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|Birth name||Gary Lee Usher|
December 14, 1938|
Los Angeles, California
|Died||May 25, 1990
Los Angeles, California
|Genres||Rock and roll|
|Occupation(s)||Songwriter, record producer|
Usher's early life was spent in Grafton, Massachusetts. He attended Norcross Grammar School with his sister, Sandra. Gary was kiddingly called "Chicken Feed" by his male classmates. He graduated from high school in Westborough, Massachusetts in 1957.
Though a musician in a number of California bands in the late 1950s, Usher gained notice in the early 1960s, writing and producing a number of hits for various surf rock artists. He was the earliest outside collaborator of The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, a Hawthorne, California neighbor of his uncle, co-writing more than ten songs (among them "In My Room", "409", and "Lonely Sea"). According to Beach Boys biographer Steven Gaines, Wilson's domineering father Murry Wilson clashed with Usher and discouraged Usher's close personal friendship and working relationship with his son. Usher later recalled that the nicest thing Murry Wilson ever said to him was "not bad, Usher, not bad" upon hearing Usher and Brian Wilson play "In My Room" after they had co-written it.
Usher also produced fictitious surf groups or hot rod groups mixing studio session musicians with his own troops (Chuck Girard, Dick Burns and others). Later in the decade, he produced records for The Byrds, Peanut Butter Conspiracy, Dick Dale, and Sons of Adam, as well as being the force behind a number of "studio-created" bands, including The Hondells, The Super Stocks, and Sagittarius. He also made varying attempts to record vocal sides for himself (including two co-produced by Brian Wilson: "That's Just the Way I Feel" b/w "Sacramento). His second record, "Tomorrow" (regarded by some music historians as the forerunner to the surf/hotrod genre of rock n' roll) b/w "Lies", was written and produced by Zane Ashton (aka Bill Aken), another young artist who was on the Lan-Cet Record Label at the same time. Usher also discovered the comedy group The Firesign Theatre, using them on several of his projects for Columbia Records and producing their first album.
After being fired by Columbia Records, Usher decided to form a record label called Together Records in 1969 with friends Curt Boettcher and Keith Olsen. After talking to Motown for some time, in the hope of sealing a deal that never materialized, they signed a contract with Mike Curb's Transcontinental. Though several albums were released through the label, only the modest but visible success of Preflyte by The Byrds helped to pay for all their other projects. The label then folded when their distributor backed out of the deal in early 1970. Though his career waned after the 1960s, Usher continued to produce and write songs.
In the 1970s, Usher produced the first two albums by The Wackers. He also produced a concept album for a folk band called The Ship; most of the songs were quite long and contained no drums. He co-produced with Curt Boettcher The California Album in 1976-1977 (not released at the time), and a personal project: a book with a record called Beyond a Shadow of Doubt, which only demoed at the time in 1972, along with collaborator Dick Campbell. Beyond a Shadow of Doubt was released in June 2001 in Japan.
Usher issued an album in 1984 under the name of Celestium. The synth-laden LP was called Sanctuary and featured Tom Kelly as singer, Mike Meros and Alan Pasqua on keyboards, and Brent Nelson on drums on two songs (most of the other drums being digitally programmed). The engineer, Bill Fletcher, was also the bass player on a few cuts. Usher also worked with Brian Wilson again in 1986 but clashed with Wilson's controversial therapist Eugene Landy; most of this work has never been released. One of the last songs co-written by Usher was "Let's Put the Fun Back in Rock n Roll", co-written with singer-songwriter/producer Joseph Nicoletti in 1985. It was recorded by The Golden Boys (Frankie Avalon, Fabian, and Bobby Rydell) and performed for President and First Lady Reagan at Ford's Theatre on December 6, 1988.
Rare 45 records
Produced by Gary Usher
- Go Little Honda (1964, The Hondells)
- Hondells (1964, The Hondells)
- Hit City '65 (1965, The Surfaris)
- In Action (1966, Keith Allison)
- An Esoteric Qabalistic Service (1966, Rev. Ann Davies with The Builders of the Adytum Choir)
- Younger Than Yesterday (1967, The Byrds)
- Of Cabbages and Kings (1967, Chad & Jeremy)
- Present Tense (1968, Sagittarius)
- The Ark (1968, Chad & Jeremy)
- The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968, The Byrds)
- Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him (1968, The Firesign Theatre)
- Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968, The Byrds)
- Wackering Heights (1972, The Wackers)
- Going Public (1977, Bruce Johnston)
- Sanctuary (1984, Celestium)
- "409" (1962, The Beach Boys)
- "Lonely Sea" (1962, The Beach Boys)
- "Ten Little Indians" (1962, The Beach Boys)
- "In My Room" (1963, The Beach Boys)
- "Beach Party" (1963, Frankie Avalon)
- "Mag Wheels" (1963, Dick Dale & the Del-Tones)
- "We'll Run Away" (1964, The Beach Boys)
- "The Truth is Not Real" (1968, Sagittarius)
- "The Blue Marble" (1969, Sagittarius)
- "Don't Give In To Him" (1969, Gary Puckett & The Union Gap)
- "(Friend)Ships" (1971, Gary Usher)
- "Sanctuary" (1983,Celestium and later Laura Branigan and the J-Pop artist Reimy)
- "Let's Go To Heaven In My Car" (1986, Brian Wilson) (Note - Gary Usher's son, Gary Usher Jr., plays the guitar solo.)
- McParland, Stephen J. (2000). The California Sound - An Insider's Story. The Musical Biography of Gary Lee Usher. CMusic Publishing. ASIN B006VXTC3Q.
- McParland, Stephen J. (2013). The Brian Wilson Project. Berlot. ISBN 978-2954483405.