One-on-One with Mike Love
The Beach Boys front man MIKE LOVE is currently set to be the 21st Ella Honoree at the Good Vibrations Gala & Entertainment Awards Dinner benefitting the Society of Singers on Feb. 20. SOS is the only nonprofit charitable organization devoted exclusively to helping professional singers. Past Ella Honorees include Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Johnny Mathis and Elton John. Ticket information to attend this event is below.
Love, a Los Angeles native, along with his cousins Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson would gather as children at the Wilson home in Hawthorne; it was there they discovered their talent as harmonizing singers. The Beach Boys were born and reached global status with Love contributing megahits that a half-century later still serve as So Cal Surf Music Anthems including the classics “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “I Get Around,” “Surfin Safari,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “California Girls” and “Good Vibrations.” The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and their latest creation together, That’s Why God Made the Radio was released in 2012.
Early in his career, Love met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and was later invited to India to learn Transcendental Meditation by Maharishi. When he arrived for training courses he found George Harrison and John Lennon among the students. “If enough people were to practice TM, the World would be a better place,” Love has said. Doing his part to make the world a better place he created the Love Foundation supporting environmental and educational initiatives. During their 50th Anniversary Tour, The Beach Boys partnered with Operation Smile, which helps children in need of cleft lip and palate repairs.
The group is currently featured in the Spy Exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley due to a Russian physicist Lev Sergeyevich Theremin, who invented an audio eavesdropping device turning sound waves into transmissions used during the Russian civil war (one was even discovered hidden at an office of a U.S. diplomat living in Moscow). The Beach Boys used Theremin musical techniques playing the Electro-Theremin in 1966’s “Good Vibrations” in order to create unique sound effects. Who knew?!
You and your cousins got together at a very young age and started singing. Who suggested this idea?
I grew up in a home with a Steinway Grand Piano and a Lyon & Healy Harp because my mother was a singer. She was very musical as were all the Wilson family members. My mom was Emily Glee Wilson; the father of Brian, Dennis and Carl was her brother, Murray Wilson. At every birthday party, Thanksgiving and Christmas there would be music. My mom was a tremendous hostess and would put on a big meal for everybody and my dad would bring home a truck from Love Sheet Metal. The adults would get on the back of it and would be driven around the neighborhood Christmas caroling! The children would run behind the truck and we would stop at houses to perform Christmas carols. Then we’d come back, have a meal and sing songs: the parents would go off and sing the standards of the day; and Brian and I would go sing Doo-Wop and The Everly Brothers. It was a natural thing; we didn’t get together with the idea of being famous.
What gave you your professional start?
My Uncle Murray was a songwriter; he had Lawrence Welk do one of his songs so he knew some of the ropes of the music business. When I was maybe 20 and Brian was 19 a record producer asked us if we’d do a folk song. I had bought a guitar in my last year of junior high school after I saw The Kingston Trio at the Shrine Auditorium. We listened to blues and R&B music coming out of certain stations in Los Angeles; we also liked rock and roll: Chuck Berry, The Everly Brothers, Fats Domino and of course all the great Doo-Wop music. So we told [the record producer], “We’re not really into folk music as much as we are into these other forms of music so let us come back to you with something.” Brian and I wrote a song called “Surfin” because I figured there were surf bands that did instrumentals; Dick Dale & the Del Tones … I mean he was gnarly on guitar! But nobody really extolled the virtues of a surfing way of life until Brian and I got together at the piano. I wrote all the words and quite a bit of the melody; Brian did the chord progressions. In October of 1961 it debuted on a radio station in Los Angeles during a contest. [Due to our] large extended family we easily won because they all called in! (Laughs) It went to #2 in L.A., #1 in Vegas and Minneapolis.
Prior to being known as The Beach Boys, you called yourselves The Pendletones.
The outfit most surfers at that time wore was jeans, a t-shirt with a long-sleeved wool Pendleton shirt. When “Surfin” came out Russ Regan, a record promoter in So Cal heard the song and said, “Well, how bout The Beach Boys?” and I said, “Sounds good to me!”
What is your favorite Beach Boys song you wrote and why?
“Everyone’s In Love With You”; that was a result of being in Maharishi’s place in India, seeing his lectures and how what he was accomplishing in the world led to so many people being in love with him, but a love of a different kind. The lines in the song go, “So many people have had their love affairs/Had their loves to share like mine/Now I tell you people/I witnessed something new/A love that could only be divine/Everyone’s in love with you/And though you can’t belong to only one/Still everyone’s in love with you … Because you gave your love to everyone.” It is very heartfelt….
The Beach Boys played in front of the largest audience (1,000,000 people) ever for a single live event on the 4th of July, 1985 at the Washington Monument in D.C. and it was your idea!
Rather than trying to go out and get as much money as we could, which is ordinarily the name of the game with [music] acts, I came up with doing a free concert in Washington D.C. at the monument. At first, Secretary of the Interior James Watt said that rock music wasn’t appropriate for July 4th; it should be military bands. Then Nancy Reagan called me and said, “Mike, I wanted to call and apologize for what James Watt said…. He [did tell me] that The Beach Boys are fans of The Reagans … What I [told him] was: Ronny and I have always been fans of The Beach Boys!” By the time we played there Watt was gone!
You co-wrote the #1 hit “Kokomo” with The Mamas and the Papas’ John Phillips; how did that come about?
Producer, and Doris Day’s son, Terry Melcher was friends with John Phillips who had the [beginnings] of “Kokomo,” but it didn’t have any chorus or middle part so I came up with, (sings) “Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya/ Bermuda, Bahamas, come on pretty mama/ Key Largo, Montego…” then the melody is what John came up with: “Off the Florida Keys there’s a place called Kokomo, that’s where we used to go…” and I said, “Hold it, that’s where you wanna go!” So the tense was changed just enough that instead of looking in to the past, you’re now looking towards the future. And then, “Come on pretty mama” could be an old geriatric geezer saying, “Come’n pretty mama, get the RV, we’re going to Florida!” or it could be a little child tugging on his mother … “Come on pretty mama.” Then I wrote the second verse … I got the chorus idea from the old song “Smokey Joe’s Café” by Leiber & Stoller. The director of Cocktail told us it was the best song we had done since “Good Vibrations.” The guy must be related to Nostradamus or something because, darn tootin’, it sold seven million albums and was the biggest selling single of our career 22 years after “Good Vibrations”!
What do you think about being featured in the Spy Exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Library right now?
It’s pretty incredible! I didn’t realize a Theremin was actually used as a spying device. I understand the [Electro-] Theremin as an instrument! I had no clue…. (Special Note: Love plans on visiting the RRL to see his exhibit!)
What is your take on what Glenn Frey says regarding The Beach Boys in front of his live audiences before going into ‘Heartache Tonight’ “a la Beach Boys” during the current Eagles concert tour?
I want to thank him so much for being so wonderful and expressing his appreciation of what The Beach Boys did. The line he says about, “We (The Beach Boys) were the pioneers; they (the Eagles) were the settlers” is Classic – it sounds like something I would say! We have always loved what the Eagles have done and Joe [Walsh] has been a real great guy; Smokey [Wendell – Joe’s personal tour assistant] used to help me out long before he met Joe! I can’t thank Glenn enough for being so generous in his praise and I take it very seriously. It would be great to do another show together sometime!
How do you feel about your upcoming Ella Award?
It is beyond humbling. I’ve been fortunate to do what I love: singing and songwriting for audiences around the world for more than 50 years. To receive recognition like this makes it all the sweeter!
Love will receive his Ella Award on Thursday, Feb. 20, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. For tickets call (818) 995-7100, singers.org.