Memorial Day Weekend marks the beginning of summer on the Alabama Gulf Coast, as thousands of visitors begin streaming to the area’s beaches. The Amphitheater at The Wharf in Orange Beach will welcome summer with a concert featuring America and the legendary Beach Boys.
The Beach Boys are celebrating 50 years of such enduring hits as “Good Vibrations,” “Kokomo,” “Surfin’ Safari” and “California Girls.” The current lineup includes founding members Mike Love and Bruce Johnston as well as drummer John Cowsill of the band The Cowsills, said by many to have been the inspiration for the fictional band The Partridge Family. In a recent interview with Lagniappe, Love discussed the band’s long history as well as its timeless music.
Centanni: It’s been 50 years since the Beach Boys’ debut album. What goes through your mind when you consider that you’ve been doing this for 50 years and still manage to have a very successful career with a full tour schedule and packed houses?
Love: What goes through my mind is that I’m very thankful, grateful and blessed for our long-running career. I and my cousin Brian wrote many of our biggest hits together in the early to mid-’60s up to “Good Vibrations,” which was the largest-selling single of the ‘60s. Coming up next year will be the 50th anniversary of “Good Vibrations.” I’m still thankful that people still want to hear The Beach Boys’ music.
I can’t remember a time in my life when there wasn’t music. I grew up in a house with a grand piano, an organ and a harp. I had two sisters that played the harp, and we all took piano lessons. On every holiday and at every birthday party, there would be music. The older folks had their music, and we had our rock ‘n ‘roll and Everly Brothers and doo-wop. It’s just wonderful to be able to do as a profession what used to be a family hobby.
Centanni: Not everyone has been to the beach, but The Beach Boys’ music has found its place in the hearts of thousands of people who have never been seaside. Why do you think that is?
Love: I think the sound of our music and the beats and the melodies and particularly the harmonies have a warmth to them. We originally got together to sing, not because we thought we’d be rock stars and not because we thought that we would make a lot of money. No, it was because we loved getting together and harmonizing. I think that love of the harmonies is what comes through the music. That’s has to be a partial explanation of why our music would appeal to people in Germany or Japan. In other words, in places that they don’t even speak English, they have no idea of what we’re talking about when we sing our car songs or our surfing songs, for that matter.
It’s the beats, the sounds and the whole concept. Who wouldn’t want to go on a surfing safari? It sounds good. In fact, in “Surfing U.S.A.” I wrote that “If everybody had an ocean across the U.S.A., then everybody’d be surfing.” Well, I knew that everybody didn’t have an ocean. We’d also do songs about cars, because everybody loved cars in the ‘50s and ‘60s. We did “409” and “Little Deuce Coupe” and “I Get Around” and “Fun, Fun, Fun.” Those are all songs that were composed with the idea of some great cars in mind and the shenanigans that young people would resort to when they borrowed their daddy’s car. They didn’t cruise to the library. They cruised to the local hangouts. People still come of age and still get their driver’s licenses and still like the hot cars. Nothing has changed. The years have gone by, but the dynamics are similar.
“Be True to Your School” is all about the energy and spirit involved in Friday night football with the cheerleaders and everything else. We were able to put some of these ways of life into song. They’re identified by our original fans from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, yet the young people still like those songs too. We have children that come out and sing all the words to our songs. We can see them singing along in the audience. I’m talking about 9-year-olds. We’re very fortunate to not only have a career that has lasted a long time, but also successive generations of fans. Some were turned onto us through “Full House.” Our friend John Stamos had us on his show a few times, so we’re recognized from our appearances on (the TV show).
Centanni: You’ve got John Cowsill from The Cowsills in the band. To me, The Cowsills always pop up in the most random places.
Love: (chuckles) Yeah!
Centanni: How did he end up as the drummer for The Beach Boys?
Love: Well, he originally came into the band and started playing piano with us, but his forte is drums. He was the youngest member of The Cowsills and the drummer. I must say, he’s the best drummer that we’ve had in a long time. The original drummer was my cousin Dennis Wilson, who drowned and passed away. Obviously, we’ve had a couple of drummers over the years, but John has been drumming for us over the past couple of years. He’s a damn good drummer, and he’s a damn good singer too. He’s a huge contribution to our band.
Centanni: Three years ago, you got back into the studio to do “That’s Why God Loves the Radio.” What was it like writing new material for the band?
Love: It was good! In fact, that song in particular, listening to the harmonies in the studio booth being played back, my cousin Brian and I agreed that it was like 1965 all over again. It wasn’t “Pet Sounds” and it wasn’t “Smile.” It wasn’t “Surfin’ Safari,” but it was right in the mid-’60s. It was a really nice concept, but there were some issues involved in doing the rest of the album. Originally, I was told that I was going to be able to write songs with Brian, but it was never to be. I was disappointed in that. Back in the day, Brian and I would write a song, and it would become a hit. Although I was told that it was going to be possible to write with him, it never happened. I was not happy about that at all. By and large, from a fan and audience point of view, it was great that we did something together.
Centanni: You’re playing in Orange Beach, and we consider Memorial Day Weekend the official start of summer on the Alabama Gulf Coast. Y’all are the proper kick-off for that. What kind of beach party can we expect?
Love: Everything from “Surfin’ Safari” to “Kokomo” and all things between. Is America on that show?
Centanni: Yes, they are.
Love: Yeah! Well, there’s gonna be a lot of music there. They’ve got a lot of hits, and we’ve got some as well. It’s going to be an evening of lots of music. The audience is going to get more than they bargain for, I think.
Band: The Beach Boys, America
Date: Saturday, May 23 at 8 p.m.
Venue: The Amphitheater at The Wharf, 23325 Amphitheater Dr. (Orange Beach), www.amphitheateratthewharf.com
Tickets: Ticketmaster, $16-$55