It was 1965 and I was thumbing through my parents’ 45 rpm vinyl collection when I came upon an orange and yellow-labeled record that caught my eye.
I put it on the record player and for the next few minutes was enthralled by the sweet harmonies, sounds that I had never before heard in my young life.
The song was “The Little Girl I Once Knew” by the Beach Boys. I was 6 years old. And I was hooked on that sound for life.
That was nearly 50 years ago. One of the voices coming off that record was that of Al Jardine, who along with Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Carl Wilson and Dennis Wilson co-founded the Beach Boys.
The story of the Beach Boys is well documented. So when I heard Al Jardine’s voice on the other end of the phone this week, I wondered what questions I could possibly ask him that he hasn’t already been asked many times over in his career.
Jardine, as he has several times in the past, is joining Brian Wilson for three upcoming shows in California: this Saturday, Sept. 27, at the Vina Robles Ampitheatre in Paso Robles; Oct. 9 at the Mary Stuart Theatre in Modesto; and Oct. 11 at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach. (That show is already sold out but tickets remain for the other two.)
It wasn’t the first time I had talked with Al. As a newspaper reporter and editor for 38 years, I interviewed him first in 2006 to preview a series of shows he was doing with Brian on the 40th anniversary of the release of the “Pet Sounds” album. I actually got to meet Al and Brian after one of those show at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, PA.
We spoke once again for a story before the the kick off of the Beach Boys 50th anniversary tour in 2012 and then again that same year for a story on Al’s solo album “A Postcard From California.”
For these three California shows, though, it’s going to be mostly a celebration of the Beach Boys.
“We’re going to cover three different eras, I think: the early stuff; the middle era, the 1970s, which is turning out to be my favorite era; and the 1980s material,” said Jardine.
“It will be primarily Beach Boys music. I don’t do my personal stuff and Brian doesn’t do much of his personal stuff either because we’re really celebrating the Beach Boys. Believe it or not, that’s who we are.”
Al deadpanned the “that’s who we are” line and added a little snicker for emphasis. Like there is anybody left on the the planet who doesn’t know that the Beach Boys are the Beach Boys. In other words, they’re not likely to try and be something they’re not.
But they never have.
The rest of the interview was more of a conversation, like two guys sitting around at a backyard barbecue, lifting a few cold ones and shooting the breeze about music, their families and life in general. Two guys in Hawaiian shirts, of course.
I told him I really liked the song “San Simeon” off his solo album. It very Beach Boys-ish. Go figure.
“America (Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley) does such a great job on that song. It has an authenticity to it. My son Adam did a great job on it, too. He’s the one singing that real pretty deep reverb that goes into echo. He doesn’t get much credit because there are such big names on the album (Brian and the rest of the Beach Boys, Glen Campbell, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Steve Miller, among others). But he came up with that part. I have to give him all the credit,” said Jardine.
With no disrespect to The Mystics, who were the first to record it, I told Al that I thought the Beach Boys version of “Hushabye” – covered on their 1964 album “All Summer Long” – was better than the original. And that when Al’s son Matt joined the Beach Boys in the 1990s and took over the high lead on that song, I thought he did a great job with it.
“Yea, Matt can really sing. He nailed that song,” he said. Spoken like a proud father.
The conversation then turned to the 1970s. “That’s my wife’s favorite era of music. She educates me every day to it on Sirius Radio,” said Jardine. And then to the 1972 Beach Boys album, “Carl and the Passions – So Tough,” on which Al shares songwriting credit on two cuts: with Carl and Mike on “All This Is That” and with Brian and Mike on “He Come Down.”
“That is an amazing song. I can’t believe it’s us,” said Al of “He Come Down.” “It was a meditation song, and it turned into some kind of a spiritual. And it’s really good. Somebody ought to cover that thing. I should probably talk to Brian about that.”
We rounded out the conversation transitioning from music to the environment, specifically talking about recycling. Al is a longtime environmental advocate and a big recycling proponent.
“I start preaching on stuff like recycling. I drive everyone crazy with it. I probably should write a song called ‘The Recycle Man,’” he said.
Jardine is working on a couple of solo projects that he’s not ready to detail yet, but he’ still having a lot of fun doing what he’s doing and teaming up with Brian yet again.
“Just to be able to go down to the studio and work up a new song – or even an old song – is fun,” he said. “When it stops being fun is when you should stop doing it. But I’m looking forward to working with Brian on these next three shows. That’s always a gas.”
Just like it’s always a gas to talk to Al Jardine. Nothing heavy, just one Rock and Roll Hall of Famer talking about music with a guy who has been writing about it for years.
For a moment, I considered pulling my Hawaiian shirt out of the closet – the one with the surfboards on it that my wife hates – and throwing it on just to try and extend the summer for another day.
Instead, after I hung up the phone with Al, I went over to my vinyl collection, thumbed through the 45s, and pulled out “The Little Girl I Once Knew,” put it on the turntable and drifted right back to 1965.
It sounds as sweet today as it did nearly 50 years ago.