John Fletcher: Founding Beach Boy Al Jardine is still creating music

Al Jardine (Photo by Jeff McEvoy)

Editor’s note: John Fletcher has been a Beach Boys fan ever since the band formed in 1961. His late father, Earle Fletcher, managed Top 40 radio station KXOL-1360 in Fort Worth at the time, so John had access to his own collection of Beach Boys music. As a public relations consultant today, he notices the similarity of how a musical group’s music stands the test of time just as a successful business survives and thrives. He missed Al Jardine’s Sept. 2 concert at Arlington Music Hall but, as a Beach Boys admirer, caught up with Al to discuss the re-release of his album, “Postcard from California” and the staying power of the Beach Boys. John describes the music style as “fun and dynamic with incredible harmonies.”

You, too, would be quite influential if you asked Sir Paul McCartney to produce a one-line cameo video for your upcoming album and he gladly accommodated you.

And you would be even MORE influential if you said, “I need a better take. Let’s do it again.” And he did!

Such was the influence of founding Beach Boys member Al Jardine, when he visited with Paul McCartney briefly after the 2010 Grammys. Jardine asked the Beatles co-founder to deliver the line, “Don’t Fight the Sea” for the final scene of his video for the song of the same name.

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There was Paul McCartney, surrounded by fellow members of the Grammys audience as he delivered his line. With full conviction and confidence, Jardine said, “I need a better take. Let’s do it again.”

McCartney responded, “I normally get paid for this, but I’ll do it for you because we’re friends.” Then he delivered the line. No more takes needed. It was a wrap!

During the 1960s, when the Beach Boys and the Beatles were enjoying the peak of their careers, the two groups competed in concert and record sales. At the same time, their evolving musical tastes and skills motivated each other to greater achievement.

In 2010, after the Beach Boys had gone their separate ways, Al Jardine collaborated with a number of high-profile artists in producing A Postcard from California as his first studio album. His collaborators included a veritable who’s who of music at the time: Beach Boys bandmates Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks; David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Neil Young (three of the four from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young); and Dewey Bunnell and Gary Beckley of America.

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Individual collaborators included Flea, Glen Campbell, Steve Miller, and John Stamos, along with Jardine’s sons Adam and Matt. Matt had joined the Beach Boys in the mid-90s when Brian Wilson left the concert tours to become the group’s full-time composer and producer.

The lead guitarist on the album is Michael Lent, who has served as Barry Manilow’s musical director, and who is considered one of the elite guitarists in the music industry.

One of the most emotional performances came from the re-mastered vocals of Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys, who had died of cancer before the time of the production. In Al Jardine’s words, “It was almost a haunting experience.”

A Postcard from California was released in 2010 as a CD and is now available digitally for streaming and download worldwide via Ume. The album was re-released in 2012 with two bonus tracks: Waves of Love and Sloop John B (A Pirate’s Tale).

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I missed Jardine’s Sept.2 (the night before his 80th birthday) performance at the Arlington Music Hall, but I arranged for a phone interview on Thursday afternoon, Sept. 28. He was at his studio in Northern California.

Jardine wrote all or part of the 15 tracks, with four exceptions. He re-arranged two Beach Boys hits – with a bluesy harmonica in Help Me Rhonda (a song that reached #1 on Billboard Magazine in 1965 and on which he always sang the lead for the Beach Boys) and a folksy swing version of A California Saga that makes you want to tap your toes while driving down the California coastline on Highway 101.

He rearranged the Mamas & Papas’ hit, California Dreamin’ and teamed with former Beach Boy Glen Campbell (yes, but a Beach Boy for only a few months!). Jardine added his own personal touch to And I Always Will but laughingly said that he cannot claim credit for the original composition by musical genius Frederic Chopin from the 19th century.

Composers and performers are never satisfied with their work. He adds, “I was in a hurry to complete the project. If I had taken just a little more time, I could have brought in Carnie and Wendy Wilson (both daughters of Brian Wilson and founding members of the Wilson Phillips trio) to sing backgrounds to complete the fullness of the composition. I would have also liked to have picked up the tempo just a little bit more.”

You may wonder what gave Al Jardine the idea of collaborating with other artists on A Postcard from California. The concept began when the Beach Boys made a trip to Nashville in 1996 and covered some of their own songs with such brilliant artists as Willie Nelson (Warmth of the Sun), Jimmy Buffett (Kokomo and Fun, Fun Fun), Toby Keith (Be True to Your School), Tammy Wynette (In My Room), Sawyer Brown (I Get Around), and Lorrie Morgan (Don’t Worry Baby), as well as Christian singer Kathy Troccoli (I Can Hear Music).

Speaking of A Postcard from California Jardine says, “I wrote several of these arrangements with specific collaborators in mind, such as Glen Campbell for California Dreamin’ and Steve Miller for Help Me, Rhonda. Then, I started calling the artists whose style I felt really fit. It was essential that everyone could deliver the very best possible interpretation of each song.”

He related how Steve Miller was flying home to Utah and upon receiving Al’s call mid-flight diverted to California to record on the album.

The project spanned almost 40 years, starting with Jardine writing California Saga for the Beach Boys in the ’70s “It’s just not the same without Carl (Wilson – lead guitarist and vocalist who died of lung cancer in 1998) and Dennis (Wilson – drummer who drowned in 1983), so this song was a work of love and Beach Boys family to me.”

Neil Young shared lead vocals while David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Jardine’s sons Adam and Matt sang backgrounds. “I had a vision for what the re-interpretation of the song should sound like, and this group delivered perfectly.”

Don’t Fight the Sea was originally intended to be a Beach Boys song, but the dynamic never coalesced around the concept, so Jardine kept the song in the vault, holding onto it until the production of A Postcard from California. He has always been pro-ecology and felt that this was the right time to make a statement on behalf of National Marine Sanctuaries.

One by one, he brought in the voices of Brian Wilson, Bruce Johnston, and Mike Love – mixed with Carl Wilson’s earlier harmonies – to drive home his message on the environment.

“It’s a tough subject to write lyrically about plastic because nothing rhymes with the word beyond ‘drastic.’ We used visuals to demonstrate the challenges of the plight of the polar bear, extinction, warming of the planet, and more.”

And remember – Paul McCartney performed his cameo for free for his Beach Boys friend.

The greatest revision of lyrics occurs on Sloop John B: A Pirate’s Tale. The song is actually more than a century old and has had several titles since its first performance. Jardine reworked the lyrics to match those that he wrote in his award-winning children’s book by the same title so that the song would be appropriate for children.

The G-rated song’s lyrics changed from the original’s, “Drinking all night – got into a fight” to, “Sailing all night – got up at first light.”

He still takes copies of the books to his concerts, and parents and grandparents buy copies for their children and grandchildren.

Jardine continues to keep himself busy as he tours with his Endless Summer Band, which consists of his son Matt; Carnie and Wendy Wilson; longtime Beach Boys band members Ed Carter and Bobby Figueroa; and Debbie Shair, who has performed with the band Heart and also in Brian Wilson’s touring band. Their upcoming performances are scheduled for California, Tennessee, Ohio, and Florida. Hopefully, we will see the return of Al Jardine to our area.

He performs the most popular Beach Boys hits along with the fresh music of A Postcard from California.

I asked about the possibility of a final reunion of the Beach Boys.

“We’ve talked about it,” he said. “It’s been 60 years and the last time that we performed together was in 2012. It’s about time, and I hope that we do before it’s too late.”

In the meantime, Al Jardine offers A Postcard from California as our latest Beach Boys-inspired sound.

John Fletcher is the CEO of Fletcher Consulting, a local marketing and public relations firm.