Gary James' Interview With Mike Love Of
The Beach Boys

Few groups in Rock 'n' Roll history can match the achievements of The Beach Boys. They've sold over 100 million records worldwide. They've charted over 80 songs worldwide, 36 of them Top 40 hits in the U.S., the most by an American Rock 'n' Roll band, four of them reaching number one on the Billboard charts. In 2004, Rolling Stone named The Beach Boys as one of the "100 Greatest Artists Of All Time." They've appeared on numerous worldwide TV shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show, Dick Clark's American Bandstand and The Tonight Show. The Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1988. They were honored at the 2001 Grammy Awards, receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy. Rolling Stone listed The Beach Boys "Pet Sounds" album as number two in their 2003 "500 Greatest Albums Of All Time". Rolling Stone voted "Good Vibrations" the Number One Song Of The Century. The Beach Boys performed at Live Aid, multiple Farm Aids, the Statue Of Liberty's 100th Anniversary Salute, the Super Bowl and the White House. On July 4th, 1985, The Beach Boys played to an afternoon crowd of one million in Philadelphia and the same evening they performed for over 750,000 people on the Mall in Washington. That achievement was noted in the Guinness Book Of World Records.

The biggest hit of The Beach Boys' career, "Kokomo", came in 1988 and was co-written by Mike Love. The Beach Boys' annual tours have reached all of the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. Mike Love, as lead singer of The Beach Boys, has not had a Summer off in fifty years! The period between "Good Vibrations", 1966, and The Beach Boys biggest selling hit, "Kokomo", 1988, is one of the longest spans of time between number one records in music history. Mike Love was one of the first Pop musicians to become involved in the practice of T.M. (Transcendental Meditation). It was Mike Love who wrote the lyrics to The Beach Boys' first hit song, "Surfin'", released in 1961. He then co-authored eleven Top 10 singles in five years with cousin Brian Wilson, a string of hits including "Fun, Fun, Fun", "I Get Around", "Help Me Rhonda", "California Girls", and "Good Vibrations". It is a great honor to present an interview with The Beach Boys' lead singer, Mr. Mike Love.

Q - Just an observation here, but if you were a singer in a Rock 'n' Roll band in the 1960s, you couldn't have a better name than Mike Love.

A - (laughs) Well, as a matter of fact, I wrote a song several years ago called "Make Love, Not War". It started on a solo project which I started called "Mike Love, Not War", (laughs), because that chant in the '60s was "make love, not war." So, I came up with a song harkening back to those days and the fact that the same old, same old is happening today, all the problems in the world, all the wars, the fighting going on.

Q - We haven't seen much progress.

A - Not a lot, no. That's one of the things that got me attracted to Transcendental Meditation in the first place because Maharishi said "If more people meditated, we'd create our way out of situations rather than try to kill each other on the way out." So, that was attractive to me.

Q - With the group of people you were with back then, are you the only one who continued with T.M.?

A - Pretty much, as far as The Beach Boys are concerned, yes. Except Alan Jardine, who is a group member as well. He went to T.M. teacher's training with me to become a teacher of T.M. and I think it was '71 or thereabouts in Majorca, Spain, he attended the same course I did. So he and I both continue to meditate. I went to a six month long meditation course for an advanced program called the TM-SIDHI. SIDHI's are powers, powers of the mind. You're given these practices to do to heighten the ability of the mind and whatever it might be. For instance, the senses, if you can heighten the vision, the ability to see to the supreme value, you just put your attention to it and see it irrespective of time and space. The same with hearing. So, a lot of different qualities of the human mind and capabilities can be enhanced through the practice of these sutras they call 'em, which have been around for thousands of years. They come from Vedia scriptures, which are these scriptures which predate even Hinduism and Buddhism and anything like that. Buddhist monks practice these sutras to gain increased intuition. I was very fascinated by the whole process of meditation and the end result of it, where enough people learn to practice meditation, the world would be a different place. That appealed to me because if you think about the history of the world, it's a history of war and man's inhumanity to man. It's just ridiculous when you think about it, when you look at it. It's just horrible. so, anything that could impress upon that, I was in favor of. So, I was interested in learning meditation and I became very fascinated with it. It's been a huge help over the years for me to practice my meditation. It gives me enough clarity and energy and positivity to undertake the level of activity we do, which amounted to 175 'live' performances last year (2015).

Q - You're working, that's for sure.

A - Yeah, takin' care of business and workin' overtime. (laughs)

Q - I interviewed Randy Bachman.

A - He was a good friend of my cousin Carl Wilson. They wrote a song together called "Keepin' The Summer Alive".

Q - Is it a blessing or a curse to be in a band as famous as The Beach Boys?

A - Mainly a blessing I think. I mean, sure there's negatives that have happened. I've been cheated out of royalties and song writing. Every act in the world gets short changed by the record companies 'cause the act is the major expense. (laughs) There's delayed payments or diverted payments. There are all kinds of things you can say that are negative and a lot of people have broken up because they've toured 'til exhaustion and gotten on each other's nerves. So, there's a lot of stress involved with being in a band. There's no question about it. Stress is invoked in everyday life for everyone. They're just sometimes exacerbated and maybe under the microscope a little bit more because they're in a band who people find interesting to know more about the individuals and / or the group and the dynamics. Everybody has their favorite. C'mon, I've seen stuff written about John Lennon and The Beatles and they're disparaging of Paul McCartney. It was just completely ridiculous 'cause there's nobody more prolific and creative and genius as Paul McCartney. They're all great. All the guys in the group are great and have their special gifts. Some people's personalities or way of speaking or acting or thinking resonate with a group of people and some it doesn't. I always find it funny peculiar, not funny ha ha, that people focus on individuals as a group and think that's the only reason the group exists. It's weird. A group is a group. It's a collective effort. For instance, Carl Wilson sang the lead on "Good Vibrations" and "God Only Knows". I mean, c'mon, who's gonna sing better than that? Dennis Wilson on drums in the early days, very dynamic. The girls loved him. Brian decided to leave the touring group in 1964. So, other than the sporadic appearance every now and then, he mainly decided to stay home and create music, which worked out pretty well when you consider 1965 was the "Party" album with "Barbara Ann" and "California Girls" and then the next year was the "Pet Sounds" album and "Good Vibrations". It was a drag to see him leave the tour, but on the other hand it worked out really well musically for a couple more years.

Q - I saw a clip on YouTube, Brian directing Hal Blaine on how to play drums on "Good Vibrations". Whose idea was that? Nick Venet?

A - No. Nick Venet was only involved in the first album. Then we produced our own albums after that. Actually Brian did. But what happened is, when Brian left the touring group what we did is, he would make an equal amount as those of us on tour and we would share in the royalties equally. That was the way it was for a number of years. We would be traveling a lot. When you have "Surfin' Safari", followed by "Surfin' U.S.A.", and it's number one in 1963, and then "Fun, Fun, Fun" and "I Get Around", by the time Brian left the touring group, The Beach Boys as a 'live' band, were really in demand all over the place, in Europe, Australia, just all over. All over of course in the U.S. and Canada. So we would be touring a lot, extensively, maybe a hundred shows a year. So, Brian would be back home writing, arranging and recording the tracks for whatever songs he was working on. There were occasions when Carl would play or whatever. On the "Party" album Dennis was involved, but as a rule, on "California Girls", the "Pet Sounds" album and "Good Vibrations" he used the best musicians. In fact, one of the great studio musicians back in the time was Glen Campbell, who Brian actually asked to fill in for him for a few months while we looked for a replacement, a permanent replacement who eventually became Bruce Johnston. So it was just the fact that the 'live' band was so much in demand on the road doing performances and being successful at it that it took us far away from the studio in Hollywood. So that necessitated for Brian, if he wanted to get these tracks done, to hire The Wrecking Crew, Hal Blaine and others.

Q - When I interviewed Glen Campbell I asked him about his days as a Beach Boy and was surprised to learn he didn't really like it.

A - Yeah, but he did. He continued to do a Beach Boys set in his show many years later. He recorded a lot of our songs, a lot of our hit records.

Q - The songs The Beach Boys were singing in the early days, the songs about surfing, did you ever think it was kind of odd that material became as popular as it did in places where there was no ocean?

A - Yeah. It's uncanny. In Germany we were just given an award called The Goldene Kamera in Hamburg. It was a lifetime Achievement Award. We did a little medley of three songs and at the end of the show "Good Vibrations" with all the award recipients. Mainly it was for TV and motion picture stars, well known in Germany. But there's a case of, okay, we're singing about cars or surfing, very California and very American and here we are getting big hit records in Germany. It's a little more understood in England, but you're quite right. I remember the first feeling that, or thinking that we were onto something special when we stepped outside of a show at a ballroom in Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota. We'd just done two sets and went out to look down the road and there were cars lined up for a mile and it was sold out and they weren't letting anybody else in. I said to my cousin, "Gee, this is what it must've been like when Elvis started out." It was really phenomenal that it would've been sold out and still people wanted to get in. And that's Minnesota! That's a long way from the coast. (laughs)

Q - That's what I'm talking about!

A - Yeah, but you know what? When you think about it, people for generations have always wanted to go to bodies of water whether it's the stream, the river, the lake or the beach. So "Surfin' Safari" kind of encapsulates that feeling, that urge. It's a little bit primordial.

Q - And don't forget about the girls in bikinis.

A - Well, that is an attraction. That is true. (laughs)

Q - I know you're writing your autobiography, but I read an interview you recently gave Rolling Stone. They almost got your whole life story right there.

A - Well, yeah, sort of. I don't know. I wouldn't say it's the whole life story. They were just focusing on whatever they were focusing on. But in September (2016) there's supposed to be a book distributed called Good Vibrations: My Life As A Beach Boy By Mike Love. So it's gonna give my experience, my perspective, my point of view on a lot of things that have been written about The Beach Boys or about me. Some things are not entirely accurate shall we say or completely false. (laughs) That's another way of putting it. So, yeah, I've been laboring on that project for awhile now. I've been working with a writer who's very informed about The Beach Boys and a really good writer. I'm the author. He's the writer and we're working together on putting it together. We've gotten the manuscript to the point where it's off to the publishers to look at and see what they think and what they'd like to have expanded on or what things they feel the book needs. So, we're in that editorial process right now or just getting into it.

Q - I've never heard a band that sounded like The Beach Boys. Have you ever heard anybody that was close?

A - Well, close but maybe not as sophisticated harmonies as The Beach Boys. The harmonies are what distinguish us from so many other groups. There are some great groups and great singers and great musicians, but as far as harmonies, there's a box set of the "Pet Sounds" album where they have a CD of just the vocals and when you listen to that, there's nobody that did better vocals with perfect blend and everybody in their right range blending together and singing together. So, it was me on the bottom usually on the background harmonies. I would do the lead on many songs. When it came to backgrounds I would do the bass part, the low part, and Carl would be above me and Alan would be above Carl and Brian would be on the top.

Q - Listening to a Beach Boys' record, you guys made it seem effortless. How did you determine who would sing lead? Did each of you get a shot at singing a song?

A - It was more like what voice was best for what lead. When I wrote a song with Brian he and I would be at a piano. Nine times out of ten we would be at a piano. Like the song, "Do It Again", which came out in 1968 and it went number one in England. It wasn't that high in the U.S. but we were at the end of our contract with Capitol Records. "Do It Again", I actually took him down to the beach. I actually went on a little surfin' safari with some high school friends and came back and said, "Let's Do It Again". We sat down at the piano and pounded out that song in about, oh, maybe fifteen, twenty minutes, half hour at the most. I wrote the words. Because I was singing with him at the piano it naturally gravitated to the key he was playing in was right for me. The same thing with "I Get Around". The same thing with "Surfin' U.S.A.". The same thing with "Surfin' Safari". The same thing with "Be True To Your School". It was my lead was in the right range for the arrangement. But the song "God Only Knows", Carl's voice fit it beautifully and for the verse of "Good Vibrations", his voice was perfect. I sang the chorus and came up with the hook, I'm picking up good vibrations. She's giving me the excitations. So, it was just a question of the part of the song, the song arrangement where each guy's voice fit. Dennis Wilson did "Do You Wanna Dance". We even have a recording of him doing it that we play and we back him up, but his voice is doing the lead and we've got some really retro footage and some stuff from the early to mid-'60s. But he had a voice that had a certain quality to it and it worked really well for that song. A large part of the hit records cousin Brian and I co-wrote together were done at the piano so that it naturally gravitated to me singing the lead. But on ballads, slow songs and other songs where other people took the lead, I would sing the lower parts, the bass part, which I enjoy doing.

Q - Since The Beach Boys recorded for Capitol Records, did anybody at the label pull you aside prior to February, 1964 and play you a Beatles record or show you a photo of The Beatles? Did you know about them before the rest of the world did?

A - Well, we were both on Capitol Records, so absolutely. We heard The Beatles music before anybody else.

Q - Do you remember when you heard it?

A - I can't remember.

Q - Do you remember seeing photos of the band?

A - Yeah, we saw photos of the group, but I can't remember when. We're talking over fifty years ago.

Q - I'm trying to figure out what American bands thought of The Beatles when they first saw and heard them. Did they think it was something new and different or did they not pay much attention to it?

A - I think everybody knew it was a phenomenon. In fact, the radio stations in L.A. would say; there's a radio station called KFWB, and they would have a contest saying, "Who do you like, KFW Beatles or KFW Beach Boys?" (laughs) So there was a competition going on, at least a radio competition going on. We always felt like, "Hey, those guys are great and they do fantastic songs." We liked what they were doing and I think they felt similarly about The Beach Boys. In fact, there was a documentary done when John Lennon had been murdered, George, Paul and Ringo were sitting down and George said, "We were just trying to keep up with The Beach Boys at a particular point in time." I guess when "Good Vibrations" went to number one in 1966 and we were voted the number one group in England and number two being The Beatles and number three being The Stones, that gave rise to that comment I would imagine. But there was never any animosity. We enjoyed their music as much as anybody. I would say on our "Beach Boys Party" album in 1965 we did a Beatles song or two.

Q - Have you ever seen a Beach Boys Tribute group?

A - There's a group called Papa Doo Run Run. They've done a lot of Beach Boys songs as well as other party songs. They're a party band. They do a reasonably good job. Of course, I think we do the best job. (laughs)

Q - You've seen them or heard about them?

A - Both.

Q - Some acts will try to shoot down tribute groups.

A - It depends. If they use their exact name. If they say "The Beach Boys" then yeah, Brother Records, which controls the name The Beach Boys, would have their attorneys get in touch with them. That's happened a couple of times, but that's only when it's a complete rip-off, a complete false advertising type of thing. You can't allow that to happen.

Q - I've interviewed a lot of groups that toured with The Beach Boys and you should know that no one has ever said a bad word about you.

A - Cool. We've had a hundred or more opening acts or where we've co-billed. Some you've heard of like The Rolling Stones, The Eagles. (laughs) We did The Hollywood Bowl Shower Of Stars with Neil Diamond, Sonny And Cher, Sam The Sham And The Pharaohs, Sir Douglas Quintet. Just right there we probably had a half dozen other acts with us. We would come out and do about a half an hour and everybody else did their record. Neil Diamond was just starting out back in the mid-'60s when we would do those shows. We would travel the country and we would have one or two opening acts with our show. We did it with the Buffalo Springfield. It was a great tour. Buffalo Springfield was awesome in concert with Stephen Stills and Neil Young and Richie Furay. All those guys were really great. Dennis Wilson and I used to sit behind the stage and listen to them play and I said, "These guys are really good! We gotta play our ass off tonight!" (laughs) So, it was cool because they were so good on stage 'live' that it made us want to be the best we could be. It was kind of a lively competition. It was kind of like when you go to play a sport with somebody. You play basketball or tennis and you're playing with somebody that's just as good and maybe ever better in some ways than you that you want to do better. It challenges you to do your best. That was kind of the way it was with some acts. We did a show later with Crosby, Stills Nash And Young. A stadium tour. I forget when it was. The '70s sometime. This is after doing the Buffalo Springfield in the late '60s. They disbanded and Neil Young and Stephen Stills joined Crosby and Nash. So, we've had a really amazing career from the perspective of sharing the bill with people. Really amazing.

Q - You performed in Syracuse in 1966 at Onondaga County War Memorial. A local group by the name of The Monterays opened for you. After the show, you invited them back to the hotel you were staying at, The Holiday Inn on Carrier Circle, and bought them dinner and talked with them. That was a very nice gesture on The Beach Boys part.

A - Yeah, well, we do stuff like that. Absolutely.

Q - And we gotta get that word out!

A - (laughs) That's good. We'd tour with Peter And Gordon overseas, in Germany. Peter Asher was Jane Asher's brother, who was Paul McCartney's girlfriend before he met Linda. They were popular. We shared the bill with them. I remember going to Germany and Austria with them. Vienna. So, we've had a lot of known acts and not so known acts.

Q - Is there such a thing as a typical day for Mike Love?

A - Well, there are things about being on the road that are typical days. We have a sound check. We have a concert. I have my meditation times, then we have the traveling from one place to another. I always get my meditation in. If I don't, I become very irritable and not so nice to live with. (laughs) So that keeps me calm and clear and gives me the energy to do all these concerts, but we're focused on replicating those songs as close to the recordings as humanly possible. We're getting a lot of positive feedback about that, saying the band sounds better than ever. We have a guy with us that was eighteen years old with The Four Freshmen (Brian Eichenberger), obviously not the originals but a more recent reincarnation. He is doing the bass and singing high with us. Then Jeff Foskett, who was with Brian for sixteen years, is now back with us. He started with us, then went over to become Brian's musical director. Now he's back with us. So we're very strong in vocals. When we're on the road our sole focus is staying healthy and getting adequate rest and having sound checks to make sure everything is perfect so we can do the best we can possibly do. The work ethic is definitely there along with the enjoyment of doing so many shows. 175 of 'em last year. We probably won't make that many of 'em this year, maybe 150, but still that's pretty good.

Q - I agree.

A - Then lately when I haven't been occupied with shows, I spend time looking at the manuscript and making notes and making sure things are accurate, if there's something that can be explained a little bit better from my perspective. So that's been taking up a lot of time lately, which that will pay off when the book comes out. People will be able to read it and understand a little bit more from my point of view, how all this Beach Boys stuff unfolded. But when I'm home, I live in Tahoe, high in the mountains. A beautiful home overlooking the lake and it's in the forest and the mountains. That's very, very beautiful. Very serene. So, I have a sauna. I take care of what I eat. I do a little bit of exercise and a couple of yoga positions. I also meditate every day in my studio there which is a beautiful studio where I've done many of my recordings which I'm working on updating 'cause I've been doing 'em for the last thirty years, but I never came out with a solo album except once, one called "Looking Back With Love", but the person who was head of the record company died and so that record was never serviced properly. But now I'm taking songs from that time onward until recently. We're retooling some to make 'em a little more contemporary in terms of the sounds associated with it, whether it be guitar or keyboards. So that takes up some of my time when I'm at home or have a day or two off.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

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The Beach Boys touring group in August 2015
Mike Love in 2015
Mike Love
Bruce Johnston in 2015
Bruce Johnston
Jeff Foskett in 2015
Jeff Foskett
John Cowsill in 2015
John Cowsill
Brian Eichenberger in 2015
Brian Eichenberger
Scott Totten in 2015
Scott Totten
photos by James Pollock