Rockapaedia Obituaries

Dennis Wilson

Band: The Beach Boys

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Dennis Wilson died aged thirty-nine on 28th Decembimage of Dennis Wilsoner 1983 after accidentally drowning whilst swimming at the Marina Del Rey in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
Dennis was born Dennis Carl Wilson on 4th December 1944 and was the son of Audree Neva and Murry Gage Wilson. Dennis spent his early years with his brothers and parents in Hawthorne, California. Dennis' role in the family dynamic, which he himself acknowledged, was that of the black sheep. Though anxiety-filled and aggressive at times he was also sensitive and generous.
Out of the three Wilson brothers, he was the most likely to get beaten by their strong-willed father Murry. Possessed with an abundance of physical energy and a combative nature, Dennis often refused to participate in amily singalongs, and likewise avoided vocalizing on the early recordings that Brian made on a portable tape recorder. However, Dennis would sing with his brothers late at night in their shared bedroom, a song Brian later recalled as "our special one we'd sing," entitled "Come Down, Come Down" from the Ivory Tower. Brian noted of the late night brotherly three-part harmonies that they developed a little blend which aided them when they started to get into the Beach Boys stuff.
Dennis' mother, Audree, forced Brian to include Dennis in the original lineup of the Beach Boys. Urged by older cousin Mike Love, Dennis had approached Brian to form a group and compose a song about surfing. The Beach Boys formed in August 1961, with Murry taking over as manager, and were immediately successful.

Though the Beach Boys developed their image based on the California surfing culture, Dennis was the only actual surfer in the band.

In the early years of the Beach Boys, Brian gave him the role of the drummer. Dennis quickly learned the basics of drumming at school lessons and, like the other members, he picked up more on the job. Brian took note of Dennis' limited drumming technique early on and, as the mid-60's approached, often hired session drummers, such as Hal Blaine, to perform on studio recordings. Dennis accepted this situation with equanimity, generally giving high praise to his older brother's work, as Brian's compositions became more mature and complex.

Though given few important lead vocals on the early Beach Boys recordings, he sang lead on "Do You Wanna Dance?," the group's February 1965 hit. Later that year, on 'Beach Boys' Party!', Dennis sang a rendition of The Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away." . accompanying himself on guitar.

Early in 1963 Dennis teamed with Brian's former collaborator Gary Usher, a neighbor in Hawthorne who became a prolific creative figure in surf music recording and, later, folk. As a duo writing, producing, and performing, and calling themselves the Four-Speeds, they released the single "RPM" backed with "My Stingray".

In 1968, Dennis was driving through Malibu when he noticed two female hitchhikers, Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey. He picked them up and dropped them off at their destination. Later on, Dennis noticed the same two girls hitchhiking again.
This time he took them to his home at 14400 Sunset Boulevard. Dennis then went to a recording session. When he returned later that night, he was met in his driveway by a stranger, Charles Manson. When Dennis Wilson walked into his home, about a dozen people were occupying the premises, most of them female. Dennis became fascinated by Manson and his followers; the Manson Family lived with Dennis for a period of time afterwards at his expense, costing Dennis up to $100,000 in money, cars, clothes, food, and penicillin shots for the Manson Family's persistent gonorrhoea.  In late 1968, Dennis reported to journalists that he told the girls about the Beachboys' involvement with the Maharishi and they told me they too had a guru, a guy named Charlie who'd recently come out of jail after twelve years. He'd drifted into crime but he had great musical ideas.
Initially impressed by Manson's songwriting talent, Dennis introduced him to a few friends in the music business, including the Byrds' producer Terry Melcher, whose home at 10050 Cielo Drive would later be rented by director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate. Two years later, Manson family members would murder Tate and several others at this property.  Some of Manson's songs would be recorded at Brian's home studio.  These sessions for Manson were produced by Brian and Carl, not Dennis.
Dennis recorded a Manson song for the Beach Boys, originally titled "Cease to Exist" but reworked as "Never Learn Not to Love" , a single B-side. It was credited solely to Dennis. Angered by this, Manson threatened murder.  According to Beach Boys collaborator Van Dyke Parks: "One day, Charles Manson brought a bullet out and showed it to Dennis, who asked, 'What's this?' And Charles Manson replied, 'It's a bullet. Every time you look at it, I want you to think how nice it is your kids are still safe.' Dennis Wilson grabbed Charles Manson by the head and threw him to the ground and began pummeling him until Manson said, 'Ouch!' 'How dare you!' was Dennis' reaction. Charlie Manson was crying openly in front of a lot of hip people.
As Dennis became increasingly aware of Manson's volatile nature and growing violent tendencies, he finally made a break from the friendship by simply moving out of the house and leaving Manson there. When Manson subsequently sought further contact (and money), he left a bullet with Dennis' housekeeper to be delivered with a cryptic message, which Dennis perceived as a threat. In August 1969, Manson Family members perpetrated the Tate/LaBianca murders. For the remainder of his life, Dennis would not speak publicly of his involvement with the Manson Family, telling prosecutors that he knew nothing of the killings or Manson's motives, as he was frightened of Manson getting out of jail or putting a hit on him.  In 1976, he told journalist David Felton: "As long as I live, I'll never talk about that." According to biographer Mark Dillon: Some attribute his subsequent spiral of self-destructive behavior ? particularly his drug intake ? to these fears and feelings of guilt for ever having introduced this evil Wizard into the Hollywood scene.
Dennis' first major released composition was "Little Bird" ,  the B-side of the "Friends" single, coupled with "Be Still", also a paean to nature and reflecting on his place in the natural world of which his surfing hobby was only a minuscule part.  He had further compositions featured on later Beach Boys albums such as 20/20 , Sunflower, So Tough", Holland as well as others. 'Sunflower' included the track "Forever" and three other songs written by Dennis. Their inclusion was said to be at the insistence of the label, claiming that Dennis' songs sounded more "modern" than other rejected Beach Boys tracks.
Dennis's intense, melancholic and soulful would usually sit at odds with the group's more wholesome image. ... As the Beach Boys descended into a parody of their former selves it would be Dennis who would twist their trademark sounds into new shapes. At his best this would sound something like Kurt Cobain produced by Phil Spector.
As Brian withdrew more and more from active participation with his group, Dennis stepped up as a major creative force of the Beach Boys,  having learnt production techniques from observing his brother. At least two of his songs were included on all but one of the six albums released in that five-year period, peaking with four songs on each of 20/20 and Sunflower. When certain territorial jealousies arose within the band over his growing role, he began to hold back songs for his own projected solo albums.
On December 4th 1970, Dennis released his first piece of solo material, a little-known single released only in Europe and the UK under the name "Dennis Wilson & Rumbo." The single featured "Sound of Free", on his usual theme of freedom, on the A-side with the romantic "Lady" (also known as "Fallin' In Love") on the B-side.
Dennis starred alongside James Taylor and Warren Oates in the critically acclaimed film Two-Lane Blacktop as "The Mechanic". The film depicts "The Driver" and "The Mechanic" driving aimlessly across the United States in their 1955 Chevy, surviving on money earned from street racing.
In 1971, Dennis injured his hand badly enough to prevent him from playing drums for some time. Ricky Fataar took over as the group's drummer between 1972 and 1974. During this period Dennis acted as a co-frontman alongside Mike Love, as well as playing keyboards and singing. The 1973 live album 'The Beach Boys in Concert' features only Dennis onstage among thousands of fans on the album cover; however, none of his songs were included in the lineup. During the three-year recording hiatus, Dennis's voice deteriorated markedly. By then his onstage antics, including streaking, occasionally disrupted the Beach Boys' live shows. In 1974, concurrent with the success of the '60s hits compilation 'Endless Summer', Dennis returned to his role behind the drums. According to Dennis's biographer, Jon Stebbins, it was this year that he co-wrote the lyrics and modified part of the melody of "You Are So Beautiful" at a party with Billy Preston.
By 1977, Dennis had amassed a stockpile of songs he had written and recorded while factions within the Beach Boys became too stressful for him. He expressed: "If these people want to take this beautiful, happy, spiritual music we've made and all the things we stand for and throw it out the window just because of money, then there's something wrong with the whole thing and I don't want any part of it."  He then approached James William Guercio, owner of Caribou Records, who stipulated "a structured recording process" before signing Dennis to a two-album contract. According to Guercio his discussions with Dennis were along the lines of, 'You just tell Gregg what you need - you have the studio and your job is to finish the dream. Finish the vision. It's your project... You've got to do what Brian used to do. Use anybody you want - it's your decision and you're responsible."
Dennis released his debut solo album 'Pacific Ocean Blue' in 1977. The album sold poorly, peaking at No. 96 on the US Billboard album chart. Dates were booked for a Dennis Wilson solo tour but these were ultimately cancelled when his record company withdrew concert support in light of poor sales of the album. He did occasionally perform his solo material on the 1977 Beach Boys tour.  Despite Dennis claiming the album had "no substance", 'Pacific Ocean Blue' received positive reviews, later developing status as a cult item.
The album remained largely out of print between the 1990s and 2000s.  In June 2008, the album was reissued on CD as an expanded edition. It was voted the 2008 "Reissue of the Year" in both Rolling Stone and Mojo magazines, and made number sixteen on the British LP charts and number eight on both the Billboard Catalog chart and the Billboard Internet Sales chart.
'Pacific Ocean Blue's follow-up, Bambu, began production in the year 1978 at Brother Studios in Santa Monica with the collaboration of then Beach Boys keyboardist and Dennis's close friend Carli Muñoz as songwriter and producer. The first four songs that were officially recorded for Bambu were Muñoz's compositions: "It's Not Too Late", "Constant Companion", "All Alone", and "Under the Moonlight". The project was initially scuttled by lack of financing and the distractions of simultaneous Beach Boys projects. Bambu was officially released in 2008 along with the Pacific Ocean Blue reissue.
Two songs from the Bambu sessions, "Love Surrounds Me" and "Baby Blue," were lifted for the Beach Boys' 1979 L.A.  Dennis and Brian also recorded together apart from the Beach Boys in the early 1980s. These sessions remain unreleased though widely bootlegged as The Cocaine Sessions.
They say I live a fast life. Maybe I just like a fast life. I wouldn't give it up for anything in the world. It won't last forever, either. But the memories will. —Dennis Wilson, quoted in the sleeve notes for All Summer Long
In succeeding years Dennis abused alcohol and heroin.  An alleged bar fight which resulted in some damage to his throat at some point in the early to mid 1970s had taken a toll on his voice.  Following a confrontation on an airport tarmac, Dennis declared to Rolling Stone on September 3rd 1977, that he had left the Beach Boys: "They kept telling me I had my solo album now, like I should go off in a corner and leave the Beach Boys to them. The album really bothers them. They don't like to admit it's doing so well; they never even acknowledge it in interviews." Two weeks later, disputes were resolved and Dennis rejoined the group.
At some time, Brian's then-girlfriend and nurse Carolyn Williams accused Dennis of enticing Brian to purchase about $15,000 worth of cocaine. When Brian's bodyguard Rocky Pamplinand the Wilsons' cousin Stan Love learned of this incident, they physically assaulted Dennis at his home; they were fined about $1,000, and Dennis filed a restraining order.
As the Beach Boys pressured Brian to readmit himself into Eugene Landy's Twenty-Four Hour Therapy program, Dennis was informed by friends that he would be the band's next target, to which Dennis replied, "No, they're not going to do anything."  He was proved wrong, and by 1983, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Carl Wilson, and manager Tom Hulett had banned Dennis from performing with the group. Dennis was then told that he would be allowed to rejoin the Beach Boys only if he admitted himself to a detoxification program.
For a month prior to his death, Dennis had been homeless and living a nomadic life.  In November 1983, he checked into a therapy center in Arizona for two days, and then on December 23rd checked into St. John's Medical Hospital in Santa Monica, where he stayed until the evening of Christmas Day. Following a viophoto of Dennis Wilsonlent altercation at the Santa Monica Bay Inn, Dennis checked into a different hospital in order to treat his wounds. Several hours later, he discharged himself and reportedly resumed drinking immediately.
On December 28th 1983, 24 days after his 39th birthday, Dennis drowned at Marina Del Rey, Los Angeles, after drinking all day and then diving in the afternoon, to recover items he had thrown overboard at the marina from his yacht three years prior. Forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Hunter believes that Dennis experienced shallow water blackout just prior to his death.
On January 4th 1984, the U.S. Coast Guard buried Dennis' body at sea, off the California coast. The Beach Boys released a statement shortly thereafter, elegizing "We know Dennis would have wanted to continue in the tradition of the Beach Boys. His spirit will remain in our music."  His song "Farewell My Friend" was played at the funeral.
Dennis's widow, Shawn Love, reported that Dennis had wanted a burial at sea, while brothers Carl and Brian did not want Dennis cremated.  As non-veterans of the Coast Guard and Navy are not allowed to be buried at sea unless cremated, Dennis's burial was made possible by the intervention of President Ronald Reagan.

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song: 'Time' by Dennis Wilson