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664538 Posts in 26635 Topics by 3819 Members - Latest Member: Occasional grilled cheese December 02, 2020, 07:49:40 AM
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Author Topic: Musicianship of each of the Beach Boys?  (Read 2102 times)
HeyJude
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« Reply #25 on: November 20, 2020, 01:56:07 PM »

I always go back to a quote I remember from Clapton from some years back talking about George Harrison. I'm of course paraphrasing, but he basically said that Harrison *could have* been as good (or I suppose more skilled/busy, whatever you want to call it) as Clapton or Hendrix or others if he had wanted. The idea being, some people are so musical that they can probably achieve some pretty great things on a musical instrument if they take the time or want to. Clapton was saying that George had no interest in going that route.

This is obviously an oversimplification, but I think I would easily say this is largely true. Whether Harrison could have been literally as good as a given other play or not, he could have been much "better" (again, more about being busy/higher skill level) if he had wanted to.

I think this is true of most of the Beach Boys as well. I think the Wilson brothers and also Dave and Al Jardine had so much music running through them, through their souls, that Al or Carl could have picked up a guitar and made themselves play at a higher skill level if they had wanted to and put their mind to it. I'd even include Bruce; if he hadn't been going after very specific, often not ideal career/commercial goals, he could have been even better as well. I think Dennis could have done the same. Brian even as well.

I think because it was their choice in life, and also because they were, again, all *song* people and *vocal* people more than musicians, they chose to channel themselves into those things. Sure, boredom and laziness and complacency were factors to varying degrees as well.

But, while I'm a realist about their expressed talents, I also have no problem believing they could have been even more skilled musicians if they had cared to. Maybe it was supposed to happen the way it was. Maybe Carl Wilson was always meant to be singing and arranging rather than spending years trying to sound like Hendrix or whatever.
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patsy6
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« Reply #26 on: November 20, 2020, 06:33:53 PM »

Okay, now take everything that everyone here has said about each Beach Boy's musicianship, and then add to it the fact that when they were on tour (especially in the early years) they not only played their instruments at least competently, but they sang infinitely intricate four part or sometimes even five part harmony...at the same time.  As a musician myself, that is astonishing.
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Lonely Summer
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« Reply #27 on: November 20, 2020, 09:30:58 PM »

I think George Harrison is one of the best guitarists ever - so I assume people saying things like "he could have been better" refers to playing fast. In the early days of the Fabs, he was a great Carl Perkins style guitarist; then he became obsessed with sitar for a couple years and lost interest in guitar. When he got back to guitar in 68, he improved greatly, especially playing slide. I don't know of anyone before him playing slide guitar that played melodic, beautiful stuff - anyone else picking up a slide wanted to play blues. I've heard one other guy that played a similar style in the 70's, a British guy named Bryn Haworth. His own records never sold much, but some people may have heard him playing on records by Cliff Richard and Gerry Rafferty.
I don't think Carl played particularly fast, either, but watch him playing God Only Knows - what are those chord inversions? That is really complex stuff that requires just the right touch on guitar, otherwise it sounds messy or sloppy. IIRC, he played bass on a couple songs on his first solo album, too; and organ.
But do I wish Carl had spent more time improving as a guitar player, at the expense of his vocals? No way.
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Tom
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« Reply #28 on: November 20, 2020, 10:26:17 PM »

Apart from writing and vocals, I also think sonic exploration was very important to them. Brian didn't care if a part was simple or complex - he just wanted it to sound new and exciting in some way. The piano parts on the Wild Honey album are very simple to play, but sonically completely unique and immersive.
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All Summer Long
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« Reply #29 on: November 22, 2020, 11:06:03 AM »

I think Carlís guitar playing is underrated, and I think he underestimated his ability to play lead on later recordings. He did it well on Itís About Time, LPR, FF, Marcella (I assume), Sail On Sailor, Roller Skating Child (most likely), some of Dennisí solo stuff (I havenít really listened to a lot of it yet), and Itís A Beautiful Day (I probably still missed some, too).
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c-man
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« Reply #30 on: November 22, 2020, 05:37:39 PM »

I think Carlís guitar playing is underrated, and I think he underestimated his ability to play lead on later recordings. He did it well on Itís About Time, LPR, FF, Marcella (I assume), Sail On Sailor, Roller Skating Child (most likely), some of Dennisí solo stuff (I havenít really listened to a lot of it yet), and Itís A Beautiful Day (I probably still missed some, too).

The steel guitar solo on "Marcella" is Tony Martin (the studio version, that is - live it was done by Ricky Fataar). But Carl still played a lot of great, fuzzy guitar lines on that record! And yeah, I think you nailed the other ones. "Holy Man" is one of Dennis' with Carl on lead guitar.
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adamghost
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« Reply #31 on: November 23, 2020, 08:14:08 PM »

I'll tell you what will make you appreciate Carl's talents: get in a tribute band and try playing the "Sloop John B" figure while holding down a vocal part.

It's not shredding, but most musicians can't do that. Clapton probably couldn't (though maybe he could).

Same goes for the bass line on that track for that matter. I remember "being Brian" with some tribute band and reaching for that high F while holding that bass part down and I swear I teleported to Jupiter in so doing.
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guitarfool2002
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« Reply #32 on: November 24, 2020, 10:12:43 AM »

My opinions have been changing and morphing over the decades to where I think judging musicianship between individual musicians is such a relative thing, it's not possible to make a fair comparison when taking a specific musician out of their specific role either within a song or within a band. Everyone brings their own voice to the table, and everyone when given a role to play may very well be the only musician who could fill that role.

I also feel like if a musician created or played a part which millions heard, enjoyed, and are still singing along with or talking about decades later, that musician did something right and would qualify as a "good" musician, no matter what skill or ability they had beyond that specific role. If you are a musician who plays something that creates a sound which millions connect with, you're good...damn good...and you did something which a majority of musicians of all skill levels have not done. Anyone with musical skill can copy and adapt, while few can create something with longevity or lasting power that other musicians learn and copy.

I'll take it to the extreme for one of my favorites. Meg White. Could Meg White sit in any band or artist? Perhaps not, strictly on a skill and musicianship basis. But when you listen to "Seven Nation Army", or a killer groove like "Ball And Biscuit" especially when that one kicks into overdrive, consider how many top drummers would have that same feel and power for those songs. They might overplay, or put something in that would collapse the mood and groove. For those songs with Jack White, Meg was *the* drummer, and I can't hear White Stripes songs the same without that groove. That to me is a good drummer even if she doesn't play Billy Cobham or Jeff Porcaro grooves.

I feel the same about Ringo. One of my favorites if not my favorite. No one else could have filled the role Ringo did. What's interesting too is how in recent years Ringo has been getting a lot more praise and cred as a musician than he had in the 70's or 80's, outside the core musician circles who knew better. When Jim Keltner describes in detail how and why Ringo was an innovator and one of the greats, you have to listen to what that man says.

Bringing it back to the Beach Boys, there's Dennis Wilson. The way he played, especially live, was something not technical to where he could sit in with Zappa's band in the mid-70's, but he had a power and a drive in his playing that was brilliant coming from those stages.

Same with the other Beach Boys, like Carl on guitar. Could he play like Van Halen in his prime? No. But that wasn't his role. If Carl had to sit in with Van Halen, would he come up with a guitar part that worked for that scenario and fit the song or songs? Absolutely, no doubt. Would Eddie Van Halen sit in with the Beach Boys and do something great with them? Absolutely, no doubt. But there are two musicians who filled specific roles within their bands, and did what they did to where millions still listen and sing along to their parts. Yet, both as musicians are far apart in terms of their skill sets.

So after all that, I think it's a very relative thing to judge musicianship especially in the popular music bag, because unlike classical musicians it mostly involves musicians creating new parts and techniques rather than interpreting or copying existing works. Just for the record, some recent favorites and repeated listens in the past year have been John Frusciante, The White Stripes, Hank Garland, Tom Morello, the aformentioned Ringo, Steve Jordan, Zappa's 66-71 Mothers lineups, Van Halen in the Roth era, and my constant go-to The Monkees. Some virtuoso, some just musicians doing their own things and making  long-lasting, compelling music. It's impossible to judge any of them against the others in terms of musicianship unless you strip away the very things that made them unique and judge them on sight-reading or whether they could play a polyrhythmic groove in 7/8 on demand. Not my bag lol.
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"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
c-man
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« Reply #33 on: November 24, 2020, 11:25:52 AM »

I'll tell you what will make you appreciate Carl's talents: get in a tribute band and try playing the "Sloop John B" figure while holding down a vocal part.

It's not shredding, but most musicians can't do that. Clapton probably couldn't (though maybe he could).

Same goes for the bass line on that track for that matter. I remember "being Brian" with some tribute band and reaching for that high F while holding that bass part down and I swear I teleported to Jupiter in so doing.

That's what I mean when I mentioned Al's acoustic guitar/vocal performance of "SJB" on that radio program in '83. It's been years since I've heard it, and the part he was playing might not have been the exact part that Carl played live, but it was definitely a picked arpeggio part, and he sang it while playing it. Maybe it wasn't the entire song, but not having noticed much guitar-wise from Al previously, I was definitely impressed that he could do that. EDIT: the acoustic guitar arpeggio on "Lookin' At Tomorrow" is Al, and presumably that on the intro to "Santa Ana Winds" is as well. Obviously he added his vocal parts to those after first laying down the guitar parts, so a little bit different scenarios - but still impressive picking!
« Last Edit: November 24, 2020, 11:53:49 AM by c-man » Logged
maggie
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« Reply #34 on: November 27, 2020, 10:11:02 AM »

I'll tell you what will make you appreciate Carl's talents: get in a tribute band and try playing the "Sloop John B" figure while holding down a vocal part.

It's not shredding, but most musicians can't do that. Clapton probably couldn't (though maybe he could).

Same goes for the bass line on that track for that matter. I remember "being Brian" with some tribute band and reaching for that high F while holding that bass part down and I swear I teleported to Jupiter in so doing.

That's what I mean when I mentioned Al's acoustic guitar/vocal performance of "SJB" on that radio program in '83. It's been years since I've heard it, and the part he was playing might not have been the exact part that Carl played live, but it was definitely a picked arpeggio part, and he sang it while playing it. Maybe it wasn't the entire song, but not having noticed much guitar-wise from Al previously, I was definitely impressed that he could do that. EDIT: the acoustic guitar arpeggio on "Lookin' At Tomorrow" is Al, and presumably that on the intro to "Santa Ana Winds" is as well. Obviously he added his vocal parts to those after first laying down the guitar parts, so a little bit different scenarios - but still impressive picking!

That's all just the basic folk-revival fingerpicking stuff that was Al's musical foundation (Kingston Trio, etc.) There's not much technical challenge in it. For example, Leonard Cohen and Joan Baez played parts that are at least that intricate on their '60s recordings, and neither of them is considered a very impressive guitarist (though I think they are both underrated in that respect).

I think Al was a pretty damn good bassist, but his guitar playing is simply functional. True of most of the boys on most of their instruments, except for Carl (one of the greatest surf guitarists) and Dennis (no master, but one of the most exciting drummers of his era).

As for Bruce, I don't know that I buy that he was some kind of virtuoso, but his Old Grey Whistle Test solo performance of "Disney Girls" is more impressive than I had given him credit for. He reharmonizes the song in an interesting way. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4m5SfdZ_n4
« Last Edit: November 27, 2020, 10:12:16 AM by maggie » Logged
All Summer Long
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« Reply #35 on: November 27, 2020, 09:28:47 PM »

Lately, because of Feel Flows, I wonder about Bruceís mandolin skills. Did Ed Carter or someone else teach him how to play the intro he wanted for Disney Girls and thatís all he knew? Or is something else hiding there?
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adamghost
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« Reply #36 on: November 28, 2020, 10:46:13 AM »

It's an interesting question about Bruce's musicianship.

Jerry Cole once went on and on to me about encountering Bruce in the early '60s and being blown away by his musicianship, and he actually mentioned his guitar playing which I raised a serious eyebrow at, to the point of confirming that "you're talking about Bruce Johnston, right?"

I highly doubt Jerry's recollection was 100% accurate but he went out of his way to talk about Bruce so obviously something struck him.  One thing about being a piano player is it does give you the technical understanding to do a whole lot of other things. It's perfectly possible that Bruce is a functional player on anything he likes to pick up, but it's not important to him to develop those skills. I'm always impressed that whenever Bruce mimes something on the bass, even songs that he must have had a very marginal acquaintance with, he pretty much nails the part as recorded. Obviously, he's not really playing, but just noting what the bass lines are and putting his fingers in the right place without making a huge effort requires a certain level of musicianship.
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maggie
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« Reply #37 on: November 28, 2020, 02:46:22 PM »

Lately, because of Feel Flows, I wonder about Bruceís mandolin skills. Did Ed Carter or someone else teach him how to play the intro he wanted for Disney Girls and thatís all he knew? Or is something else hiding there?

The mandolin is not difficult to play on a functional level. Bruce obviously knows how to play guitar and since a mandolin is fifths-tuned, all you have to do is take the fingerings for the four lowest strings of a guitar (or bass) and reverse them.
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