By Simone Goldstone | NB Indy Soundcheck Columnist
“I like Newport Beach,” Al Jardine of the Beach Boys tells me over the phone.
He’s gearing up to play at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on March 19 (“I love that venue” he says), and fondly recounts his time visiting Orange County.
No other band cemented California into musical history like the Beach Boys. Their feel-good tunes of nostalgic care-free ocean days brought the surf-sound to the 1960s.
The group’s album “Pet Sounds” revolutionized the art of recording with the use of a theremin—an electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact. Instrumental and influential, the Beach Boys have retained their status as one of the greatest groups of the 60s—and beyond.
Al Jardine, founding Beach Boys member, guitarist and sometimes vocalist, has seen it all. He caught up with the Newport Beach Independent and talked about being a Beach Boy, his solo album’s rerelease, and touring with Chicago.
When Jardine first joined the Beach Boys, he wanted them to be a folk band. Brian Wilson had talked him into the surf music thing.
“We all loved Doo-wop and the Top 10, but my musical life before the Beach Boys was folk music,” explained Jardine. “I thought forming a band with Brian would be my chance to record a folk song by the Kingston Trio. Brian talked me out of it, but of course he had a wonderful concept of harmonies. He seduced me with The Four Freshman harmonies and that great and wonderful ear of his. We learned several of those songs, until one day his brother suggested we learn a song about surfing.”
You can thank Jardine’s mother for the Beach Boys’ musical success.
“We didn’t have any instruments; we didn’t have anything to play. So, we auditioned for my mother, and she lent us the money to buy the instruments. We made the surf song (“Surfin’ in 1961), and we had a hit.”
Many more hits followed.
The Beach Boys’ 1966 album “Pet Sounds” is considered one of the first concept albums. The cycle of love songs reads like a novel, the emotional tunes a strong change of direction from the happy, feel-good seaside melodies. The use of the theremin revolutionized the recording sound.
When asked about the making of this legendary record, Al thoughtfully replied: “That was a navigational effort for sure! That was challenging. The production style change, we weren’t prepared for it. We toured 150 days a year, so Brian had a lot of time on his hands and was able to experiment. And oh boy did he come up with something! We just got in the studio and supported him. We weren’t afraid to take on new challenges.”
These new challenges pushed the decade into new musical territory. The Beatles and the Beach Boys inspired and influenced each other, the respectful rivalry producing some of the greatest musical works of all time.
The Beatles’ “Rubber Soul” influenced “Pet Sounds,” and “Pet Sounds” directly influenced “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Paul McCartney once said that he played “Pet Sounds” for John Lennon so much that it would be difficult for him to escape the influence.
“If records had a director within a band, I sort of directed ‘Pepper.’ And my influence was basically the ‘Pet Sounds’ album.”
When asked about the revered rivalry between the Fab Four and the Beach Boys, Jardine laughed.
“That was rough! Those guys, their songwriting was incomparable. It’s about sound, isn’t it? And they had that euro sound. The sound, the look, the songs. We were looking okay, we were sounding ok, too. It didn’t prevent us from having success in that category, but it created an entire wave of music. The competition got pretty stiff! What a talented bunch of people. Music has transformed the world, and there is talent everywhere. That’s what I learned; it isn’t just us anymore. There’s talent everywhere.”
Despite being the only non-family member of the Beach Boys, Al fit right in.
“I felt like part of the family,” he wistfully recalls, “We all enjoyed each other, I got a lot of support from the guys. It just seemed natural the way we gravitated towards each other. We ate together, slept together, travelled together.”
It’s these deep friendships formed in bands that last a lifetime, through all the ups and downs. Jardine and Brian Wilson are going on tour together again, co-headlining with the band Chicago, later this year. In 1975, Jardine toured with Chicago during the famed “Beachago” tour, and recalls the time period.
“I enjoyed singing with Robert Lamm (Chicago’s founding singer/keyboardist). There was a lot of material from that time that has yet to see the light of day. It stays in the vault forever until some courageous soul goes in and gets it. Some of the lead singers weren’t heard, there were some political issues in that group that prevented them from finishing it.”
Jardine’s love of performing in groups carries over to his 2010 solo album, “A Postcard from California.” Jardine recruited icons such as Neil Young, Glen Campbell, Flea, and even his Beach Boys bandmates for various songs.
“Neil [Young] must have thought I was nuts, probably,” Jardine chuckles, “I kept badgering him, and his wife kept informing him of my timeline. So, he came up and he’d said he’d had some great times on the road with me, since Buffalo Springfield opened for us on tour in the early days. He was just captivated by the memories, and he added his two cents along with Stephen Stills.”
Jardine is re-releasing “A Postcard From California” this fall. The record pays homage to the California coastline, which Al enjoys driving down and exploring small beach cities.
“I love this little place south of Hearse Castle,” he says, referencing San Simeon, “And I did a concert in Morro Bay. I just love that little area. One of my songs is about the elephant seals and celebrates that little spot. The song goes, ‘San Simeon, where the seals have their refuge.’ I thought that’s the first time that’s ever been done, a song about elephant seals! I couldn’t be more wrong! There are lots of songs about elephant seals. But maybe I should do that song at the show.”
I asked Jardine what the most valuable thing was that he’s learned being a Beach Boy. He responded with the perfect answer: “Brian would say ‘finish your song!’ When you think about it, it’s pretty good advice. Most people would want to know how to write a song, but his challenge is finishing a song. I’ve started a song, and now I’ve got to finish it for someone else. It’s called “Seaside Vibration”. In this Covid age of ours, we all need a calming effect, and I can’t think of a better place to do it then the seaside and picking up the good vibrations from that. We always say we’re going to do something, but do we actually do it, and do we finish it? I’ll have to remind Brian of that, too.”
For tickets to see Al Jardine at the Coach House on March 19, visit https://thecoachhouse.com.