Friday 19 December 2014

September 1979

Let's Groove

It’s late -- it always is in LA. No one’s ever on time.

I’ve been waiting patiently for an audience with Mr Earth Wind & Fire, Maurice White, for eight days. He’s as elusive as a Pimpernel but I finally nail him at a West Hollywood recording studio where he’s putting the finishing touches to the Emotions’ new album.

‘Maurice will be down in a while,’ says the studio caretaker. ‘Take a chair, sir.’ I sit. Sit. Sit.

‘Why don’t you go upstairs and shoot some pool, sir?’

I go upstairs and shoot some pool. And some more pool. Three hours later Maurice appears. It’s three a.m. and he tells me he’s been ‘Dancing since noon.’ Seems he’d also been rehearsing with EW&F for their forthcoming US tour before coming to the studio around seven. ‘I’m probably one of the busiest people in the world. I can go on non-stop for weeks at a time. If I’m not in the studio I’m writing or preparing for another tour.

‘Having a lot of energy is like having a lot of ideas − you have to take it and channel it and make it into something. Even when I’m not doing anything I sit around looking at myself. That’s a habit I got into when I was a kid. I’d sit in the corner watching myself outside of me. When you do something like I do, having that ability is a bonus.’

Maurice’s pyramid of harmony rises out of a disco desert. He’s built it stone by stone through eight albums stretching back to 1972.

‘Each new album, each new song contributes to the whole. I’ve always been a loner, ever since I was a kid. I came from a big family − five boys and four girls – and only occasionally did I have the luxury of being by myself.

'I can speak of my experiences through my music. I try and reach the inner soul through song, through that secluded part where you talk to yourself about your decisions and how you should make your way through life. Do you understand?’

Sure ’nuff.

‘We are speaking of a certain type of lifestyle and it’s important the kids know what we mean − that’s why we always print the lyrics on our albums. We are now in the pop market and the record buyers don’t know where we’re coming from. They haven’t yet lived the things we speak of. I guess I mean mostly the kids from the suburbs. We are talking of things relative to the street, relative to survival, where people wait for a new day. Those kids haven’t ever got up in the morning and wondered if they’re going to get through the day okay. My personal past has enabled me to speak of those things.’

The title of the new album was a deliberate attempt to eradicate the diffidence in most (nah, all) of us.

‘We wanted to awaken the self in everybody. You go into the record store and ask for I Am and that’s a reaffirmation of you just by saying those two words. In the US people have certain conceptions about black groups. They think black music must be of a particular type and when boundaries are broken it’s as though you did something terrible. Every time we release an album Rolling Stone magazine slams it. Yet every album is successful. I live in fear of them giving one of our records a good review. Then I’ll know we’ve failed.’

Are you a pain-in-the-arse perfectionist?

‘Yes. That’s one of my problems. I often wish I was a lot sloppier. There are annoying little things. For instance, if my closet isn’t completely tidy I go to pieces. To have an orderly closet saves time for me. I’ll take out the wrong pair of pants and have to go back and change them.’

But doesn’t such an attitude spill over into relationships? Perfectionists are notoriously intolerant of others.

‘I’ve learned toleration because I had to be tolerated. Growing up in my parents’ home, first in Memphis and then in Chicago, taught me that.’

Maurice is divorced. ‘I never had any kids. I really don’t know why I got married. I had a good home. None of my brothers and sisters are married. But we’ve all got time. I’m thirty-five now. I figure I’ve got another thirty-five years left. I still got time for all that family stuff.’

We leave the studio together, and in the car park opposite he climbs into the coolest Porsche imaginable.

(Apart from a four-year hiatus between 1983 and 1987, EW&F have continued to record top-notch albums and have passed into the mainstream American mindset. Maurice has worked with the likes of Streisand, Neil Diamond and Cher and the band were inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. Such is their popularity, EW&F have performed at the 2002 Winter Olympics, the Superbowl in 2005 and the US Open golf tournament in 2008. In February 2009, they played at the White House during President Obama’s first formal dinner. Now, Then & Forever, the group's first album in eight years, was released September 10, 2013 They are, quite simply, an American institution. Oh, and Maurice has a son.)

© Barry Cain 2014

Check out Barry’s novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H0IM2CY


Thursday 4 December 2014

September 1979

On the beach


It’s my first trip to Los Angeles and I wander round the record companies in the hot sunshine wearing a Journey T-shirt -- cool design but know nothing of the band and never will. I set up a few things. I’m hot to trot.

I stay for two and a half weeks downgrading the paid-for hotels as the interviews start to dwindle, finally ending up on the sofa in the front room of a beachside apartment belonging to ex-Fleet Street photographer Laurence Cottrell. Unfortunately, I leave the window open to his apartment one morning and all his photographic equipment is stolen.

Capitol records fly me out to Las Vegas to spend the night, take in a Glen Campbell show and interview him backstage. Isn’t that a great sentence?

Then I get a call that turns me into Alice in boogie Wonderland. On a scale of one to ten, how cool is this question?

‘Can you have lunch with the Beach Boys at a restaurant on Santa Monica beach tomorrow?’

‘No, sorry, I’m busy.’

‘Oh.’ No fucking sense of humour, these guys.

‘Only joking. I’d love to have lunch with the Beach Boys tomorrow or the next day or any day over the next fifty years.’


And that’s how I find myself sitting around a table with the Beach Boys in a beach restaurant. Brian Wilson is opposite me. He doesn’t speak much and when I try to strike up a conversation I don’t quite understand what he’s saying, the restaurant’s too noisy and, besides, the blue litmus paper obviously turned red a long time ago and he’s living the dream.

I’m not interviewing the band. This is an off-the-record get-together. Mike Love is sitting next to me (can you believe all this?) and it’s easier to talk to him. After three years of speaker-grinding noise, my drums are snared and, if I’m more than a foot away from a person in a place with a lot of background noise, I sometimes can’t hear a thing.

So I talk to Mike for a while and he’s a really nice guy and he invites me to see the band perform their new single, ‘Sumahama’, the follow up to Lady Linda, on the first show of the new series of American Bandstand in Hollywood the next day, hosted by the legendary Dick Clarke.

The next day, as the sun toasts the empty pavements, we meander through the LA heat haze in Laurence’s Ford Mustang to the TV studios for an appointment with the Beach Boys on America’s favourite show. And when we get there, Carl, Dennis, Mike, Al and Brian say, ‘Hi, Barry,’ and I wish they all could be California girls at that moment because I feel like fucking the lot of them.

The Beach Boys know my name. Look up the number. It’s like winning an award.

After the show I shake Dick’s hand (doesn’t sound right) and Mike takes me to one side. ‘I understand you’d like to do an interview, Barry.’

There! He says it again.


‘Well, why don’t you come out and see my home in Santa Barbara? You and I can do the interview and you can spend a little time there.’


‘Great. Make it the day after tomorrow, around midday. You can meet the family. Is that good for you?’


‘Okay. I’ve got a little map here. It’s easy to find when you know how. Look forward to it.’


‘We’ve got to go now. Nice seeing you again, Barry.’


‘That’s a result,’ says Laurence.


Okay, I might seem like a gormless dick to you, but christ, hanging out with a Beach Boy at his house in California? And with his family.


For a few souped-up, Bermuda-short years, the Beach Boys were America. The birth of surf with all its biologically clean, large-breasted Pepsodent blondes in blue bikinis; its guys sliding out of black Elvis leather and breezing into big shirts and wide smiles; its tanful of exercise and sublime backseat drive-in sex, made everyone want to sing sweet ’n’ high in their flaming hot rods.

In 1965 California was the place to be. The real deal. They even told you so on The Beverly Hillbillies every Sunday night. The American dream. And the Beach Boys conveyed it all in three-minute pristine pop perfection. They were an enclave in the British charts surrounded by the dockyard rock of a million moptops. After all, the only thing that really bugged them was driving up and down the same old strip while here the kids were ferrying across the Mersey trying desperately to get out of this place.

They made you want to be a beach boy, to be blond and slim and get sand in my shoes and ride up and down that strip instead of getting a tube to Whitechapel every Saturday night looking for adventure and whatever came my way, though it never did.

Mike Love stretches out on a lounger three hundred feet above the Pacific Ocean at his Santa Barbara home and not a cotton field in sight . The 38 year-old Beach Boy (one of these days they’re gonna have to change that name − Beach Men or better still Beach Big Boys) looks good as he sips a chocolate malt.

The demise of the Beach Boys coincided with the demise of America. Both went to pot, pieces and polyurethane. Brian Wilson − in the top three pop-genius category − appeared to crack and spent years in a wilderness inhabited by strange dreams and love letters in the sand.

But now, says Mike, ‘We intend to be better than we’ve ever been before. Those people that have slagged us in the past are the ultra trendies who have lost sight of the fact that some things are timeless and universal − like your basic Beach Boy. Our music will be played throughout history like Beethoven, Bach and Brahms. We are into the future, we are into the now. Those who call us over the hill don’t realise we are immortal. What they say doesn’t mean shit to a tree.’

The chocolate malt gasps in the bottom of the carton as Mike Love sucks hard. He’s telling the truth by the way. At least, that’s what I think as a band of naked revellers frolics in the autumn mist near Mike’s private beach directly below.

Interviewing a Beach Boy by the ocean is like interviewing a Beatle in The Cavern or Rod Stewart in bed or a Sex Pistol in the toilet. It’s relevant. His home is at a spot he calls Asoleado, Spanish for a place in the sun. Like Page Three. It’s little short of paradise. Like Page Three.

After a series of indifferent albums, the band released L.A. (Light Album) earlier this year. It proved beyond question that the Beach Boys were still getting around, still capable of a little subtle soul seduction, still holding on to those honeydew harmonies with the less fattening centres that melt in your mouth, not in your hand.

The single ‘Lady Lynda’ promptly scored and ‘Sumahama’, although not exactly a surfin’ safari of a hit, is still there among the Jags and Tourists of this world.

So why the long gap before making music again?

‘Just things, y’know.’ He stretches again. ‘Like Carl put on a lot of weight and Dennis started drinking too much and Al had his ranch and horses and Brian went through a highly emotional state in both his mind and body and was smoking way too much. He’s a sensitive, brilliant musician and pressures can sometimes manifest themselves in bad ways in people like that. We were not as cohesive as we might have been for quite some time. But now we’re gonna run the group like a team again. We’ve been living apart for far too long.’

To get the band back on their feet, Mike has masterminded the ‘Total Fitness Programme’.

‘We just want to be healthier and fitter than we’ve ever been before. I think it’s the only way we can maintain a close relationship. There’s too much acid in the systems and not enough vitamins. Now we regularly go to a training camp in the mountains by the sea to work out.’ Jogging like bluebirds, no doubt.

Another project in the bag is a movie, California Beach, which I must admit sounds great. ‘It’s about four girls from various parts of the States who meet out here on the beach. There’s a Midwest farmer’s daughter, an East Coast girl, a southern girl and a northern girl.’

Sounds familiar. ‘It’s just a series of sociological vignettes played out here day after day against a backdrop of Beach Boys music. Kind of like an Endless Summer.’

To launch the movie, the band intends to hold the world’s biggest beach party next spring and they’ll also undertake a ‘California Beach’ tour. After each show there will be a party, organised by the Playboy Club and oozing with pretty girls. ‘Should keep the press interested,’ smiles Mike.

So, two shots in the arm. But what of the man himself? The cousin of the Wilson brothers from clean-cut LA., Mike has lived in Asoleado for the last eight years.

‘Oh, sure, I used to have a place in Beverly Hills and one in Malibu. But I got tired of all that. When I moved here I became involved in transcendental meditation and eventually became a teacher.’

Unlike so many other rock stars who prodded meditation with a superficial finger, Mike has remained loyal to his beliefs. To the extent, he assures me, of being able to levitate and disappear!

‘Too many people in this business dwell on the insubstantial aspects of life − having the right car, going to the right parties, wearing the right clothes. I’ve just been concerned with my life, with its depth and dimension, more than my career in show business.’

Mike has his own meditation room in the building complex at Santa Barbara, which also houses his publishing company, Love Songs, and the people in his employ. ‘It’s very difficult to go on tour when you live here. When you look down at the sea through stained-glass windows, when the sunlight breaks through, it’s so tranquil yet so energising. Who needs a hotel room?’

But Mike won’t be living in his paradise home for much longer. Asoleado will shortly be transformed into the Love Foundation Holistic Health Centre. ‘It’s costing a million dollars to turn this place into a centre where people can come to get healthy. To diet, exercise, even be examined by a resident MD. A lot of people get interested in health and longevity when they reach a certain age.’

Wonder what age that might be. Not thirty-eight, perchance?

Mike has just bought a two-million-dollar mansion set in twenty acres at Lake Tahoe. He’ll be moving in with his four daughters and one son from three previous marriages, and his Japanese girlfriend, ex-air hostess Sumako. One of his ex-wives lives in a chalet at Asoleado. ‘I’m not gonna get married again for at least two years simply because I’ve got so much to do in terms of my career − the movie, the records, my philanthropic endeavours.’

I wonder what his favourite periods in Beach Boys history were.

‘Mm. The nostalgic ones, like all of a sudden being able to take a plane to Hawaii for a few days and not having to worry about the money. But the current period is the most pleasant of all because we’re more aware of what we’re doing. After all these years my plans and dreams are finally coming true.

‘There was that bad patch when we decided to rest up awhile but we got back together again through a certain amount of pride and ego and strength and stubbornness, which are part of the characters of all of us and which have enabled us to steer a course through the shaky times and come out on top.’

God only knows what I feel about that.

© Barry Cain 2014

Check out Barry’s novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H0IM2CY


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