. I don't stop and I have a lot of energy. A lot of people get tired, but for some reason I have a lot of energy. I don't know why that is." Years later, after Dennis' passing, David Leaf would write: "Nobody I've ever known lived a more intense existence than Dennis Wilson. When he worked, it was nonstop, for days at a time until he would collapse from exhaustion on a studio control room couch."
Dennis never compared himself to Brian, but years of watching big brother in the studio had obviously rubbed off on him. Jim Guercio says, "Dennis was way beyond what anybody thought, harmonically and on the piano...through that whole period, I said...I never said he went beyond his brother, I said, 'You listened...all those years, I think you were a broke-down drummer...you keep writing these songs...every night you can play them for me.'" When asked by David Leaf if Brian had been his major influence, Dennis replied, "Not influence, inspiration. There's a difference. I think musically I'm far apart from Brian. He's a hundred times what I am musically. Our music is different. I think he has been a profound influence in my life. If I was to say that I had a master, Brian would be the man I'd say has guided and helped me through everything." Studio engineer John Hanlon, in his conversation with Adam Webb: "He was a genius. Dennis was a genius. He had more of Brian in him than anyone else...With Dennis, he was writing melodies and writing really strange time signatures with the drums and really cool things that I'd only heard in jazz...He wrote a lot on the piano but he also wrote on the drums. He'd have melodies in his head that he would work out with rhythm and time and then he'd build a song around that. He'd then transfer those ideas to different instruments like the Moog and the Oberheim. He was a big fan of working with different bass lines...it was like he was trying to prove he could be as creative as Brian - though he would never, ever say that out loud. But you could tell there was that sort of angst inside of him. It was like he had these strong creative impulses kicking against the public image of the sex symbol, the surfer and the drummer." In a Caribou Records press bio released to tie in with the album, Dennis said, "What I am, basically, is a hardcore musician who wants to be in every aspect of the notes, the words, the technology, and the voices."
The Business Side
James Guercio signed Dennis as a solo act to his CBS-distributed Caribou Records label (named after the famed Caribou Ranch, Guercio's horse ranch/recording complex in Colorado). As Guercio puts it, "The record company (CBS) thought it was a huge risk. The A&R department said, 'Jimmy's lost it, what's he thinking? He's a drummer!' They didn't know him as I knew him. I told Dennis, 'You've got the studio, I'll pay for the recording, now get started.'" But this created a potential conflict of interest, as Dennis was already one-fifth of an established recording act with an existing contract: as Dennis said, "I called up Mo (Ostin, president of Warner Brothers, The Beach Boys' label at the time) and he was very understanding and gave me a release. The basic contract terms leave the amount of records up to me; I will only do one album a year, but I'd like to at least deliver three or four years' worth. Also, I'm not allowed to perform any of the material live unless it's with The Beach Boys onstage."
None of the other Beach Boys were technically allowed to be on Dennis' record, which is why Carl Wilson is not credited on the album's inner sleeve, although he was definitely present on several of the songs. Trisha Campo (at the time married to Ed Roach), who was managing Brother Studio, told Jon Stebbins: "They practically had to smuggle Brian into Dennis' sessions. It happened on occasion, but it happened kind of secretly." Brian's involvement with Dennis' solo recording sessions appears to have been strictly "inspirational"; Carl, however, definitely contributed on a musical level, even though he was often in severe pain from an ongoing back problem. When Carl showed up one night, unannounced and wheelchair-bound, someone helped him up onto a step stool and gave him a set of headphones, while Dennis immediately set up a microphone in front of him so he could add a vocal part to the song in progress. Trisha again: "I looked at Carl, and he was so white and in so much pain. But he sang with such passion and was so damn happy to be there for Dennis." In November of '76, Brian was interviewed by New York DJ Pete Fornatale, and described his reaction upon hearing Dennis' solo music: "I said, 'Dennis, that's funky, that's FU-U-UN-KY! You're gonna have a hit album', I hope he has a hit album, Dennis Wilson solo album is gonna be a good album!" In the late '90s, Brian would say "I never dreamed, when I used to know him as a kid when we were brothers, never dreamed he would grow up to be a great person in music. I never, ever dreamed he could do that."
A Strong Team
One other friend who would assist Dennis on a regular basis in the studio was old pal Gregg Jakobson, whom Dennis enlisted as co-producer for the project. Gregg Jakobson: "It was Jim Guercio who gave us the opportunity. It was Guercio who said, 'Dennis, let's do an album.' They called me into the office and said, 'Okay, Gregg, you have a PO number', which means I could go into a studio, I could book the time, hire musicians and I could send bills away that they would pay. That's a big deal." Gregg describes his role as co-producer: "Well, it really means that you are much more behind the glass, much more responsible. In other words, the studio is there, but somebody has got to be there to turn the lights on, there has to be an engineer to turn the machines on, and you need musicians and singers there...And you have to be there to say, 'Okay Dennis, today let's work on, 'River Song'." On the subject of their songwriting partnership, Gregg says "Dennis never wrote verse-chorus kind of stuff. He was more unconventional. He wasn't restricted to any of those parameters like Brian was, or most musicians, which is very unique. Part of my job would be to force it a little bit into a mould so we could have a little more of a verse-chorus structure. Dennis wasn't the world's greatest lyricist but if I gave him an idea he would immediately have some music to go with it." Regarding Carl's input, Gregg has this to say: "Carl and Dennis were very close, like two peas in a pod, and had been making music together since they were little kids. So of course he would come in and do a background vocal or play guitar or contribute to a chorus line. Carl was a part of the record but he went uncredited because of that clause. Carl didn't care about credit, he was just interested in helping out his brother."
Ed Carter, who played bass and guitar for The Beach Boys for many, many years, recalled in separate conversations with Ken Sharp and Jon Stebbins the unconventional technique Dennis would use to motivate and inspire his musicians in the studio: "A lot of times he didn't have the musical terminology to express an idea. He wouldn't say, 'We're gonna go from 4/4 to 6/8 here'...." "Dennis would dance around and do body language to express what he wanted," "...literally dancing around to show you the feel of what he wanted in a solo or in a passage or he'd sing an idea out to you" (saxman Sonny Rollins claimed Mick Jagger used the same "body language" means of expression in the studio with him). Ed Tuleja, once a member of King Harvest (of "Dancing In The Moonlight" fame), was another guitarist who played on Dennis' solo albums. He says "Dennis trusted his musicians and gave us complete freedom...It was a very positive creative environment. None of the musicians ever got the feeling they were doing something wrong..."; "Of all the Beach Boys, Dennis was the one I got along with best. I bought a Harley from him and reckon he was the real stand-up guy of that group, whatever his personality made him do." Longtime Beach Boys sideman Bobby Figueroa was frequently employed by Dennis to drum on his solo sessions: "I remember him being very empathetic...there was a lot of freedom there, and doing your own thing with him guiding you in the right direction..."..."We did that record in the midst of touring and between touring. All of a sudden I'd come home and get a phone call from him, 'Get over here now, I've got a song I wanna cut.' No one was using Brother Studios at the time so he was allowed to experiment and stretch out without having to watch the clock. He would stay there and just work and work and work...He always had a basic song idea, but there was no real formal structure to what we did. Sometimes we'd do 20 or 30 takes. Dennis never played a song the same way twice. He would say, 'Let's try it again,' and then he might think of another idea and he'd say, 'No, let's go this way, follow me.' It was hard to know when he'd settle on something until he actually heard it back and went, 'That's it!'"
Regarding the engineering team at Dennis' disposal, John Hanlon had this to day: "Earle (Mankey) was a great guy - extremely patient and hardworking. He was on the staff and had a lot of training and experience. Stephen Moffitt was the studio manager who did all the mixdowns - so basically it was me, Earle and Stephen who worked on Pacific Ocean Blue." With Dennis, sometimes the compensation he paid was more than monetary: "You know, he gave me his 3-litre racing Porsche as an album bonus," says Hanlon. "He had like $20,000 in the engine alone - it came with a German mechanic. It was ridiculous. I went from a 30-horsepower Volkswagen to a 300-horsepower racing Porsche and promptly drove it off the road. I'd never been in a car with that much power. It was insane. I was a little long-haired hippy with a Volkswagen Bug living in a beach house in Malibu, and then I had a racing car." Earle Mankey: "Brother Studios had a huge backlit stained glass window depicting a summer night's sky. The other wall was lined with plants that were dimly lit with ultra-violet gro-lites. It gave it a cool vibe...For the singing sessions, Dennis would call Belleview, a local restaurant and have them deliver some red wine. Then we'd put on a track and lay down a vocal. To capture that sound and feeling he was looking for, we would light the studio with the stained glass sky. Dennis would keep singing the songs over and over until they had that honesty, the truth. He might sing it all night and come back the next day and do it again. One thing about him that was different to everybody else is that he would do bass vocal harmonies. He'd work it out on the piano and sing them. I don't know anybody else who does bass harmonies." Stephen Moffitt: "Dennis was predictably unpredictable. One day he'd come in really angry and want to punch your face in and the next day he'd give you the biggest hug and cry. He was really tormented. In the emotional state that he lived in it was always a combination of joy and sorrow...I believe the ups and downs he was going through at the time worked to his benefit to create an emotionally powerful record." Mankey: "He was much more of a one-man-and-his-tape-recorder sort of guy than the other Beach Boys. His tools were keyboard chords and simple lines - not even leads and solo stuff - and Dennis' deep voice. His other tools were truth and honesty. He had a limited palette to work with, simple in a certain way. But it's very hard to get that indescribable artistic quality and he succeeded."
The "homespun" approach of the sessions was further reinforced when engineers Hanlon and Mankey were called upon to provide guitar on a couple of cuts - but nobody can recall just how much. John Hanlon on Earle Mankey's guitar playing: "I think that Earle Mankey played a lot on there." Earle Mankey on his own guitar playing: "I don't remember playing it that much...When something would come up, and a guitar was involved, I could do it and Dennis couldn't. I don't remember what all those guitar situations were on that record..." Two of Dennis' other friends who contributed to the sessions, but apparently didn't make it onto the actual album, were Phoebe Noel and Van Morrison. Gregg Jakobson: "Van Morrison lived in Venice, and Dennis used to try to get something out of Van Morrison, who was very much more of a musician - he's a horn player. Van Morrison used to say to him, 'Dennis, I don't know what you are talking about. I can't be in your head.' It was funny. Van is not known for being especially gracious or patient." Gregg further described Dennis' spontaneous creative spirit: "Dennis would almost bring people in off the street and say, 'Hey what do ya think of this?', and they might have a suggestion, and Dennis would say 'Hey, that's an idea, let's try it'...he was very open...he operated very much in the present."
Jakobson had this to say regarding Dennis' creative use of tape machine speeds: "Dennis would be much more experimental. He used to experiment with the speeds...You could record something at 30 ips and then play it at 15 ips, and it would be much clearer. He used to jump around at different speeds. He'd record something that he played really fast at 60 ips, and then you'd play it back and it would be big fat chords. It would be a really fast mess and then you'd slow it down and it would be a really beautiful melody..."; "It changes the texture of an organ or piano or drums." Earle Mankey: "He was so pleased with his discovery of taking the (ARP) String Ensemble and speeding the tape up to twice its normal speed. Then he'd play the string part and, by slowing the tape down, it sounded like an old 1930's recording of a slow, sombre string section that very much suited the sound of his voice."
Fruits of the Labor
After months of work, the album was finally ready for delivery in spring of '77: one version of the master reel was evidently assembled on Saturday April 23rd, but one track ("Dreamer") was remixed months later (on Wednesday June 15th - and indications are the final pressing lacquer was cut on or shortly after that date). Gregg Jakobson: "He was a fearless water man. So naming the album Pacific Ocean Blue was the perfect title. He could bring attention to some of the ecological problems affecting the ocean and also honor his lifelong love of the ocean." Dean Torrence (of Jan and Dean) designed the album artwork with his Kittyhawk Graphics design company, and handled most of the photo shoots, but not the main cover shot: "The cover photo was taken somewhere in the Hollywood Hills. He looks a little glum 'cause his wife Karen was taking his picture (laughs). He didn't like to smile that much anyhow, he was a bit more comfortable being James Dean. When Karen was around, things were tense. She picked out that shot for the cover. Dennis wanted to keep her happy so he went along with it. Many of the other photos on the album, the ones of Dennis in the grass with his kids (Michael and Carl), were taken in Maui. The images of him under the pier were taken in Venice. Dennis connected to the outdoors and the water. I wanted to try and get candid shots of him in his element."
Gregg Jakobson recalls, "Howard Kaufman was the accountant and bookkeeper for Caribou at the time. Now, Howard Kaufman is a big manager of artists like Stevie Nicks. But at the time, after we brought the album in, Howard said, 'Gregg, my hat's off to you. I never thought this album would get delivered, let alone delivered on time and on budget.'" Jim Guercio: "Dennis always called me 'JWG' and the album was referred to by the record company (CBS) as 'JWG's Folly', because no one believed he'd ever finish the record..Some people at the label were excited about the record but some of the executives said, 'Where's the single?' I remember making a speech for some folks at the label: 'Who's ever played an instrument? Who's ever played in a band? Who's ever been onstage? Who's ever written or arranged a song?', and there were no hands raised. I said, 'Listen, I'm not here to criticise anybody but until you've done any of those things why don't you just let us do our job and get out of the fucking way!" My recollection was: I jammed it down their throats (laughs)." Jakobson: "It got good reviews, then they went out and did their publicity stuff." This, despite what many feel was a muddy sound on the original LP. Gregg: "...Pacific Ocean Blue had such a terrible mix on it. Stephen Moffitt was the engineer at the time. I begged them to remix some things. I said, 'Dennis, this is a terrible mix. There's so much in there that we can't even hear. It just sounds like a big muddy sea of things.' But...Dennis was already into the next album. There was no way he was going to go back in the studio and help me mix it; he said, 'No, no, it's fine, don't even think about it, let's do another album.'" Unfortunately, things did not improve much with the album's first CD release; Alan Boyd: "The 1991 POB CD was mastered from an eq'd and limited copy, probably because no one at the time wanted to deal with the hassle of decoding the DBX noise reduction that was on a few of the original masters. That's the main reason it sounds so....blah, sonically" (the DBX-encoded tracks were "Thoughts Of You", "Farewell My Friend", and "End Of The Show"). Happily, all sonic issues have been resolved with the 2008 Legacy Edition of Pacific Ocean Blue, which has been beautifully remastered into sparkling clarity, along with the addition of 4 previously unreleased bonus tracks and a whole second CD of unreleased Bambu music.
In his review of POB in the September 1977 issue of Circus Magazine, Scott Cohen wrote: "Now, when Dennis wheels through the California night, he can think of his record spinning out in the future, forever uniting himself with his listeners, no matter how distant they may be, whether in Japan, Java or the twenty-first century." Now, thanks to Jim Guercio and Sony Legacy Music, Pacific Ocean Blue has indeed found new life, worldwide, in the twenty-first century. As Dennis himself put it, "Everything that I am or will ever be is in the music. If you want to know me, just listen."
PRODUCED BY DENNIS WILSON (1973/1974) / DENNIS WILSON and GREGG JAKOBSON (1976)
Pacific Ocean Blue opens majestically with "River Song" and the sound of Dennis' arpeggiated piano, soon joined by Ricky Fataar's slam-dunk drumming and the distant sound of Carl Wilson's guitar (which becomes louder and more powerful as the track progresses, symbolizing a river growing from a trickling brook to a mighty stream). The origins of this song date to the early '70s, during Dennis' first attempt at recording a solo album; there is a tape from that era on which Dennis plays a variation of the opening piano riff. That recording was intended for part of a multi-segment suite on the subject of "Ecology". A short time later, in 1972, Dennis had an epiphany of sorts while on a camping and fishing trip in the High Sierras of northern California. He and friend Ed Roach had attempted to build a dam near their campsite along Honeymoon Creek to increase the supply of catchable trout; however, when their dam was continually washed away, Dennis realized it was futile for him to try and contain the mighty river, and the lyrical theme of the song was born. Dennis, in 1977: "A few years ago, I was in the High Sierras walking by this river that was very small and it kept getting bigger and bigger...that's the guitar sound on the track. And then thinking, Los Angeles versus the High Sierras, it just makes me sick to think of what's happening here. That's the lyrical idea; Carl assisted on some of the lyrics. Musically, it came from the river."
The Beach Boys performed an early version of the song live at a few concerts in 1973, with Blondie Chaplin singing lead and playing a biting guitar solo over the end. Later, Dennis added the music for the song's bridge, and late that year KABC-TV in Los Angeles ran a short feature on the band which showed them running through the "River Song" track in the studio, in prepartion for a recording session. Tapes circulate of two summer '73 gigs that include the live "River Song", as well as audio from the KABC broadcast. In early '74 or so, Dennis laid down the final basic track for the song, featuring Ricky Fataar on drums, Carl and Billy Hinsche on guitars, Ed Carter on bass, and himself on piano. Dennis also recorded a rough lead vocal, but the bridge section still didn't have lyrics. A 1974 rough mix of this track, produced by Dennis' photographer friend Ed Roach, circulates on bootlegs: it includes other instruments (like timbales & cowbell) that are not audible on the POB mix. As Jon Stebbins puts it, "Dennis had been fine-tuning it for so long that it had taken on epic dimensions; overdub after overdub was added then stripped then layered on again until it was right. The result is astonishing. Dennis, supported by Carl, leads us into the maze with a familiar harmony appetizer, then he takes over in a Ray Charles/Joe Cocker style and burns up the grooves. A full-choir backing ranges from lilting whisper to gospel wailing. Driving, distorted guitar and Dennis' tinkling piano send the number to its riveting climax." Interestingly (but in typical Dennis style) the song doesn't have a refrain as such; instead there are several sections, each flowing into the next, but never actually returning, much like a river.
A transfer of the original 16-track master to a new 24-track tape was likely undertaken to accomodate two additional overdubs, which were added at separate sessions in July of '76: on the 7th, at the tail end of a session that also saw orchestration added to "Rainbows" and "Thoughts Of You", Jimmie Haskell and a 20-piece string section were added to give the song a brooding undercurrent; and finally, at least 35 members of the 75-strong Voices Of Inspiration Choir from the Double Rock Baptist Church in Compton, under the direction of Alexander Hamilton, were allowed to soar over the track, making a surprising entrance in the intro, then weaving in and out of the piano riffs and string crescendos for the remainder of the song.
Vocally, Dennis handles most of the massive stack of harmony parts in the first two lines of the intro (Dennis: "Ninety percent of those voices are mine"), although Carl can be heard as well (without seeing the track sheet or console tape from the multi-track, we can't say exactly how many voices Denny overdubbed, and even then, it's likely some tracks were "comped", or "bounced down" into a submix). After that, the choir kicks in, and other singers (likely including Billy Hinsche and Gregg Jakobson) help out as well in various parts of the song. Ed Tuleja: "I remember singing on the "rollin' on" part - there were plenty of people on that. Very exciting to do..They had a good idea of the frequency spread from hearing the Beach Boys." Dennis sings the "do it, doo dow-doo" bass vocal in the fade, double-tracked into stereo.
Footage from the "River Song" choir session was included in a short POB promo film produced by Ed Roach for Caribou Records. At this point, Dennis' vocal on the bridge section was still absent (either that or the fader was simply pulled down on that channel), so it was presumably the last piece to be added. Karen can be seen in the clip, plopping down into a leather control room chair and propping her feet up on the recording console.
At the end of the promo clip, Dennis and Karen are seen entering an airport terminal, presumably boarding a plane for the Beach Boys' '76 summer tour, which began July 12th. "River Song", "Rainbows", and "Thoughts Of You" were rough-mixed by Steve Moffitt on July 15, 1976, while Dennis was away on that tour; "River Song" was then given another (final) mix by Moffitt on March 22, 1977.
PRODUCED BY DENNIS WILSON and GREGG JAKOBSON
Dennis: "I was having an argument with a girl I was living with, and I used to say, 'What's wrong with me making my music? What's wrong with me not being here all the time? What's wrong with me being a little crazy once in awhile?...You spend my money. I think it's funny to watch you do that.'"
Musically, this song has a very distinctive rock 'n' roll groove (the shuffle alternating between intervals of fifths and sixths) that was pioneered by Chuck Berry and his pianist Jimmie Johnson, and further popularized by Brian on such Beach Boys rockers as "Little Deuce Coupe". Dennis again: "That was spontaneous; I love that old feel that Brian used to play." Without access to an AFM contract or the session tape for this track, the credits above are speculative: Carl definitely plays three guitar parts (although they're mixed low), the distinctive rock 'n' roll drumming of Hal Blaine is obvious, and the bass playing certainly sounds like that of Motown great Jamerson (although the track sheet indicates only Moog bass, presumably played by Dennis). Ed Tuleja has a vague recollection of singing backgrounds on this one, and the other singers include Baron Stewart (it sounds as though he's singing through cupped hands, using the same approach that Dennis himself had used on "Wouldn't It Be Nice") and probably Gregg Jakobson. Lance Buller, Michael Andreas, and Charlie McCarthy (from the Beach Boys touring horn section) are joined by trumpeter Bill Lamb to add additional punch and swagger throughout.
Jon Stebbins notes that this song "received a fair amount of FM radio exposure that fall, because its booze-soaked aura and inebriated charm appealed to a certain type of listener." An earlier, alternate mix (from Friday March 25th) reportedly features a more prominent vocal from Baron Stewart, to the point of almost being a duet. Additionally, as Stebbins writes, "One version of the song, featuring an insistent harmonica that drives the mix and vocals reminiscent of those on Elvis Presley's Sun recordings, was passed over for inclusion on Pacific Ocean Blue in favor of this inferior one..." We can only hope that the "Sun Records" take of "What's Wrong" might one day see the light of day, should Caribou/Sony be inclined to follow up their 30th Anniversary Legacy release of POB with another collection of unrelased DW music...
PRODUCED BY DENNIS WILSON and GREGG JAKOBSON
Dennis: "Well, you know...'who made my moon shine'...it's a song about Karen."
Ultra contemporary in its feel, the mood shifts from the drunken daydream of the intro to the dramatic reflection of the verses (at the same time, Dennis' vocal changes from single-tracked to double-tracked). The tack piano, Moog bass, and ARP String Ensemble make this the quintessential Dennis Wilson solo production. The only other instrumentalist on the finished track is drummer Bobby Figueroa (a longtime auxiliary Beach Boys band member), but the first take reportedly sounds as though it was recorded with a larger ensemble, indicating that Dennis reduced the track to the basic drum and keyboard parts, then rebuilt it by himself from the ground-up. Dennis is also joined by a host of vocalists for the soaring and intricately-arranged background parts: Trisha Roach and Baron Stewart sing harmonies together on two tracks, while Dennis and Gregg Jakobson sing double-tracked low and bass vocal parts, respectively. The mixing console tape strip for this song can be seen in the full-color shot (of a shirtless Dennis giving the "OK" sign with both sets of fingers) on page 185 of John Milward's book "The Beach Boys: Silver Anniversary" (Doubleday/Dolphin, 1985).
Although Dennis was not formally trained in either piano or compositional theory (and perhaps for that very reason), he was able to explore uncharted waters in his music. The unconvential structure of this song is best explained by Ed Tuleja: "He wrote as it came out of his soul. He did not restrict himself to conventional chordal/rhythm patterns." Bobby Figueroa, to Ken Sharp: "'Moonshine' was a tribute to the old ballads that his mother Audree liked to hear. That was one of his mother's favorite songs. He definitely did that song for her. Audree would come along on The Beach Boys tours and I remember sitting with her on the airplane and she told me, 'That's my favorite track.'"
PRODUCED BY DENNIS WILSON and GREGG JAKOBSON
A dark and ominous intro leads into a slow funk groove where Dennis plays not only drums, but everything else except the guitars. Dennis: "That's another spontaneous song. It's a memory of when I was young and Friday night came. The white punks were out having fun. I am the white punk!" Jesus and rock 'n' roll are the two things that Dennis believes he, and the world, needs to save the soul.
The powerful intro was based on the first half of the second part of an unreleased trilogy called "10,000 Years"; Dennis reworked it, slowed the tempo down, and recorded a new version of this piece under the title "2,000 Years" (on April 21, 1976). At one point, this was considered as an intro to the album (which would have made an incredibly powerful statement...imagine Dennis' face staring out at you from the album cover while you hear this for the first time), but in the end it was utilized for this entirely new song. Meanwhile, the main progression of the second part of "10,000 Years" was re-recorded and reworked into the body of "Friday Night". Lastly, yet another section of "10,000 Years" (with jazzy wordless vocals) was re-recorded as a tag for "Friday Night" (on March 10, 1977), but was left out of the final edit of the song. Also left out of the final mix were background vocals (their presence is indicated by a notation on the console strip), while a shaker part is buried deep in the mix.
The massive keyboard sound is achieved by Dennis playing a grand piano, a tack piano, organ, three clavinets, Moog, and an ARP String Ensemble - the latter of which at least was recorded at a faster speed, then slowed down during playback to create a shimmering, otherworldly effect. Engineer Earle Mankey is probably playing the slowly grooving rhythm guitar parts, while the slide guitar (drenched in massive echo) is Ed Tuleja, who says: "...that was good fun. Dennis had great respect for his musicians - he just let it happen and used the good bits. I played on a Tele body and a Strat neck, a guitar twitched together by John Carruthers in L.A.....DW used good echo and delay and all. The effects were very good in that studio. Steve Moffitt bought good stuff."
PRODUCED BY DENNIS WILSON and GREGG JAKOBSON
"I know a carpenter who had a dream / killed the man, but you couldn't kill the dream." Dennis: "'Dreamer' is about Christ. Musically, I played the bass harmonica on that; I played practically everything on it." With this cut, Dennis stays in a funk groove, but moves the tempo up to a mid-paced jaunt. His funky electric piano comping establishes the groove, while Bobby Figueroa manages to sound both "intense" (as Jon Stebbins describes it) and "laid-back", at the same time. Bobby: "On that song I was doing these drum licks and he wanted to get a better sound. So he threw a sheet over the drums and said, 'Wow, that's a different sound.' And it worked." The drums were both close mic'd and room mic'd, and the delay effect for the snare was printed onto a separate track. Dennis' performance on the big bass harmonica (nicknamed the "silver watermelon" for its distinctive appearance) was probably inspired by Tommy Morgan's playing on the theme song of the hit TV series "Sanford and Son". For Dennis to get enough air to play the thing, he had to sit on the studio floor; in a rare reference to Manson, Dennis remarked "this is how Charlie used to do it."
A tuba can be heard in the right channel during the guitar solo, and again during the Dixieland-styled brass interludes; according to Carol Rose in ROCK Magazine, this was played by Dennis himself, which isn't hard to believe when you consider how well he handled the "silver watermelon". The bursts of New Orleans-flavored jazz were played by saxophonist Michael Andreas and trumpeter Bill Lamb. Andreas says, "There were a few sessions on the album for which I played all the horns. Dennis called me in and told me to bring all my saxes, flutes, clarinets, etc. Gregg was producing in the booth and Dennis would give me an idea of what he wanted, then he would leave and we would just layer horns until it had a sort of wall-of-sound horn section. It turned out pretty great." John Hanlon: "With respect to horn arrangements, he hired great cats and let them blow. Improvisation was his vision here, to see how far you could go. You know - hitting the envelope and still be able to get back." The funky electric bass playing is courtesy of Motown legend James Jamerson, who was by now living in Los Angeles, and according to the AFM paperwork, it was overdubbed at the same session as the brass.
The song slows down during the bridge - the drums stop, and a host of other instruments are introduced: acoustic piano, Moog, chimes, and backup vocals. Following this dreamy interlude, the funk returns, and engineer John Hanlon rips into an ultra-cool guitar solo. This solo was recorded late one night around 10 or 11 o'clock, when Hanlon and Dennis were working alone in the studio: Dennis suddenly decided the song needed a guitar solo, and needed it now. Since it was too late to call in a professional guitarist, John offered his services (as fate would have it, he had his guitar with him that night). Despite the fact he had never before played on tape, John suggested that Dennis take the two girls he had with him in the studio that night down to a French restaurant around the corner, and let him attempt a solo. When Dennis returned an hour or so later, he found that John had nailed the guitar solo (on his '62 Strat, played through Carl's Fender tweed amp), but in the process had accidentally erased part of a Fender Rhodes solo on the same track. Dennis was so impressed, though, that he didn't mind. "I wasn't even that good a guitar player but he gave me a break. I mean, I'm on Dennis Wilson's solo record. I had no business being on that. He gave me a shot and kept the solo, and kept it on the record. With things like that he was a really generous man." NOTE: an alternate mix reportedly exists from Friday March 18th, featuring a wild jazzy sax solo in place of the guitar.
THOUGHTS OF YOU
PRODUCED BY DENNIS WILSON and GREGG JAKOBSON
In late 1975, Dennis was reported to be working with a young singer/songwriter named Jim Dutch; "Thoughts Of You" is the only fruit of that colloboration to see release. Dennis: "...it was a time when Karen had left me, and I thought it was completely over, and I accept that sometimes things are over." John Hanlon told Adam Webb: "It was totally about Karen. He was very, very in love with her. They fought hard and loved hard. They both lived in this house on Broad Beach in Malibu where he had this upstairs bedroom where the wind just blew in, and that made you understand where he was coming from with that song...he just totally captured the vibe of heartbreak and being alone in this huge house on the beach and wind coming through the curtains. The lyrics and the starkness of the performance captured the view from that house."
The massive 24-piece string section was added during a lengthy 5-hour session the night of July 7, 1976, which also produced the strings on "Rainbows" and "River Song" (some players departed prior to the work on "River Song"). Such Beach Boys session veterans as Sid Sharp, Jesse Ehrlich, Igor Horoshevsky, and Jimmy Bond contributed as part of the Jimmie Haskell-conducted ensemble. Ed Tuleja compares Dennis' lush orchestration style on this song to that of 19th-century Scandavian composers Edvard Grieg and Jean Sibulius, both of whom are excellent examples of the late-period romantic era.
This cut encompasses an incredible dynamic range, starting as soft as the morning's first rays of light, with Dennis singing in an intimate voice over the piano, then building in the middle to an incredible wall of sound including strings, Moog, swirling backwards vocals, and what's probably Dennis' loudest-ever vocal performance. He climaxes on the line "look what we've done", and holds that last word for what seems like an eternity as it fades into the abyss. Finally the song dies back down to just Dennis' voice and piano, resolving to the light and airy sound of the strings that carry the listener away on the sea air (listen for the sound of a window being opened, or closed, at the start of this section...whether intentional or not, that's what it sounds like). Hanlon elaborated on the weariness of Dennis' voice in the opening and closing moments of this remarkable recording: "He would probably do that vocal at 10 or 11 in the morning. He had the ability to sing like that. You would think that sort of vocal would be recorded at midnight, but he could shut out the world and plug right in creatively to the message that he wanted to get across." As Earle Mankey told Jon Stebbins, "The one thing Dennis would say every day for a year was that he wanted the truth. We would all look at each other and say, 'Well, what is the truth?' But that's what he wanted - the truth."
PRODUCED BY DENNIS WILSON and GREGG JAKOBSON
Dennis: "...that's about coming home after a tour and floating into L.A. on a 747. I just heard it; I heard the music coming out. Thinking about her...just a spontaneous thing." In addition to inspiring it, Karen helped pen the lyrics to this one. "I'm the kinda guy / who loves to mess around / Known a lot of women..."; truer words have never been sung, yet Dennis completes this verse with "but they don't fi-ill my hear-rt with lo-ove...completely".
In September 1976, a full year before the album's release, Dennis spoke to jounalist Timothy White about his progress in the studio: "...on some tracks, I play everything myself. There's one tune, called 'Time', that's all me, except for some trumpet by Bill Lamb." Lamb's haunting trumpet solo, exquisitely played and recorded, adds a poignant quailty to this somber piece.
Sometime later, woodwind player Janice Hubbard (who lived in the same apartment complex as Gregg Jakobson and later was part of the popular children's music group Parachute Express) was brought in to add oboe to the verses. The horn section was overdubbed onto the coda, and Ed Carter played a wild guitar solo through that piece, the sound of which was processed through the Moog synthesizer and fed back into the mix to add a trippy, "prog rock" element. Dennis indeed plays all the other instruments throughout (such as drums, tambourine, grand piano, Moog bass, bass harmonica, and the echoey Roto-Toms that sound like coconut shells being hit inside a massive cave). The almost subliminal chanted vocals on the tag are probably Dennis and Gregg Jakobson.
YOU AND I
PRODUCED BY DENNIS WILSON and GREGG JAKOBSON
The album's only U.S. single (released October 14, 1977, backed with "Friday Night"); despite clearly being the most "commercial"-sounding cut on POB, it received little airplay and failed to chart. This is another song to which Karen contributed lyrics, as well as background vocals. Dennis: "'You and I' is about Karen and myself...that's it." Dennis sings about himself in the humblest of terms: "I've never seen the light that people talk about / open up my wallet and dust falls out" and "I'll never make the headlines or the evening news / won't be a rags to riches story for me", but at least "the song that I sing won't be blue". John Hanlon: "He had that ability to capture a feeling of what love was to him. It transcended wealth, it was about the simplicity. You've got everything if you've got nothing."
Dennis mentioned this song in his September 1976 interview with Timothy White: "I'm working fast. Yesterday, I did a final version of 'Pacific Ocean Song' which I had cut several times, and tomorrow I'm working on a track called 'Honey, You and I'." Two AFM sheets have been located that could pertain to this song: the first is for something titled "Honey I Do" with a session date of August 19, 1976; musicians on this contract are guitarist Ed Carter, drummer Hal Blaine, upright bassist Mort Klanfer, trumpeter Bill Lamb, and sax or flute player Steve Douglas. The second is for a harp overdub onto "You And I"...however no harp is audible on this song, none is listed on the track sheet or console tape, and the date given on the contract for that session is October 5, 1977, over a month after POB's release. We can speculate that perhaps this was an overdub added for a new mix intended for the single, or maybe late payment for the harp work on "End Of The Show", filed for some reason with the wrong title.
The basic track was laid down with electric piano, electric guitar and congas, against the backdrop of a güiro (the "scraping" Latin percussion instrument) played by Hal Blaine, with what sounds like sandpaper. From evidence on the track sheet and console tape, it appears the song was also overdubbed with a full drum kit, but most of the drum tracks were wiped and replaced with flutes and clarinet, leaving only the kick drum and congas for percussion. The track sheet gives no indication that trumpet, sax or flute were present at that first stage of production, which means either the contributions of Bill Lamb and Steve Douglas were erased earlier in the game, or the "Honey I Do" contract is for an entirely different song. Since bassist Klanfer is not credited with the other musicians on the album's inner sleeve, it's possible his part was replaced by an electric bass played by Ed Carter. The original electric guitar part was also wiped and replaced by three acoustic guitars, while two new electric guitar parts, including the solo, were added. Meanwhile, the güiro, though officially absent from any of the tracks, can be heard bleeding through the open conga mics, thus remaining audibly present (especially in the song's intro).
Musically, this song is Ed Carter's showcase: he plays the light lead guitar runs that sound like waves gently lapping against the side of a boat on a moonlit night, as well as three acoustic parts, all underpinning the track with arpeggios. The signal from the lead guitar is split into stereo, with one side delayed and pitch-shifted ever-so-slightly to create a nice "doubling" effect. Dennis' lead vocal is also enhanced with effects such as echo and doubling, and is probably the best his voice has ever sounded on record. Dennis, Carl, and Billy sing two tracks of mid-range background vocals, while Karen handles the high part. Dennis adds a low bass vocal underneath everything else, and another track is devoted to the high "No more lone-ly nights" hook. Dennis' electric piano, Ed's lead guitar, and Bobby Figueroa's congas combine to create the carefree feeling of floating on the Harmony on a warm breeze-less starlit night, as Dennis and Karen sit hand-in-hand sipping marguaritas on the deck. All-in-all, the most "radio-friendly" production on the album. NOTE: the song originally contained an extra verse that was edited out at some point during the album's production.
PACIFIC OCEAN BLUES
PRODUCED BY DENNIS WILSON (1975) / DENNIS WILSON and GREGG JAKOBSON (1976-1977)
Dennis gets funky again on this ecology-themed cut, the subject of which is man's manipulation of the ocean and the life within it. "We live on the edge of a body of water / warmed by the blood of the cold-hearted slaughter of the otter / Wonder how she feels, the mother seal"..."The flagship of death is an old whaling trawler / People are rising over whale-killing crawlers / You gotta holler more"..."It's no wonder the Pacific Ocean is blue". Mike Love is responsible for the lyrics on this one: Brad Elliott writes, "'Pacific Ocean Blues' existed only as an unfinished instrumental track prior to the sessions for 15 Big Ones. During those sessions Dennis decided he wanted a cut on the album. He asked Mike to write the lyrics, which he did, phoning them in from his home after only a few hours. The song, of course, was not included on 15 Big Ones."
Dennis recorded this song two different times: Elliott's research indicates a track was cut February 12, 1975 (at the same session as "Holy Man" and "Slow Blooze"), and that it was recorded again during a series of sessions late in the year. John Hanlon recalls "Pacific Ocean Blues" was one of the first songs Dennis pulled out to work on in the second week of March 1976 (likely adding a synth overdub at that time). Finally, as mentioned above, Timothy White quoted Dennis as saying (in September '76), "Yesterday, I did a final version of 'Pacific Ocean Song' which I had cut several times." The work done in September most likely involved adding final vocals and the choir. According to AFM documentation, Jamerson's bass guitar was added on February 10, 1977 (from 12:00pm-3:00pm); a large horn section was also overdubbed onto two other tracks, consisting of Michael Andreas on tenor sax, tenor & alto flute, Charlie McCarthy on alto & baritone sax and flute, Lance Buller on flügelhorn, trumpet and trombone, and Bill Lamb on flügelhorn, trumpet and bass trombone. According to evidence on the track sheet and the mixing console tape, the horns replaced two tracks of choir, but they were obviously not used in the final mix (the choir remains on two other tracks labeled "Alexander", after the choir leader).
Ed Tuleja recalls: "Good fun playing on this one. As I remember there were a few guitars and DW just let us bounce off one another." A wah-wah pedal is used on the Fender Rhodes, and the funky drumming certainly sounds the most like Ricky Fataar's style. The Moog solo, recorded in stereo, mimics a steel drum. A rough mix of the instrumental backing track has surfaced on bootlegs in recent years.
FAREWELL MY FRIEND
PRODUCED BY DENNIS WILSON / DENNIS WILSON and GREGG JAKOBSON
Dennis: "My best friend died in my arms, and I came to the studio. It's written for Otto Hinsche, Carl's father-in-law. I carry a picture of him everywhere. When my father died, Pops (Mr. Hinsche) saved my life in a way..." Otto "Pop" Hinsche (Billy's dad) died on May 7, 1976 after a long bout with cancer. Dennis had begun working on this song (under the alternate working titles of HAWAIIAN DREAM and BIG KAHUNA) a couple of weeks earlier as a tribute to the man whom he says had become like a second father to him. "I knew that he loved the Hawaiian islands; the song just happened, sort of a happy farewell." Billy Hinsche: "Dennis would often come over and visit my dad whether I was home or not. They had a lot of little adventures together. My dad died in '76, so there was 10 years of him knowing Dennis. After he passed away, Dennis told me this story about how he was driving around that day in Westwood and his tooth fell out and he thought that was a sign that he needed to go see 'Pop'. He rushed to the hospital and, sure enough, my dad was dying and he died in Dennis' arms." Gregg Jakobson: "Dennis came into the studio (that) night and literally wrote the lyrics for that song." Billy again: "It was something very personal to him. It was almost something he recorded in the still of the night. He kind of kept it to himself." With that in mind, it's likely that Dennis played all the instruments on this track, including the simple but effective lap steel licks (Ed Tuleja, who would have typically played this part, has no memory of playing on this song). Dennis added marimba and mark-tree (labeled as "bells" on the track sheet), played drums with what sounds like a brush on the hi-hat and a soft mallet on the tom-toms, and used the Moog to supply sound effects reminiscent of fish, birds, and the sea.
The following is an exchange between Dennis and writer Scott Cohen, published as part of the article "Surfer Boy" in the October 26, 1976 issue of Circus Magazine:
Wilson: "I go out to Carl's house and I smoke a little grass and Carl's father-in-law's there and Carl's back is out so he asks me to help him with the water sparklers (sic). So Pop and I go around back and I'm barefoot and so loaded and I'm trying to maintain because Pop is saying, 'Don't ever get loaded - it's bad for you. I've been in Manilla and I was in a concentration camp and you just don't get loaded - life is too dear.' He goes on and on and I'm going, (sings) 'Everything is beautiful,' just having a great time. So, in the middle of this great dream, I pick up the bottle of water and it slips out of my hand and it's going to the ground in slow motion, and as the bottle's going down I say, 'Ah fuck, what do I do?'. So I jumped up and came down on the broken glass. The cut was from the big toe to the little toe. I'd like to show you . . . I used to be able to wiggle each toe individually, but since the tendons on the little toe were so small, the surgeon had to sew them all together, so now they all move together."
With "Pop" Hinsche no longer around to add a sense of stability and reason to his life, Dennis felt lost. He soon proposed to Karen, and two weeks after Mr. Hinsche's passing they married for the first time, on a boat trip down the Fern Grotto River in Kauai, Hawaii. A few years later, "Farewell My Friend" would be played at Dennis' own funeral.
PRODUCED BY DENNIS WILSON (1975) / DENNIS WILSON and GREGG JAKOBSON (1976)
Dennis: "'Rainbows' is about being happy and being alive." Steve Kalinich: "I wrote the lyric first and then Dennis was inspired. Sometimes with others he wrote the music first - most times in fact. I came up with the lines when we were on Sunset in Palisades (in the back yard of his house, one of the old Will Rogers estates). After the initial inspiration he changed the melody somewhat and I had to modify some of the words. Carl also helped on the music..."
An early prototype of this song was recorded March 5, 1974, under the working title "String Bass Song". Dennis recorded a new version (or versions) the following year (on March 11th and October 6th). John Hanlon recalls Dennis adding overdubs (probably vocals) the second week of March 1976. Strings were added the evening of July 7th. Ed Tuleja: "That's me on banjo - an antique French tenor banjo." Eddie T. also plays the two mandolins and acoustic guitar on this one, with Carl Wilson also on acoustic guitar. The string bass is almost certainly played by Chuck Domanico, whose session credits included (among other things) the themes to the TV shows "M*A*S*H" and "Cheers". Two sets of drums are clearly evident; the first was probably played by Ricky Fataar on the basic session, while the second, more prominent set, was overdubbed by Dennis later on. Interestingly, there is a notation on the track sheet for "German lead vocal", although none can be heard in the mix.
A powerfully uplifting song, one that creates the feeling of being on a camping trip in the rugged mountains, "dancing in the golden light", "feeling fine", being alive with nature and its wonder. NOTE: an anomaly of the 1991 CD issue of POB is that "Rainbows" fades a few seconds later than on other releases, allowing us to hear Dennis sing "let it shine" another time or two.
END OF THE SHOW
PRODUCED BY DENNIS WILSON and GREGG JAKOBSON
"End Of The Show" was written following Dennis and Karen's first separation in early '77, and as such makes a fitting end-piece for the album; it was also the final song recorded for POB. According to John Hanlon in Adam Webb's book, there was an early alternate version (recorded March 29, 1977 per Dan Addington's website) that had Ed Carter on bass, Billy Hinsche on guitar, and Dennis on the drums. On this remake, the lead guitar licks sound like Eddie Carter, while the bass is Moog. Hanlon: "I can recall April 15th (from my studio notes) we got Bruce Johnston to come in and do a bunch of harmony vocals like parts that Brian would have sung...he just did these background vocal arrangements that rivaled what Brian had done in four or five-part harmony." In the Webb book, Hanlon implies that Bruce's vocal work was on the unreleased version, but the track sheet for the released version indicates his presence as well - and it seems he was accompanied vocally by his frequent colleagues Curt Becher, Joe Chemay and Jon Joyce. In the liner notes to the new Sony Legacy reissue, Hanlon is quoted: "It was almost like a wrap party, that final session with Bruce and everybody. Dennis knew he'd made a great record." A photo of Dennis, Bruce, and Jim Guercio together in the Brother Studio control room, which likely dates from this session, can be found on page 189 of David Leaf's "The Beach Boys and the California Myth". The list of instruments on the track sheet includes "sax", which didn't make the final cut - unless that's the somewhat eerie wailing sound that comes in during the final moments of the song, sounding like the processed sound of an ARP String Ensemble's saxophone setting.
This dynamic track starts softly, and gradually (but subtly) builds in intensity and volume level, as Dennis sings "Thank you very much - for everything I ever dreamed of". As the cut (and the album) fades out, the sound of a roaring audience and brother Carl saying "Thank you - thank you very much" is mixed in from a live Beach Boys concert recording.
Dennis: "It's two things. I know that the world is coming to a place now where mankind is going to give up war...the old is dying. At the same time, it was when I knew that Karen and I were finished." Turns out Dennis was wrong on both counts: mankind unfortunately is, and probably always will be, still at war - and he and Karen were far from finished.
Following POB's release in late August, CBS launched a short but strong promotional campaign, with huge in-store displays at record chains and major retailers nationwide. Large print ads appeared in all the big music publications, and Dennis embarked on an exhausting publicity tour, personally visiting radio stations in several major North American cities (and also London, England). Promo copies of Pacific Ocean Blue, personally signed and addressed by Dennis, were sent to radio disc jockeys and music critics (hungry for feedback, Dennis typically invited the recipients to let him know what they thought of his efforts). But while the album got mostly stellar reviews (Rolling Stone called it a "small masterpiece"), the promotional muscle of CBS was soon redirected toward their surefire sales winners like Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand (such is the fate of art in the business world). POB ended up selling around 200,000 copies and charting at Number 96 in the Billboard U.S. Hot 200 (it was on the chart for 8 weeks), while failing to place at all in Britain. All the same, it was considered an excellent performance for a debut effort (it outsold both the previous and the following Beach Boys albums), and Dennis was given the green light to proceed with its followup.
Dennis also planned a short concert tour behind Pacific Ocean Blue; by that time The Beach Boys as a group had also signed with CBS/Caribou, so the contractual prohibition barring Dennis from performing live solo was null and void. When POB was released in late August, Dennis actually opened a couple of Beach Boys shows (at Pine Knob in Michigan) with a short solo set following "official" tour opener Ricci Martin (a Wilson brothers protégé and Dean's son). According to Bobby Figueroa, there was no real rehearsal, just a quick run-through at soundcheck: "We'd do a half-hour set before The Beach Boys came on, but it didn't last very long. It was me, Carli Muñoz, Ed Carter, Billy (Hinsche), and Dennis was on grand piano the whole time." In addition to those musicians (all from The Beach Boys' touring ensemble), guitarist Ed Tuleja and bassist Wayne Tweed also played in Dennis' band for these performances. The half-hour set included not only selections from POB, but also the Carli Muñoz composition "Under The Moonlight", which would be recorded the following year for Dennis' followup album. By the time the tour hit Canada a few days later, Dennis' solo set had shrunk to just two songs ("What's Wrong" and "Friday Night") performed in the middle of The Beach Boys' show, and even that lasted for only a couple of more shows (in Hershey, PA and Saratoga, NY).
The shambolic nature of these performances cast doubt on Dennis' ability to lead a band of his own, and he apparently realized this and decided to buckle down and refine his act. To this end, Dennis held a handful of rehearsals at Brother Studios in late October and early November, with a band consisting of guitarists Ed Tuleja and Steve Ross, bassist/background vocalist Joe Chemay, keyboardists Carli Muñoz and Elmo Peeler, drummer Bobby Figueroa, vibraphonist/percussionist Darrell Harris, and horn players Michael Andreas, Rod Novak, Lance Buller, Bill Lamb, John Foss, and Charlie McCarthy, plus Carl, Billy Hinsche, and Dennis himself on piano and vocals (the record company balked at Dennis' initial demand for a 22-piece ensemble including a 6-person string section). Dates were booked in about ten cities, while an appearance on Don Kirshner's "Rock Concert" was reportedly set to be taped at Brother Studios on November 2nd. Ricci Martin was hired as the tour's opening act, with poet Stephen Kalinich set to do some readings at the start of the show. It was announced that Brian might even join the tour in one or two cities, along with Bruce Johnston. The tour would have opened at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park, New Jersey on November 21st, with other confirmed venues and dates including Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York (November 22nd), New York City's Avery Fisher Hall (November 23rd), and Philadelphia's Academy of Music (November 29th), as well as Los Angeles' Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The tour would've wrapped with two midwestern dates, in Chicago and Detroit (the latter on December 5th). However, the tour was cancelled, and the reasons appear to be many and complex, including the label's refusal to pay for the string section, pressure from The Beach Boys' management, and Dennis' own personal demons.
Michael Andreas, who led the horn section: "It was during this period that Dennis asked me to put together a band to tour the album. It took me a month or so to do the charts and get things together for our first rehearsals...we had a band ready to go out and tour Pacific Ocean Blue...it was incredible, but Dennis pulled the plug on it. Long story...personally I don't think he was ready for it...The band rehearsed for several weeks, then Dennis got into an argument with the record label because they wouldn't also support taking a string section on the road with us. Dennis got mad, cancelled the tour and the band never performed. Personally, my feeling was that as the band started shaping up and everyone was getting very excited about it (it was really quite incredible!), the responsibility of carrying it all on his shoulders became too much for Dennis. We could have easily hired a string section for any of the big venues we were going to play... that's what bands were doing at that time and I told Dennis... but it was over. Although it took awhile, Dennis did pay everyone for their services. I (with the help of Trisha Campo) made certain the musicians all got paid. I waited a year for my payment which leads to an interesting side story. An attorney told me that as long as I continued sending Dennis a billing reminder once a year, my claim would remain active. So at the end of the year, I sent Dennis a letter telling him about this and that he shouldn't worry about the 'legal' ramifications of the letter, that I was just protecting myself and that I knew that when he had the funds, I would get paid. Thanks to Trisha, I finally did get paid. But years later when I saw Dennis in Venice Beach (he was at his worst - a few months before his death)...at first I thought it was a bum walking my way, then I saw it was Dennis, so I said 'Hey Dennis!' He looked at me... a spark of recognition came across his face and he said...'I remember you... you sued me!' Such was the price of being Dennis' friend." Andreas adds, "Dennis was pretty much everything you may have heard: brilliant and tortured, he could be cruel, he could be an angel, a best friend, no friend. But he certainly made my life a lot more interesting and I'm better for it!"
Dennis clearly did not see his solo career as presenting a conflict of interest with the band; when asked by David Leaf (in August '77) how he juggled his dual careers, he replied, "They're one. I am a Beach Boy. I am Dennis Wilson. I own the studio; the Beach Boys record here. When they're not recording, I record. When they record, I record with them." However, the other Beach Boys (or their management) apparently saw things differently, and gave Dennis an ultimatum: if you tour solo, you're out of the band. Consequently, Dennis announced his tour would be put "on hold" due to committments with the band. Stan Shapiro, Dennis' friend: "Dennis was pissed. He told me he got a phone call from Stephen Love, who was the manager of The Beach Boys at the time, and Mike Love's brother, who gave him an ultimatum: 'You're either gonna be with The Beach Boys or you're gonna be out on your own. If you do the solo tour you're out of the band'...Dennis was in a lot of financial trouble at the time and he wasn't gonna quit the band because he needed the income." Gregg Jakobson: "I think he was really hurt and disappointed because I know he wanted to go on the road with POB. (But) he was very loyal to his brothers. How could he not be conflicted? There's no reason he couldn't have done both, except for that ultimatum that came from Steve Love, plus his problems with his relationship with Karen. It all landed on him at once."
Dennis' longtime friend Ed Roach also feels that Dennis may have subconsciously "sabotaged" his own solo career, out of a fear of the responsibility he would face should the album become too successful: "...he was afraid of the pressure he'd be under to follow it up. He felt that if it were only a moderate success, he'd have more freedom with his sophomore effort. However, this backfired on him, when Guercio insisted he work with an outside producer on the second effort. That was one factor that stopped Bambu. Add to this that he canceled the tour to support the album, and you can see he doomed it to failure." This coincides with what Andreas says above (and as Dennis himself put it a few months before the album's release: "I'm scared. I really am. People say, 'Don't worry, you're going to be a star.' But that's not the point. I just want to do it well enough so I can do it again.") Eddie believes that this fear manifested itself in Dennis' acceptance of a "muddy" final mix, an "unfriendly" album cover photo, and in his refusal to fight for the right to tour solo (something both Mike and Carl would be doing within a few years).
The Dennis Wilson solo tour remains one of the great unfulfilled "might have beens" in Beach Boys history. Although the tour was scrapped, the rehearsals were taped on 2" 24-track...according to those who've heard the tapes, the set consisted of "What's Wrong", "Pacific Ocean Blues", "You And I", "Time", "Friday Night", the newly-composed "Baby Blue", "Moonshine", "Thoughts Of You", and "End Of The Show". Let's hope that Caribou/Sony will release the best rehearsal take of each song as part of another archival DW release in the near future. Dennis, meanwhile, would soon leave all thoughts of promoting Pacific Ocean Blue behind him, as he threw himself into work on a followup album...
Pacific Ocean Blue Legacy Edition Bonus Tracks
TUG OF LOVE
PRODUCED BY DENNIS WILSON and GREGG JAKOBSON
Part of the original POB lineup as assembled in early April '77 (it followed "Pacific Ocean Blues", and the album would've ended with "Farewell My Friend"), "Tug Of Love" (or "Feel The Pull") was dropped from the revised LP lineup when "End Of The Show" became the album's closer. Whether intentionally or not, the lyrics to this "magical" song (as Jon Stebbins and David Beard rightly describe it in their Legacy Edition liner notes) seem to be directed to Brian: "Loney one...the world loves you, yes they do" (Brian, of course, was just coming out of a very reclusive and withdrawn period at the time, and this song could be seen as Dennis' way of encouraging him). The cut was recorded March 13th and mixed by Stephen Moffitt four days later, but it had remained unheard by anyone on the "outside" until 2008, when it was given a fresh remix by John Hanlon and included as the first of four bonus tracks on the Legacy Edition of POB. No AFM sheet has surfaced, and it's entirely possible Dennis plays all the instruments on this track. Jon Stebbins, who was present at the 2008 mixdown session, believes this includes the viola and cello triplets toward the song's end: "...these are very primitive and played just barely good enough to do the job. It's a stack of like three parts with the same guy playing all of them...typical DIY sound." The rich and complex vocal harmonies in the background (some of the most "Beach Boys"-like vocals on any of Dennis' solo recordings) include Gregg Jakobson on bass, and a falsetto line that seems to be Carl doubled by two females (probably Trisha Roach and Phoebe Noel, the latter an aspiring actress and friend of Baron Stewart's). It's surely Baron doing the freaky "Ah, feel the pull" line in the song's solitary chorus. Opening gently with clavinet and the vocals of Dennis and the other singers, the track soon becomes awash in synthesizers and grows to a dynamic drum-driven peak before fading out with the same lullaby-like gentleness with which it opened. An enchanting and progressive piece of music, with some not-so-subtle Pet Sounds overtones, it's far beyond what both The Beach Boys and the rock "mainstream" were producing at the time.
ONLY WITH YOU
PRODUCED BY DENNIS WILSON and GREGG JAKOBSON
Dennis revisits one of the standout cuts from 1973's Holland album, and adds the lengthy coda that he gave the song when it was performed live at Beach Boys concerts in late '72. Although the track for this version was cut in September '76, final vocals were apparently not added until a year later. In Adam Webb's book, British rock journalist Roy Carr recalls accompanying Dean Torrence on a trip to Brother Studio a few weeks after POB's release (Dean was delivering promotional photos to Dennis). The two of them were soon enlisted by Dennis to sing some backup vocals on this tune, which Carr was familiar with from Holland. Roy says, "The whole backing was done but he said he wanted to do a layered vocal on it. So he did a guide vocal himself in about fifteen minutes, doing two or three takes, and we spent the whole afternoon just layering this song and another one I can't remember the name of." Grittier and perhaps more "souful" than the original (which was sung by his brother Carl), it is no less beautiful, with Dennis' piano playing to the fore and Carl joining in on the harmonies and background vocals. Listen to the way Dennis phrases the line "Be-fore love had al-ways ha-ad"; he accentuates different syllables on "always" and "had", giving it a very nice and very different touch. NOTE: musician and instrument credits for this track come directly from the AFM contract and the mixing console tape strip.
PRODUCED BY DENNIS WILSON
PRODUCED BY DENNIS WILSON
The story of "Mexico" is complex, confusing, and intertwined with "Time For Bed". Dennis first cut "Time For Bed" at a couple of different sessions in October '77, and one of those takes, overdubbed with his scratch vocal, is what appears under that title on the 2008 release of Bambu. In May of '78 he recorded a completely different song, titled "Down In Mexico" on the AFM sheet. The same day he also re-recorded "Time For Bed" in two different versions (mid-tempo and slow blues style), both of which incorporated modulations similar to those in the earlier "San Miguel". Dennis evidently planned to tie all three of these May '78 recordings together into a grand "Mexico" trilogy; they exist on one reel labeled "Mexico (Soundtrack)" on the tape box. To make matters even more confusing, "Time For Bed" was recut yet again (once more with the "San Miguel" modulations) at a Beach Boys session for L.A. (Light Album) in September '78; the inscription on the tape box for that version has "Down In Mexico" crossed out and replaced with "Time For Bed". When logging the tapes in the Brother Records vault database, Alan Boyd added "AKA DOWN IN MEXICO" to the song title field for the October '77 recording of "Time For Bed", only so that someone using the database would be aware that it's essentially the same song as Parts Two and Three of the "Mexico (Soundtrack)" trilogy. The instrumental which appears under the title "Mexico" as a bonus track on the Legacy Edition reissue of Pacific Ocean Blue is Part One of the May 1st three-part recording.
The AFM contract for this date includes Bobby Figueroa on drums and Wayne Tweed on bass, however drums were obviously not included in this recording, while the bass is actually from a Moog; most likely Bobby and Wayne play on one or both of the "Time For Bed" remakes cut the same day. Carlos Muñoz and Sterling Smith (both from the Beach Boys' touring band) are each credited simply with "keyboard", but it's likely Carli played the harpsichord that lightly accents Dennis' piano, while Sterling added the background synth parts. John Foss overdubbed the three horns, which enter the picture at various points (and in various combinations) to add colour to the repetetive piano melody, while the baroque Mexican-styled classical guitars are played by Jeff Legg (a Venice Beach acquaintance of Dennis') and sessionman Steve Ross (who would later play in Mick Fleetwood's Zoo, a band that did a great cover of "Angel Come Home").
This haunting and altogether lovely instrumental would indeed make a perfect movie "soundtrack": one can easily imagine it playing in a grand epic western, as the opening and closing credits roll - it is "romantic" in the true literary sense. Several seconds after the final notes die out, Dennis can be heard emitting a goofy laugh and saying, "That's enough for me!"
LP mastered by Jeff Peters and Stephen Moffitt at Location Recording Services, Burbank, CA, circa June 15, 1977
Pacific Ocean Blue & Bambu Legacy Edition
(c) 2008-2016 by Craig Slowinski. No reproduction of any kind is allowed without the express written consent of Craig Slowinski.