Today (December 21st) marks what would have been Beach Boys co-founder and guitarist Carl Wilson's 66th birthday. Carl, who was known for his peaceful nature and flawless tenor vocals, died of cancer on February 6th, 1998 at the age of 51.
Although the Beach Boys story is said to start with the Wilson brothers -- Brian, Dennis and Carl -- harmonizing with cousin Mike Love at family gatherings, it was Carl's love for guitar-based R&B that separated him from his family. While barely a teen, Carl and fellow Beach Boys co-founder David Marks were taking lessons from local guitarist John Maus -- later of the Walker Brothers -- who himself had learned directly from Ritchie Valens.
It was Carl and Marks' dual-guitar combo that took the Beach Boys beyond the intricate Four Freshman-style harmonies which enthralled brother Brian, the casual doo-wop favored by Love, and the acoustic folk stylings of Al Jardine.
When brother Brian quit the road after a nervous breakdown in December 1964, it was Carl who took over as the de-facto live bandleader. In the early '70s when Brian eventually retreated from the recording studio, Carl again stepped into his brother's shoes.
Carl was featured singing lead on many of the group's greatest recordings -- including "God Only Knows," "Girl Don't Tell Me," "Good Vibrations," "Friends," "Breakaway," "This Whole World," "I Can Hear Music," "Wonderful," "Surf's Up," "Only With You," "Good Timin'," and many more. Carl was also known for his raucous R&B vocals on such hits as "Darlin'," "Wild Honey," and "Marcella."
Carl Wilson co-wrote several classic Beach Boys album tracks, including "Long Promised Road," "Feel Flows," "All This Is That," "The Trader," "Angel Come Home," and "Keepin' The Summer Alive."
Throughout the years Carl Wilson was a dominant force on stage, overseeing the show's arrangements, and keeping the Beach Boys' vocals well oiled and their stage band tight and rehearsed. Although he was never as prolific a producer or songwriter as his brothers, the Beach Boys were arguably Carl's band, a role he carried out with pride and respect until he was finally too ill to take the stage any more.
Beach Boys historian Jon Stebbins, who's chronicled the lives of the group in his Dennis Wilson biography The Real Beach Boy, as well as group's co-founder-guitarist David Marks, in The Lost Beach Boy, says that it was 15 year-old Carl Wilson who pushed the band into becoming a tight, professional unit: "Carl was really a pro. Out of all of them, as young as he was, Carl was the one who first got it. This was a 'hail Mary' pass (that) had been caught by the Beach Boys getting signed and becoming a hit act. And Carl was more about rehearsal, and getting everything right out there. Because he knew that this was something that could go away really easily."
After Carl's death, his sons Jonah and Justyn launched the Carl Wilson Foundation (CWF) for cancer research and care. Over the years, most of the Beach Boys, along with Carl's friends and fans, have performed benefit shows in Los Angeles for the foundation.
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