Catching Up with Beach Boys’ Al Jardine

Al Jardine at the Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood, CA. ©Michael Hixon.


Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD—With The Beach Boys going back on the road to launch their 50th anniversary, an original member of the band also is celebrating his own milestone. Al Jardine, the surf band’s original guitarist, has released his first solo album, “A Postcard from California.”

Packed with numerous guest stars, “A Postcard from California” celebrates nature and the ocean, especially along the Golden State’s coastline, while promoting respect for the environment. “Don’t Fight the Sea,” which is featured on the new album and has vocals from Brian Wilson and the late Carl Wilson, as well as Mike Love and Bruce Johnston, expresses that message. Also appearing on the album are Glen Campbell, Neil Young, Steve Miller, Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers, America, John Stamos, Stephen Stills and David Crosby.

Ambition to record a solo album eluded Jardine, he said, until The Beach Boys took a hiatus while Carl Wilson was out of the band and he had a lot of time on his hands. He wanted to stick with the style he had become accustomed to and he recruited his sons, Matt and Adam, whom he calls his “Beach Boys voices,” to join his band. Then he brought in some old friends as well.

“I surrounded myself with a bunch of great musicians up here in Monterey,” Jardine said. “That’s the key—surrounding yourself with great people. If you can do that you’re halfway there.”

But it was a challenge corralling all that talent.

“It took me a couple of years getting everybody synched up because they’re all so busy,” Jardine said. “I think Neil (Young) was the most challenging because of his schedule, but he finally relented, and he did a pretty cool job on the ‘A California Saga’ piece that’s on there.”

The release of “A Postcard from California” was just in time for The Beach Boys tour that started April 24 in Tucson, Ariz. The tour takes the band across the country, as well as stops in Canada, across Europe and Japan. The surviving members of the original The Beach Boys (Brian Wilson, Jardine and Mike Love) are reuniting, along with Bruce Johnston and David Marks. It is the first time since 1967 that The Beach Boys have toured with Brian Wilson.

“It’s a big effort for everybody to come together because everyone has their own managers, agents and publicists,” Jardine said. “It’s a shock for all of them I’m sure to have to adjust to all of this because it’s a business, but the creative thing is easy. That’s the easy part. It’s all the managerial stuff, setting up the tour, that’s a challenge.”

Born in Lima, Ohio on Sept. 3, 1942, Jardine’s family moved to Hawthorne, in Southern California, when he was a child. He was playing string instruments at 6, thanks mainly to his parents, who had met while members of the Toledo University Orchestra. Jardine followed in his father’s musical footsteps by playing the clarinet, but it was the guitar he gravitated to.

“It’s much more melodic and sociable because with a guitar you can gather people around,” Jardine said. “You really can’t do that with a clarinet. Brian found the same thing with a piano. We gathered around him when it came to learning our first musical parts.”

Jardine met Brian Wilson while they were students at Hawthorne High School, and they instantly bonded. Jardine was introduced to Brian’s brothers, Carl and Dennis, and his cousin, Mike Love. They soon formed The Pendletones. They spent their time at the Wilson house in Hawthorne where the early doo-wop groups inspired their harmonies. The only real surfer in the group, Dennis, suggested that the fledgling band write songs about surfing and the California lifestyle.

“Dennis came home with an idea to do a song about surfing and as soon as we got around the piano it worked perfect,” Jardine said. “It was real fun, a fun little tune.”

That tune, ‘Surfin,’ was released in 1961 on Candix Records, it became a hit. But Jardine recalled the band had plenty of naysayers.

“Everyone was telling us that we’d never make it,” Jardine said. “You always hear that even today when you’re starting out. You can’t listen to the naysayers. They’re the ones who don’t want you to make it because they’re jealous … there’s always a hidden agenda with people like that. The guy who sold me my first guitar told me the same damn thing, ‘Oh, you’ll never learn to play this.’ Because they couldn’t do it, they don’t want you to do it. There’s a lesson in life I think. Don’t listen to the critics. When we started doing our songs, the critics would tell us how bad our stuff was. We had to ignore them. You do what’s in your heart and you do what you feel is right and stick by it.”

Since that inauspicious debut more than 50 years ago, they certainly proved the naysayers wrong. The Beach Boys have become the most influential American band in pop music history, selling more than 100 million records. More than 50 of their singles reached the Billboard charts—songs like “Surfin’ Safari,” “Surfin’ USA,” Little Deuce Coupe,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “I Get Around,” “Help Me Rhonda” (with lead vocals from Jardine), “California Girls” and “Good Vibrations.” The band was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. They also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award along the way. Their success came with personal struggles and tragedy, though. Brian Wilson struggled with drug addiction and mental illness. Dennis Wilson died in 1983 from drowning. Carl Wilson died from complications of lung and brain cancer in 1998. There have also been various lawsuits along the way, which splintered the group. But they reunited last year with the single release of “Don’t Fight the Sea” (with a B-side of an a cappella version of the Beach Boys “Friends”), which helped raise funds for Japanese tsunami relief.

That single, like Jardine’s new album, was released on the Los Angeles-based Waterfront Entertainment Group/Robo Records music production company. “A Postcard from California” was originally released digitally in 2010, but additional tracks have been added to the CD release.

“This will take people up the (California) coast,” Jardine said. “It’s a nice travelogue to put in your car and play up the State Highway 1. The music gives you the feeling for the country you’re driving through.”

Jardine added he felt that The Beach Boys were “stewards of the ocean.”

“It’s our responsibility at this point in our lives to give something back,” said Jardine. “I enlisted them all to sing on this particular song (“Don’t Fight the Sea”). It’s a tongue-in-cheek swipe at mankind’s arrogance about how we feel we can control our environment and the ocean and the tides and everything else. But in fact we’re destroying them. I’m trying to put that message across that we need to take care of the ocean and don’t fight the sea.”

The Beach Boys have also been in the studio recording new material, which is due out later this year. The new album, according to Jardine, will feature their “signature harmonies.” Jardine also said that Brian Wilson is “an icon who is right up there with the greatest composers of the 20th century.”

“Brian still has that nice edge on his voice,” Jardine said. “We were in the studio the other day singing some parts together. It was nice to hear him, all of us I should say, come together and sound so good. It was a nice feeling.”

“You can’t change the leopard’s spots,” he added about the new album’s sound. “It’s just the way I think. It’s a musical certainty that we’re going to pretty much sound like we used to.”