In the Spotlight: Al Jardine
The founding member of the Beach Boys embarks on a rare solo tour
Often overshadowed by fellow Beach Boys Brian Wilson and Mike Love, Al Jardine is an integral part of their legacy. As bassist, guitarist and harmony vocalist, the affable musician has contributed to some of the greatest moments of the band from the earliest days of the group. It was actually Jardine's mom who loaned the fledgling outfit the money to record their first songs in Brian Wilson's house.
Now in his new show "A Postcard From California: From the Very First Song, With a Founding Member of the Beach Boys," Jardine starts the evening with "Surfin,'" the first song the Beach Boys recorded, and takes his audience on an intriguing journey of hits, rarities and the stories behind the songs.
Backed by his son Matt Jardine and musical director Jeff Alan Ross, the show is a musical memoir for one of classic rock's often-overlooked geniuses. INsite spoke with Jardine by phone from his home near Big Sur, California.
Your career spans decades but you've only released one solo album, A Postcard From California.
Right and I'll do a couple songs from it in the show. I like the "Postcard" song because it's symbolic of so many families who moved to California after the war. After the war years, people were wanting to start all over again.
Including your own family from Ohio.
That's right. My dad said, 'Hey, we're going out west.' And we sure did! We went as far as we could and wound up in an exciting place called San Francisco.
Who knew what that move would eventually lead to at that point?
Exactly. Actually it was my mother I have to thank for that because she kept prodding him to move to warmer climates. San Francisco is cold, like I say in the song. Very warm people but very cold weather. She kept pushing the envelope and they both loved Los Angeles so that's where we ended up.
And you're back up the coast in the Big Sur area.
Yeah now I'm cold all over again! My mom would probably encourage me to go back south, but it's extremely beautiful here. It's like following the highway on the back of the album, there's a little map to mark the sights and the destination points you reach musically and physically.
You're in a good musical location now, from the big reunion tours with the Beach Boys a few years ago that morphed into the Brian Wilson shows of the last few years to this stripped-down experience.
This is a lot more fun. I'd forgotten how much fun it is to sing as a trio. My son Matthew is an extraordinary singer and percussionist and my musical director is Jeff Alan Ross who also works with Peter Asher. It's really fun and exploratory. It gives me a chance to actually talk. I think it's better to do this than to be besieged by publishers to write a book. Whenever I start to go into detail to do it, I go into such detail I can't get past the first chapter!
You're billing this as "from the very first song," so that would be "Surfin'."
Right, we start with the very first song and before the show starts the media is showing the recoding of the song at Brian's house. It's the nucleus of the whole thing. Then I come out and play the big ol' double bass which is what I played on the record. Then I put that down, pick up the guitar and we just plow through the catalog.
You mentioned the trio format, that's gotta be a blast for you because I know you were influenced by the Kingston Trio early on.
That's how I learned how to sing. I loved their harmonies, style, positivity and just the fun of that sound. They were really the folk-singing Beach Boys, with their Hawaiian influences.
Has that sort of tropical allure always been an influence?
Yeah, there's nothing like the tropics especially when you're a cold weather boy like I am. The Wilson guys grew up in L.A., so they don't even know what cold weather is. Brian's still in that area and Mike Love is in San Diego, so they really don't have a clue!
Even your first bands were tropical flavored. Your first one was The Tikis, right?
I think so; that sounds about right. Yeah, we were The Tikis and then The Islanders. We were a trio knock-off band. Then when I met Brian Wilson, we became a Four Freshmen-type band. That changed everything. We got into very complex harmonies but we were still folk. We were singing about surfing, which is folk music and car songs. It's all about the folks, you know? We got lucky, but I must say we were talented.
That definitely helps.
That does help. But I always say, don't listen to the naysayers. What I've learned is that often people don't want you to succeed. They want to be the ones, they don't you to be the ones. So they go, 'Oh you'll never make it with that stuff.' But we didn't care because we enjoyed doing it so much.
You heard enough of that negativity from [Brian's dad] Murray Wilson in the family living room, you didn't need to hear it from anyone else.
Yeah, he said, 'You'll never make it,' too. You're right! I think I'll tell that story. In fact, I just may include it in the monologue. It was tough. We all had to go begging to my mother to make the record because he didn't believe in us.
Well he just couldn't relate to the music. He was from another generation and it didn't appeal to him. I think it was more about musical taste. But he learned to appreciate it, let's put it that way.
The last time we talked you were at Capitol making That's Why God Made The Radio in 2011.Now in retrospect, what do you think of it? There were such high hopes for a Beach Boys reunion record.
It's a distant memory to me. It was just a necessary step in the evolution of the final moments of the Beach Boys. Now that's done and the rest of us are off doing our own things. Other than Mike Love, who still thinks he's the Beach Boys. He has the illusion that he is the Beach Boys. But he's having fun and the rest of us are having fun. Brian and I are having a lot of fun!
The one good thing that period did was kickstart a musical renaissance for Brain, you and the whole live experience with No Pier Pressure in 2015 and that massive Pet Sounds tour.
And you know, we can't wait to get back out on the road. He told me the other day, he said, 'Al, I really miss being out on the road.' I said, 'I know, Brian, I know.' We'll be back out there soon because he really enjoys it now which is half the fun. We're going out in May and then for a holiday tour in November. I don't know where that's gonna take us yet, but we're gonna try out the songs from the Christmas album from all those years ago. That'll be a challenge because none of us have sang that stuff in years. We'll see what happens. We'll probably park a few songs and get a few of them down.
The Beach Boys catalog is so rich. I loved the experimental stuff from the '70s and then Capitol brought out Endless Summer which was just stuff from ten years before. It made people want to hear the clean-cut, striped shirt Beach Boys again but you were already in the beards and long hair by then.
It totally regenerated our entire career. It turned us into maybe an oldies band but it didn't stop us from recording new material. So we got to record whatever we wanted and then play the hits. I mean, why not? Now we get to go back and do the stuff, the interim material that nobody knows except the hardcore fans. We're regenerating a whole new catalog onstage - or at least I am.
The hardcore fans are well versed in the obscure stuff.
Oh yes. Actually, just before you called, I was playing our record called the MIU album. I hadn't heard it in years.
You produced that one about 40 years ago.
Yeah and you know, I never play our stuff much. Once you're done with it, you're on to something else. So now, going back to hear it, I think people would really like it. So that's what I'm most interested to do. People have heard all the car songs many times over. There's so much other stuff to discover.
Al Jardine plays March 26 at City Winery. For more information, please visit citywinery.com/atlanta.