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Dennis Wilson

Background information
Birth name Dennis Carl Wilson
Born December 4, 1944(1944-12-04)
Inglewood, California, U.S.
Died December 28, 1983 (aged 39)
Marina del Rey, California, U.S.
Genres Pop, baroque pop, rock
Occupations Musician
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1961 - 1983
Labels Caribou/Sony Music
Associated acts The Beach Boys

Dennis Carl Wilson (December 4, 1944 – December 28, 1983) was an American rock and roll musician best known as a founding member and the drummer of The Beach Boys. He was a member of the group from its formation until his death in 1983.

Compared to his bandmates, which included his brothers Brian and Carl, and his cousin Mike Love, Dennis often did not sing backup vocals at live performances, though he did so in the studio. His prominence in the group increased as their careers went on, sometimes singing lead, and as a writer towards and into the 1970s.


The Beach Boys

Born in Inglewood, California, Dennis was the second oldest of the three Wilson brothers. Their mother, Audree, forced Brian to include Dennis in the earliest lineup of the Beach Boys. Urged by older cousin Mike Love, Dennis had approached Brian to form a group and compose a song about surfing. The Beach Boys formed in August 1961 under the guidance of father Murry Wilson, meeting immediate success. Though the Beach Boys were named for and developed an image based on the California surfing culture, Dennis was the only real surfer in the band.

During the first few years of The Beach Boys, Wilson was given the role of the drummer. Wilson had little musical experience at the outset but quickly learned to play the drums. Although he rarely sang on stage, his raspy-sounding vocals were a key ingredient to the group's vocal blend in the studio.

Though given few important lead vocals on the early Beach Boys recordings ("Little Girl (You're My Miss America)" and "This Car of Mine" as well as the bridge verse on "Girls On The Beach") he sang lead on "Do You Wanna Dance?" in February 1965. Later that year on Beach Boys' Party!, Dennis sang a rendition of The Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away". He accompanied himself on guitar, and like the other Beach Boys, became a multi-instrumentalist. His piano playing in particular was showcased on his Pacific Ocean Blue album.

Dennis Wilson's first major released composition was "Little Bird", the B-side of the "Friends" single, though he had already helped Brian write a few other songs dating back to 1963.

Wilson had further compositions featured on later Beach Boys albums such as 20/20 (1969), Sunflower (1970), Carl and the Passions - "So Tough" (1972), Holland (1973) as well as others. Sunflower included the track "Forever", not only popular with fans, but also earned him some much sought praise from brother Brian and father Murry. The album included three other songs written by Wilson which were not originally recorded for the album.

The 1973 live album The Beach Boys In Concert features only Dennis onstage among thousands of fans on the album cover, however none of his songs were included in the lineup.

During the three-year recording hiatus following Holland, Dennis's voice deteriorated markedly. By then his onstage antics (including streaking) occasionally disrupted the Beach Boys' live shows.

In 1974, concurrent with the success of the '60s hits compilation Endless Summer, Wilson returned to his role behind the drums.

Charles Manson

In 1968, Dennis Wilson was driving through Malibu when he noticed two female hitchhikers. He picked them up and dropped them off at their destination.[1] Later on, Wilson noticed the same two girls hitchhiking again. This time, he took them to his home at 14400 Sunset Boulevard, near Will Rogers Park. Wilson then went to a recording session. When he returned at around 3 a.m., he was met in his driveway by a stranger, Charles Manson. When he walked into his home, there were about a dozen people occupying the premises, most of them female. Wilson became fascinated by Manson and his followers. The "Manson Family" lived with Wilson for a period of time afterwards, at his expense.

Initially impressed by Manson's songwriting talent, Wilson introduced him to a few friends in the music business, including Terry Melcher, whose home on Cielo Drive would later be rented by director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate; Tate and several others would later be murdered at the home by Manson Family members. Recording sessions for Manson were held at Brian Wilson's home studio. Those recordings, if existent, have never been released. The Beach Boys released a Manson song, originally titled "Cease To Exist", but reworked as "Never Learn Not To Love", as a single B-side.

As Wilson became increasingly aware of Manson's volatile nature and growing tendency to violence, he finally made a break from the friendship by simply moving out of the house, and leaving Manson there. When Manson subsequently sought further contact (and money), he left a bullet with Wilson's housekeeper to be delivered with a cryptic message, which was perceived by Wilson as a threat.

In August 1969, the Tate/LaBianca murders occurred. He rarely discussed his involvement with the Manson Family and he usually became upset when the subject was broached. He was upset in regard to Charles Manson and his 'family' and did mention that he felt it was his 'fault' for introducing him to the music world.

Movie role

Dennis Wilson starred alongside James Taylor and Warren Oates in the critically acclaimed film Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) as "The Mechanic". It depicts "The Driver" (Taylor) and "The Mechanic" driving aimlessly across the United States in their '55 Chevy surviving on money made by street drag-racing.

Solo career

In 1969 Wilson released his first piece of solo material, a little-known single released under the name "Dennis Wilson & Rumbo." The single featured "Sound of Free" on the A-side with "Lady" (also known as "Fallin' In Love") on the B-side. The song was later covered by American Spring and released as the B-side to their single "Shyin' Away."

Pacific Ocean Blue

Wilson released his debut solo album Pacific Ocean Blue in 1977. His collaborators on the album included Daryl Dragon (the 'Captain' of Captain & Tennille) and Gregg Jakobson. The album peaked at #96 in the US and sold around 300,000 copies, matching that year's Beach Boys album Love You. Dates were booked for a Dennis Wilson solo tour but these were ultimately cancelled, however Wilson did occasionally perform his solo material on the 1977 Beach Boys tour.[2] Despite Wilson himself claiming the album had "no substance",[3] Pacific Ocean Blue performed well critically and continues to maintain a cult following. The album was out of print and difficult to obtain for more than a decade, but has been reissued as of June 2008. The expanded Sony Legacy edition of Pacific Ocean Blue was voted the 2008 Reissue of the Year in both Rolling Stone and Mojo magazines, and made #16 on the British LP charts and #8 and both the Billboard Catalog chart and the Billboard Internet Sales chart.[4]


Pacific Ocean Blue's follow-up, Bambu, was initially scuttled by lack of financing and the distractions of simultaneous Beach Boys projects. A sampling of its music was officially released in 2008 as bonus material with the Pacific Ocean Blue reissue.

Two songs from the Bambu sessions - "Love Surrounds Me" and "Baby Blue" - were lifted for the Beach Boys 1979 L.A. (Light Album). Wilson and brother Brian also recorded together apart from the Beach Boys in 1980 and 1981. These sessions remain unreleased though widely bootlegged.

Personal life

At the time of his death, he was married to Shawn Marie Love, (allegedly an illegitimate child of cousin and fellow Beach Boy Mike Love) with whom he had a son, Gage Dennis Wilson (born September 3, 1982). Shawn Wilson died after a 15-year battle with cancer shortly after Gage's 21st birthday.

Wilson's previous marriages include Carole Freedman, with whom he had a daughter, Jennifer (born December 21, 1966) and whose son, Scott, he adopted, and Barbara Charren, with whom he had two sons, Michael (born February 19, 1971) and Carl (born December 31, 1972). Wilson was married twice to Karen Lamm, the ex-wife of Robert Lamm. Wilson was quoted in the sleeve notes for the album All Summer Long:

They say I live a fast life. Maybe I just like a fast life. I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world. It won’t last forever, either. But the memories will.

Dennis also had a significant relationship with Christine McVie for a couple of years from 1979.


Succeeding years saw Wilson battling alcohol abuse. On December 28, 1983, shortly after his 39th birthday, Wilson drowned at Marina Del Rey, Los Angeles after drinking all day and diving in the afternoon to recover items he had thrown overboard at the marina from his yacht back in 1980. On January 4, 1984 he was buried at sea off the California coast by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Solo discography



See also


  1. ^ Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, pg. 338, published March 1975
  2. ^ "Dennis Wilson solo recordings". Local Gentry. Archived from the original on 2009-12-05. Retrieved 2009-12-05. 
  3. ^ Leaf, David. "Dennis Wilson Interview, 1977". Dan Archived from the original on 2009-12-05. Retrieved 2009-12-05. 
  4. ^ "Wilson's 'Ocean' Set For Expanded Reissue". Archived from the original on 2009-12-05. Retrieved 2009-12-05. 

Further reading

  • Jon Stebbins, "Dennis Wilson - The Real Beach Boy". ECW Press 2000. ISBN 1-55022-404-2
  • Adam Webb, Dumb Angel: the life and music of Dennis Wilson. Creation Books, 2001. ISBN 1-84068-051-2

External links

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