Think of The Beach Boys, and images of the ocean, surfing and sunny spots in the shadows of palm trees come to mind with sounds of crashing waves and the music of “Good Vibrations.”
Rolling Stone magazine voted “Good Vibrations” as the No. 1 Song of the Century, but it wasn’t The Beach Boys’ first or biggest hit. The first Beach Boys song was in 1961, “Surfin” written by Mike Love; “Good Vibrations” was in 1966; and their biggest hit, “Kokomo,” co-written by Mike for the soundtrack of the hit Tom Cruise film “Cocktail,” was in 1988.
The band who hasn’t had a summer off in half a century is still out there on the road — and the beach— performing more shows than many major acts, more than 100 every year at fairs, festivals, art centers and casinos.
Now they are surfing into the Smith Center on Saturday, April 30.
Mike, who calls Incline Village, Nev., home, is hoping that it might lead to a residency here. We chatted at length about the band’s amazing 50-year run and how at age 75 he has his sights set firmly on its future.
Is the Smith Center show different than what you’ve done on tour?
A lot different because as you probably know, we’ve never been to anything other than a casino in Las Vegas in the last 30 to 40 years, other than the private corporate performances at a convention. It’s always been at casinos or ballrooms, so what we’re doing at the Smith Center is what we really, really enjoy doing: an evening with the hour of music, a 20-minute intermission, followed by a 55-minute second half .
We love that, and being in a beautiful performing arts center, we can really get the depth and length of our music catalog. Not that we can do everything because we’ve done so many songs, but we’ll do all the hits, and we’ll do some songs that require a setting with good acoustics. I much prefer the performing arts center for us. They are so nice because the acoustics are so wonderful.
Is this Las Vegas visit part of this year’s summer tour?
We’re actually celebrating 50 years of “Good Vibrations,” believe it or not. “Good Vibrations” went to No. 1 in 1966. Prior to that, our “Pet Sounds” album came out in the middle of the year, so we’re celebrating the “Pet Sounds” and “Good Vibrations” 50th anniversary here. We’ve got a lot of music and a lot to be grateful for that we’re still able to do it.
Does it feel like 50 years and 29 studio albums?
I feel pretty good, Robin. We stay healthy, we don’t do things to damage the voice or other parts of the body. I do my meditation. It’s been a huge help for me because there have been ups and downs and issues with the group that are well known.
So it’s been a huge help for me to be able to practice that meditation, get rid of a lot of the stress to keep a positive mental attitude and a lot of energy toward what we’re doing.
I find it interesting that The Beach Boys of summer have not taken a summer off in 50 years. When do you get a holiday, and where do you go to catch the sun and the sea?
I’ve gone all kinds of places when we do have the time and you can follow the sun. It could be summer in the Southern Hemisphere when it’s winter up here, so I’ve had Christmas in Mexico, I’ve had Christmas holidays in Bali, and we’ve toured in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, all over the place during our winter.
We did a show the last day of November, an outdoor concert in the Austrian Alps. Everybody was in parkas, and my fingers were cold holding the microphone, but it was fantastic with about 20,000 people there. We’ve done everything from the Northern Hemisphere in the snow to the Southern Hemisphere in the sun, but I like the travel.
We went to Mexico to see where the Monarch butterflies migrate, and I took my family there. A doctor friend of mine and I used to chase butterflies together. I’ve always been interested in nature as well as music.
I talked with Bill Medley a short time ago before he began his new residency here in Las Vegas.
He’s such a great guy. We went to dinner after he did the show, and we had the greatest time. We were singing songs from when we were in high school. He’s 6 months older than me, so he’s quite an elderly gentlemen, of course! We had a good time just singing. He’s a great guy, a great person.
He told me that you had asked him about his new residency at Harrah’s and hinted that you would like one of your own for the guys in Las Vegas?
At some point, we would be open to that, but what we would like to do is have the room done up the way we want it — particularly for The Beach Boys. But, yeah, that’s not entirely impossible. In fact, we’ve had conversations about it, but nothing to the point where we say we’re going to do this or that.
It is something of interest. Frankly, we’ve been going around the world and playing, we did 172 performances last year, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a certain part of the year where people would come and see us.
Does it ever get tiring being on the road that long, that often?
I enjoy traveling. I enjoy doing the shows tremendously. I don’t mind getting on a bus and getting off at the hotel or venue or the next place. But you have to do it logically, and for me I focus on rest when I can, and my meditation is vital for me. But, if I can get my rest and meditation in, I enjoy doing the concerts, and it’s not a problem. We did 172 last year, some pretty far afield.
For instance, we did Australia, went to New Zealand and flew back to America for Thanksgiving just for two nights, then on to New York to catch a flight to Austria, then on to Germany. Pretty phenomenal. To coin a phrase, “We do get around!”
When you said a moment ago that you would have a Las Vegas theater done up especially for The Beach Boys, does that mean bringing in sand and palm trees to the desert?
Yeah, we’d do that. Exactly, we would do it thematically. I would like to do it that way. Absolutely. Are you still traveling as much as you did for television?
After all the years I traveled around the world, I’m happy to not be flying around the world so often.
Yeah, that is appealing to me. I still enjoy going on tour, but there’s something to be said about having your own apartment or condo or home and having people come to you.
Mike, The Beach Boys, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, are considered a rock and roll band. Yet when I think of you, I always think of surfing. I guess it’s water-based rock? What do you call it?
Rock and roll has so many connotations. I don’t know what to call ourselves. We’re a vocal-based rock band. Yeah, it’s rock; it’s not metal. It’s harmony based pop music. We came up with a sound, and the subject matter was surfing, and we’re from California. The beach was a big deal for us, so were our cars, so we did songs that had to do with the spirit of being young and in school at football.
This surf music was a moniker, a handle, a title that was given to us, but, really, I think our music is an accumulation of The Everly Brothers, The Four Freshmen, Chuck Berry and doo-wop, except to a basic rock and roll beat for the balance. In truth, it’d be hard to pin us down to one set style because we do have all kinds of moods and tempos.
At the Smith Center, we’re going to do an evening with style, we’ll do everything from “Their Hearts Were Full of Spring,” the a cappella number we learned from The Four Freshmen, to “Fun, Fun, Fun,” with “Kokomo” and “Good Vibrations” in between.
“Kokomo” was our largest hit and “Good Vibrations” the biggest hit of the 1960s. This past November, New Musical Express in London voted us the No. 1 group in Great Britain, No. 2 being The Beatles and No. 3 The Rolling Stones. Obviously nobody has been more successful than The Beatles, but it’s wonderful to be regarded so highly in Great Britain.
Does “Good Vibrations” sum up the sound?
I think so. In fact, it’s the title of the autobiography that I will be releasing in September. “Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy,” and this year celebrating 50 years of “Good Vibrations,” it’s a year of good vibrations.
It all fits together nicely. Do you still call Incline Village, Nev., home?
My main residence is there. We have supported the local school there, we help out locally with education, and we like doing that. I stay off the snowboards because my son Brian does that. At my age, I’m a hot tub type of guy.
Anything else we can expect from the Smith Center concert?
A variety of songs expanding everything from the beginning. Our first song “Surfin’,” second was “Surfin’ Safari,” third “Surfin’ USA,” then “Help Me, Rhonda,” “I Get Around,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “California Girls” and “Good Vibrations.” “Kokomo,” obviously, and a lot of other things, too.
We do a reminiscence from when George Harrison passed away three years after Carl Wilson passed away. We have a section of our show, with Carl on the screen singing “God Only Knows.” We back him up, then we do this tribute that I wrote about George Harrison.
He and Carl passed away, died from the same disease, lung cancer, so we did this tribute to George called “Pisces Village” because he and I are both Pisces. It’s a very sentimental part of our show. You’ll see and hear a couple of things that weren’t released. It’s always sentimental. I really love doing it.
The catalog of your group is extraordinarily deep, isn’t it?
Yeah, we have 300 or 400 songs recorded. Not all hits, obviously, but there are people out there who really like to hear some of the deeper cuts in an evening. I’ll have time to touch upon things that maybe only avid fans know of, but we like to stretch them so that everybody can appreciate them whether they’re a casual fan or not.
Do you think that the success over 50 years is because all told it has been good vibrations?
There is ego, there is money, and there are all those things that are components of a lot of show business stuff. In our case, we just have the share of love in creating those harmonies. We did it not because we were getting paid to do it, but because we loved doing it. That was our life at that time, and music was always … I can’t remember a time in my life when there was not music.
Final question about the Smith Center show. How many members of The Beach Boys are in this Las Vegas appearance?
The original Beach Boys was Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, Mike Love and Alan Jardine. That was our first recording, “Surfin’.” Then Alan Jardine left and David Marks, who’s the neighbor of the Wilsons, came into the group and performed with us for the next couple of years until he quit — or was actually forced out by my uncle.
Then Alan came back, then Brian left the touring group in 1964 when Glenn Campbell filled in for him for 6 months or so, then Bruce Johnston filled in for Glen Campbell, who went off to be Glen Campbell. So it’s always been a revolving door, and Brian has done his own thing for the last 15 years or so and is currently on tour. I think he was in Sydney, Australia, and I think he’s on his way to Japan right now. So, he is doing his own band and his own thing.
Bruce Johnston and I replaced him in 1965, actually. Bruce sang “California Girls,” that was his first song he sang with us in 1965, and he worked on the “Pet Sounds” album and “Good Vibrations,” quite a first year. So The Beach Boys has always been kind of a … I’m the one who’s never left the group, and you know, unfortunately, Dennis and Carl are deceased.
We have an excellent drummer, John Cowsill, who was one of The Cowsills. You’d be amazed how great John Cowsill is. He’s a wonderful drummer and fantastic singer, as well. We’re very fortunate that we have seven people, sometimes eight onstage. I’m trying to think at the Smith Center, we might have eight people onstage. Jeff Foskett was with Brian doing Brian’s high parts that he no longer does.
Jeff is back with us. He was with The Beach Boys, then he left, and now he’s back with us again. We’ve got quite the band, sounds great, we have a lead guitarist named Scott Totten, he’s wonderful. He’s our musical director, and Bruce and I are the old-timers.
Tim Bonhomme is from Canada, he does the keyboards, and Brian Eichenburger just joined us within the last year. He was 18 years a part of The Four Freshmen, obviously not one of the originals but its more recent reincarnation. He’s an amazing singer, so we’re in pretty good shape musically.
It’s going to be a fabulous night of music. I’m really thankful that the Smith Center is doing pretty well. We’re really looking forward to being back in Las Vegas. And who knows? We may find a time and a place this trip to stay there.
(This tour stop will not feature Brian Wilson, Al Jardine or David Marks.)
The Beach Boys still hold the all-time attendance record. On July 4, 1985, the band played to nearly 2 million concertgoers in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., on the same day. In June 2012, The Beach Boys’ “That’s Why God Made the Radio” made its debut at No. 3 on the U.S. charts, giving the group its highest-charting album in 37 years.
The album also made chart history breaking a record by expanding their span of Billboard 200 Top 10s to 49 years and 1 week, passing The Beatles with 47 years of Top 10 albums.
The Beach Boys are at Reynolds Hall in the Smith Center on Saturday night.