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Carli-and-DennisI would love to know how you first got to play with the Beach Boys

In the late 1960s I was living in NYC. It was in 1969 I that got an invitation from my friend and roommate Jack Rieley to accompany him to LA, California for the weekend. At first I declined the invitation because it would disrupt some previous plans I had in the city, but Jack insisted and I decided to go. Once in LA, it didn’t take much to know that we weren’t going back to NY; we stayed, in my case for 16 years.

Before leaving NY I had mentioned to the members of the rock band I was a part of that I was going to LA. So, Sally, our drummer’s girlfriend asked me if I would contact an old friend of her’s who was the lead guitar player and some time bassist for the Beach Boys – Ed Carter. Once settled in LA (within weeks of our arrival) I contacted Ed Carter and he immediately invited me to come to Mike Kowalski’s (then Beach Boy replacement drummer) house in Topanga Canyon, where they met often to jam – we hit it off really well – musically and personally.

carli_bbsParallel to that event, Jack got an interview for work at the then underground radio station KPFK. It only took that first interview for Jack to get hired as “program director” of the station. One of the first tasks that he assigned for the station was to set up an interview with the Beach Boys at the station. Being a fine journalist himself and a Beach Boys fan (we were both highly appreciative of the geniality of Pet Sounds), he did the interview himself and according to Jack, they on that same day, asked him to consider being their manager. I do remember Jack shortly after coming home driving a green and black vintage 1940’s Bentley in mint condition – he told me it was a token gift from the Beach Boys for him considering being their manager!
carliden_pianoThat said, it looked like I was destined to be associated with the Beach Boys one way or another! Although I had gone with Jack a few times to Brian’s house on Bellagio street in Bel Air to meet and hang out with the Beach Boys socially, it was an invitation from Mike Kowalski that got me touring with the band initially. That was sometime in late 1969. It was a short tour that included San Francisco and later NY and Quebec, Canada area. I was hired to play percussion on those first tours, because Daryl Dragon was still replacing Brian on piano and organ. So it was percussion what they needed then because they were doing material from Pet Sounds which used a lot of orchestral percussion.

It wasn’t until on another tour later on in NYC, when the band was rehearsing that Carl, Al and Mike interrupted the rehearsal to go out for a break and during that brake the horn section stayed to play jazz. Daryl, not being a jazz player, got off the piano and I took over. When the Beach Boys got back from break and saw and heard me playing piano with the horn section, Carl took me aside and said – “If you can play that sophisticated music, I’d like to see what you can do with the Beach Boys”. After that it took almost a year, but one evening in late 1971 I received a call at my home from Carl asking me to audition for the band on keyboards. The rest is history.

How did you meet Dennis and what do you think made the two of you get along so well

carli_munozI first met Dennis in a mens room stall on a venue in Irvine, California. It must have been towards my beginning with the band. He had a cast on one of his arms and he wasn’t very friendly. He was outright obnoxious with most everyone and our relationship became one of rivalry for the first few years – we liked the same girls and we fought over them. It wasn’t until I beat him on arm wrestling that he started showing me some respect. He used to go around challenging everyone to arm wrestling – especially the big bouncers, and he used to beat them – I think they were just afraid of him – psyched out and afraid of being fired! When I beat him, the game changed. One time we went out to settle who’s going out with a really cute girl we both liked near the end of a tour and there and then we both noticed, how crazy it was to fight each other and instead from that time on we decided to team up instead – I leave the rest to your imagination! Our relationship flourished from then on.

What was it like hearing his versions of your songs for the first time

I produced them, so it was a gradual process. The most exciting and transcendent moment was when Carl came in and did his vocal on It’s not too late. They had been in conflict with each other and the emotion was profound.

How did you feel when they released then on cd in 2010

images (2)It was bitter-sweet. Bitter because “they” did that behind my back, obviously so they they could attribute themselves credits that weren’t theirs to begin with. Also, I must have been a threat (in their minds) of sorts, since Dennis of course was out of the picture and I still existed, but away from the LA scene. Although away from the LA scene and living in the Caribbean, I was still accessible enough to be contacted and on the least consulted – after all, I was the original producer of Bambu and my songs were in it. Dennis wanted it to be all my songs. But in the end result, they used bits and pieces from various unfinished sessions and songs from other projects. It is pretty funny that the A&R guy from Sony threatened to pull out my songs when I gave them a bit of a hard time about the release…. I told him to go ahead but of course he had to pedal backwards because he knew those 4 songs were the backbone of Bambu.

Sweet, because Bambu, at least in some form, saw the light of the day. In addition it
certainly motivated me to come forward with the rest of the songs and honor Dennis in its full extent.

What was Dennis like as a person?

Carli_and_DennisThe comic strip Dennis the Menace must have been inspired by him – never a dull moment! But underneath, he was kind hearted, sensitive, honest to a fault, highly spiritual and very talented. He had a tremendous fire in him – a fire that at times he couldn’t tame and that contained much creativity and love of the purest kind, but also the potential for self destruction.

Maybe some stories of you two hanging out?

There are many…. We used to talk about spirituality – I liked that, it was deep and magical! Sometimes while we were recording we would take a break from the studio in Santa Monica, hop on his old Ford and fill the rumble seat with beer and other ‘goodies’ and go sailing. He did some crazy stuff like… one time while we were both hanging out in the cabin of a Falcon jet approaching NYC, he asked the pilot to fly in between the Twin Towers. The pilot of course, refused and Dennis told him that he would be fired if he didn’t do it! I just put my head in between my legs and never knew how far they went with it, but it was scary! At another time while in a motorcade on the way to a gig in Hollywood Florida, we were in the same limousine being led by police motorcycle escort on a one lane back road. Dennis suddenly ordered the limo driver to step on it and pass the escort. The driver hesitated and Dennis jumped up from the back seat and took over the limo and floored it pass the escort on the incoming lane — Dennis being Dennis!

Carli Muñoz_Brian WilsonWe used to do pranks to each other – one time while we were sharing suites he asked me to let this really gorgeous girl he had just met into his room, while he attended a quick meeting and ask her to wait for him. Before she arrived, I noticed a bowl with some leftover chilly from the night before outside Dennis’s door. I took the chilly and dumped in the toilet and didn’t flush – when the girl came in, I told her that Dennis had just left and to make herself at home in his room. Needless to say, Dennis was extremely embarrassed and pissed when he came back after he saw the mess in the toilet and the girl had left, but it was surely payback for one he owed me!

Who are your favorite musicians, who influenced you to make those wonderful songs?

Carli Muñoz_Mike Love_Bruce JohnstonI think primarily Procol Harum was influential to some extent. There are many influences and it is hard to pin point any specific artists. But in the rock genre, I was influenced by early vocal groups such as The Platters, The Four Freshmen, The Penguins, The Four Aces, The Elegants etc. Also artists and groups such as Elvis Presley, Bill Haley & His Comets, Lloyd Price, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Paul Anka, Dion and the Belmonts, Brian Hyland, Little Richard, Fats Domino, and later The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Procol Harum, Simon & Garfunkel, The Stones, Frank Zappa, The United States of America, The Moody Blues, Jimmy Hendricks, Cream, Steve Wander, most Motown artists, Laura Niro, Kenny Rankin, Peter Paul and Mary, The Mamas and the Papas, Bob Dylan, Crosby, Still, Nash & Young, Elton John, Queen and beyond that, with a few exceptions not much turned me on after the mid 70s. I was also from early on influenced by the American standard songbook, popular movie and tv themes, Classical Avant Gard music; Erik Satie, John Cage, Classical string quartets, Bach, Ravel, Villa Lobos etc. Also, honky-tonk piano, boogie woogie, Charleston, early jazz, classic jazz, contemporary jazz, Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and mostly jazz trios; especially Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett, Hampton Howes, Ahmad Jamal, Ar Tatum, Thelonious Monk, Brad Mehldau, Nat King Cole, Mulgrew Miller, Wilton Kelly, among others. Also by great singers such as: Sarah Vaughn, Shirley Horn, Nat Cole, Johny Hartman, Mel Thorme, Frank Sinatra Tony Bennet, Nancy Wilson, Chet Baker, Etta James (Dam your Eyes), Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Al Jarreau, Ricki Lee Jones, Dr. John, Ray Charles, Joe Williams, King Pleasure, Big Joe Turner, etc.

What has your career been like after this period

imagesI suppose you mean after having worked with Dennis and after leaving the Beach Boys. When I left the Beach Boys I had in mind venturing into other genres of music – especially jazz. I immediately started getting studio and touring calls from artists such as George Benson, Les McCann and Chico Hamilton. I even later joined a Country Western Swing band and even a Bluegrass band which I enjoyed playing with very much. I learned a lot from playing this music – “The Dean of Elation” would be directly influenced by this great music. Also, I went on to study cinematography on college, another passion I had. I got to produce and direct several documentaries, music videos and commercials during the later part of the eighties. In the nineties I was already back in San Juan and formed an acoustic piano jazz trio and was active playing through late 1998, when I opened Carli’s Fine Bistro & Piano. I’ve been since performing nightly at Carli’s, in various configurations.

You can purchase Carli’s wonderful new album on Amazon or here

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