God only knows what music would sound like without Brian Wilson.
The founding member of the Beach Boys and mastermind behind some of its most critically acclaimed work has been credited with no less than changing the course of popular music. But don’t take my word for it, or Rolling Stone’s – which made the claim in the first place. Take it from the man standing next to him playing guitar all these years.
“He is the architect of the music and the foundation for all that sprang from it,” said fellow founding member and guitarist of the Beach Boys Al Jardine, who met Wilson while they were both still in high school. “One cannot appreciate that enough, just to be in his presence. It was one thing to play football with him in high school. It’s another to stand next to him and see his growth and everything he’s accomplished. He should get the Medal of Honor for the beautiful music he conceived and produced. There is nothing quite like it.
“There was a bond created between not only those who sing it, but those who heard it. It cannot be duplicated anywhere. It’s magical.”
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Jardine will join Wilson at his Gallo Center for the Arts show Thursday. The men have been performing on-and-off together for years, both in the Beach Boys and outside the group. They played a handful of shows this summer gearing up for the release of Wilson’s new album, set for early December. Jardine has collaborated with Wilson on the record since the beginning of the year.
The Beach Boys were formed in 1961 by Wilson, his two brothers, Carl and Dennis, their cousin Mike Love and friend Jardine. The group created an indelible Southern California sound fueled by surf and sun and endless summers. But it was the band’s 1966 release, “Pet Sounds” – largely composed, written and produced by Wilson – that turned the boys into men in the eyes of music critics and historians.
The album featured hits including “God Only Knows,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Sloop John B.” Widely considered the first rock concept album, “Pet Sounds” was praised for its complex layers, rich lyrics and innovative production techniques. The stand-alone single “Good Vibrations” was released shortly after.
Jardine, now 72, said making music with Wilson clicked from the start.
“It gelled so quickly and seemed so natural. It was instantaneous chemical reaction, spontaneous combustion. It seemed like we found each other. And it was all just there for the taking. You don’t appreciate it at the time,” he said. “In my case, I threw it all away. I quit the band and went back to college. I thought we had a great run. We had one good album. Then I went back to school like an idiot. By some strange quirk, Brian was really mad at me. He wouldn’t accept it. Thank goodness.”
Indeed, Jardine famously left the band after one year to go back to school in 1962. But a year later, he was back, and back for good. He went on to sing lead on songs including “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Then I Kissed Her” and “Lady Lynda.”
Over the years, some members, including Wilson and Jardine, have come and gone and come back. Wilson famously struggled with mental health and substance abuse problems that took him off the scene for years.
Legal wranglings over the Beach Boys name have further complicated the storied band’s history. Wilson, Jardine and Love are the only remaining founding members alive. But Love owns the legal rights to the Beach Boys name and has toured over the years with other members. Love also was the driving force behind the group’s 1988 resurgence with the No. 1 hit “Kokomo.” The song appeared in the Tom Cruise film “Cocktail,” and actor John Stamos played with the group during that period.
In 2012, Wilson, Jardine, Love and David Marks (who has played with group since 1962) joined forces again for the 50th anniversary reunion tour of the Beach Boys. But after the tour ended, Love announced he would go on with the Beach Boys name without Wilson, Jardine and Marks.
Jardine said playing together with all the surviving early members was a breeze.
“It was just like riding a bike. It’s perfect and we have a ball. It’s an amazing ride, but an altogether too short ride,” he said. “But Mike Love owns the license to the Beach Boys and decided to call it quits. He wanted to go back to business as usual, which is ironic.”
Jardine said he and Wilson would love to return to the group. Their reunion was a special moment for them, he said.
“How often do you get a chance to revisit the best music ever written in terms of us and our success?” he said “I think the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And, by golly, that whole was pretty darn full of music. It had a wonderful resonance; I think our voices are richer now. We were wonderful. And I’ve got my hopes that we can do that again sometimes.”
Still, he praised Love’s current band, which includes longtime contributing member Bruce Johnston and carries on under the Beach Boys moniker. And he said he understands Love’s reasoning, even if he doesn’t agree.
“It’s like being divorced and you have a new family. Will you go back to your old family and live with them? No. I imagine that’s what happened for (Mike),” Jardine said.
“Mike has a wonderful band and great guys. But it’s a reasonable facsimile. You want the real thing, don’t you? Why settle for anything less than the best? I think the fans deserve to have the authentic representation of the music.”
But not playing with the touring Beach Boys has given Jardine and Wilson an opportunity to go back to the studio themselves. In 2010, Jardine released his debut solo album, “A Postcard From California,” which features guest appearances by Wilson, Love, Neil Young and Steve Miller, among others.
In 2013, Wilson took home the Grammy Award for best historical album for the Beach Boys’ “The Smile Sessions,” a compilation box set based on the group’s never-finished 1967 follow-up to “Pet Sounds.”
Jardine joined Wilson and English guitar great Jeff Beck on a nationwide tour last year. The two men’s performances together these days pull heavily from their shared past. They do a sampling of Beach Boys music from across the group’s eras. But they leave the “Kokomo”-period to Love and his cohorts.
Before moving to Southern California, Jardine spent his early years in San Francisco. He now lives in the Monterey Bay area. When he joined the Beach Boys, he was more of a folk singer, and Wilson was interested in jazz harmonies. Wilson’s brother Dennis was the only surfer in the band.
“I showed Brian a couple of innovative chords to bring it into the Beach Boys family and he did amazing arrangements,” Jardine said. “Writing a melody is an indescribable thing; you can’t teach it, can’t learn it. Either you can do it or you can’t do it.
“People like Brian, Chopin, Porter – the great ones – are just wired up that way. Luckily, (the rest of the band) was fast and picked it up real quick. We could capture it immediately and get it on tape. It was lightning in a bottle.”
These days, Jardine said he is happy to keep playing and making music with Wilson. The men have created a mutual-admiration society that has been echoed by rock critics and fans the world over.
“Our personal relationship these days is we sit around and chat about old times, old songs,” Jardine said. “He’ll say, ‘You’re a genius.’ I’ll say, ‘What are you talking about? You are the genius.’ He gets a little self-conscious. And then he’ll say, ‘I’ve written a couple of nice tunes.’ ”