Gary Usher

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Gary Usher
Birth nameGary Lee Usher
Born(1938-12-14)December 14, 1938
Los Angeles, California
United States
DiedMay 25, 1990(1990-05-25) (aged 51)
Los Angeles, California
United States
GenresRock and roll, surf music
Occupation(s)Songwriter, record producer
Associated acts

Gary Lee Usher (December 14, 1938 – May 25, 1990) was an American rock musician, songwriter, and record producer. He is known for working with California bands in the 1960s including The Byrds and several surf music acts including The Beach Boys and Dick Dale.


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.[citation needed] 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.[1]

Usher also produced fictitious surf groups or hot rod groups mixing studio session musicians with his own troops (Chuck Girard, Dick Burns and others). These bands include the Super-Stocks, with the hot-rod song "Midnight Run", and the Kickstands.[2]

In 1964, Usher co-wrote the song "Comin' On Too Strong" with Raul Abetya, and producer Terry Melcher took an interest in it. Reportedly, Melcher bet Usher that he could make it a hit...even with the distinctly un-hip Wayne Newton on lead vocals! The record (Capitol 5338), featuring a distinct Beach Boys feel (complete with a drum part and guitar licks reminiscent of "Don't Worry Baby") was a regional hit, peaking nationally at #65 in Billboard in February 1965. (Backing vocals were provided by Melcher and recording partner Bruce Johnston, who later joined the legendary California band.)

Later in the decade, he produced records for The Byrds, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, Dick Dale, and The 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.

Usher died of lung cancer at his home in Los Angeles, California at the age of 51.[3] He was the father-in-law of Disney character animator Eric Goldberg.

Selected discography[edit]

Rare 45 records[edit]

Produced by Gary Usher


"Let's put the fun back in Rock'n roll" co-written with Joseph Nicoletti jr.(ascap) Recorded by Frankie Avalon,Fabian,&Bobby Rydell "The Golden Boys of Rock" 1986


  • "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 and the Del-Tones)
  • "We'll Run Away" (1964, The Beach Boys)
  • "Comin' On Too Strong" (1965, Wayne Newton)
  • "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.)
  • "Let's put the Fun back in Rock'n Roll"(1986 co-written with Joseph Nicoletti jr.-ascap)- Recorded by Frankie Avalon, Fabian & Bobby Rydell "The Golden Boys of Rock"


  1. ^ Leaf, David (1990). Surfer Girl/Shut Down, V2 (Media notes). The Beach Boys.
  2. ^ David N. Howard -Sonic Alchemy: Visionary Music Producers and Their Maverick Recordings 2004 -147685209X "Ever since Usher's early surf and hot rod days, he had been creating fictitious studio groups such as the Super-Stocks and the Kickstands, imaginary bands to sate the hungry surf and hot rod record-buying audience."
  3. ^ "Gary Usher; Co-Writer of Beach Boys Hits". Los Angeles Times. 2 June 1990.


  • 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.

External links[edit]