Band: The Beach Boys
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Carl Wilson died aged fifty-one of lung cancer in Los Angeles, surrounded by his family, on February 6th 1998. He was interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
Carl Dean Wilson was born on 21st December 1946 in California,U.S.A; the youngest son of his parents. From his pre-teens he practiced harmony vocals under the guidance of his brother Brian Wilson, who often sang in the family music room with his mother and brothers. At the age of twelve Carl asked his parents to buy him a guitar and he then took some lessons. A boy living across the street, David Marks, was taking guitar lessons from John Maus, so Carl began too. David and Carl were about twelve years old and John was just three years older, but they thought that he was a hot guitarist. Later John moved to England and became one of the Walker Brothers. While Brian perfected the band's vocal style and keyboard base, Carl's Chuck Berry styled guitar became an early Beach Boys trademark. While in high school, Carl also studied saxophone.
Just turning fifteen as the group's first hit, "Surfin'", broke locally in Los Angeles, Carl's father and manager, Murry, who had sold his business to support his sons' band, bought Carl a Fender Jaguar guitar. Carl Wilson developed as a musician and singer through the band's early recordings, and the early "surf lick" sound quickly evolved into the rock sophistication of "Fun, Fun, Fun", recorded in 1964 when Carl was seventeen. By the end of nineteen-sixty-four, he was diversifying, favoring the twelve-string Rickenbacker that was also notably used by Roger McGuinn in establishing the sound of the Byrds and by George Harrison of The Beatles during this era. Dave Marsh, in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, stated that Pete Townshend of The Who expanded on both Rythm'n'Blues and rock "influenced heavily by Beach Boy Carl Wilson...
Carl's lead vocals in the band's first three years were infrequent. Although all members of the band played on their early recordings, Brian began to employ experienced session musicians to play on the group's instrumental tracks by 1965. Unlike the other members of the band, Carl often played alongside session musicians. He also recorded his individual guitar leads during the Beach Boys' vocal sessions, with his guitar plugged directly into the soundboard. His playing can be heard on tracks like 1965's "Girl Don't Tell Me" and 1966's "That's Not Me".
After Brian's retirement from touring in 1965, Carl became the musical director of the band onstage. Contracts at that time stipulated that promoters hire "Carl Wilson plus four other musicians". Following his lead vocal performance on "God Only Knows" in 1966, Carl was increasingly becoming lead vocalist for the BeachBoys, a role previously dominated by Mike Love and Brian Wilson. He sang leads on the singles "Good Vibrations", "Darlin'", and "Wild Honey". Starting with the album Wild Honey, Brian requested that Carl become more involved in the Beach Boys' records.
In 1969, the Beach Boys' rendition of "I Can Hear Music" was the first track produced solely by Carl Wilson. By then, he had effectively become the band's in-studio leader, producing the bulk of the albums during the early 1970s. Though Carl had written surf instrumentals for the band in the early days, he did not get into his stride as a songwriter until the 1971 album Surf's Up, for which he composed "Long Promised Road" and "Feel Flows", with lyrics by the band's then manager Jack Rieley. Carl considered "Long Promised Road" his first real song. After producing the majority of Carl and the Passions – "So Tough" and Holland , Carl's leadership role diminished somewhat, due to Brian's brief public re-emergence and because of Carl's own substance abuse problems.
For the LP 'L.A'. in nineteen-seventy-nine , Carl contributed three songs, among them "Good Timin'", co-written with Brian five years earlier, which became a Top forty American hit. Carl's main writing partner in the late 1970's was Geoffrey Cushing-Murray, but for Keepin' the Summer Alive (1980) he wrote with Randy Bachman of the band Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Carl was known to have stated that Bachman was his favorite writing partner.
As a producer and vocalist, Carl's work was not confined to the Beach Boys. During the 1970's, he also produced records for other artists, such as Ricci Martin (son of Dean Martin) and South African group the Flames, two members of which later temporarily joined the Beach Boys' line-up. He lent backing vocals to many works, including Chicago's hits "Baby, What a Big Surprise" and "Wishing You Were Here" (with Al Jardine and brother Dennis), Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" (with Bruce Johnston), David Lee Roth's hit cover of "California Girls", Warren Zevon's "Desperados Under the Eaves", and the Carnie/Wendy Wilson holiday track "Hey Santa!" Carl also recorded a duet with Olivia Newton-John, titled "You Were Great, How Was I?", for her studio album, "Soul Kiss".
By the early 1980's the Beach Boys were in disarray; the band had split into several camps. Frustrated with the band's sluggishness to record new material and reluctance to rehearse, Carl took a leave of absence in 1981.
He quickly recorded and released a solo album, 'Carl Wilson', composed largely of rock n' roll songs co-written with Myrna Smith-Schilling, a former backing vocalist for Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin, and wife of Carl Wilson's then-manager Jerry Schilling. The album briefly charted, and its second single, "Heaven", reached the top twenty on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart. Carl Wilson also undertook a solo tour to promote the album, becoming the first member of the Beach Boys to break ranks. Initially, Carl Wilson and his band played clubs such as The Bottom Line in New York City and the Roxy in Los Angeles.
Carl Wilson recorded a second solo album, 'Youngblood', in a similar vein, but by the time of its release in 1983 he had rejoined the Beach Boys. Although Youngblood did not chart, a single, the John Hall-penned "What You Do To Me", peaked at number 72, making Carl Wilson the second Beach Boy to land a solo single on the Billboard Hot 100. Additionally, the song cracked the top 20 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart. Carl Wilson frequently performed that song and "Rockin' All Over the World" (from the same album), as well as "Heaven" from the 1981 album, at Beach Boys' concerts in the 1980s. "Heaven" was always announced as a tribute to brother Dennis, who drowned in December 1983.
"Soul Searchin'" was part of the Andy Paley sessions, recorded in November 1995. It was the final lead vocal recorded by Carl with the Beach Boys.
The Beach Boys' 1985 eponymous album prominently featured Carl Wilson's lead vocals and songwriting, highlighted by his "It's Gettin' Late" (another top 20 Adult Contemporary hit) and the "Heaven"-like "Where I Belong".
In 1988, the Beach Boys scored their biggest chart success in more than twenty years with the American Number One song "Kokomo", co-written by Mike Love, on which Carl sang lead in the chorus. After this, Love increasingly dominated the band's recorded output and became the driving force behind the album 'Summer in Paradise', the first and only Beach Boys album with no input from Brian in any form. In 1992, Carl told Michael Feeney Callan his hope was to record new material by Brian. "Speaking for myself", he told Callan, "I only want to record inspired music".
Carl continued recording through the 1990's and participated in the Don Was-led recordings of Brian's "Soul Searchin'" and "You're Still a Mystery", songs conceived as the basis of a cancelled Brian Wilson/Beach Boys album. He also recorded the album 'Like a Brother' with Robert Lamm and Gerry Beckley, while continuing to tour with the Beach Boys until the last months of his life.
A cigarette smoker since the age of thirteen, Carl was diagnosed with lung cancer after becoming ill at his vacation home in Hawaii, in early 1997. Despite his illness, Carl continued to perform while undergoing chemotherapy. He played and sang throughout the Beach Boys' entire summer tour which ended in the fall of 1997. During the performances, he sat on a stool.
The album, 'Like a Brother', was finally released in the year 2000, and Carl's late recordings continue to appear. Brian's album Gettin' in Over My Head features Carl's vocal from the unreleased Beach Boys song "Soul Searchin'", with new backing vocals recorded by Brian. The original Beach Boys version, sourced from a cancelled attempt at a new Beach Boys album in late 1995, was eventually released in the 'Made in California' box set, along with another 1995 track titled "You're Still a Mystery", which features Carl in the vocal blend. In 2010, bandmate Al Jardine released his first solo album, A Postcard From California, which includes a similarly reconstructed track, "Don't Fight The Sea", featuring one of the last vocals Carl recorded. Carl can also be heard on the continual stream of Beach Boys archival releases, most notably as a central voice in the November 2011 release of The Smile Sessions.
It was announced that Carl Wilson's voice would be heard on a track from the reunited Beach Boys, on the album That's Why God Made the Radio, but this never materialized. Instead, the scheduled song, "Waves of Love", featured on the 2012 re-release of Jardine's A Postcard From California. During The Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Reunion Tour, a segment of the show was dedicated to the memories of Dennis and Carl. The band harmonized with isolated vocal tracks of Carl performing "God Only Knows" and of Dennis singing "Forever", as the band's crew projected images of the individual Wilson brothers on a large screen behind the band onstage.
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