Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson is arguably the greatest American composer of popular music in the rock era. His music has become more than hit records. He changed the musical landscape and in the process, he changed musical history.
Born and raised in Hawthorne, California, Wilson formed the Beach Boys back in the ’60s—with his two younger brothers, Dennis and Carl, along with cousin Mike Love, and school friend Alan Jardine—becoming one of the most successful American rock bands in history.
He was barely out of his teens when he began to create some of the most beloved records ever… nine consecutive gold albums that featured such classics as “Surfer Girl,” “In My Room,” “I Get Around,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “Help Me Rhonda” and “California Girls”…just to name a handful of their more than two dozen Top 40 hits Wilson co-wrote, arranged, produced and performed
Distinguished by their vocal harmonies and early surf songs, they pioneered novel approaches to popular music form and production, combining their affinities for jazz-based vocal groups, ’50s rock and roll, and black R&B to create their unique sound.
Wilson’s increasingly sophisticated songwriting and recording abilities dominated their creative direction. Emerging at the vanguard of the “California Sound,” they performed original material that reflected a southern California youth culture of surfing, cars, and romance.
After 1964, the “boys” abandoned the surfing aesthetic for more personal lyrics, and multi-layered sounds. Wilson continued to explore a variety of other styles and incorporate unconventional recording techniques in innovative ways. In 1966, the Pet Sounds album changed the course of musical history and the “Good Vibrations” single vaulted the group to the top level of rock innovators and established the band as symbols of the counterculture era. It stunned everybody.
The album was ahead of its time, and Paul McCartney has credited the album as the inspiration for the Beatles’ own foray into psychedelic experimentation—Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.
While Pet Sounds and “Good Vibrations” were climbing the charts, the Beach Boys themselves were in turmoil personally. The glorious harmonies, ingenious hooks and four years of uninterrupted creative growth, along with commercial success were no long enough to satisfy Wilson.
They parted ways, with Wilson retreating from the group after the SMiLE project in 1967. He left production and songwriting duties to the rest of the band reducing his input. He parted ways with the group, followed by the burning question of the music world that wondered what he would do next.
The answer took shape through a new collaboration with poet, studio musician and burgeoning songwriter, Van Dyke Parks. They began work on what Wilson believed would be “a teenage symphony to God,” SMiLE. The pivotal album was to feature such Wilson/Parks songs as “Heroes & Villains,” “Surf’s Up,” “Wonderful,” “Cabin Essence” and the wordless a cappella marvel, “Our Prayer.” Those who heard the “work in progress” were hailing it as the cutting edge of a “new” sound. A suite of songs that combined classical composition, multi-part harmonies, rock rhythms, wondrous wordplay and an avant-garde sensibility, it was somehow going to be both ahead of its time and timeless. SMiLE quickly became one of the most anticipated works of the rock era. Then the project was shelved for a multitude of reasons.
Everybody, especially the Beatles, had been watching and waiting to hear how Brian would follow-up “Good Vibrations.” During the subsequent 37 years, SMiLE became the most famous unfinished, unreleased album ever.
Yet through the years, as Wilson battled his personal demons and struggled to find a place to fit in and to survive in the music world, he continued to produce intimate musical gems.
The Pet Sounds Sessions box set earned Wilson a Grammy nomination, his first since “Good Vibrations.”
Wilson recorded his solo album Imagination in 1998, filled with solid Wilson originals and layered harmonies. Wilson’s strong vocals were, for many, the highlight of Imagination.
Conquering his legendary stage-fright, Wilson went on his first solo tour in 1999, taking center stage at a series of concerts which finally gave his fans the opportunity to return the love they’d received from his music.
In the summer of 2000, Wilson began a series of “dreams come true” events when he kicked off his acclaimed Pet Sounds symphonic tour, taking that studio creation to concert halls around the world, giving audiences the opportunity to experience Wilson’s production masterpiece as a living, breathing work of art.
Yet, throughout all of this, Wilson never lost sight of the music that had become “the holy grail” of pop—SMiLE. Wilson began to add SMiLE songs to his live sets. Wilson and Van Dyke Parks reunited, and in February 2004, Wilson’s “new” version of SMiLE was revealed to the world in a week of dramatic “dream-fulfilling” concerts at London’s Royal Festival Hall.
Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE was released in September, 2004. Like the concert, the album exceeded expectations and topped many “Album of The Year” lists, went gold in the UK and earned Wilson his first Grammy Award.
Since then he has been creating new music, such as That Lucky Old Sun (2008), which was critically acclaimed as his strongest new work in years.
Wilson makes a stop at Harrah’s Laughlin as part of his 50th anniversary of the Pet Sounds album. Special guests are Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin.
We visited with Wilson for a few minutes to gather some of his thoughts on his music. He’ a music man first and foremost, letting the music do most of his talking. So his answers are short and sweet. Here’s his take…

Composing has always come pretty easy to you?
Wilson: Right, it does come very naturally to me—very easy—it’s easy as breathing. Well that, and I’ve been practicing with the band for 20 years, so I’m pretty good.

Your thoughts on 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds?
Wilson: Well, when we went into the studio, I put Carl on the lead of “God Only Knows,” and the guy said, “Carl, that’s such a great vocal,” and he started crying.
Well, I had a lot in mind, the Los Angeles musicians that I used were so great they actually helped me produce the album. I was so blown away by Carl, and I was so blown away by the sound on the speakers. What made sense was the harmonies. When me and the boys sang the harmonies, everybody started clapping and people  said, “hey, you were sounding great.”

Paul McCartney credited that album as the inspiration for Sgt. Pepper and he respects you as a composer and songwriter?
Wilson: We had a nice rivalry. We have a mutual admiration trip going on. I’m proud of the Beatles, I think they’re great, you know.

About finally finishing and recording SMiLE…
Wilson: Me and Van Dyke Parks wrote the SMiLE album in the ’60s and when we finally finished it, we had to write a third movement and it was all about Hawaii. We didn’t change the concept, we just added a third movement and made sure the vocals got across to people.

What’s your favorite Beach Boys album?
Wilson: California Girls is my favorite Beach Boys record and I love performing it on stage.

Your favorite recording session?
Wilson: The night we cut “Good Vibrations.” It took us three hours.

Working with the Wrecking Crew (well-known session players consisting of Leon Russell, Glen Campbell, and others) …
Wilson: The Wrecking Crew helped me do Pet Sounds. They didn’t produce it but they came up with some good ideas for me to do.

Your thoughts on the music today.
Wilson: I don’t know. The music I listen to on the radio is ’50s and ’60s music. I like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I like the old groups.

Talk about the show you’re bringing to Laughlin with Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin.
Wilson: It’s not that easy to perform on stage when you’re in your early 70s. I’m not quite as energetic as I used to be, so it’s a little rougher than it used to be. I love performing, but it’s a little harder these days for me to do it. Blondie is a great performer, he really is and Al is a great singer, so I have a good time with them on stage. They’re really fun to work with. There are 10 male players, so that makes 11 of us. I just hope the fans in Laughlin love the Pet Sounds album.


 

BRIAN WILSON

Harrah’s, Rio Vista Outdoor Amphitheater

Saturday, May 20. 8 p.m.; doors open 7:40 p.m. (See Showtimes for tickets)