Welcome to The Beach Boys Archives website, where we will examine, track-by-track, the classic recordings of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, that vast body of work that has so influenced and inspired musicians and music-lovers the world over for decades now. Here you will find as much detail as can possibly be provided in terms of vocalist, musician, producer, and engineer credits, session dates and locations, and in many cases a step-by-step description of the work-in-progress for each cut recorded by The Beach Boys and/or produced by Brian Wilson in the sixties. So many books and articles have been written over the years on the subject of Brian and the Boys, most of them dealing with the highs and lows of their professional and personal lives. The goal of this website is to focus instead on the actual recorded music, and only mention non-musical events in terms of historical context, or if they have some immediate bearing on the recorded works themselves.
The first question that should be answered is "Why?"...why would someone feel the compulsion to do this? In my defense, I blame The Beach Boys themselves...or maybe it was Dean Torrence. Whoever's idea it was to print the full musician and vocalist credits, song-by-song, on the back cover of the 15 Big Ones album, thus blowing my 13-year old mind when, in that Summer of '76, I inadvertently came across it in the "new release" bin of the music department at the JC Penney store in the local mall. That chance encounter was both eye-opener and opium, at once expanding my mind and sealing my fate. From that moment on, I became obsessed with discovering who played what on as many Beach Boys tracks as possible. Knowing that things weren't as simple with The Beach Boys as with a completely self-contained band like, say, Aerosmith, and that The Beach Boys' recorded history was a rich legacy of multi-textured sound created by a combination of group members playing their regular instruments, swapping instruments, and hiring professional session musicians to play some or all of the instruments, then layering thick cushions of Beach Boys vocals all over this musical bed, it became a mystery that needed unraveling. The back cover of 15 Big Ones also provided a mailing address for something called "Beach Boys Freaks United", the official fan club that I soon enrolled in, which opened numerous doors to all kinds of people with all kinds of information on The Beach Boys - although discovering the identities of the players on specific tracks from their classic '60s recordings was a journey that took several more decades, as we will see...
Long Promised Road
"The Beach Boys - A Biography In Words And Pictures" by Ken Barnes, published a few months prior to the release of 15 Big Ones, clued me in on the fact that Brian Wilson, in his role as record producer, would often hire professional session musicians to lay down the instrumental tracks over which the Boys would later sing. Discovering the names of these players was a gradual process: the first comprehensive list of sessioneers who regularly contributed to Beach Boys records in the '60s was included by David Leaf in his ground-breaking 1978 bio "The Beach Boys and the California Myth":
Drums: Hal Blaine
Horns: Steve Douglas, Jay Migliori, Roy Caton, Lou Blackburn
Guitar: Ray Pohlman, Glen Campbell, Tommy Tedesco, Jerry Cole, Barney Kessel
Bass: Carol Kaye, Lyle Ritz, Julius Wechter (this last musician was actually a percussionist incorrectly identified as a bassist)
Harmonica: Tommy Morgan
Accordion: Carl Fortina, Frank Marocco
Piano: Leon Russell, Al De Lory, Don Randi
Engineering: Chuck Britz
Elsewhere in the book, Sid Sharp is identified as the string section leader on Brian's sessions.
Of course, by this time, the 15 Big Ones album had been out for a couple of years, and some of the above players were credited with performances on one or both of the two tracks that Brian cut with Britz at Western Recorders in 1976 for that album:
Drums: Hal Blaine
Horns: Steve Douglas, Jay Migliori
Guitar: Tommy Tedesco, Jerry Cole
Bass: Lyle Ritz, Ray Pohlman
Accordion: Carl Fortina
Percussion: Julius Wechter
Douglas, Migliori, Ritz and Sharp are also credited on other songs from that album, as are several other players whom we later found out were frequent contributors to Brian's '60s sessions.
The Beach Boys' "authorized biography" by Byron Preiss was published in early 1979, and it named the following musicians as playing on Beach Boys sessions circa 1966: Hal Blaine, Steve Douglas, Larry Knechtal (sic), Don Randy (sic), Mike Rabini (sic), Ray Pullman (sic), Billy Strange, Jim Horn, and Al DeLaurie (sic). Some of these names were familiar: Larry Knechtel was known as a member of the '70s group Bread, and he had also played piano on Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water". Jim Horn (a horn player, of course!) showed up in the credits on albums by people like George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and The Rolling Stones. The 1981 book "Rock Record" by Terry Hounsome and Tim Chambre listed musicians and their instruments, and was useful in filling in some blanks (which is where I learned that Billy Strange was a guitarist). The back covers of various late '60s albums by artists such as Barbara Streisand actually provided musicians credits, and some of the same names could be found there (which is where I learned that Mike Rubini is a keyboardist).
In 1982, Brad Elliott's "Surf's Up: The Beach Boys On Record, 1961-1981" was published, and it included the same list of musicians as Leaf's book, however he swapped Carol Kaye's and Ray Pohlman's instruments and corrected Julius Wechter's instrument to "percussion". Brad set the record straight to a large degree by reporting that "Brian also did a sizeable amount of keyboard work himself and relied on his brother, Carl, for much of the guitar work". In April 1983, "Guitar Player" magazine published an interview with Carol Kaye, in which she recalled that she and Ray Pohlman would switch back-and-forth between guitar and bass, and on Beach Boys sessions that she participated in, Carl "would be in the booth on 12-string", "Lyle Ritz played acoustic bass", and "Barney Kessel, Howard Roberts, and I were on the dates" together. "Guitar Player" was a good place to learn about the backgrounds of guitarists such as Kaye, Tedesco, Kessel, and Roberts, all of whom wrote articles or columns at various points in the late '70s and early '80s, and in 1986 the magazine published an article on surf guitarist Al Casey which revealed that he had played on "Sloop John B." and "Good Vibrations". Unfortunately, "Guitar Player"'s editors had a habit of assuming every guitarist who ever recorded with the Beach Boys played on "Good Vibrations", and often listed the live "Beach Boys '69" in the discographies of these studio players.
The September 1983 "Musician Magazine" article on The Beach Boys by Geoffrey Himes (based largely on a career-spanning interview with Carl Wilson the previous year) included the following list of players:
Acoustic bass: Jimmy Bond
Piano: Leon Russell
Saxophone: Steve Douglas
Piano: Don Randi
Saxophone: Jay Migliori
Drums: Hal Blaine
Percussion: Frank Kapp (sic)
Guitars: Tommy Tedesco, Bill Pitman, Ray Pohlman, Glen Campbell
Drums: Jim Gordon
Guitar: Billy Strange
Hal Blaine's autobiography, published in 1990, gave a name to this ever-shifting band of studio stalwarts: "The Wrecking Crew", and credited Stan Ross with engineering some of Brian's dates at Gold Star. Also in 1990, David Leaf contributed the liner notes to Capitol's CD reissue of Stack-o-Tracks, and these notes included a revised musicians list:
Drums: Hal Blaine
Horns: Steve Douglas, Jay Migliori, Roy Caton, Lou Blackburn
Guitars: Glen Campbell, Tommy Tedesco, Jerry Cole, Barney Kessel, Billy Strange
Bass: Ray Pohlman, Carol Kaye, Lyle Ritz, Julius Wechter (still incorrectly identified as a bassist), Bill Pitman (technically more of a guitarist)
Harmonica: Tommy Morgan
Accordion: Carl Fortina, Frank Marocco
Piano: Leon Russell, Al De Lory, Don Randi
Percussion: Gene Estes, Frank Capp, Jim Gordon
"The Sid Sharpe Stings" (sic)
This exact list was reprinted, with no revisions, in the liner notes for the DCC Compact Classics 24-KT Gold reissue of Pet Sounds and Capitol's Good Vibrations: Thirty Years Of The Beach Boys box set, both released in 1993. The same year, "Guitar Player" published a feature article on Beach Boys sidemen, including quotes from Strange, Cole, Tedesco, Kessel, drummer Blaine, and engineer Britz, in which they revealed many neat anecdotes pertaining to Brian's sessions.
As far as the studio soundmen go, Byron Preiss credited Chuck Britz, Jim Lockart (sic), and Phil Kaye with engineering the Pet Sounds sessions at Western, and Britz and Lockert were both quoted extensively by Preiss. From Smiley Smile on, engineering credits were printed in at least a minimal sense on all Beach Boys albums, but prior to that they were not, therefore it was beneficial that in his book David Leaf also acknowledged Chuck Britz and Larry Levine as the sound engineers who regularly worked with Brian in the early years. Capitol's 1993 box set credited the following for engineering on the original recordings (with studios added by me in parentheses): Chuck Britz (Western), Larry Levine (Gold Star), Dave Hassinger (RCA), Armen Steiner (sic) (Sound Recorders), Bruce Botnick (Sunset Sound), James Hilton (Gold Star), Jim Lockhart (sic) (Brian's home studio), Steve Desper (Brian's home studio), Earle Mankay (sic) (Brother), Tom Murphy (Brother), Steve Moffitt (Holland and Brother), Jeff Peters (MIU), "and others".
Up to this point in the story, all we had were the names and a few scattered details from the players themselves, but all that was about to change. As fate would have it, a few of the actual American Federation of Musicians contracts from Beach Boys recording sessions began to leak out of the union and record company files and turn up in the pages of fanzines, something of a dream-come-true for the obsessive fan such as myself. Though few-and-far-between, these documents revealed which of the musicians had played on a few specific cuts such as "Here Today" and "Don't Hurt My Little Sister". As it would turn out, these were the tip of the iceberg, a mere whetting of the whistle...
Finally, in 1997, the Pet Sounds Sessions box set appeared, with track-by-track musician and engineer credits for all its songs (including the first "Good Vibrations" session), based on the AFM sheets and tape logs. This went a long way toward presenting accurate credits, however there were still a few mistakes (which will be discussed in the essay for that album). At least Julius Wechter was finally credited correctly as a percussionist! Plus, the accompanying booklet included not only the recollections of the individual Beach Boys (including the late Dennis Wilson) and lyricist Tony Asher, but also recent interviews with engineers Chuck Britz, Larry Levine, Stan Ross, and Bruce Botnick, as well as musicians Hal Blaine, Julius Wechter, Frank Capp, Carol Kaye, Lyle Ritz, Don Randi, Larry Knechtel, Al de Lory, Billy Strange, Jerry Cole, Barney Kessel, Al Casey, Tommy Tedesco, Jay Migliori, Plas Johnson, Jack Nimitz, Bill Green, Jim Horn, Roy Caton, Ernie Tack, Lew McCreary, Alan Robinson, Frank Marocco, Carl Fortina, Tommy Morgan, and Sid Sharp, along with the posthumously-published recollections of the late Ray Pohlman and Steve Douglas. Sadly, within a few years of this special box set's release, others from this list would pass away, including Chuck Britz, Tommy Tedesco, Barney Kessel, Julius Wechter, and Jay Migliori (not to mention the beloved Carl Wilson). Fortunately, we have their memories of recording with Brian to cherish, and to help us gain better insight into that very special musical world.
Debunking the Myth
In 1978, David Leaf wrote "from 1963 through 1966 Brian used studio musicians on the instrumental tracks." That one statement has done more to distort reality than just about anything else in Beach Boys land. For, somewhere along the line, this was repeated and repeated and blown up into the extreme myth that, beginning right at the start of 1963, Brian (in his role as producer) only used professional "outside" musicians on all the instrumental tracks, and used the Beach Boys just for vocals. Never mind that Leaf quoted Chuck Britz as saying "mostly everybody was playing to some degree", and never mind that Byron Preiss wrote that on Pet Sounds Dennis still contributed some drums and Carl was on "memorable rhythm and electric guitar". It was just popularly assumed that the Boys only sang, and didn't play, on virtually all of their classic '60s cuts. Leaf went on to say, "This didn't bother the Beach Boys", and he quotes Britz again: "Everybody seemed happy that they didn't have to be here for all that hard work." The myth began to build to the point where popular folklore had it that Brian wouldn't let the other guys near the studio after '62, except to cut vocals, and sometimes he wouldn't even let them do that, often preferring to overdub all the parts himself (this may be the case on one or two songs, but it was not common practice at all)!
Dennis seems to be the main victim of this myth, with the legend abounding that he drummed on nothing after their second album (and not even on the title cut of that album), and sang on virtually nothing either, except for the token lead vocal. One noted publication even described his role in the band as merely the Beach Boys’ “onstage drummer”. It just became "easy" for folks to assume that it was Hal Blaine, not Denny, banging the skins on "Denny's Drums", and that Dennis was virtually allergic to recording studios until the late '60s, when his songwriting and producing talents suddenly emerged from nowhere. Likewise, the fame and stature of guitarists Glen Campbell and Tommy Tedesco in the world of session players also resulted in their names being associated with the guitar solos on practically all Beach Boys records (not by Glen or Tommy themselves, both of whom could only remember playing rhythm for the Boys, but rather by the authors of numerous books and magazine articles who were making an assumption based on the popular myth). The truth, however, is not that simple. Not that this would necessarily hurt their artistic integrity (except for Dennis)...the Beach Boys have always considered themselves first and foremost a vocal group, and most of their records feature an abundance of their own voices, weaving in and out of the tracks in complex multi-part harmonies more prominently than on the records of most of their contemporaries, with the entire group (yes, including Dennis) singing on the majority of songs, and singing on a good 75% of each song. And since one of the Beach Boys was producing the records after all, artistic control was indeed maintained by the artist. Brian was arranging the parts the musicians would play and directing their performance, like a composer who is also his own conductor, using the talents of an orchestra to achieve the ultimate rendering of his score, and then stepping in with his choir (the Beach Boys) to top it off vocally. Unlike the early career of many a "teen idol" (such as The Monkees in the '60s, or any of today's interchangeable pre-fabricated singing sensations), the Boys (or Brian at least) were in charge of their own recording sessions.
But as any good historian can attest, a myth perpetuated is tough to deflate: "If a lie is told enough times, it will become the truth." Recollections of the participants can't always be relied upon either...many of these pro studio musicians were playing multiple sessions, day-in and day-out, for numerous clients, for years on end. They can hardly be expected to remember the fine details of any given session with crystal-clear accuracy some 30, 40, or 50 years later! In reality, however, once the vaults were opened up and the tapes were studied, the true situation became clear: the Boys themselves played most of the instruments on their records until the Beach Boys Today! album in early 1965. Up to that point, they would occasionally augment their playing with percussion, horns, or an extra bass, and a couple of times Brian cut an entire Beach Boys backing track with outside musicians, but that was the exception, not the rule (Brian was using the so-called "Wrecking Crew" a lot during these early years for his "outside" productions: records he cut for artists other than the Beach Boys, such as his girlfriend's group The Honeys). Beginning with Today! and for the next several albums (excluding Party!), the studio cats were used in ever-increasing proportions, but there were still a few cuts on each LP that featured the playing of the Boys quite prominently...and most of the time, you really can't tell the difference! Plus, until Pet Sounds, Carl was on almost every session, playing guitar alongside the pros, and Brian himself would frequently contribute keyboards (as Brad Elliott pointed out back in '82!), even though they weren't always listed on the AFM contracts. With Pet Sounds and SMiLE, the involvement of the other Boys on the instrumental tracks diminished greatly (finally achieving the state Britz described when he told Leaf "95% of it was studio musicians"). But this happened much later than the myth would have you think.
Since so many inaccuracies have circulated regarding The Beach Boys' records in general, and certain songs specifically, great pains have been taken here to not only correct as many myths as possible, but also to prevent any new ones from starting. When something is "informed speculation" rather than proven fact, it will be indicated as such. And, the neat thing about a website is, information can be updated as frequently as needed, as new evidence surfaces. A book might undergo several revisions that result in a "new edition" being published every couple of years, if the book is popular enough. A document published on a website, on the other hand, can be updated as often as needed.
Primary vs. Secondary Sources
In college, my major of choice was History. A large part of the study of history involves something called "historical research"...the study of the study of history. By learning the techniques of those who "write" history, you learn how to do that yourself (understanding, of course, that you are not actually "writing" history any more than you "caused" historical events to happen). Rather, you are writing "about" it...explaining it, and hopefully remaining as objective as possible. You learn that the truth, after all, is not "my truth" or "your truth", but rather the absolute truth. Not that one can't entertain a "theory" based on "informed speculation"...as long as he presents it as such. Necessarily, the historian will always approach his work from his own unique perspective, but if he wishes to retrain credibility, then he must retain objectivity. And part of that is learning to balance two or more conflicting accounts of the same event. Just as multiple witnesses may remember the details of a traffic accident in multiple ways, so it is with, say, multiple participants of the same recording session. And the further removed in time from the event a witness is, the greater chance we have of "memory corruption". No one can say with certainty something happened in a particular way unless they were there, and even then their recollection is sometimes suspect. For those of us not there, the most we can say is that something appears to have happened in a certain way, based on the evidence we now have. Thus, an eyewitness to a historical event is considered a "primary source", whereas a newspaper article or the work of someone like myself, who writes about history, would be considered a "secondary source". However, in most cases, an even better "primary source" than an eyewitness with a potentially fading memory would be some form of unaltered document...film or audio being the best, with legal contracts or other contemporary written evidence a close second. Thus, potentially, new "primary sources" can always be uncovered from the closets and file cabinets of history.
In terms of The Beach Boys’ recorded history, a real bonanza came about in the 1990s with the appearance of (a) facsimiles of the original American Federation of Musicians recording session contracts and (b) unedited studio session tapes. Still, we were cautioned by those "in the know" that the AFM sheets were "not gospel", as record companies and producers had a habit of "fudging" the contracts to pay people who weren't even at the session, and sometimes not pay people who were. Fortunately, there was plenty of tape rolling when Brian and the Boys were in the studio...the multi-tracks, of course, and sometimes a separate 1/4" mono reel-to-reel...and these were stored away for posterity, waiting to be discovered decades later, like some previously unknown gold mine. Prior to this, it seemed as though songs such as "Let's Go Away For Awhile" might've just magically appeared on tape out of the ether; but now we were privy, in many cases, to the voices walking us through the blow-by-blow creation of these musical pieces. The session tapes, when they began to appear first in trickles on collectors' cassettes, and later in abundance on bootleg CDs, at last allowed us a glimpse into the past, a window into a world we had previously only dreamt about, a way to eavesdrop on a bygone event as if we were actually there. If the AFM sheets were like a time capsule, the session tapes were like a time machine. We could actually transport ourselves back to the time and location of specific sessions, and be there to learn how these amazing records were put together, and the individual role each participant played. Imagine the awestruck glee historians would have if such records existed of key events in world history...if the plotters of JFK's assassination or the builders of the scorpion roads in South America had left behind audio tapes in which they discuss in plain detail what they are doing every step of the way. Most of the final mixes as released on the official records may be rather muddy, but the bootleg Sea Of Tunes Unsurpassed Masters series in particular has given us access to crystal-clear and clean original multi-track session tapes as well as sometimes the entire vocal overdub sessions. The tapes also helped prove the reliability of the AFM contracts, for in the case of Brian Wilson-produced sessions, the names on the contracts match up with the names heard on the tapes amazingly well, indicating that the contracts can be trusted as factual documents. In contrast to the shady practice of some ‘60s record producers in adding names of their friends to the contracts so they could be paid without having played, the contracts for Brian’s sessions only included those people who actually participated in the session, whether it be the Beach Boys, the sidemen, the session contractor (beginning in 1966), or the studio engineers (beginning in late 1965). In fact, starting in late 1964, the names of the Beach Boys and their friends were sometimes even left off contracts for sessions where the tapes prove they were clearly there and performing musically. Therefore, when painting a picture of a Beach Boys recording session, it’s important to examine both the AFM contracts and the session tapes, either of which may be incomplete on their own. Taken together however, these powerful primary sources are the closest we will ever have (short of a REAL time machine) to actually being there, and they comprise the real meat-and-potatoes of my dissertation.
In addition to blaming my obsessive compulsion on whomever decided to place the performer credits on the back cover of 15 Big Ones, I feel a degree of gratitude (or blame) must be given to the following individuals, all of whom preceded me in my endeavors and greatly inspired my work in this field (listed more-or-less chronologically relative to my awareness of their work):
Alice from BBFUN
Andrew G. Doe
Stephen J. McParland
and probably many more whom I unwittingly left out
Additional thanks to these individuals who have provided me with specific assistance:
Josh Hoisington, who frequently provides a valuable second set of ears
Rocker (from the Smiley Smile mesage board), Doug Schenker, and Paul Dowling for valued historical tidbits here 'n' there
Jon Stebbins (author of "Dennis Wilson: The Real Beach Boy" and "David Marks: The Lost Beach Boy") for believing in this noble cause
Mark Linett and Alan Boyd for sharing some recording details from the tape archives at Brother
Finally, and most importantly, it should be said that none of my writings here matter in the least bit without the actual music of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, resonating so strongly a half-century or so down the line. It is my hope that an interest in the music will spark an interest in knowing how it was made, and vice versa. Read this intently or at your leisure, but don't neglect to listen just as earnestly...
Omaha, Nebraska, Spring 2006