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Author Topic: The Day the BBs Rocked MHS, Oklahoma 1969  (Read 1941 times)
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« on: June 06, 2017, 09:03:00 AM »

By James Beaty, Managing Editor
June 4, 2017

When McAlester High School students were suddenly summoned to an unexpected assembly at S. Arch Thompson Auditorium one morning in April 1969, a special musical surprise awaited them.

One of the biggest bands, not just in the United States, but in the world, stood behind the curtains onstage, ready to perform a special free mini-concert, especially for them.

The Beach Boys were in McAlester — though not a lot of people knew it.

At the time, The Beach Boys had just released their 15th studio album, “20/20.” A single from the album, “Do It Again,” provided them with a comeback of sorts, one of many in their spangled career. The followup, “I Can Hear Music,” also hit the charts — giving the band a couple of much-needed hits during an era when the counter-culture was in full flower-power.

David Roth, a high school junior at the time, remembers a day that started in the classroom just like any other.

“They announced on our school intercom there was going to be a surprise assembly,” Roth recalled. Like the other students, he entered S. Arch Thompson Auditorium and took a seat. The auditorium buzzed with students wondering about the reason for the sudden assembly.

“Then they opened the curtains and there stood The Beach Boys,” Roth recalled. “Everyone was surprised.”

He still remembers how he felt to suddenly see one of the world’s most popular bands standing on the stage of S. Arch Thompson Auditorium — all without any advance notice to the students.

“It was a mixture of shock and disbelief,” Roth said. “I thought ‘Can that really be The Beach Boys?”  Roth, who is a talented musician and extraordinary guitarist himself, knew what the Beach Boys looked like. It really was them, he surmised.

As the students overcame their initial surprise, they gave the band an excited, rousing ovation.

Those inside the S. Arch Thompson Auditorium that day were about to learn how impressive The Beach Boys can be in live performance — even with the bare minimum in musical equipment.

The band members utilized the S. Arch Thompson Auditorium’s sound system for the show. I remember they used a few smaller amplifiers. They also used the school’s regular piano set on the auditorium stage— nothing like the massive banks of equipment bands use these days. The band members must have left most their regular touring stage equipment at a more central location to avoid unloading everything for a high school assembly program.

That wouldn’t be a problem, though. This would be a sort of “Beach Boys unplugged” performance.

Each of The Beach Boys stepped to his preferred spot onstage. Carl Wilson, the lead guitarist; drummer Dennis Wilson, rhythm guitarist Al Jardine and singer, Mike Love. All of the Beach Boys, of course, sang. In addition to their stacked four and five-part harmony vocals, they all were also capable of singing solo as well.

At the time Brian Wilson, the group’s songwriting and production genius as well as its bass guitarist, had stopped touring, preferring to stay home and write songs. He was replaced in the touring band by Bruce Johnston — who continues to play and record with the Beach Boys to this day. Johnston took a seat at the S. Arch Thompson piano for the MHS assembly.

The performance

The familiar bass and snare drumbeat that served as the intro to one of their latest hits, “Do It Again,” suddenly sounded through the auditorium. Then, the full band kicked in, with Mike Love singing the lead verses. In the song the band reminisced about their earlier days. The auditorium rocked as Love sang of “Suntanned bodies and waves of sunshine, California girls and a beautiful coastline, warmed-up weather, let’s get together and do it again.” Carl Wilson chimed in on falsetto on the chorus and ripped out a funky lead guitar solo.

Judging by the ovation, many of those in the packed auditorium were ready to accept the invitation invoked in the song’s title.

The set list included “I Get Around”  — the first single by an American group to reach number one on the charts after the Beatles and the other English bands who were part of the British Invasion hit American shores in 1964. The Beach Boys  also performed a rollicking version of “California Girls.”

One of the performance’s high points proved to be a rendition of the band’s then-new single, “I Can Hear Music.”

It almost wasn’t included in the MHS performance. With “I Can Hear Music” a radio hit at the time, some of the students began yelling for the band to perform the song almost as soon as they began playing. Carl Wilson sang lead on the song, a cover version of a number originally recorded by the Ronnettes.

“I remember people shouting for it,” Roth said. “Carl (Wilson) said ‘It’s too early in the morning to hit the high notes.”’

As soon as the band played a couple of songs though, he had a change of heart and the band performed a resplendent version of “I Can Hear Music.”

“After they got warmed up, they did it and they did it really good,” Roth recalled. “Carl had such a beautiful singing voice.”

Both “Do It Again” and “I Can Hear Music” hit the top 20 on the music charts, helping provide a resurgence at the time in the Beach Boys’ storied career.

Near the end of the brief concert the band members stepped away from their instruments and gathered in a circle around a single microphone to sing a stunning a cappella version of “A Young Man Is Gone” — proving they could replicate their five-part harmony sound in a live setting without any studio tricks.

Larry Jiles, a Hartshorne student, managed to attend the concert after learning The Beach Boys were going to play in McAlester.

“It was a once in a lifetime chance to hear some living legends,” he said. 

“They were the smoothest-sounding band I’d ever heard in my life. I couldn’t believe how good they sounded with the small amplifiers they’d brought. It was amazing how smooth they sounded with that equipment.”

How it happened

So how did one of the biggest bands in the world come to play two free concerts in McAlester? The Beach Boys came to the city because of the actions of then-Lt. Gov. George Nigh, who, of course went on to become governor of Oklahoma.

The Beach Boys were in McAlester on April 13, 1969, not specifically to perform for MHS students but for another reason — to play a concert before inmates at Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

Johnny Cash had released his live “At Folsom Prison” album a year earlier, with the album shooting to number one on the country charts and number 15 on the pop charts. The success of Cash’s prison album generated interest from other singers and bands who wanted to perform in prison settings as well.

Nigh said someone he knew had gone to California and wound up working as an associate of The Beach Boys. The associate made a call from Hollywood and contacted Nigh at the lieutenant governor’s office.

“He called me and asked if I could arrange for The Beach Boys to play in McAlester,” Nigh said in regard to the request to play at OSP.

Nigh said he thought he could make arrangements and he did.

“They were really excited about it,” Nigh said.

At the time, Nigh was state chairman of the Youth Decency Committee, which had chapters in Tulsa and McAlester. When The Beach Boys came to McAlester to perform at OSP, Nigh asked them if they would consider also playing a special assembly for McAlester High School students.

They agreed — giving the assembled students and staff the musical gift of a lifetime.

“It meant a great deal to the kids. It meant a great deal to McAlester,” Nigh recently told the News-Capital.

“They came to McAlester free of charge. As I travel this state, I’ll see people who will say ‘Hi, you don’t remember me, but I was in high school when The Beach Boys came.”

At OSP The Beach Boys performed their concert outside in the same arena that was used for the annual OSP Prison Rodeo. Nigh said it allowed a more secure environment for the concert.

How big were The Beach Boys during that era? Just two years earlier, in 1966, British music fans voted The Beach Boys the number one vocal group in the world — ahead of England’s own bands, such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

Although I attended Hartshorne High School,  I also was able to attend the concert, thanks to my mother, Stella Jiles, a writer for The McAlester Democrat. Through her newspaper connections she had advance knowledge of the impending, top-secret event.  As soon as I heard about the pending concert, I begged my mother to try and get me in, since The Beach Boys were — and still are — one of my favorite bands.

 As usual, mom found a way.

She asked her former basketball coach, Dr. Finis Sandlin, who had since become an administrator at McAlester Public Schools, if there was any way we could attend the show.

He said “Yes,”  — and we could bring 10 friends!

On the morning of the show we climbed into cars and headed to McAlester.

Like many of the others, I felt amazed that The Beach Boys sounded so fantastic live, using the bare minimum equipment. Even as they played I wondered how they would replicate the organ break on “I Get Around.” Not to worry, Carl Wilson on guitar joined with Bruce Johntson on the piano to present a sound slightly different than the recorded version, but just as good.

Roth had a similar impression.

“I remember they were great,” he said. Replicating those unique harmonies on the S. Arch Thompson Auditorium stage proved no problem for The Beach Boys.

“Even then I was good about hearing when someone sang off-key,” Roth said. “It was a flawless performance.”

After the concert

Roth had a close encounter with Mike Love following the concert.

“He was coming out of the stage door. There was some people behind him and he was turned around talking. He ran into me; I didn’t run into him. He was a little flustered,” Roth said.

Roth, not missing the opportunity, asked Love to sign a paper on his clipboard. He said Love graciously complied.

After the concert, as I left S. Arch Thompson Auditorium, I noticed some limousines pulled up and parked next to the curb along Adams Avenue, with drivers waiting to give the various Beach Boys a ride back to their plane.

I spotted one limo with Carl and Dennis Wilson inside. I went up to it and leaned down against a passenger door with a rolled-down window next to Carl Wilson. I spoke a few words with the Wilson brothers, telling them how much I liked their performances and thanking them for coming to McAlester.

They were friendly, soft-spoken. Never did I get a sense that they wished this kid would leave them alone.

I, and, I’m sure, lots of others in the audience that day, felt glad The Beach Boys had chosen McAlester to “Do It Again.”

Contact James Beaty at


Photo of Bruce and Al that goes with the story above:
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« Reply #1 on: June 06, 2017, 09:23:00 AM »

Very cool. Click on this link to a post I made here back in 2013 with archival photos from the OK historical society showing the school concert, the prison show, and other events from that week:,15038.0.html

Here are some from that post:

First, this is a rush job so apologies in advance for any typos, mistakes, or if this photo collection has already been posted on the board somewhere else. I was excited to find these and get some other sets of eyes on them! If these have been seen before, or cause any issues, let me know immediately.

Beach Boys gold has been found in Oklahoma.  Smiley

After the Ida B 1964 video surfaced, I did some further researching and searching, and came up with a photo archive from the same Oklahoma historical society which made available the Ida B film archives. And lo and behold, there was a collection of just over two dozen Beach Boys photos from their visit there in April 1969! I had never seen these, I hope that is the same for the other fans reading this post.

These seem to come from a few sources, one is a photographer from the OK parks service (or something...), another is former Oklahoma governor and then-lieutenant governor George Nigh who is actually in quite a few of the photos and somewhat resembles Glen Campbell), and others are from a photographer from a long-gone area newspaper.

According to Andrew's concert date listings, The Beach Boys were in Oklahoma on April 13, 1969, which was a Sunday. They made at least four appearances, and I believe at least three of them if not all four can be seen in the photos.

Also, according to a report from a fan who was there, The Beach Boys played at the "S. Arch Thompson Auditorium" at the McAlester (OK) High School, and that show according to that fan started at 8:30 in the morning. They invited the band and the band actually showed up, as innocent as that according to that fan's memory.

From Andrew's list, still on that same Sunday 4/13/69, the Boys played at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester, and those photos are the more obvious to ID of the lot. Then there was a stop at the Children's Memorial Hospital - again, not too difficult to ID those - and a "Decency Rally" that seems to have been pulled together by or involving Lt. Gov. Nigh. That rally was reported the next day in the local papers (issue dated Monday April 14 '69) as having had a successful turnout.

I'll post the photos grouped as best as I can by the location or event, and the ones which are unknown I'm hoping someone can ID. This again shows what a valuable and great resource BB's fans have with Andrew's gig and timeline resources - Thanks! And all of these came from the Oklahoma Historical Society, where I believe you can purchase or license the non-watermarked versions of these for official publication.

These I believe to be from the 8:30am high school gig:

Photos from the penitentiary at McAlester:

Possibly from the Children's Hospital:

Unknown, possibly the Decency Rally or more shots from the other events:


"All of us have the privilege of making music that helps and heals - to make music that makes people happier, stronger, and kinder. Don't forget: Music is God's voice." - Brian Wilson
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« Reply #2 on: June 13, 2017, 09:46:14 AM »

Great stuff, guys. Thank you!

Johnny Cash had released his live “At Folsom Prison” album a year earlier, with the album shooting to number one on the country charts and number 15 on the pop charts. The success of Cash’s prison album generated interest from other singers and bands who wanted to perform in prison settings as well.

Didn't they play the prisons because of an agreement they had regarding Carl's refusal to join the army?

a diseased bunch of mo'fos if there ever was one… their beauty is so awesome that listening to them at their best is like being in some vast dream cathedral decorated with a thousand gleaming American pop culture icons.

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To sum it up, they blew it, they blew it consistently, they continue to blow it, it is tragic and this pathological problem caused The Beach Boys' greatest music to be so underrated by the general public.

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