Wilson in the 1960s
Murry Gage Wilson
July 2, 1917
Hutchinson, Kansas, United States
|Died||June 4, 1973 (aged 55)|
Whittier, California, United States
|Resting place||Inglewood Park Cemetery|
|Occupation||Machine business owner, manager|
|Organization||Sea of Tunes (1962–69)|
|Genres||Pop, doo wop|
|Occupation(s)||Songwriter, record producer|
|Associated acts||The Beach Boys, the Hollywood Flames, the Sunrays|
Murry Gage Wilson (July 2, 1917 – June 4, 1973) was an American musician, record producer, and businessman who acted as the first manager of the Beach Boys, a rock band formed by his sons Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, his nephew Mike Love, and their friend Al Jardine. For most of the 1960s, Murry also worked as a music publisher for the band.
After the Beach Boys dismissed Murry as their manager in 1964, he produced the sound-alike group the Sunrays, and recorded a single solo album: The Many Moods of Murry Wilson (1967). In 1969, Wilson sold off their publishing company Sea of Tunes for $700,000 (equivalent to $4.78 million in 2018), then considered an undervalued sum. In 1973, he died aged 55 of a heart attack.
Murry Gage Wilson was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, the son of Edith Sophia (née Sthole) and William Coral Wilson. His mother was of Swedish descent. His family moved west to Los Angeles when he was five. The family was initially so impoverished that they camped in a tent on the beach when they arrived. He met his future wife, Audree Neva Korthof, while attending Washington High School; they were married on March 26, 1938.
Wilson had a blue-collar background. As a young man, he worked at Southern California Gas Company until the birth of his first son Brian, after which he took a job as a foreman at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber factory, where he lost an eye in an industrial accident. During this period he began writing songs. His biggest success came later with a dance song, "Two-Step Side-Step", which was featured by Lawrence Welk on his radio program in 1952 and covered on record by RCA Victor Western Swing artist Johnnie Lee Wills, as well as country music singer Bonnie Lou. He also wrote "I'll Hide My Tears", recorded in the early 1950s by doo-wop group the Jets, a reconfiguration of the Hollywood Flames.
Brian stated in 2005 that people often mislabel Murry as an untalented songwriter, but "[he] had talent, he sure did. He was a talented man. He had some music in him ... My favorite song of his was one called 'His Little Darling and You'. It was a ballad."
Wilson later founded a machining business, but maintained an active interest in music, which he passed along to his sons, encouraging them to learn to sing and play instruments. The Wilson brothers had a problematic relationship with their father. Many stories of abuse have surfaced, including a supposed incident where Murry hit Brian in the head with a 2×4, resulting in the permanent loss of hearing in his right ear. In 1964, his wife Audree left him and they separated. The marriage ended in divorce in 1966.
The Beach Boys
After the Beach Boys' formation, Murry became the group's business manager, co-producer, and publisher in the early part of their career. Known as a domineering and manipulative man, Murry was a tough negotiator on the band's behalf, organizing a contract signing with Capitol Records.
Wilson accompanied the group on their first Australasian tour in January 1964, and required that the band not fraternize with women, use profanity, or drink alcoholic beverages. During his early years, Wilson charged the group $100 for breaking these requirements, but for this tour, he raised the fine to $1,000, which he would subtract from the touring proceeds. At the time, Wilson's influence on the Beach Boys ignited tensions within the group.
In early April 1964, following incidents involving the recording sessions of the singles "Fun, Fun, Fun" and "I Get Around", Brian relieved his father of his managerial duties. In 1966, Brian reflected, "We love the family thing – y'know: three brothers, a cousin and a friend is a really beautiful way to have a group – but the extra generation can become a hang-up." For the Beach Boys' 1965 album Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!), Brian wrote a novelty song inspired by his father: "I'm Bugged at My Ol' Man".
Post-Beach Boys life
Even after Murry's formal business relationship with the Beach Boys ended, he remained in close contact with the group, letting Brian know his thoughts about the band's decisions. Murry produced and managed the Sunrays, a group comprising five students who attended Hollywood Professional High School. The Sunrays earned some media attention and a bit of airplay for their initial singles, but never broke into the national Top 40. Their two best-known singles, "I Live for the Sun" and "Andrea", were regional hits in California. Members of the Sunrays described Murry as "the [nicest] man ever" and denied seeing any abuse from him toward the Beach Boys.
Murry released one album of his own, The Many Moods of Murry Wilson (1967). While promoting the album in Britain, he told Disc & Music Echo that "after 'Good Vibrations' Brian lost a lot of confidence. He didn't think he could ever write anything as good as that again ... With [my] LP I'm going to nudge my boys' competitive spirit." Two years later, he co-wrote the Beach Boys' song "Break Away" with Brian, and was credited under the pseudonym "Reggie Dunbar" on the record, which was released without much commercial success.
In 1969, Murry sold the Beach Boys' publishing company, Sea of Tunes, over the band's objections for the undervalued amount of $700,000 (equivalent to $4.78 million in 2018). In the early 1990s, the catalog was estimated to be worth between $20 million ($36.8 million in 2018) and $40 million ($67.6 million in 2018). Brian later suggested that his signature was forged by his father on several related business documents, making the sale illegal.
Death and legacy
In a 2004 interview, Brian recalled his father: "He was the one who got us going. He didn't make us better artists or musicians, but he gave us ambition. I'm pleased he pushed us, because it was such a relief to know there was someone as strong as my dad to keep things going. He used to spank us, and it hurt too, but I loved him because he was a great musician." Engineer Chuck Britz said of Murry: "I was one of the few people who liked Murry. I always did. I admired him for the way he got the kids mad at him that made them also conscious of what they were trying to achieve. I realize that maybe he did it the wrong way, but at the same time, he did make them work as a team which was the way it should be."
Murry was portrayed in two television movies: in 1990's Summer Dreams: The Story of the Beach Boys, by Arlen Dean Snyder, and in 2000's The Beach Boys: An American Family, by Kevin Dunn. In the 2014 biopic Love & Mercy, Murry is portrayed by Bill Camp.
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