Mike Kowalski

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Mike Kowalski
Mike at concert 1998.jpg
Kowalski at a concert in 1998
Background information
Born (1944-07-28) July 28, 1944 (age 73)
Origin Hollywood, California, United States
Genres Rock, Blues, Jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, Writer, Producer
Instruments Drums, Piano
Years active 1947–present
Associated acts Beach Boys
The Backsters

Mike Kowalski (born July 28, 1944) is a drummer, percussionist and musicologist. He is best known as one of the former drummers from the rock band The Beach Boys.

Early career[edit]

Mike Kowalski was born in Hollywood, California. He started singing and playing piano at the age of three. His first professional engagement was playing the piano, with Mel Torme on drums, for a television pilot at the age of five. At age ten, he was given a set of Slingerland Radio-King drums by Dragnet actor Jack Webb.[1][2]

At the age of fifteen, he was playing drums professionally with various local rock and rhythm and blues bands. He performed both on stage and on screen as his family was affiliated with the film and television industries. By age nineteen he was playing drums with, L.A. based singers, Pat and Lolly Vegas, whom later formed the pop group Redbone. Also during this time Kowalski performed and recorded with Sonny & Cher, Little Anthony & the Imperials, and Etta James.[3]

Kowalski, along with the Vegas Brothers and players from the Wrecking Crew, recorded Sonny Bono's only hit record as a solo artist, without Cher entitled "Laugh At Me". Produced by Bono and Snuff Garrett. The song reached the Top 10 in the UK, Canada, and the US in August of 1965. Kowalski, at age 21, was the drummer on that record.

On January 3, 1968 Kowalski flies to London to join Ed Carter's Rock /Blues band, The New Nadir, with Gary Thain on bass. The New Nadir played the London circuit. The trio shared the bill at the Marquee club with Jethro Tull, Ten Years After, The Nice, The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation, and Jeff Beck, to name a few. A highlight for Kowalski was at the Speakeasy, when a friend of Carter's sat in with the band. The friend was Jimi Hendrix.

In March, producer Joe Boyd, signed The New Nadir to his production company, Witchseason Productions. The New Nadir recorded three songs for Boyd, written by Carter and Peter Dawkins. In May, the New Nadir disbands. Kowalski and Carter return to Los Angeles, Thain remains in London joining Keef Hartley and later Uriah Heep.

In the winter of 1969, Kowalski and Carter return to London to fulfill their contract to Witchseason. The album they record reflects and combines their passion for Latin Jazz, with Rock and Country

Kowalski played drums on John Martyn, Beverley Martyn, Dudu Pukwana, Mike Heron and Nick Drake's albums, all of the artists were signed to Witchseason Productions. .[1][4]

In 1968 Kowalski met Dawn Aston from Kent, England. They were married in California in 1969.

The Beach Boys and The Backsters[edit]

In mid June of 1968 The Beach Boys were in the process of adding a rhythm section and horn section for their upcoming summer tour. Auditions were held in the afternoon in Hollywood at the Moulin Rouge Supper Club on Sunset Boulevard. Bruce Johnston suggests Ed Carter for bass and guitar, Doug Dragon for keyboards, and Kowalski for percussion and drums. The three auditioned and were hired.

In November, Kowalski was called into the studio to play drums on Dennis Wilson's "All I Want To Do". The song was written and produced by Dennis and was released on the Beach Boys,[5] next album "20-20."

On October 3rd, 1970 he plays his first show on drums at the Big Sur Folk Festival in Monterey, CA filing in for Dennis Wilson, who was filming the movie Two-Lane Blacktop.

In 1971 while on tour on the east coast, Kowalski was again on Drums as The Beach Boys perform closing night at Fillmore East, NYC on June 27 and the "Good Vibrations Live Concert in Central Park" on July 2nd. Wilson was unable to play drums because of a hand injury, although he sang and played keyboards.

After the Central Park Show, the Beach Boys fly back to LA. A day later Kowalski is on a plane to Tokyo playing drums with the Johnny Otis Show for a tour of the Far East. He will play drums with Johnny Otis from 1971-1974, juggling dates between both bands. In addition to touring with the Beach boys and Celebration in 1977 and 1978, Kowalski also records three albums on drums and percussion. The Beach Boys MIU album, Almost Summer Soundtrack with Celebration and Charles Lloyd's Weavings.

In October 1981 Dennis Wilson, and percussionist Bobby Figueroa are unable to tour. Kowalski, after a three year absence from the band returns to play drums. By the end of the year Kowalski and Wilson, who is back on drums are playing Sun City, South Africa for Christmas and New Years.

1982 has Kowalski playing drums for Mike Love's Endless Summer, band featuring Dean Torrence, and drums and percussion with The Beach Boys.

In March 1983 there are two sets of drums on stage, both Kowalski and Wilson play the shows together until Wilson's untimely death on December 28th, 1983.

For the next 23 years Kowalski will tour with The Beach Boys playing drums until he parts ways with them in September 2007. .[1][2]

In 1984 Kowalski collaborated with Joel Peskin to create The Backsters. They were signed to A & M Records with Herb Alpert as executive producer. Their album, entitled Get on Your Back, featured many seasoned jazz and blues players. Released in early 1985, their first single was "Handclappin".[1][2]

Other bands and performers[edit]

Kowalski has played with numerous bands and performers; both as a member of the group and as a session musician. Acts Kowalski has played with include:[6][7][8][9]

Albert Collins Shuggie Otis Jim O'Keefe
Nino Tempo Nick Drake Billy Hinsche
Mike Adams & The Red Jackets Joe Houston Big Joe Turner
Roger McGuinn Barry Mann Jon Lawton
Brian Wilson Bumps Blackwell Adrian Baker
Mark Andes John Martyn and Beverley Martyn Don Peake
Gene Vincent Crazy Horse Hank Marr
Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson Captain and Tennille Ernie Knapp
Marie Adams Joe Boyd Bobby Figueroa
Bruce Johnston Leon Russell Mike Meros
Chris Farmer Lance Carson Steve Douglas
Mike Ley George Whitsell Gary Griffin
Darrol Schexnayder The Dragons Elliot Ingber
John Marx Domenic Genova Philip Bardowell
Tay Uhler AKA Eddie Sapien Gary Chang Scott Lipsker
Chris Mancini 'Rock Island' Clark Garman Bobby Jones
Tim Bonhomme Carl Radle Rod Armstrong
Scott Engel with The Walker Brothers Stu Hoffman AKA Barbecue Bob Dean Torrence
Bobbie Gentry Leroy Vinnegar Andy Simpkins
Jerry Gonzalez Henry Vestine Wells Kelly
Ron Altbach Soupe Bradshaw Jitter Webb
Joe Angelo Jeff Foskett Dave Pegg
Probyn Gregory Charlie Musselwhite


A brief list of bands and musicians Kowalski has played with:[6][7][8][9]

  • Pat and Lolly Vegas at the Haunted House (1965) - Pat and Lolly Vegas
  • Louisiana Fog (1968) - Charlie Musselwhite
  • 20/20 (1969) - The Beach Boys
  • Live in London (1969) - The Beach Boys
  • The Road to Ruin (1970) - John & Beverley Martyn
  • Ragtime Cowboy Jew (1970) - Stefan Grossman
  • Bryter Layter (1970) - Nick Drake
  • Freedom Flight (1971) - Shuggie Otis
  • Smiling Men with Bad Reputations (1971) - Mike Heron
  • Surf's Up (1971) - The Beach Boys
  • The Beach Boys in Concert (1973) - The Beach Boys
  • M.I.U. Album (1978) - The Beach Boys
  • Crazy Moon (1978) - Crazy Horse
  • Survivor (1978) - Barry Mann
  • Almost Summer Soundtrack (1978) - Celebration
  • Weavings (1978) - Charles Lloyd
  • Get On Your Back (1984) - The Backsters
  • Still Cruisin' (1989) - The Beach Boys
  • Live & Jumpin' (1997) - The Backsters
  • Symphonic Sounds: Music of the Beach Boys (1998) - Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Garden State (2004) - Movie, Various Artists
  • A Postcard From California (2011) - Al Jardine
  • Made in California (2013) - The Beach Boys


External links[edit]