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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

David Marks reflects on life after the Beach Boys

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  • Summertime Blues Productions
In 1962, at the tender age of 13, David Marks became the rhythm guitarist for the Beach Boys, just in time for the group to sign on with Capitol Records. Marks stuck around to play on the group’s first four records, and the rest is history. For his show at Eddie's Attic on Sun., Aug. 21, Marks, along Jez Graham (piano), Del Baroni (5-string bass), Dave Ellington (organ), Joel Morris (drums) and Chuck Bithorn (percussion) are playing a handful of the Beach Boys’ surf and muscle car songs that he helped create, along with some blues standards as well.

$25. 7:30 p.m. Eddie's Attic. 515-B North McDonough St. (upstairs). 404-377-4976.

Chad Radford: Can you tell me about some of the songs you’ll be playing at Eddie’s Attic and why you picked them?
David Marks: I call this band the Summertime Blues because its got elements of “summertime” with the Beach Boys songs, combined with “bluesy” elements. I've always preferred improvisational playing so I went through the early Beach Boys catalog and picked out songs that could be re-arranged to accommodate extended soloing but still maintain their familiarity. “Little Deuce Coupe” is one of my favorite songs to give this treatment to because its a shuffle so by slowing it down, you get a great blues palate to work within but the audience can still sing a long. “Louie, Louie” is another fun one because its wide open for solos and I'm backed by such great players, they take the song to new places every time they play it. I also do a couple of Dennis Wilson's later originals because I can relate to the feelings he had when he was writing and recording them.

You were 13 years old when you joined the Beach Boys in time for the group to sign its first contract with Capitol Records in 1962. How were you enlisted into the group?
I was seven years old when I moved in across the street from the Wilson's and since I was an only child, they immediately adopted me as one of their own. We were all 2 years apart, so Carl was nine, Dennis was 11 and Brian was 13. At first I was closer to Dennis because he was always going on fun adventures and he would drag me along with him. We became blood brothers when I was nine. When I turned 10, Carl and I both started playing guitars around the same time so we'd play together every day after school so we had that bond and we became very close.

The group sort of evolved naturally, it wasn't like one day Brian said “I want to start a band.” There were different, individual elements going on at the same time over a period of years. Brian was singing with Mike and also with Al and some friends at El Camino and Carl and I were playing with our electric guitars with John Maus (later of the Walker Brothers). It was the moment when those various elements came together that the Beach Boys sound was created and things took off. Complex vocal harmonies combined with rock and roll surf guitar, and catchy, commercial lyrics was something new that nobody had heard before and people got excited.

Did you feel like an outsider coming into this group with three brothers that already had energy, synergy and some history behind it?
No, I was more like Steve Martin in the Jerk. I was surprised and hurt when I found out I wasn't really a Wilson. They always treated me like a younger brother and I felt like one of the family, especially because I was so interested in music and they always had some sort of music going on at their house. On Sundays when they'd have their family sing-alongs I would sit on the floor and they would stand in a circle around me and sing. I started taking piano lessons from Audree Wilson when I was seven and she taught us all the same boogie-woogie lick that's on a lot of those early Beach Boys songs. I still play it all the time, I call it the "Audree lick." Then Carl and I started playing guitars together when I was 10 and he was 12. Sometimes Dennis would hang out with us and eventually Brian started to recruit us to work on his material. We were playing “Surfin'” and “Surfer Girl” long before the Beach Boys were officially conceived. It was just a natural progression that I would be part of the band. The only time it was really awkward was the few weeks between “Surfin'” and me being officially asked to be in the band when I felt left out.

You initially came into the group to replace Al Jardine, correct?
That is a big misconception. It’s a complicated story and there's usually limited space in an article so it got over simplified over the decades but the truth is that Al and I had different roles in the Beach Boys and neither one of us really replaced the other. There were really six original Beach Boys. Al was there for his vocals and to play bass and I was there for my tough-sounding guitar and because girls thought I was cute on the album covers. Al and I actually recorded together on two albums and toured for a good six or nine months together. He initially came back to replace Brian on the road on bass, which he played on “Surfin'.” He switched over to guitar when I left and that forced Brian back out on the road until Glenn Campbell replaced him about a year later. Jon Stebbins details the whole chronology in the Lost Beach Boy like no other book has ever gone into depth about the early years of the band so you can get the whole story there.

Was working with Murry Wilson as difficult as it has been portrayed over the years?
I am one of the few who consistently defend Murry. He had faults and good characteristics like everyone else. I would rather him have not tricked me out of millions of dollars worth of royalties when I was 15 years old, but I do understand that he was looking out for his own kid's best interest in his own misguided way. He cheated his own nephew out of song writing credits so I can't take it personally. He could be tough, but he was also very smart and relentless in getting the band signed and properly promoted and without that, I don't think the Beach Boys would have even made it.

It’s my impression that the combination of both yours and Carl Wilson’s guitar playing was a vital element of those early surf and muscle car songs that defined the group’s sound from Surfin’ Safari through Little Deuce Coupe. It seems like the group’s energy and/or dynamic changed with Shut Down Vol. 2, which I believe was the first album to materialize without any of your playing. How did the group change after you left?
My guitar shows up on a couple of songs after I left — stuff that was recorded while I was in the band but not released until a couple albums later, but Shut Down vol. II was the first album I wasn't on every track and yes, that album did lose some of its edge without the interplay between our guitars. Brian brought in Glenn Campbell and some other session guitar players to play on the records after I left. We were still playing our own instruments when I was in the band.

I still hung out with those guys after I stopped performing. Carl and I went to Hollywood Professional School with Marilyn and Diane Rovell from the Honeys and Brian was there all the time so their home became like the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean club house. After Brian left the road, the other guys were on tour so it would just be me and Brian hanging out, so I think that is the time when I was probably closest to Brian — the year or two after I quit the band. We didn't start to go our separate ways until later in the 60's. I loved “Good Vibrations” when I heard it on the radio the first time but I didn't think of it as "the Beach Boys," I thought of it as coming from some other entity other than the band I was in. When I returned to the Beach Boys in the 1990's and had to learn all those Pet Sounds songs and the more obscure songs I didn't play on, that's when I was really able to appreciate Brian's genius in a way I hadn't before.

Is there a Beach Boys song that resonates with you in a particularly strong way?
My favorite songs changes but I would have to say “Surfer Girl” if I had to pick one because I hear stories from so many people about how they rocked their daughters to sleep by singing them “Surfer Girl” and it feels good to have been part of such a special time between a father and daughter. Now, these same guys are signing it to their granddaughters. I really appreciate how multi-generational the music is ... little kids and old people all dancing and singing along. Its great.

Your time with the Beach Boys was a long time ago, but it seems to have been a big bang of sorts that has resonated throughout your work with the Legends of Surf Music (with Al Jardine and Dean Torrence of Jan & Dean), and with your solo material as well. There’s also a healthy dose of the blues in your solo material. What is the common ground that these styles of music share?
Well, at the same time we were listening to Chuck Berry, Dick Dale and the Ventures, we were also listening to BB King and Ray Charles, so early on there was a certain blues influence even though it wasn't as obvious as some of the others. A lot of my set is fast old-school Rock and Roll and the earliest roots of rock are planted in the blues so it fits together nicely.

Did you study music in a more academic setting after parting ways with the Beach Boys?
I moved to Boston in 1969 to study at the Berklee School of Music. I didn't have a high school diploma since I'd dropped out of school to tour but they let me audit the summer session and I became a private student of Alan Silvestri who is one of the biggest film composers out there now. He taught me a lot about improvising. After the session, I auditioned for the resident composer at the New England Conservatory, Dr. Avram David and I studied with him for about 18 months. I learned a tremendous amount of theory and classical composition from him. I also took private piano lessons and spiritual counseling from Madame Margaret Chaloff, who taught people like Leonard Bernstein and Herbie Hancock. I still draw from what I learned during those 2 years when I'm composing or sight reading and I still play a little bit of Bach everyday, just to keep my fingers moving.

Can you bring me up to speed on what you have in the works now?
The Circle Continues is a collection of songs that I co-wrote with poet Stephen Kalinich, whose written with Brian and Dennis Wilson both on Beach Boys LPs and their solo albums. The Circle Continues is currently being mixed by Mark Linett, who is a really talented engineer whose worked with the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson for years and he's made the songs come to life. We have final mixes on eight tracks, so it won't be too much longer. The Live CD [Summertime Blue] was a fun project. I went into the old Western Studios in Hollywood and set up in the big room, Studio One, with my band and we recorded it for a small label, MSMusic, that also released Stephen Kalinich's California Feelin' CD. Neither project has a set release date but I'm looking forward to a busy 2012. I will be doing 2 songs off the Circle Continues in my set at Eddie's Attic.

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