Holiday Harmonies

More than 58 years ago, in 1961, Mike Love and his cousins Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson and Dennis Wilson, along with family friend Al Jardine, formed a different kind of “garage band.” They took all things associated with summer — the laid back lifestyle, the girls and fun, wrapped in their Southern California penchant for the beach, sun and surfing and came up with their own songs and sound unlike anything anyone had ever heard. Their upbeat, yet intricately arranged songs came about thanks to the weirdly wired Brian Wilson and creative juices of Mike Love.
They became the Beach Boys, the preeminent band of the ’60s, and tapped into a way to make summers last forever by creating music that’s outlasted other groups, other genres, even the original band itself.
The story of the Beach Boys has been one of lasting success — but not without its well-documented trials, tribulations, turmoil and tragedies.
But in spite of all of the rocky waves and changing tides, the music has survived — songs like “Surfin’ USA,” “Surfer Girl,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “I Get Around,” “California Girls,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “Barbara Ann,” “Good Vibrations” and more.
The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and was the recipient of The Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.
Their music continues to be delivered live by Love and the “6th Beach Boy,” Bruce Johnston (he joined the group way back in 1965 when Brian Wilson split). They have carried on with the musical legacy by never wavering from their objective of surrounding themselves with musicians who can help them fully capture the ageless anthems of the Beach Boys.
The Beach Boys make trips to Laughlin on a regular basis and this time they will be bringing their “Holiday, Harmonies & Hits” show to the E Center at the Edgewater on Saturday, Nov. 30.
Maybe they will keep the winter away just a little longer by giving some favorite Christmas songs that California beach vibe. Besides, who can forget their original holiday tune, “Little St. Nick,” which no doubt will be on the set list.
“I have a Christmas album called Reason for the Season, and we’ll be doing three or four songs from that one,” Love told the Laughlin entertainer. “One is a re-record of ‘Little St. Nick’ the record you hear if you go to a mall. It was a big hit for us back in the mid-’60s and every year it’s played, which is great.
“And Amazon would love to hear from your readers about the Reason For the Season album,” he said with a laugh.
“We’ve got a smattering of new songs, and new performances, and some of the Christmas offerings, along with every single big hit you’d ever want to hear from the Beach Boys — so it’s a pretty comprehensive show,” he added.
In addition to Love and Johnston, the current lineup includes Tim Bonhomme (keyboards, vocals); John Cowsill (percussion, drums, vocals); Brian Eichenberger (bass, backing vocals) Randy Leago (saxophones, flutes, harmonicas and percussion), Christian Love (vocals, rhythm guitar), Keith Hubacher (bass) and Scott Totten (lead and rhythm guitar, vocals, musical director).
“My son Christian is playing with us,” he said. “He took a sabbatical so he could go play beach volleyball in Santa Barbara, which is what he loves to do and still does. He came back on the road with us and he sounds fantastic. He does the lead on ‘Good Vibrations,’ and ‘God Only Knows,’ which was originally done by Carl Wilson on the Pet Sounds album in 1966, when Carl left us to lung cancer over 20 years ago. Christian has an eerie resemblance to Carl vocally, he has a similar timber and range. So it’s pretty awesome to sit back and see my son doing that beautiful song, which is a favorite of so many people.”
Those people include fans around the world.
“We were in Germany, Spain, Czechoslovakia, Denmark and Great Britain, in London’s Royal Albert Hall,” Love said. “What the Vatican is for Catholics, that’s what Royal Albert Hall is for musicians. It’s beautiful, it sounds great, holds a few thousand people, it’s magnificent.
“We’ve done that a few times over the years, and every time we go back it seems to sell out,” he added. “We’ve been invited back to London again, and also Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland — so that’s for next year. We could end up going to some more places, too. We’ll just see what happens. It’s just amazing, places like Germany, where English is not their first language, by any means, nor is it in Japan, but we have a lot of fans in all these places around the world.”
“When we start one of our songs, they recognize the intro and this whole roar comes up from the audience,” he said. “It’s great.”
Who says summer can’t last forever after all these miles and years? What an interesting perspective — to start out as these crazy kids from California who liked harmonies and hanging with their family, becoming this worldwide phenomenon. Their music is now considered timeless and classic.
“The funny thing about this coming season — our singing together really started because of my mom who was such a big music fan,” Love explained. “We had a grand piano, an organ and a harp in our living room and I have two sisters who play the harp. In fact, my sister Maureen, played on ‘Catch A Wave,’ and ‘In My Room’ originally. She also played on my Reason For the Season album, she played on some of the Christmas carols we did on the album.
“It’s kind of like déjà vu in a way. Here we are with my children and myself, and my sister playing on a Christmas album, that we just put out last year. As you know Christmas albums can be perennials. So we’re hoping for the best for Reason For the Season.
“The song is a reminder that the holiday Christmas is not just about presents and all that. The nice thing about Christmas is getting together and holiday music, but it’s also about an event that happened in Bethlehem a couple thousand years ago. It’s a boogie woogie rock and roll reminder of the fact.”
This trip to Laughlin might include a little frost in the air, but Mike Love’s personal mission is to keep the beach party going and the music the way people first remember hearing it all those years ago.
“’You guys sound better than you ever have,’ is great to hear,” Love said. “It’s our obsession. We try to do those songs as accurately and perfectly as humanly possible, and fortunately with me being the lead singer on many songs — and with all the other parts being done by really good singers and musicians — it’s easy to transport myself to 1965 if I’m doing ‘California Girls.’
“If people close their eyes, it could be 1965 again, because we recreate those songs perfectly. We’re still doing all the hit songs in the proper keys.
“Beach Boys arrangements are complicated enough to keep us on our toes,” he explained. “We can’t just do it without being engaged in it. Our harmonies are moving parts and my cousin Brian’s talent gave our music its distinguishing character. Our harmonies made us stand out from the other groups. It’s rewarding for us to see how much Beach Boys music is appreciated by so many generations — from seniors on down to children. It’s a really wonderful thing to go out and do the songs and have them appreciated 40 or 50 years after they were recorded.”
They perform one a capella song that illustrates the power of their vocal harmonies which are still beautifully in tact.
“We do ‘Their Hearts Were Full of Spring,’ that we learned by copying the Four Freshmen,” Love said. “It’s pretty much the exact arrangement and it’s beautiful — and it’s just voices.
“I like doing that because it shows people how intricate those harmonies are and how special the Beach Boys vocals are because of these sophisticated harmonies,” he added. “I mean, a lot of people will do two-part harmony, or three-part, but this is four-part harmony — very moving, very incredible chord progressions, it’s really kind of cool to show that depth. It’s also a very romantic song, it’s about lasting love and it’s beautiful.”
Speaking of Great Britain, the Beach Boys and the Beatles had a bit of a friendly rivalry going, especially when “Good Vibrations” came out. The Beatles really liked that sound and envied the fact they hadn’t figured it out yet.
“It was a lively competition, let’s put it that way,” he laughed. “It wasn’t negative, it was like ‘wow, that’s pretty damn good what they just did,’ but Good Vibrations went to No. 1 in the fall of 1966 and we were voted the No. 1 group in Great Britain, No. 2 being The Beatles. Take that, you ‘Mop Tops’!'”
Their mutual respect for each other lives on.
“On an album I just did last year, called Twelve Sides of Summer, we do ‘Here Comes the Sun,’ which is that classic by George Harrison,” Love said. “We did it differently, we did it with our harmonies and it’s got kind of a bossa nova beat to it, so it’s really a cool version produced by our lead guitarist and musical director Scott Totten. We had a great time making the Twelve Sides of Summer album and in fact we play a song called ‘Rock Away Beach,’ which is originally by a group called The Ramones. They did ‘Surfin’ Safari,’ — they were Beach Boys’ fans. So I say we got even with them by doing their song. It really rocks. We had such a great time doing it, too, and we have a great time doing it every night.
“The Beach Boys are in our own world and with our body of music, earned our place of respect. I call it a ‘sonic oasis.’ It’s like a place you can go that’s primarily positive, with uplifting songs. We’ll do as much music as we can get away with. We want to leave people feeling good.”


THE BEACH BOYS

E Center at the Edgewater

Saturday, Nov. 30 (7:30 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info