Brian Wilson performing in 2007
|Birth name||Brian Douglas Wilson|
|Born||June 20, 1942
Inglewood, California, United States
|Genres||Rock, pop, outsider music|
|Occupations||Songwriter, Bassist, Pianist, Vocalist, Producer, Composer, Arranger|
|Instruments||Bass, Vocals, Piano, Synthesizers|
|Labels||Capitol, Brother, Reprise, Caribou|
|Associated acts||The Beach Boys|
Brian Douglas Wilson (born June 20, 1942 in Inglewood, California) is a Grammy award-winning American musician, best known as the leader and chief songwriter of the rock group The Beach Boys. Within the band, Wilson played bass and keyboards, also providing part-time lead vocals and, more often, backing vocals, harmonizing in falsetto with the group.
Wilson was the primary songwriter in The Beach Boys, also functioning as the band's main producer, composer, and arranger. In 1988, Wilson and his band-mates were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which refers to Wilson on its website as "One of the few undisputed geniuses in popular music". In 2008, Rolling Stone magazine published a list of the "100 Greatest Singers of All Time", and ranked Wilson number 52.
He is also an occasional actor and voice actor, having appeared in television shows, films, and other music artist music videos.
Wilson was born June 20, 1942 at Centinela Hospital in Inglewood, California. When Brian was two, the Wilson family moved from Inglewood to 3701 West 119th Street in nearby Hawthorne, California, a town in the greater Los Angeles urban area about five miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. He spent his entire subsequent childhood years in this middle-class family home.
Brian Wilson's father Murry Wilson told of Brian's unusual musical abilities prior to his first birthday, observing that the baby could repeat the melody from "When the Caissons Go Rolling Along" after only a few verses had been sung by the father. Murry stated, "He was very clever and quick. I just fell in love with him."
At about age two, Brian heard George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue", which had an enormous emotional impact on him. A few years later Brian was discovered to have extremely diminished hearing in his right ear. The exact cause of this hearing loss is unclear, though theories range from Brian's simply being born partially deaf, to a blow to the head from Brian's father, or a neighborhood bully, being to blame.
While father Murry was ostensibly a reasonable provider, he was abusive and hard to please, liable to dispense harsh punishments for minor or perceived misdeeds. But Murry, a minor musician and songwriter, also encouraged his children in this field in numerous ways. At a young age, Brian was given six weeks of lessons on a "toy accordion", and at seven and eight sang solos in church with a choir behind him.
By most accounts a natural leader by the time he began attending Hawthorne High School, Brian was on the football team as a quarterback, played baseball and was a cross-country runner his senior year. However, most of his energy was directed toward music. He sang with various students at school functions and with his family and friends at home. Brian taught his two brothers harmony parts that all three would then practice when they were supposed to be asleep. He also played piano obsessively after school, deconstructing the harmonies of The Four Freshmen by listening to short segments of their songs on a phonograph, then working to recreate the blended sounds note by note on the keyboard. Brian received a Wollensak tape recorder on his sixteenth birthday, allowing him to experiment with audio overdubs and early group vocals.
Wilson's surviving home tapes document his initial musical efforts singing with various buddies and family, including a song that would later be recorded in the studio by The Beach Boys, "Sloop John B", as well as "Bermuda Shorts" and a hymn titled "Good News". In his senior year at Hawthorne High, in addition to his classroom music studies, he would gather at lunchtime to sing with friends like Keith Lent, Bruce Griffin, and Robin Hood. Brian and Lent worked on a revised version of the tune "Hully Gully" to support the campaign of a female classmate named Carol Hess who was running for senior class president. When performed for a full high school gathering, Brian's revised arrangement received a warm round of applause from the student audience.
Enlisting his cousin and often-time singing partner Mike Love, and Wilson's reluctant youngest brother Carl Wilson, Brian's next public performance featured more ambitious arrangements at a fall arts program at his high school. To entice Carl into the group, Wilson named the newly-formed membership "Carl and the Passions". The performance featured tunes by Dion and the Belmonts and The Four Freshmen ("It's a Blue World"), the latter of which proved difficult for the ensemble to carry off. However, the event was notable for the impression it made on another musician and classmate of Brian's who was in the audience that night, Al Jardine, later to join the three Wilson brothers and Mike Love in The Beach Boys.
Brian enrolled at El Camino Community College in Los Angeles, majoring in psychology, in September 1960. However, he continued his music studies at the college as well. At some point in the year 1961 Brian wrote his first all-original melody, loosely based on a Dion and the Belmonts version of "When You Wish Upon a Star". Brian's tune would eventually be known as "Surfer Girl". Brian has commented that he wrote the melody in his car, then later at home finished the bridge and harmonies. Although an early demo of the song was recorded in Feb. 1962 at World-Pacific Studios, it was not re-recorded and released until 1963, when it became a top ten hit.
Brian and his brothers Carl and Dennis Wilson along with Mike Love and Al Jardine first jelled as a music group in the summer of 1961, initially named the Pendeltones. After being prodded by Dennis to write a song about the local water sports craze, Brian and Mike Love together created what would become the first single for the band, "Surfin'". Recorded by Hite and Dorinda Morgan and released on the small Candix label, the song became a top local hit in Los Angeles and reached number seventy-five on the national Billboard sales charts.
Dennis later described the first time Brian heard their song on the radio as the three Wilson brothers (and soon-to-be-band member David Marks) drove in Brian's 1957 Ford in the rain: "Nothing will ever top the expression on Brian's face, ever ... THAT was the all-time moment."
However, the Pendletones were no more. Without the band's knowledge or permission, Candix Records had changed their name to The Beach Boys.
Brian Wilson and his bandmates, following a set by Ike and Tina Turner, performed their first major live show at The Ritchie Valens Memorial Dance on New Year's Eve, 1961. Three days previously, Brian's father had bought him an electric bass and amplifier; Brian had learned to play the instrument in that short period of time, with Al Jardine moving to rhythm guitar.
Looking for a followup single for their radio hit, Brian and Mike wrote "Surfin' Safari," and attempts were made to record a usable take at World Pacific, including overdubs, on February 8, 1962, along with several other tunes including an early version of "Surfer Girl". Only a few days later, discouraged about the band's financial prospects, and objecting to adding some Chubby Checker songs to The Beach Boys live setlist, Al Jardine abruptly left the group.
Murry Wilson had become The Beach Boys manager, and when Candix Records ran into money problems and sold the group's master recordings to another label, Murry terminated the contract. Brian, worried about The Beach Boys' future, asked his father to help his group make more recordings. But Murry and Hite Morgan (who at this point was their music publisher) were turned down by a number of Los Angeles record companies.
As "Surfin'" faded from the charts, Brian, who had forged a songwriting partnership with Gary Usher, created several new tunes, including a car song, "409", that Usher had helped write. Recruiting Carl and Dennis' friend, thirteen-year-old neighbor David Marks, who had been playing electric guitar (and practicing with Carl) for years, Brian and the revamped Beach Boys cut new tracks on April 19 at Western Recorders including an updated "Surfin' Safari" and "409". These tunes convinced Capitol Records to release the demos as a single; they became a double-sided national hit.
After signing with Capitol Records in mid-1962, Brian Wilson wrote or co-wrote (most often with Mike Love) a series of hit singles including the aforementioned "Surfin' Safari", "Surfin' USA", "Shut Down", "Little Deuce Coupe", "Be True to Your School", "In My Room", "Fun, Fun, Fun", "I Get Around", "Dance, Dance, Dance", "Help Me Rhonda", "California Girls" and "Good Vibrations". These songs and their accompanying albums were internationally popular, making The Beach Boys one of the biggest acts of their time.
Recording sessions for the band's first album took place in Capitol's basement studios (in the famous tower building) in August 1962, but early on Brian lobbied for a different place to cut Beach Boy tracks. The large rooms were built to record the big orchestras and ensembles of the 50s, not small rock groups. At Brian's insistence, Capitol agreed to let The Beach Boys pay for their own outside recording sessions, which Capitol would own all the rights to, and in return the band would receive a higher royalty rate on their record sales. Additionally, although it was very rare at the time for rock and roll band members to have a say in the process of making their records, during the taping of their first LP Brian fought for, and won, the right to be totally in charge of the production- though his first acknowledged liner notes production credit did not come until the band's third album Surfer Girl, in 1963.
January 1963 saw the recording of the first top-ten (cresting at #3 in the United States) Beach Boys single, "Surfin' USA", which began their long run of highly successful recording efforts at Hollywood's Western Recorders on Sunset Boulevard. It was during the sessions for this single that Brian made the production decision from that point on to use doubletracking on the group's vocals, resulting in a deeper and more resonant sound.
The tune, adapted from (and eventually partially credited to) Chuck Berry, is widely seen as emblematic of the early 60s American rock cultural experience. The Surfin' USA album was also a big hit in the United States, reaching number two on the national sales charts by early July, 1963. Brian and his group had become a top-rank recording and touring music band.
As previously mentioned, Brian was first credited as The Beach Boys' producer on the Surfer Girl album, recorded in June and July 1963 and released in September 1963. This LP reached #7 on the national charts on the strength of songs like the ballad "In My Room", later released as a single; "Catch a Wave"; and "Little Deuce Coupe", which was released as a double-sided single with the album's title track, both top-15 hits.
He also began working with other artists in this period. On July 20, 1963, "Surf City", which he had co-written with Jan and Dean, was the first surfing song to reach the pinnacle of the sales charts. While Brian was excited and happy, his father (and still-manager) Murry and Capitol Records were less than thrilled. Indeed, openly enraged by Brian's chart-topping effort for what he saw as a rival band, Murry went so far as to order his oldest son to sever any further efforts with Jan and Dean.
Brian's other non-Beach Boy work in this period included tracks by The Honeys, Sharon Marie, The Timers, and The Survivors. Feeling that surfing songs had become limiting, Brian decided to produce a set of largely car-oriented tunes for The Beach Boys' fourth album Little Deuce Coupe, which was released in October 1963, only three weeks after the Surfer Girl LP. The departure of guitarist David Marks from the band that month meant that Brian was forced to resume touring with The Beach Boys, for a time reducing his availability in the recording studio.
Brian became known for his unique use of vocal harmonies, his trademark style of lyrics and incessant studio perfectionism. Early influences on his music included not only the previously mentioned Four Freshmen and Chuck Berry, but also the work of record producer Phil Spector, the latter of whom obsessed Wilson for years. He later considered The Beatles to be his chief rivals, and they in turn would cite his work as a major influence. Wilson also produced records for other artists, but to much lesser success, with the exception of Jan and Dean, for whom Wilson co-wrote several hit songs. Following a nervous breakdown onboard a flight from L.A. to Houston in 1964, Wilson stopped performing live with the Beach Boys in an effort to concentrate solely on songwriting and studio production. Glen Campbell was called in as his temporary stand-in for live performances, before Wilson chose Bruce Johnston as a long-term replacement—a band member who remains with the Beach Boys today. In late 1965, Wilson began working on material for a new album after hearing The Beatles' 1965 album, Rubber Soul.
As he began work on the new project, Pet Sounds, Wilson formed a temporary songwriting partnership with lyricist Tony Asher. Wilson, who had recorded the album's instrumentation with The Wrecking Crew, then gathered with The Beach Boys to record vocal overdubs, following their return from a tour of Japan. Upon hearing what Wilson had created for the first time in 1965, the group, particularly Mike Love, was somewhat critical of their leader's music, and expressed their dislike. At this time, Wilson still had considerable control within the group and, according to Wilson, they eventually overcame their initial negative reaction, as his newly created music began to near completion; "They thought it was too far-out to do, you know?... But then when it was all done, they liked it. They started liking it." The album was released in July 1966 and, despite modest sales figures at the time, has since become widely critically acclaimed, often being cited among the all-time greatest albums. Although the record was issued under the group's name, Pet Sounds is arguably seen as a Brian Wilson solo album—Wilson even toyed with the idea by releasing "Caroline, No" as a solo single in March 1966, reaching no. 32 on the Billboard charts.
During the Pet Sounds sessions, Wilson had been working on another song, which was held back from inclusion on the record as he felt that it was not sufficiently complete. The song, "Good Vibrations", set a new standard for musicians, and what could be achieved in the recording studio. Recorded in multiple sessions and in numerous studios, the song eventually cost $50,000 to record within a six month period. In October 1966, the song was released as a single, giving The Beach Boys their third U.S. number-one hit—alongside "I Get Around" and "Help Me, Rhonda"—and it sold over a million copies.
With the surprising success of "Good Vibrations", Capitol Records had no choice but to back Wilson up for his next project, originally called Dumb Angel but soon re-titled Smile, which he described as a "teenage symphony to God". The album's approach was similar to "Good Vibrations" in the style of recording, which, at the time, was called modular music. This was vastly different compared to the standard live performances that were typically done in a studio at the time. After having been introduced to each other at a party, Wilson sought the lyrical assistance of L.A.-based folk singer, Van Dyke Parks, who had made a profound impression on Wilson with the "visionary eloquence" of his lyrics. During the album's songwriting sessions, they collaborated on "Heroes and Villains", "Surf's Up", "Wonderful", "Vegetables" and "Mrs. O Leary's Cow". However, between December 1966 and May 1967, the Smile sessions fell apart due to conflict within the group and Wilson's own growing personal problems. As a result, Wilson was having problems completing the album towards the end of the recording sessions. Originally slated to be released in January 1967, the date was continually pushed back until its eventual cancellation—even "Heroes and Villains" and "Vegetables" were planned as singles within that time, but nothing appeared.
Another source of problems came from The Beach Boys deciding to file a lawsuit against Capitol Records to start their own label, Brother Records. This came at a terrible time when Wilson was trying to finish the album and, right along the way, The Beatles were working on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In April 1967, Wilson—who was suffering growing mental problems—was "deeply affected by hearing a tape of the Pepper song "A Day in the Life", which Paul McCartney played to him in Los Angeles. Soon after, Smile was abandoned, and Wilson would not return to complete it until 2003. Van Dyke Parks later noted, "...Brian had a nervous collapse. What broke his heart was Sgt. Pepper." Writing for The Guardian in December 1999, Will Hodgkinson summarized the main reasons for the eventual demise of Wilson's ambitious project;
Following the cancellation of Smile, The Beach Boys relocated to a recording studio within the confines of Brian Wilson's mansion, where the hastily compiled Smiley Smile album was assembled, along with a number of future Beach Boys records. This marked the end of Wilson's leadership within the band, and has been seen to be "the moment when the Beach Boys first started slipping from the vanguard to nostalgia."
Psychologically overwhelmed by the cancellation of Smile, the release of The Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and the birth of his first child Carnie in 1968, Wilson began having a diminished creative role with The Beach Boys. Until about 1970 he remained the group's principal songwriter, but increasingly production reins were handed to younger brother Carl. Carl Wilson mostly oversaw the albums Smiley Smile, Wild Honey, and Friends, which only performed modestly on the charts. After that, Brian Wilson all but stopped writing songs and was frequently seen partying in the company of songwriter Tandyn Almer and Three Dog Night singer Danny Hutton. It was during this period that he was introduced to cocaine. The 1969 album 20/20 was made mostly without Wilson's participation, although the Wilson/Love-authored "Do It Again" was a major hit, topping the charts in the UK.
Wilson spent the majority of the following three years in his bedroom sleeping, taking drugs, and overeating. During this time, his voice deteriorated significantly as a result of chain smoking, drug ingestion and neglect. Many of his "new" contributions to Beach Boys albums were remnants of Smile (e.g., "Cabinessence", "Surf's Up"), and those that were genuinely new reflected his depression and growing detachment from the world ("'Til I Die", the EP "Mount Vernon and Fairway"). Reportedly, Warner Bros. Records was so desperate for material from Wilson that the single "We Got Love" (co-written by Ricky Fataar, Blondie Chaplin, and Love) was scrapped from the Holland album in favor of "Sail On, Sailor", a song mostly written by committee (including Chaplin, Almer and Parks) that happened to draw its initial germ from a Wilson chord sequence.
In 1975, Brian's wife and family enlisted the services of controversial therapist Eugene Landy in a bid to help Brian, and hopefully help revive the group's ailing profile. Brian did not stay under Landy's care for long, but during this short period, the doctor managed to help him into a more productive, social frame of mind. The new album 15 Big Ones, consisting of oldies and some new songs was released in 1976 and Brian began to regularly appear live on stage with the band. A Love-orchestrated publicity campaign announced that "Brian is Back". Brian was also deemed to be well enough to do a solo performance on Saturday Night Live in November 1976. In 1977, the cult favorite Love You was released, consisting entirely of new material written and performed by Wilson. He continues to say it is his favorite Beach Boys album.
By 1982 Eugene Landy was once more called into action, and a more radical program was undertaken to try to restore Brian to health. This involved firing him from The Beach Boys, isolating him from his family on Hawaii, and putting him onto a rigorous diet and health regimen. This, coupled with long, extreme counseling sessions, and bringing Brian back to reality. He lost a tremendous amount of weight, was certainly healthier and more conversant than previously, but he was also under a strict level of control by Landy. Brian's recovery continued as he joined the band on stage in Live Aid in 1985, and recorded the album The Beach Boys with the group.
Dr. Landy provided a Svengali-like environment for Wilson, controlling his every movement in his life, including his musical direction. Landy's misconduct would eventually lead to the loss of his psychologist license,  as well as a court-ordered removal and restraining order from Wilson.
Some years later, during his second marriage, Wilson was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type which supposedly caused him to hear voices in his head. By 1989 the rumor was that Brian either had a stroke or had abused too many drugs and was permanently "fried". One biographer reported that the actual problem was that Wilson, who had been prescribed antipsychotic medicine by Landy since 1983, had developed tardive dyskinesia, a neurological condition marked by involuntary, repetitive movements, that develops in about 20% of patients treated with antipsychotic drugs for a long period of time. Wilson's drug regimen has now been reduced to a mild combination of antidepressants, and he has resumed recording and performing.
The effects of Brian Wilson's mental illness on his parenting skills were discussed by Wilson's daughter Wendy during her appearance in an episode of the British reality television program, Supernanny. Wilson's daughter Carnie and granddaughter Lola also made an appearance on the episode.
Wilson launched a career as a solo artist in 1988 with limited success. It is possible that his efforts in this regard were both encouraged and hampered by Landy's influence. Partly due to the control that Landy exercised on his life, Wilson stopped working with The Beach Boys on a regular basis after the release of The Beach Boys in 1985. He had been signed to a solo record deal with Sire Records by label boss Seymour Stein.
Wilson released a solo album, Brian Wilson, in 1988 and a memoir, Wouldn't It Be Nice - My Own Story, in which he spoke for the first time about his troubled relationship with his abusive father Murry and his "lost years" of mental illness. Although it was written following interviews with Brian and others, Landy was largely responsible for the book, in conjunction with People magazine writer Todd Gold. The book describes Landy in terms that could be called messianic. In a later lawsuit over the book, Wilson testified in court that he hadn't even read the final manuscript. As a result, the book was taken out of press some years later.
A second solo album made for Sire, entitled Sweet Insanity, was never released. Landy's illegal use of psychotropic drugs on Wilson and his influence over Wilson's financial affairs was legally ended by Carl Wilson. In 1995, Wilson married Melinda Ledbetter. The couple adopted two girls, Daria Rose and Delanie Rae, in 1998; a boy, Dylan, in 2004; and a boy, Dash Tristan, in 2009. Wilson has two daughters from his first marriage to Marilyn Rovell: Carnie Wilson and Wendy Wilson, who would go on to musical success of their own in the early 1990s as two-thirds of Wilson Phillips.
Also in 1995, he released two albums, albeit neither containing any new original Wilson material, almost simultaneously. The first, the soundtrack to Don Was's documentary I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, consists of re-recorded versions of songs from his Beach Boys and solo catalogue produced by Was, along with a 1976-vintage demo recording. The second, Orange Crate Art, saw Wilson as lead vocalist, multitracked many times over, on an album of songs produced, arranged and (mostly) written by Van Dyke Parks, and was released as a duo album under both men's names.
His final release as part of the group was on the 1996 album Stars and Stripes Vol. 1, a group collaboration with select country music artists singing the lead vocals. After considerable mental recovery, he mended his relationship with his daughters Carnie and Wendy and the three of them released an album in 1997 titled The Wilsons.
Wilson released a second solo album of mostly new material, Imagination, in 1998. Following this, he received extensive vocal coaching to improve his voice, and learned to cope with his stage fright and started to play live for the first time in decades, going on to play the whole Pet Sounds album live on his tours of the United States, United Kingdom, and Europe.
A new studio album, Gettin' in Over My Head, was released on June 22, 2004. It featured collaborations with Elton John, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, and Wilson's deceased brother Carl. Clapton played on the track "City Blues." The album was almost entirely composed of re-recordings of unreleased material, and received mixed reviews.
With the improvements in his mental health, Wilson found himself able to contemplate returning to the Smile project. Aided by musician and long time fan Darian Sahanaja of The Wondermints, and lyricist Van Dyke Parks, Brian painstakingly worked throughout 2003 to realize the album. In February 2004, 37 years after it was conceived, Wilson debuted the newly completed Smile at the Royal Festival Hall in London and throughout a subsequent UK tour.
The debut performance at the RFH was a defining moment for Brian. The documentary DVD of the event shows Brian preparing for the big day and, right up to show time, expressing doubts over the concept of putting this legendary work before the public. After an opening set of Beach Boys classics, he climbed back on stage for a rousing performance of the album. A 10-minute standing ovation followed the concert; the DVD shows a sprinkling of rock luminaries in the crowd, such as Roger Daltrey, Paul Weller, Sir George Martin and Sir Paul McCartney.
Smile was then recorded through April to June and released in September, to wide critical acclaim. The release hit #13 on the Billboard chart. The 2004 recording featured his backup/touring band, including Beach Boys guitarist Jeff Foskett, members of the Wondermints and backup singer Taylor Mills. In this version, "Good Vibrations" features Tony Asher's original lyrics in the verses, instead of Mike Love's lyrics from the released 1966 version.
Wilson won his only Grammy Award in 2005 for the track "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow (Fire)" as Best Rock Instrumental. In 2004 Smile was taken on the road for a thorough tour of Australia, New Zealand and Europe. In December 2005, he also released What I Really Want for Christmas for Arista Records. The release hit #200 on the Billboard chart, though sales were modest. Wilson's remake of the classic "Deck The Halls" became a surprise Top 10 Adult Contemporary hit.
Though no longer a part of The Beach Boys touring band, Brian Wilson remains a member of the Beach Boys corporation, Brother Records Incorporated.
In February 2005, Wilson had a cameo in the TV series Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century as Daffy Duck's spiritual surfing advisor. He also appeared in the 2005 holiday episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, performing "Deck the Halls" for a group of children with xeroderma pigmentosum (hypersensitivity to sunlight) at Walt Disney World Resort. On July 2, 2005, Wilson performed for the Live 8 concert in Berlin, Germany.
In September 2005, Wilson arranged a charity drive to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina, wherein people who donated $100 or more would receive a personal phone call from Wilson. According to the website, over $250K was raised. In November 2005, former bandmate Mike Love sued Wilson over "shamelessly misappropriating... Love's songs, likeness, and the Beach Boys trademark, as well as the 'Smile' album itself" in the promotion of Smile. The lawsuit was ultimately thrown out of court on grounds that it was meritless.
Wilson released a new album That Lucky Old Sun on September 2, 2008. The piece originally debuted in a series of September 2007 concerts at London's Royal Festival Hall, and in January 2008 at Sydney's State Theatre while headlining the Sydney Festival. Wilson describes the piece as "consisting of five 'rounds', with interspersed spoken word". A series of US and UK concerts led up to its release.
On September 30, 2008, Seattle's Light in the Attic Records released A World of Peace Must Come, a collaboration between Wilson and Stephen Kalinich, originally recorded in 1969, but later lost in Kalinich's closet.