It was early 1984 and one of the very few times I worked behind a table at a Record Swap Meet, that I met the main two guys who basewould become The Wondermints, Darian Sahanaja and Nick Walusko. There was this great, if idiosyncratic, record dealer named Chris Peake in L.A., who I’d met as far back as 1979 at the old Capitol Records parking lot swap meet… the best record swap in history (probably) and a story within itself. It is where I found my first copy of Pet Sounds, an original mono U.S. rainbow swirl, for six dollars… right beneath Welton Becket’s stunning Capitol tower.
Chris Peake at one point in time may have had the best collection of Rock ’n’ Roll era 45s in America, the birthplace of actual Rock ’n’ Roll. My jaw dropped when I saw his rows of Fats Domino singles, for example. Outside of the swap meets, he had his records in an office, which he lived in, on Cole Avenue in Hollywood. In those pre-downloading days, Chris provided a source for recording artists or film companies trying to locate a clean copy of some obscure record they’d want to cover on their album, or to include in a film. Chris got his real start as a record concession stand inside the legendary Ash Grove folk music club on Melrose Avenue during the ’60s; Gram Parsons is said to have died owing Chris some money for a Louvin Brothers album Gram had been having a tough time finding. Xene Cervenka from X had been working at his office a few years before me.
This particular record swap that I met Nick and Darian at was held in the daytime, at a nightclub on Pico called The Music Machine, which was an o.k. place for the ’80s, lots of good shows happened there. Midway through the day, I saw these two guys in their very early ’20s come to our table, eyeballing the rare kind of rare 45s only Chris would have on his table. One guy had a homemade purple tie-dye shirt on with photos of The Byrds culled from the Together Records “Preflyte” album, using the Columbia Records “Byrds” logo. The other guy had on a Beach Boys tour shirt, not a silly-looking one, but one with an actual throwback early ’70s design on a baseball jersey. I took one good look at this pair, took a deep breath, and said, “Those are my two favorite bands…” It was immediately understood that I meant “outside The Beatles” and from that point on, we had a nice conversation, with me insisting on getting the one guy’s number, who’d done the shirt, because I wanted a shirt like that, which he said he could provide.
That guy in The Byrds shirt was Darian Sahanaja, and the guy on his right with the Beach Boys tour shirt was Nick Walusko.
An invite up to Darian’s house (we were all still living with our parents) provided the insight. Nick of course showed up, and there were long talks about Pet Sounds and the mystery of Smile, which I had already found a few of the missing bits from on cassettes handed around by friends and collectors, none of which had actually been bootlegged yet on vinyl or CD.
The Beach Boys had not yet become very interesting to bootleggers, the band never having had really crossed over to the “so twelve years ago” Progressive Rock audience. That crowd focused on The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull. The Beach Boys were of scant interest to ’70s bootleggers. The only ones I’d found were bits from a concert in 1971 with a picture of Dennis slapped on the cover, and another concert performance called The Beach Boys meet The Grateful Dead. It wasn’t really the time for the general rock audience to be discussing the intricacies of Pet Sounds and “Good Vibrations,” and bootlegs of studio out-takes were pretty much reserved for Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes or The Beatles BBC and Get Back sessions that became Let it Be.
This kind of Brian Wilson oversight was one of many things Darian, Nick and I talked about at first, along with the aesthetics and change in music represented at that time by Punk Rock and New Wave, with Darian and Nick coming more from the New Wave end and myself coming more from Punk Rock. We often discussed the pathetic state of The Beach Boys catalog at that time, few of the original albums being in print at all. (This situation would be remedied in 1990 when Capitol Records revised the catalog with the CD “twofers” and then the Good Vibrations box set in 1993, annotated by David Leaf, with some help from his friend, yours truly.) Bastardized versions of Shut Down Volume Two, All Summer Long or Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!!) could only be purchased on budget labels and compilation albums under different names, with “updated” covers, that also snipped a bunch of tracks from the original LPs. We really felt that The Beach Boys catalog did not get the proper respect, and were frustrated (if amused) by releases such as Wow! Great Concert!
From the get-go, the three of us had this deeper understanding of The Beach Boys’ plight in not being appreciated so much as artists, and lamented the nostalgia act that was being presented to the public with zero attention paid to albums such as Beach Boys Today!, Friends or Sunflower. It was generally felt by Nick, Darian and I, that the jamming vibe of the Progressive Rock era rarely lent itself to the idea of good arrangements. That was the basic. I’d personally had an older sister who bought the Surfin’ U.S.A. and Surfer Girl albums in 1963, plus their earlier singles, playing down the grooves on all of them.
By 1984 I was truly finished with the pretentious dismissal of the early Rock ’n’ Roll stuff that had been going around for a while now, which is why I flipped my lid when on a road trip to Phoenix, Arizona with Chris Peake, I’d read my first issue of Kicks (#3), written by the illustrious Billy Miller and Miriam Linna. Not only was their irreverent focus on Larry Williams/Dale Hawkins-era Rock ’n’ Roll hilarious and true, but they had a top-notch respect for The Beach Boys, going so far as having John Blair of Jon & the Niteriders do a rundown in the ’zine of The Beach Boys instrumental platters. This was definitely the kind of direction I personally wanted to go.
Darian, Nick and I had also bonded on things that were missing from contemporary Pop culture, such as the kind of colourful, oddball television and movie moments you’d see during the ’60s. One of the primary bonds came with studying the ideas behind the early ’60s Girl Group sound, where the songwriter, the arranger, the producer and the singers all had separate jobs to concentrate on, the swirl of creativity from those separate entities coming together to bring a final 3 minute record filled with genius to life in a sound-scape. That, we felt, was as important a talent as “being able to jam.” None of us seemed to mind if a record was effete, innocent or twee, in spite of the macho and bullying ’80s culture all around us.
There was also an appreciation for the buoyancy of certain records, and how the artists got that feel. The same bounce you hear in “Good Vibrations,” The Turtles’ “Happy Together,” Melanie’s “Beautiful People” and other records from the second half of the ’60s (Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” has it)… that was a cause for … trying to understand a certain kind of magic, in the way music can make people feel upbeat in that lofty kind of way. Effervescence and ebullience mattered.
Then, with all this conversational excitement washing around, a pause to hear Darian (on a small Casio, sitting cross-legged on the floor) and Nick (also sitting on the floor, with a plugged in electric guitar) perform “That’s Not Me,” and “I Know There’s an Answer” right in front of me, in a small room. Not only did these guys blow me away, but also I was also quick to comment. “That, right there, is not something The Beach Boys band would ever do. You’re better than the guys they got out there arranging their music on stage right now.”
Turns out I was right about that. It took more than words, however, and years, to make it happen. In turn, we all eventually did get to hear those kinds of songs on stage with… (ahem…) key members of the original band… driven by the abilities of Nick and Darian.
I personally had no real connection to The Beach Boys, though I’d been around for Carl Wilson’s first solo concert at The Roxy on Sunset Strip. That evening, earlier on (1982), I had the good fortune to meet Carl Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine backstage, listening to Mike and Al congratulate Carl on his solo LP debut performance. Dennis Wilson couldn’t get backstage because over 20 women in the hallway were unmercifully mobbing him. Brian and his immediate family left right after the show. This backstage invite had come via the then-very small Beach Boys fan club, called Beach Boys Freaks United, which was also the name of their publication. I’d gone to a TV taping and a few other things with them, and that’s how I first met Brian Wilson. He and I talked a little bit about Jack Nitzsche. Later in the decade (1987), I was invited to a Brian Wilson session for “Rio Grande” by the primary instrumentalist behind those sessions, Andy Paley, though none of the contact I had through him… well, the doors were pretty much shut.
Back in 1984, I had also met David Leaf, author of The Beach Boys and the California Myth and previously, the newspaper-format fanzine Pet Sounds. I had once seen a copy on sale in 1977 at a Licorice Pizza in West Covina, and that was a contributor to my getting a bit more interested in the band. I turned on to the idea of the focus being Pet Sounds, which I had heard was a psychedelic-era masterpiece, on a different level, that it had been influential to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, rather than the other way around. That was something. David Leaf became a friend when he came to my parents’ house to hear a tape I had unearthed that even he had not heard… Brian Wilson’s Smile version of “Wonderful.” He’d come all the way out to Monterey Park (near East Los Angeles and Pasadena) from Santa Monica on the West Side at the beach, just to hear it.
My tape source by this time had been none other than Curt Boettcher, who had been working for The Beach Boys since their Disco re-make of “Here Comes the Night” in 1979, and of course earlier working directly with Brian Wilson on “Jamaica Farewell,” a 45 directed by Terry Melcher and Bruce Johnston for Equinox in 1975. Curt had me over to his apartment a few times, and trusted me with things he’d pulled from his studio experience with the band. He’d previously shared similar tapes with Lindsey Buckingham before the making of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk album.
As you can tell, we had all become wound up in the mystery of Smile, because really no out-takes from it had surfaced for fans before 1982. Dennis Wilson had “found the fire tapes” in 1977, a quote from him at the time revealed. Some Smile tapes were shared with the author Byron Preiss who commented intelligently on them in his book The Beach Boys: The Authorized Biography of America’s Greatest Rock ’n’ Roll Band.
So Darian, Nick and I during 1984 were able to revel in having the first two “shipments” of Smile out-takes to reach the fans, directly from the record producer responsible for The Millennium (Columbia Records, 1968) and partner with Gary Usher in Sagittarius (Columbia Records, 1967). Both are brilliant Psychedelic pop albums with a strong experimental mid-’60s Beach Boys tinge, pulled directly from hearing “Good Vibrations” before release during 1966 – just in case you have ever wondered how Sagittarius’ “My World Fell Down” happened so quickly.
On closer inspection, and through the course of many conversations, trial and error, Darian, Nick and I harbored many discussions on what the possible sequencing of Smile might have been, based on clues we kept on finding in the first, then second, then third, fourth and fifth revelation of previously unheard tapes that were to leak in Los Angeles during those early days of fans beginning to find out what Smile really was made of. It was these conversations and early attempts at Smile assemblage that lead to my book Look! Listen! Vibrate! SMILE! and eventually the Smile sequence heard at the debut Brian Wilson Smile concert at Royal Festival Hall in London.
Through The Beach Boys Freaks United, I had met a visitor from England by the name of Peter Whitfield, who I gave a small road trip to “the sites of Los Angeles” in 1982. The very first time Peter descended upon L.A. from an airplane, he declared, “It’s down there. Smile is … DOWN THERE!”
That statement pretty much defines the focus we had in those early days. I received my first Smile out-takes cassette from Peter Whitfield, who eventually introduced me to John Porteous, who in turn introduced me to Mike Grant, Andrew Doe and others from the UK fanzine Beach Boys Stomp. On Peter’s second trip to the United States, I was able to introduce him to Darian Sahanaja and Nick Walusko. The understanding and intimacy of our musical conversations lead to an exchange not only between Darian and Peter, but also to John and several other close friends Darian made on a trip to the UK during the mid-’80s. I got to meet some of these people at Darian’s house when they came over to the states.
So an international exchange of Pet Sounds/Smile fans of the early to mid-’80s had become strongly developed. Musically, Darian and Nick had become more strongly bound as a musical unit, as when I first met them, they had only known each other a little while. When I stepped into their vortex, however, I was truly fascinated with the combination of interests, Nick with his ’60s Space Age vibe and turning me on to the dynamics of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, plus Darian with his similar ’60s tonality and interest in groups like The Zombies who were his other favorites, even then.
I can’t forget the very, very early Bangles poster Darian had on his wall, impressively signed by all the members of the band well before they’d made it. I’d heard about “that whole Paisley Underground thing” (common phrase when people bring them up) but admittedly I hadn’t kept up with things in those times just-post early Punk Rock. I’d seen The Jam while I was still in High School in early 1978 at The Starwood on Santa Monica Boulevard and Crescent Heights (formerly P.J.’s where The Standells and Bobby Fuller held court during the ’60s,) so I witnessed the Mod Revival early. At that show, I could see my future, but didn’t really know it yet.
This sense of their being a ’60s Revival (Mod, Paisley, Garage, even ’50s Rockabilly) during the ’80s had dawned upon me as a follower of music in the record stores and from reading all the local music journals… but I was never a participant since the early Punk Rock days of the late ’70s, seeing groups like The Jam and Madness. So in a way, Darian and Nick re-introduced me to Vintage, and provided a closer look at what was on the table in that respect. Kicks magazine out of New York had already given me the framework, but the things I learned in person from Darian and Nick really helped me to flourish in those areas later on.
One of the first examples of that was a final project for my Television Production classes at Pasadena City College (December, 1985), based on this idea of there being a ’60s revival during the late ’70s and 1980s. I wrote a tight, 15 minute script called It’s Happening and shot it with a crowd of vintage-dressed dancing teenagers, plus a three piece band called “Nick and Darian,” featuring silent partner Jon Kanis on tambourine. They performed “That’s Not Me” just the way they did in Darian’s bedroom a couple of years before, with Jon adding good rhythm. It was an impressive performance to have captured on tape, but really at first, this was all being done for fun, and fun it was.
Afterward, the Go Go dancer I’d culled from Greg Shaw’s Cavern Club in Hollywood, Audrey Moorehead, Darian, Nick and I all went to the drag ’n’ eat pad called The Hat on Valley Boulevard and Garfield in Alhambra. At the tables behind this classic Los Angeles Chili Burger and Pastrami stand with it’s sparkling neon, Darian, Nick, Audrey and I bonded a friendship and from there, Audrey and I would go on to produce 33 episodes of It’s Happening beginning in 1986. Darian and Nick engineered some sessions, featuring live performances by The Untamed Youth, The Nashville Ramblers, The Boardwalkers and others, dropping in to help Audrey and I record out of the goodness of their hearts.
At one session in 1988 for a group called On the Air, I got the full experience with a guy that Darian and Nick really respected by the name of Probyn Gregory. He had been working a bit with On The Air, and came with a few years on both Nick and Darian in professional experience. Probyn, too, understood the subtle nuance of a Brian Wilson production, and so it was that all of us got to work together on something cool, as heard in the space age audio mix Probyn, Darian and Nick conjured up that day.
Probyn was not yet a committed member of The Wondermints, but eventually he’d be part of all the best stuff. I’d met Probyn a few times before, and was impressed with the 1968 bumper sticker he rode around with on his car urging Senator Eugene McCarthy for President of the United States. McCarthy had been the favorite candidate of youth culture after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. This cosmic joke on Probyn’s car was a welcome sight for sore eyes during the Reagan/Thatcher era. Later in 1988, Probyn became the original editor on Look! Listen! Vibrate! SMILE!
Around this time (late ’80s into early ’90s), Darian and Nick began recording what would become some of the favorite songs known by The Wondermints, such as “Tracy Hyde.” I am uncertain how or when they fell upon the name, but I was probably one of the first recipients of the first tape, before a nice, glossy, indie cover (drawn by Darian) had been put on later cassette tapes that were going around. It is my firm belief that Darian Sahanaja could have been a legendary Graphic Designer or Artist had he not gone into music professionally. On that first Wondermints tape, sound effects from the old L.A. TV kids show Hobo Kelly came from a tape that I procured from someone on the lot at Paramount Studios, when I worked there for Hard Copy. These wound up on the song “Libbyland,” a number based on a vibe from our very good mutual friend Eileen Lucero.
These were times when it seemed both Nick and Darian had a bit of difficulty assembling musicians who would join them in a group of some sort. I kept bugging them to “find a drummer.” I had become a bit more out-going than those guys during that moment, having moved from L.A., and becoming part of the underground club scene in both San Diego and San Francisco. All I could do was to offer encouragement. The Los Angeles club scene of the late ’80s was not a good one to socialize in, and it had become nearly impossible to play there for anyone except Hair Metal bands. There was limited space for any kind of band who wanted to do something different than that, and most of that space went to well known, touring, early alternative bands. L.A. was not yet a place you could find people who’d be stoked to join in on a version of “I Know There’s An Answer.”
I’d been seeing how things were done to re-produce a good, vintage sound, working with the type of bands that appeared on It’s Happening, plus having long discussions about sound with people like vintage studio wizards Mark Neill and Dave Doyle, and groups such as the original Big Sandy & the Fly-Rite Trio. I understood that for The Wondermints, it would be a challenge to get their kind of intricate thing on stage. Advanced music, that is, in a studio arrangement way, something that the sound men of late ’80s night clubs in L.A. had no understanding of, whatsoever. In fact, many of them were already beginning to go deaf from all the noise they heard on a nightly basis, for several mind-knumbing years, while Hair Metal had become intent on running everyone else out of Hollywood during the ’80s.
Once a drummer and bass player were found (and with a lineup change now and then), The Wondermints created a pretty savvy way of swerving around the difficulties and uptightness of the “Rock” club scene during the very early ’90s in L.A. First and foremost, they hired a guy named Pete from the San Fernando Valley to be what amounted to a valuable 5th member of their band, a permanent sound guy who The Wondermints would require clubs to work with, to avoid the dictatorial-yet-blown-out ears of so many nightclub sound engineers in town.
The other thing was, The Wondermints found a lonely bar somewhere in the middle of the Valley called The Irish Mist, once owned by Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitching great Don Drysdale as part of his Don Drysdale’s Dugout chain (which reached to Orange County and Hawaii). Irish Mist was a place where nothing was really happening, though The Wondermints were making it a joyous place for the growing number of like-minded early ’90s L.A. record buffs present for band’s early, very loose-knit shows.
There were a few talented individuals in that crowd, and on YouTube you can see an early Wondermints performance backing Lisa Mychols on Keith Green’s Gary Usher-produced “Go Go Getter.” The original record was well loved by The Wondermints (and I) because of the unique guitar sound Richie Podolor got only one other time, on the soundtrack to Ski Party during The Hondells’ “The Gasser.” There was this other time I met a guy at a Wondermints Irish Mist show, he was wearing a Modern Folk Quartet t-shirt. It was arcana such as this that drew a few of the record collecting buffs in town out of their homes and down to see The Wondermints up-close and personal at Irish Mist. Something like a community, away from any other music scenes in L.A., was beginning to happen.
Somewhere in the middle of all this formative stuff, Darian, Nick and I had a mutual “older” friend in Oregon, known later on line as “The Reverend Bob Hanes” but to us… Bob Hanes. I’d met Bob via The Beach Boys Freaks United, which had a Trading Post where a lot of the Beach Boys collector friends had met. The types who traded… those kind of tapes. Bob was a classic old hippie type who never sold out to Yuppiedom and acceptance of Ronald Reagan. His vigilance of the tape trading circuit and the Beach Boys out-takes that might or might not be floating around was pinpoint accurate, as was his understanding of the creative situations that surrounded each session. He was the experts’ expert, and Bob came from the old school, before anyone really cared to chronicle the Beach Boys studio results so clinically. He did this totally outside of the realm of official connection to the band called The Beach Boys.
In the end, Bob created perhaps the most important link to Darian Sahanaja, Nick Walusko and Probyn Gregory becoming the motivating force behind what became the Brian Wilson band that would tour Pet Sounds for two straight years, then Smile for two straight years. Quite an accomplishment, let alone the 20-odd years of Brian Wilson tours and albums The Wondermints have been a part of.
Bob Hanes wasn’t a record business anything, but he did have a lot of friends in Pacific Northwest Rock ’n’ Roll radio. I spent numerous hours telling Bob about these guys I’d met in L.A. who really got it the way Bob and I did about The Beach Boys, and Brian Wilson’s role within the band during the ’60s. One thing lead to another, and tapes of the Eugene Landy-directed Sweet Insanity album began to show up. We were, to be sure, disappointed in what we heard, compared to the Brian Wilson debut solo album that had appeared in 1988. But between all the smoke I was blowing at Bob about Nick and Darian, the Reverend came up with a stunningly beautiful idea; he would finance a solo single by Darian Sahanaja, featuring a Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!!) re-arrangement of the discofied Sweet Insanity out-take “Do You Have Any Regrets.” Darian had recognized this as a really great composition by Brian Wilson, belabored by an insidious yacht-rock arrangement that was clearly Landy’s idea.
The 45 r.p.m. record Bob pressed up from Darian’s homemade tape had a photo-machine grain to its record sleeve presentation, but it was cute, and the goods were in the wax. Bob sent it around to some of his DJ friends in the Pacific Northwest; meanwhile, I brought it to my friend Rodney Bingenheimer, then still a somewhat influential DJ at KROQ in Los Angeles. Rodney had been the first commercial-frequency DJ to play Punk Rock regularly on his radio show, beginning in 1977, and was known for breaking big acts including Blondie and many others coming out of the Punk and New Wave idiom.
By the early ’90s Rodney’s freewheeling style had been cut back greatly by KROQ, but he was still able to do things, and play regularly “Do You Have Any Regrets,” he did. This was a real first breakthrough and following that, outside of making their own records, The Wondermints would become the band playing on the closing theme to the Austin Powers movie that was a huge hit during the mid ’90s. After Brian Wilson hired The Wondermints, they were heard backing Brian on his theme for the radio show “Rodney on the Roq,” so it all swung well over time.
But that’s getting ahead of the story. Right around then, a friend I’d met in 1990 through record business stuff, Andrew Sandoval, told me about a sing-a-long tribute to Brian Wilson he was co-hosting and organizing at the home of a guy named Paul Rock. The venture would go under the name Wild Honey. It would be a living-room-based party/event with some very talented local musicians. Knowing most of these people would be singing late ’60s/early ’70s Beach Boys numbers, I offered to sing three numbers from the early ’60s that I knew no one else would be doing. The idea was, I’d bring these friends of mine along who would back me up. So it was, that I finagled Darian, Nick and the one of the cool guitar players from a great surf instrumental band called The Finks (Dionysus Records), Gregg Hunt, to play behind me. I’m not a good singer or anything, but I made it through “Noble Surfer,” “Little Miss America” and “Surfers Rule” backed by Nick, Darian and Gregg. I was really just goofing around with friends, but the backing was really good. Anyway, from there, I introduced Darian and Nick to that bunch from Wild Honey, and the last thing I remember from that night was a mutual friend named Scott suggesting we all go to Pop’s Chock-Lit Shoppe afterwards. Most of us were thinking, “Wait, where is that?” Of course, it was the Drive-In depicted in The Archies. Surrealism did exist.
A new kind of thing was beginning to happen in L.A. during the early ’90s, including other, more roots-oriented clubs like The King King and Blue Saloon, alternative rock joint Jabberjaw and an entire move away from Hollywood by the alternative music crowd to the Silver Lake, Los Feliz and Echo Park areas of town. The art space Soap Plant/Wacko/La Luz de Jesus moved from Melrose to the East side of Sunset Boulevard near Tiki Ti. Spaceland opened up in Silver Lake in 1995 and became ground zero for a revived Los Angeles music scene that was entirely contrary to what happened during the late ’80s on the West Side. The Wondermints played Spaceland often.
To be honest, I myself rarely lived in L.A. during that period, only 1991 and six months in late ’93 and early ’94. I moved away in October 1988, one month after releasing Look! Listen! Vibrate! SMILE! That, too, was an effort both Darian and Nick helped with, Darian re-structuring the vintage 1890s Los Angeles Times logo to instead say The Dumb Angel Gazette, then tweaking it with a “framed” David Anderle 1966 painting of Brian Wilson with “Is This Brian’s Soul?” printed out in Latin.
By Spring 1994 I was living in San Francisco and paying attention to all this from afar, making the 6-hour drive down to L.A. for things that would be good… not to miss.
Meanwhile, the second living room Beach Boys sing-a-long would be no sing-a-long at all, but rather a real show in a real hall, The Morgan-Wixon Theater in Santa Monica. This show went under the Wild Honey moniker and with Brian Wilson himself performing three songs (!) Andy Paley, who had helped Brian Wilson make that great 1988 album, assembled some of his friends to play behind Brian. Andrew Sandoval and Paul Rock really turned the tribute around in a year and got a lot of great artists to play, including Apples in Stereo, Alex Chilton and many others, with a very memorable version of “Sail on Sailor” done by Victoria Williams that evening. There were too many great moments to remember them all, but hey, it all went down on tape, so its documented material.
The Wondermints played without me there that night (thank Jah), and it was no lark. After an opening number, the band broke into “That’s Not Me,” now a built-up arrangement from what I’d heard played by Nick and Darian on the floor, or on the school-project version of It’s Happening. This may have been the best performance of “That’s Not Me” anywhere to date, when you come to think of it. I recall Darian saying at the time that the whole thing had come full circle. The Wondermints then knocked it out of the park by following with “Surf’s Up”. Brian Wilson, accompanied by Rodney Bingenheimer backstage, turned to Rodney and said to him; “If I’d had those guys in 1966, I could have toured Smile.” In all seriousness.
I had made the introduction of The Wondermints to Rodney Bingenheimer for the KROQ airplay, and so it was a natural for Rodney to then introduce Brian Wilson to the band backstage at the Morgan-Wixon Theater. David Leaf, who had been organizing many things for Brian Wilson in that just-post-Landy period, was also in the audience, primarily because Brian was there; he was not notably a fan of Punk, New Wave or Alternative music. Rodney had known David Leaf since way back in the ’70s, however, and I had been telling David about The Wondermints for years with… little interest. However, on this night, when Rodney and Brian Wilson re-introduced David to The Wondermints, everything seemed to be falling into place.
Brian’s band that evening had been assembled by Andy Paley, who himself understood the Brian Wilson feel. The hired friends backing Brian were professional, but had no real understanding or feel for the intricacy or style of his music. This lead to a very sterile live band sound behind Brian Wilson at that second Wild Honey event.
But now things were changing. Fast. The Wondermints continued to play for a few years, made more records and appeared in a full-page spread in Rolling Stone. Eventually the band became known as the motivating force behind more than 20 years of very-satisfying solo tours by Brian Wilson, including a Pet Sounds, Smile and eventually Friends/Surf’s Up tour.
Darian Sahanaja’s direct work with Brian Wilson to bring Smile to the live concert stage at Royal Festival Hall – an event filmed by David Leaf – was the culmination of several years of Darian, Nick and I discovering the tapes so long ago and trying to figure out all the logic behind its musical creation.
Trust that there was a lot of resistance from people in the Beach Boys community during the Reagan years to the “crazy” and “drug-addled” work from 1966 and 1967. One of the eventual Grammy-winning engineers for The Beach Boys Smile Sessions box set in 2011 had previously called Smile “a mess” when I suggested something be done about its release X amount of years ago. Opposed to that kind of thinking, the 1980s results of this mental collaboration between Darian, Nick and myself wound up resulting in what was read by many new fans in 1988’s Look! Listen! Vibrate! SMILE! Darian later on brought those discoveries to the table when the time came for Brian Wilson to guide Smile to a contemporary finish in 2004.
So really it was a rebellious thing, opposing resistance to Smile, then, my bringing these people together, through tape trading, through research, through a social attitude of inclusion rather than exclusivity, which I have brought with me since I grew up in a liberal New York family (now living in California) during the ’60s. I met Darian and Nick, then Probyn, and brought them together with Peter Whitfield from England, Bob Hanes from Oregon, Rodney Bingenheimer from KROQ, Andrew Sandoval and Paul Rock from Wild Honey and eventually through all that, David Leaf, who finally caught up with what I’d been telling him about The Wondermints for years. Through Brian (and Rodney), David then facilitated The Wondermints coming into the official Brian Wilson fold, after Brian had wisecracked to Rodney that he could have “toured Smile back in ’66” with these guys.
In 1990 I’d sat with David Leaf and Melinda Ledbetter to watch Brian perform during the Landy period one afternoon in Rancho Park, and suffered through a less-than-competent backing that had been put together (via Landy) behind a man too great for the condescending attitudes that type of mainstream “Rock” musician had for “Beach Boys” music.
The Wondermints really did save the day, and it was a meticulous, hustling process to get them from living room to the main stage. Encouragement for this and that over time was met by Darian, Nick and Probyn with a sense of belief, yet most importantly, the talent and intelligence to pull off something special, something accurate in musical presentation, something not mediocre, something delivered with soul… a true love and understanding of Brian Wilson’s complex musical intricacies. Meeting Darian Sahanaja and Nick Walusko in 1984 lead to a lot of things, actually, including many good times and laughs. Every once in a while, we still help each other pull some strings or think things through behind the scenes of the scene itself.