ME, MY THEREMIN, and THE BEACH BOYS

ME, MY THEREMIN, and THE BEACH BOYS

1966, Nov.18, 1 a.m.: I am in my bed, at the Hyatt West Hotel on Sunset Strip with distressing insomnia. I am desperate for sleep.

My band, THE GIDDY STATUES, and me are on tour of the USA with The JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE. We have one more gig in California: The Winterland Ballroom, then we will frantically continue the last leg of this US tour, finishing in New York City’s FILLMORE EAST.

The Winterland concert is in two days; I have one day off – which is tomorrow — I am in acute need of sleep, and recuperation, for this upcoming gig. However…

Visions of large, multi-colored polka dots appear and begin to bounce all over my hotel room like nightmarish balloons. The scary thing is: I did no drugs or booze. These are hallucinations created, in my brain, keeping me awake.

Severely anxious for sleep, I down a fistful of sleeping pills. Eventually, the pills work and I fall into a very deep slumber.

Somewhere in my deep subconscious I hear persistent knocks on my hotel door. It is now morning, but no one is allowed to see me or knock on my door! I took down the hotel’s “Do Not Disturb” sign” and hung my OWN sign, which clearly states in bold letters:

DO NOT DISTURB.

DO NOT EVEN THINK OF ENTERING.

I DON’T CARE WHAT IT IS.

GO AWAY. I’M BUSY.

Now, my doorbell begins to ring, which feels like a nail being driven through my skull.  “Sod it!” I shout. I wrestle with my white-booze stained bathrobe to wear to the hotel door; I was about to give whoever disturbed my deep sleep a black eye. The invasive knocking and bell ringing continues.

I drag my feet to the door, open it and, to my surprise, it’s 3 members of THE BEACH BOYS: MIKE LOVE has a full beard, wears a weird-furry hat, and looks like a skinny broom-stick with arms and legs. I’m told he’s been fasting too much. Mike Love studies Transcendental Meditation with The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, but Mike Love seems to be the most tightly wound, un-Zen practitioner of Transcendental Meditation in history. At this moment, he is one angry dude. He’s tired of Brian’s acid-inspired new songs and wants to “stick to their formula”: sun, beach, surfing, cars and girls.

Accompanying Mike Love are some of his band mates: his cousins, DENIS WILSON (the strikingly handsome drummer of the band) and his golden-voiced kid brother CARL WILSON, who was always the most level headed of their successful band.

Their eccentric brother, and genius of the band, BRIAN WILSON was, at this moment, in GOLD STAR RECORDING STUDIOS recording his/their new album, “SMILE.”

They confide in me that Brian Wilson stays in bed for months at a time but, now, he’s working on a song titled, “GOOD VIBRATIONS” and he wants someone who owns, and can play the instrument, A THEREMIN for certain parts in this new song.

I am one of the few on this planet who can play The Theremin. I’m not a virtuoso, but I can get by, especially on pop songs.  But no one has ever used a Theremin in a pop song before. The spooky Theremin sound was usually used in science fiction movies. Leave it to Brian Wilson to use it in a pop masterpiece.

 

I get dressed in a dark, rumpled suit lying in a heap on the floor.  I put on the suit and find a white shirt under the bed: it smells OK, so I throw it on and try to button it up, wondering, “What the hell did I get myself into?”

A limo is waiting outside the hotel and we drive to GOLD STAR RECORDING STUDIOS located in L.A., at 6252 Santa Monica Boulevard.

We enter GOLD STAR RECORDING STUDIOS. In the studio are the greatest session musicians in town: known as “THE WRECKING CREW”, sometimes called “The Clique”, “The First Call Gang”, and “The Phil Spector Wall of Sound Orchestra”. Though they had no official moniker, drummer and member HAL BLAINE made the term “The Wrecking Crew” popularized. Often summoned at odd hours to execute the tricky, ambitious arrangements of Phil Spector, BRIAN WILSON, and JACK NITZSCHE.

I couldn’t help take my eyes off this cute blonde who wore groovy white-framed sunglasses, a far-out short skirt and white Go-Go boots. Her name: CAROL KAYE. She was an American musician, known as one of the most prolific and widely heard bass guitarists, playing on an estimated 10,000 recordings. As a session musician, Kaye was the bassist on many PHIL SPECTOR and BRIAN WILSON productions in the 60s and 70s. She recorded guitar on RITCHIE VALENS’ “LA BAMBA”, FRANK ZAPPA’S first 2 LPs, bass tracks on several SIMON & GARFUNKEL, and QUINCY JONES. One of the most popular albums Carol contributed to was THE BEACH BOYS’ “PET SOUNDS.”

 

I finally see BRIAN WILSON, wearing eyeglasses, disheveled long unkempt hair, and some of his lunch is trapped inside his shaggy beard. His weight has ballooned to almost 400 pounds. He resembles a small planet!

He hugged me and was very happy I brought my THEREMIN. The Theremin is an instrument that has 2 metal antennae, and you play it not by touching it, but by moving your hands in the air between the antennae to the control the pitch and the volume of the sound. It takes a lot of practice to play the Theremin: it was once used a lot in science fiction films.

After I performed 67 takes of each Theremin section in his song, “GOOD VIBRATIONS”, Brian yells out, “That’s the one! That’s the take.” Even my dog feels the vibration!”

Suddenly the trombonist, LEON TANNER, walks into the session with an instrument that was like the Theremin. His invention, THE ELECTRO-THEREMIN, made it a lot simpler for non-experts to his specific notes and controls the volume.

In 10 minutes Leon Tanner recorded all the Theremin parts in the song, “Good Vibrations”. In ONE take! I just nearly had a nervous breakdown recording 67 takes with MY Theremin!

“Leon, that’s perfect!” says Brian; then to his fellow Beach Boys, “Which take do you want to use guys?”

My track will probably never make the final edit for Theremin, but that’s cool.

Was I disappointed? Heck, no. Carol Kaye and I went back to my hotel room, at The Hyatt, and created our own “good vibrations”: A groovy night indeed!

P.S. Although the song, “GOOD VIBRATIONS” was recorded in 1966, it appeared on the album “Smiley Smile” (1967).  “GOOD VIBRATIONS” quickly became the Beach Boys’ first million-selling single.

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