No other band and its members personify the essence of California more than The Beach Boys. Music lovers have the legendary surfer-rock group to thank for so much: For the sublime harmonies on songs like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “I Get Around,” “God Only Knows,” “California Girls” and “Good Vibrations,” as well as for the iconic, innovative and masterful Pet Sounds album (which Paul McCartney says helped inspire St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and for … Uncle Jesse?!
“I never even dreamed of meeting The Beach Boys, let alone playing with them,” John Stamos, an unofficial guest touring band member, once told Kelly Clarkson on her talk show, recounting an 80s concert of theirs he went to while he was still a soap star.
“The show was over; they were still going to do the encore,” Stamos, who was friends with Jeff Foskett, a touring guitarist for the band, shared. “And these cheerleaders chased me [backstage] and [band co-founder] Mike Love turns to my friend and says, ‘Who’s that?’ And he says, ‘That’s John Stamos; he’s on General Hospital and always has girls chasing him.’ And Mike Love, without missing a beat, says, ‘Get him onstage.’”
Love’s brilliance, and the brilliance of the rest of the Beach Boys members, of course, goes far deeper than just recruiting Stamos and featuring him in 1988’s “Kokomo” video. “This band not only wrote great songs, initially writing surf music, but they did more than that,” Elton John, who inducted them into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, shared. “As a musician, you graduated from listening to just pop songs to listening to bands that produce new sounds on records. This band were geniuses, they still are. They influenced my writing.”
Brian Wilson and the other Beach Boys members’ vision pushed and inspired not only The Beatles and Elton John, but the entire music world. “With its vivid orchestration, lyrical ambition, elegant pacing, and thematic coherence, Pet Sounds invented — and in several senses, perfected — the notion that an album could be more than the sum of its parts,” notes Rolling Stone, which places that masterpiece in the No. 2 position on its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. Wilson, they add, “was suggesting a new grown-up identity for rock & roll music itself” with the ambitious effort.
The highs and the lows
Though legal battles between Beach Boys members, Brian and Love, over songwriting rights raged plagued the band’s harmony through the early 2000s, the duo, along with original member Al Jardine, managed to reconnect and tour for the band’s 50th anniversary in 2012. More conflict came when Love announced he’d tour without them after that, and it’s hard not to long for the magic that they all made when they were together.
A 2024 book titled The Beach Boys By the Beach Boys will chronicle their “rise from a humble garage band in Hawthorne to one of the most beloved bands in history, covering every album from their 1962 debut Surfin’ Safari to their chart-topping 1974 compilation Endless Summer,” as Ultimate Classic Rock reports.
Until that’s available, catch a wave with us as we take a look at The Beach Boys Members, both now and then, and celebrate their musical achievements.
The Beach Boys members then and now
The oldest brother of three, Brian Wilson was drawn to music from an early age. According to dad Murry, Brian, at just 2, was enamored with George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” while other babies were content with “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”
While an athlete in school (football, baseball, track), he also studied music theory and taught his brothers how to harmonize. “I learned to listen and sing, and then I learned how to teach others to listen and sing. Dennis and Carl and I had a little trio going, and I started bringing songs to the group,” he’s said. After garage band dreams and high school performances, Brian joined forces with his brothers, cousin Mike Love and high school buddy Al Jardine, to record 1961’s “Surfin’,” which became a regional hit.
Once they were signed by Capitol Records, Brian fought to produce the band’s music himself, which was bold and unheard of at time, but he obviously knew what he was doing. Pet Sounds, which came in 1966, changed his life, and the music world. “I said to myself that I had completed the greatest album I will ever produce. I knew it. It was a spiritual record. I wanted to grow musically, to expand our horizons and do something that people would love, and I did it,” he’s said.
A near fatal drug incident in 1982 forced the band to require him seek treatment, which he did. He also ventured out on his own, releasing his first solo album, Brian Wilson, in 1988. In 1997, he even released The Wilsons, an album featuring daughters Carnie and Wendy, who would, of course, in 1989 go on to form their band Wilson Phillips with Chynna Phillips, daughter of The Mamas & the Papas’ Michelle and John Phillips.
Having taken a decades long break from performing, Brian started hitting stages again in the late 90s. “I like doing the concerts, y’know? I get standing ovations wherever I go — its a trip,” he’s said. And in 2004, he finally released his SMiLE album, previously shelved since 1967, and he was part of 2007’s Kennedy Center Honors class, with Art Garfunkel, Lyle Lovett and Hootie & The Blowfish among those who celebrated him that night.
The 2014 film Love & Mercy documented his life, through performances by Paul Dano, John Cusack and Paul Giamatti. “It’s quite a thrill to have a movie made of my life. I’m very sentimental about it, and it’s very, very good,” Wilson said at the time, adding that “it was a trip to see.” His original song for the film, One Kind of Love, earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song. And in 2016, the musician released his highly acclaimed memoir, I Am Brian Wilson.
The artist, now 81, was featured in a 2021 documentary titled Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road, in which his career successes are explored, along with his public battles with depression and substance abuse. He was also the inaugural artist featured on Rolling Stone’s In My Room virtual series, created during the pandemic. He even reunited with his former bandmates in 2022 for the TV special A Grammy Salute to The Beach Boys, which marked the group’s 60th anniversary.
To ring 2024 in, Wilson — a father of five who’s currently married to Melinda Ledbetter — posted a sweet message of appreciation on his social media: “Thanks to all my fans for listening to my music, and from my family to yours, have a Happy New Year! Love & Mercy, Brian.”
Carl, the youngest of Brian’s brothers, was the lead guitarist for the Beach Boys. Influenced by Chuck Berry’s playing style, Carl also provided some of the lead vocals on many of the group’s famous tunes, such as “Good Vibrations” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” He also stepped up as producer in the late 60s and early 70s when Brian was battling some demons, but Carl later left the Beach Boys during a period of unrest in the early 80s.
“Sure, we’ve had our fair share of ups and downs,” he noted in an interview. “But I don’t know if we’ve had more than any other rock band.… We just have a way of getting ourselves into hot water.” While out on his own, he made two solo albums, Carl Wilson and Youngblood, before returning to the Beach Boys in 1983.
After he was diagnosed with cancer in 1997, he bravely played on through his treatments, even touring with the Beach Boys. “He never wanted credit for their success, but he was the glue that held the band together,” cousin Stan Love, Mike Love’s brother, said of Carl. “Whenever you saw a great Beach Boy concert, you saw what Carl Wilson was bringing to the stage.”
Sadly, Carl succumbed to complications from his lung cancer in 1998, passing away at the age of 51. He left behind his wife, Gina Martin (daughter of Dean Martin), and two sons from his previous marriage, Jonah and Justyn.
Dennis Wilson: The Beach Boys members
The secret to the Beach Boys’ members success, according to drummer Dennis Wilson? “Three of us are brothers and we have one cousin. And we love what we do.… I think that each member of the group completely puts their whole heart and soul into what they do,” he told Reelin’ in the Years Productions in 1977.
Known as the family’s black sheep and the wild one of the bunch, he was also the only real surfer in the band. He was the one who prompted older brother Brian to write “Surfin’,” the song about his beloved teenage pastime that gave them their name as well as their careers.
But while Brian was laser focused on his music pursuits, “I’d much rather play doctor with the girl next door or muck around with cars,” Dennis said.
Though he started to contribute more both vocally and writing wise as the Beach Boys took off, Dennis’s LSD and drug use often sidetracked his efforts, as did his complicated association with Charles Manson.
In 1977, Dennis released a solo album titled Pacific Ocean Blue, but he failed to follow through with his plans for another. He rejoined the Beach Boys, though bickering with his brothers and bandmates made his tenure in the band very unstable, as did his growing dependence on alcohol. The musician was married five times and had five children, and he even had a three-year romance with Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie.
Sadly, in 1983, Dennis died at the age of 39, having drowned after diving off a friend’s boat in Marina del Ray. “We know Dennis would have wanted to continue in the tradition of the Beach Boys. His spirit will remain in our music,” the band said in a statement upon his death, and he was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with his brothers and his fellow band co-founders in 1988.
Mike Love: The Beach Boys members
Mike Love grew up singing with his first cousins, the Wilson brothers, at family gatherings in southern California, and went on to be one of the founding Beach Boys members with them. “What brought us together was the love of harmonizing,” he’s shared. “That’s the secret sauce there, the blend as well as the harmonies.”
In the 1990s, he launched StarServe [Students Taking Action and Responsibility to Serve], which enlisted other celebs to help promote community service to the younger generation. He’s also spoken at a couple of major environmental gatherings, such as the Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro and at Earth Day 2000 in Washington, D.C.
Love was bestowed the Ella Award in 2014, a lifetime achievement award by the Society of Singers (named after its first recipient, Ella Fitzgerald) that’s also been given to artists such as Elton John, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra.
He reflected on his time in the group through his 2016 memoir titled Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy. A devoted follower of Transcendental Meditation, Love dedicated his second solo album, 2017’s Unleash the Love, to “his journey to find personal love and peace,” according to his website.
As Forbes reported, Love fought for and “won the rights to the Beach Boys’ name in 2008 and remains the only original founding member of the touring band.” He shared with the outlet that they plan on playing southern California’s Stagecoach music festival in 2024. “I always liked the live music, you know, performing and seeing the reaction of people. People jumping up and down going crazy for our songs,” he shared. The proud father of eight has been married to his current wife Jacqueline since 1994.
Al Jardine: The Beach Boys members
The onetime high school football teammate of Brian Wilson scored big when he also teamed up with the Wilson brothers to co-found The Beach Boys. Al Jardine played double bass and rhythm guitar, co-wrote a bunch of tunes, and he’s also the vocal lead on the group’s hit “Help Me Rhonda.”
Though he toured with the other Beach Boys members through the 90s, he decided to move on after Carl Wilson’s death in 1998, releasing his first live album in 2001 and a solo studio album in 2010 titled A Postcard From California.
Now 81, Jardine celebrates the music of The Beach Boys when he tours with his Endless Summer Band. Matt, one of his four sons, is part of the group, and Jardine even lands some pretty cool special guests out on the road (hint: Carnie and Wendy Wilson!).
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