Dennis Wilson

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Dennis Wilson
Dennis Wilson 1971 cropped.jpg
Dennis Wilson in 1971 a promotional shot for "Two-Lane Blacktop"
Background information
Birth name Dennis Carl Wilson
Born (1944-12-04)December 4, 1944
Died December 28, 1983(1983-12-28) (aged 39)
Marina del Rey, California, U.S.
Genres Rock, psychedelic rock, psychedelic pop, surf rock, baroque pop
Occupations Musician, songwriter, producer
Instruments Vocals, drums, percussions, piano, organ, keyboards, mellotron, guitar, bass guitar, harmonica, accordion
Years active 1961–1983
Labels Caribou, Sony Music, Capitol, Brother, Reprise
Associated acts The Beach Boys, Jan and Dean

Dennis Carl Wilson (December 4, 1944 – December 28, 1983) was an American drummer, singer and songwriter. He is best known as a founding member of the rock band The Beach Boys, alongside his brothers, Brian and Carl, cousin, Mike Love, and Al Jardine. Wilson was a member of the band from its formation until his death in 1983, recording twenty-four studio albums. In 1977, he released a solo album, Pacific Ocean Blue, to widespread critical acclaim.

Born in Inglewood, California, Dennis was the middle brother of fellow Beach Boys members Brian Wilson and Carl Wilson. Dennis Wilson was also the only regular surfer of the group, and his personal life exemplified the beach lifestyle that the group's early songs often celebrated. His prominence in the group as a writer and lead vocalist increased as their careers went on into the late 1960s and 1970s.

Childhood years[edit]

Wilson was the son of Audree Neva (née Korthof) and Murry Gage Wilson. He spent his family years with his brothers and parents in Hawthorne, California. Dennis' role in the family dynamic, which he himself acknowledged, was that of the black sheep. Though anxiety-filled and aggressive at times, he was also sensitive and generous. He was the most often spanked of the Wilson brothers, by their strong-willed father Murry. Possessed with an abundance of physical energy and a combative nature, Dennis often refused to participate in family singalongs, and likewise avoided vocalizing on the early recordings made by Brian on a portable tape recorder. However, Dennis would sing with his brothers late at night in their shared bedroom on a song Brian later recalled as "our special one we'd sing," titled "Come Down, Come Down from the Ivory Tower." Brian noted of the late night brotherly three-part harmonies: "We developed a little blend which aided us when we started to get into the Beach Boys stuff."[1]

The Beach Boys[edit]

Dennis' mother, Audree, forced Brian to include Dennis in the original lineup of the Beach Boys. Urged by older cousin, Mike Love, Dennis had approached Brian to form a group and compose a song about surfing. The Beach Boys formed in August 1961 and were successful immediately (Murry having taken over guidance of the group as manager). Though the Beach Boys were named for, and developed, an image based on the California surfing culture, Dennis was the only actual surfer in the band.[1]

During the first few years of the Beach Boys, Dennis was given the role of the drummer by his brother, Brian. He quickly learned the basics of drumming at school lessons, and like the other members, he picked up more on the job. Brian Wilson took note of Dennis's limited drumming technique early on and as the mid-60s approached, often hired session drummers such as Hal Blaine to perform on studio recordings (additionally substituting all other players at one time or another, under the demand for the band members on tour). Dennis accepted this situation with equanimity, generally giving high praise to his older brother's work as Brian's compositions became more mature and complex. [2] However, he did have his own stick style; in 1970, at the height of the band's UK popularity, a New Musical Express writer used the phrase, "as crisp as a Dennis Wilson rim shot." Although he rarely sang backing vocals on stage, occasionally taking a lead, his raspy-sounding vocals were a key ingredient to the group's vocal blend in the studio, and in the late Sixties and Seventies his lead vocals lent a much-needed bluesy edge to an updating the Beach Boys' sound, giving their music new dimensions on the retreat of brother Brian's influence in composing and studio production.

Though given few important lead vocals on the early Beach Boys recordings ("Little Girl (You're My Miss America)" and "This Car of Mine" as well as the bridge verse on "Girls on the Beach") he sang lead on "Do You Wanna Dance?", the group's February 1965 hit. Later that year on Beach Boys' Party!, Dennis sang an impressive, faithful rendition of The Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away." He accompanied himself on guitar and like the other Beach Boys became a multi-instrumentalist. His piano playing and composing in particular was praised by Daryl Dragon, his frequent collaborator in the late Sixties and early Seventies and was showcased on his Pacific Ocean Blue album.

Although he had helped Brian write a few other songs dating back to 1963 at the age of 18, Dennis Wilson's first major released composition was "Little Bird," the B-side of the "Friends" single, coupled with "Be Still", also a paean to nature and reflecting on his place in the natural world of which his surfing hobby was only a minuscule part. All at once, aged 23, he revealed a fully matured style that had obviously been incubating inside for some time, away from the other members of the band. From 1968 to 1973, as Brian withdrew more and more from active participation with his group, Dennis stepped up as the major creative force of the Beach Boys, having learnt production techniques from observing his brother and showing cosmic-gothic overtones in composing (influenced by Richard Wagner). At least two of his songs were included on all but one of the six albums released in that five-year period, peaking with four songs on each of 20/20 and Sunflower. When certain territorial jealousies arose within the band over his growing role (as with George Harrison in the Beatles), he began to hold back songs for his own projected solo albums.

Wilson had further compositions featured on later Beach Boys albums such as 20/20 (1969), Sunflower (1970), Carl and the Passions – "So Tough" (1972), Holland (1973) as well as others. Sunflower included the track "Forever," which not only was popular with fans but also earned him some much sought praise from brother Brian and father Murry. The album included three other songs written by Wilson which were not originally recorded for the album.

In 1971, Dennis injured his hand badly enough to prevent him from playing drums for some time, and Ricky Fataar took over as the group's drummer between 1972 and 1974. During this period Dennis acted as a co-frontman alongside Mike Love, as well as playing keyboards and singing. The 1973 live album The Beach Boys in Concert features only Dennis onstage among thousands of fans on the album cover; however, none of his songs were included in the lineup.

During the three-year recording hiatus following Holland, Dennis's voice deteriorated markedly. By then his onstage antics (including streaking) occasionally disrupted the Beach Boys' live shows.

In 1974, concurrent with the success of the '60s hits compilation Endless Summer, Wilson returned to his role behind the drums. According to Dennis's biographer, Jon Stebbins, it was this year that he co-wrote the lyrics and modified part of the melody of "You Are So Beautiful" at a party with Billy Preston.

Charles Manson[edit]

In 1968, Dennis Wilson was driving through Malibu when he noticed two female hitchhikers, Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey. He picked them up and dropped them off at their destination.[3] Later on Wilson noticed the same two girls hitchhiking again. This time he took them to his home at 14400 Sunset Boulevard near Will Rogers Park. Wilson then went to a recording session. When he returned at around 3 a.m., he was met in his driveway by a stranger, Charles Manson. When Wilson walked into his home, about a dozen people were occupying the premises, most of them female. Wilson became fascinated by Manson and his followers; the "Manson Family" lived with Wilson for a period of time afterwards at his expense. In late 1968, Wilson reported to journalists,

I told them [the girls] about our involvement with the Maharishi and they told me they too had a guru, a guy named Charlie who'd recently come out of jail after 12 years. ... He drifted into crime, but when I met him I found he had great musical ideas. We're writing together now. He's dumb, in some ways, but I accept his approach and have learnt from him.[4]

Initially impressed by Manson's songwriting talent, Wilson introduced him to a few friends in the music business, including Terry Melcher (the son of Doris Day), whose home at 10050 Cielo Drive would later be rented by director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate, and Manson family members would later murder Tate and several others at the home. Manson held recording sessions at the home studio of Dennis' brother, Brian Wilson. Those recordings, if they exist, have never been released. The Beach Boys released a Manson song, originally titled "Cease To Exist" but reworked as "Never Learn Not to Love", as a single B-side and on the album 20/20.

As Dennis Wilson became increasingly aware of Manson's volatile nature and growing tendency to violence, he finally made a break from the friendship by simply moving out of the house and leaving Manson there. When Manson subsequently sought further contact (and money), he left a bullet with Wilson's housekeeper to be delivered with a cryptic message, which Wilson perceived as a threat. In August 1969, Manson Family members perpetrated the Tate/LaBianca murders. Wilson rarely discussed his involvement with the Manson Family, and usually became upset when the subject was broached.[citation needed]

Movie role[edit]

Dennis Wilson starred alongside James Taylor and Warren Oates in the critically acclaimed film Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) as "The Mechanic". The film depicts "The Driver" (Taylor) and "The Mechanic" driving aimlessly across the United States in their 1955 Chevy, surviving on money earned from street drag racing.

Solo career[edit]

Early in 1963, Dennis teamed with Brian's former collaborator Gary Usher, a neighbor in Hawthorne who became a prolific creative figure in surf music recording, and later, folk. As a duo writing, producing and performing and calling themselves the Four-Speeds, they released the single "RPM"/"My Stingray". Both sides got top four-star ratings in "Billboard" reviews mid-March '63 and turned out popular enough locally and in spots cross-country to earn and lose Denny, in a drunk-driving crash, a Chevy Corvair sports car. On December 4, 1970, Wilson released his first piece of solo material, a little-known single released only in Europe and the UK under the name "Dennis Wilson & Rumbo." The single featured "Sound of Free", on his usual theme of freedom, on the A-side with the romantic "Lady" (also known as "Fallin' In Love") on the B-side. The song was later covered by American Spring and released as the B-side to their single "Shyin' Away."

Pacific Ocean Blue[edit]

Wilson released his debut solo album Pacific Ocean Blue in 1977. His collaborators on the album included Daryl Dragon (the 'Captain' of Captain & Tennille) and Gregg Jakobson. The album peaked at #96 in the U.S. and sold around 300,000 copies, matching that year's Beach Boys album Love You. Dates were booked for a Dennis Wilson solo tour but these were ultimately cancelled. However, Wilson did occasionally perform his solo material on the 1977 Beach Boys tour.[5] Despite Wilson himself claiming the album had "no substance,"[6] Pacific Ocean Blue performed well critically and continues to maintain a cult following. Wilson's trademark gravelly and melancholy vocals resonate throughout the work. The album was out of print for more than a decade before being reissued in June 2008. The expanded Sony Legacy edition was voted the 2008 Reissue of the Year in both Rolling Stone and Mojo magazines and made #16 on the British LP charts and #8 and both the Billboard Catalog chart and the Billboard Internet Sales chart.[7]

Bambu[edit]

Pacific Ocean Blue's follow-up, Bambu, began production in the year 1978 at Brother Studios in Santa Monica with the collaboration of then Beach Boys keyboardist and Dennis's close friend Carli Muñoz as songwriter and producer. The first four songs that were officially recorded for Bambu were Muñoz's compositions: "It's Not Too Late", "Constant Companion", "All Alone", and "Under The Moonlight"; they appear on the final 2008 release. The project was initially scuttled by lack of financing and the distractions of simultaneous Beach Boys projects. Bambu was officially released in 2008 along with the Pacific Ocean Blue reissue.

Two songs from the Bambu sessions, "Love Surrounds Me" and "Baby Blue," were lifted for the Beach Boys' 1979 L.A. (Light Album). Wilson and brother Brian also recorded together apart from the Beach Boys in 1980 and 1981. These sessions remain unreleased though widely bootlegged as The Cocaine Sessions.

Personal life[edit]

At the time of his death, Wilson was married to (but separated from) Shawn Marie Love (born Shawn Marie Harris on 30th December 1964), the mother of his son Gage, born September 3rd 1982. Shawn Marie died aged 38 in September 2003 of liver cancer. Wilson's previous marriages were to Carole Freedman, with whom he had a daughter, Jennifer and whose son, Scott, he adopted; and Barbara Charren, with whom he had two sons, Michael and Carl. Wilson also was married twice to Karen Lamm, the ex-wife of Chicago keyboardist Robert Lamm, once in 1976 and again in 1978. Wilson was quoted in the sleeve notes for the album All Summer Long:

They say I live a fast life. Maybe I just like a fast life. I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world. It won’t last forever, either. But the memories will.

Dennis also had a significant relationship with Christine McVie from 1979 to 1981.

Death[edit]

Succeeding years saw Wilson battling alcohol abuse. Smoking had taken a toll on his voice, although the resultant gravelly effect helped define him as a singer. On December 28, 1983, shortly after his 39th birthday, Wilson drowned at Marina Del Rey, Los Angeles, after drinking all day and diving in the afternoon to recover items he had thrown overboard at the marina from his yacht three years prior.

Dennis Wilson's body was buried at sea off the California coast (33°53.9′N 118°38.8′W / 33.8983°N 118.6467°W / 33.8983; -118.6467) by the U.S. Coast Guard on January 4, 1984. His song "Farewell My Friend" was played at the funeral. As non-veterans of the Coast Guard and Navy are not allowed to be buried at sea unless cremated, Dennis' burial was possible due to the intervention of President Reagan.[8]

Solo discography[edit]

Albums[edit]

Year Album details Chart positions
US UK NOR
1977 Pacific Ocean Blue 96 (1977) 16 (2008) 5 (2008)

Singles[edit]

Date of release Title Label Chart positions
December, 1970, UK "Sound of Free"/"Lady" Stateside Records never charted
September, 1977, Europe "River Song"/"Farewell My Friend" Caribou Records never charted
October, 1977, US "You and I"/"Friday Night" Caribou Records never charted

Quotations[edit]

Hey, surfing's getting really big. You guys ought to write a song about it.

—Wilson to brother Brian and Mike Love, in 1961.[9]

Wilson stated, on hearing "Surfin'" on the radio for the first time:

We got so excited hearing our record on the radio that Carl threw up, and I ran down the street screaming!

NME - January 1962[10]

Later, in 1977, Dennis Wilson stated:

There'd be many times when I'd look at my brother and think to myself, maybe he won't ever pull it together again. Brian went through a lot of bad times. Drugs didn't help.

NME - April 1977[11]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Leaf, David (1978). The Beach Boys and the California Myth. Kingsport, Tennessee: Kingsport Press. pp. 16–19. ISBN 0-89471-412-0. 
  2. ^ Tobler, John; Andrew Grayham Doe (1997). The Complete Guide to the Music of The Beach Boys. London, England: Omnibus Press. pp. V, 9. ISBN 0-7119-5595-6. 
  3. ^ Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, pg. 338, published March 1975
  4. ^ Griffiths, David (December 21, 1968). "Dennis Wilson: "I Live With 17 Girls"". Record Mirror. 
  5. ^ "Dennis Wilson solo recordings". Local Gentry. Archived from the original on 2009-12-05. Retrieved 2009-12-05. 
  6. ^ Leaf, David. "Dennis Wilson Interview, 1977". Dan Addington.com. Archived from the original on 2009-12-05. Retrieved 2009-12-05. 
  7. ^ "Wilson's 'Ocean' Set For Expanded Reissue". Billboard.com. Archived from the original on 2009-12-05. Retrieved 2009-12-05. 
  8. ^ "Reagan Helps Get Approval For Musician's Burial at Sea". nytimes.com. UPI in The New York Times. January 3, 1984. Retrieved August 20, 2014. 
  9. ^ Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 14. ISBN 1-904041-96-5. 
  10. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 102. CN 5585. 
  11. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 299. CN 5585. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]