Saturday, September 9, 2023

"Long Promised Road" - Carl Wilson Biography - book review

 (This is a repost from of a review that I wrote in 9/2015)

Kent Crowley makes an excellent argument for the genius of Carl Wilson, youngest brother of Beach Boys' auteur Brian and Beach Boys' avatar Dennis, in the new book Long Promised Road: Carl Wilson, Soul of the Beach Boys. Could Carl have been regarded on the same level that Brian is now? Through twists of birth order, health choices and a type B personality, it was never meant to be.

Carl clearly had all the tools that Brian did, but as a typical younger sibling, didn't need or discover his talents until his older brother burnt out and no longer led the group. This is true of Dennis as well, as he reaped the benefits of Brian's creativity, and didn't blossom as a solo artist until late in his life. The children of Murry and Audree Wilson were abundantly talented, but it was Brian's birthright to carry on the family business. Quiet Carl observed, learned, kept the peace, and kept the show on the road as circumstances progressed beyond bizarre, in what must be recognized as one of the most dysfunctional families ever to grace the earth.

As Crowley tells it, Carl's year's between the ages of 14 and 21 are simply unfathomable to mere mortals. Starting with family harmony lessons, the formation of a band, their meteoric rise, the desire and ability to live past being forgotten one hit wonders, becoming the band leader on world tours, lawsuits against the Federal Government, marriage, kids, his brother's drug use and instability, placating a jealous father, and, well, it goes on. All this while remaining in his brother's shadow, perhaps out of family duty or simply because it was quieter there. While the insanity continued, Carl kept on like a trooper, finally finding his own voice and happiness, before dying of lung cancer. Wow, an amazing life, but is it worthy of a hagiography?

Crowley is a solid writer; he's done his research, and turns Carl's story into a nuclear diary. The description of the early sixties SoCal surf music scene/fad is vividly formed and populated with characters who would become music legends. The band's story is so often focused on Brian's studio monkery, that we forget that the Beach Boys toured constantly, and Carl was a mere teenage witness to every manner of shenanigan, of the backstage and business variety. The pressures of the draft, the family arguments, the crooked arrangements, the press attention... Crowley empathically conveys the huge burden placed on the patient young man that everyone looked to for stability.

I want to give one particular appreciation for Crowley's tome. Murry Wilson, in every Beach Boys book I have ever read, comes across as a ruthless, vindictive, child abusing tyrant, who couldn't stand his children's success, and was a terrible business manager who sold the publishing catalog for peanuts. I still believe all this to be true, but it's interesting to hear that there was another side to Murry, a man who left his blue collar business to pursue his musical passion, and immersed himself in the songwriters' trade, learning the craft and making connections that would help the Beach Boys success. As seen through Carl's eyes and told by Crowley, Murray almost seems human. Almost.

It's not all great though. Crowley repeats factoids constantly, sometimes in the space of a few paragraphs, making them seem like filler. Or, perhaps there just aren't enough new nuggets out there to mine. Another problem is that 90 percent of the book covers the first half of Carl's life, and his post Beach Boys solo era gets a quick overview. But, let's face it, that era of his life just wasn't as interesting. Finally, it's impossible to tell Carl's story apart from the Beach Boys' legend, so you'll have to decide which facets of this version don't jibe with the many, many other books out there.

I truly appreciate this biography. I don't think it will change the world's view of Carl Wilson, but it informed mine. Yet the question remains: If Carl hadn't been born in Brian's shadow, would he be the Wilson brother of note, or, was it because of his brother's encouragement and guidance that Carl became more than a footnote.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Michael Jackson Split Single with Surfer Joe and Frankie and the Pool Boys

There's a headline I never thought I'd write!

In August of 2022, the Surfer Joe Band was at my house and we were talking about Lorenzo's love of 80s pop, and Michael Jackson came up. Lorenzo said he had an arrangement of "Billie Jean," and wanted to record it.  They didn't have a B-side ready, so I suggested that the Pool Boys record "Beat It." And that is how the greatest novelty record of 2023 came together. Someday, the universe will have to ponder why a surf treatment of Michael Jackson came into existence. We get it, it's definitely a novelty release. But the songs have great melodies, and that always suits the surf style. We also know that MJ is rightly viewed in a harsh light, and we have no excuses, other than we enjoyed his music when it came out 40 years ago.

We did have a lot of fun doing the recording and putting the package together. We tried to match the original single art as closely as possible. I used an AI program to help identify the fonts used! In them olden days, we used to flip through thousands of pages in a font book!

You can listen and purchase the songs from Bandcamp, or stream on all the major services.

Monday, April 3, 2023

Ferenc is interviewed by Ryan from Pi Records

 Ferenc is interviewed by Ryan from Pi Records

I had a nice long interview with Ryan from Pi Records. We talked about the new Pollo Del Mar album, and other recent releases from Frankie and the Pool Boys, The Mach IV and The IFIC.

Pollo Del Mar plays "Beck's Bolero"

 Pollo Del Mar plays "Beck's Bolero"

Here's a snippet of Pollo Del Mar performing "Beck's Bolero" for the first time at the Art Boutiki in San Jose. 

John Blair reviews Pollo Del Mar's "Speed of Dark"


A review of Pollo Del Mar's new album, "Speed of Dark" by esteemed guitarist, music historian, author and documentarian John Blair.

Well, it ain't surf music. At least not in the trad sense. There are excursions into Zappa-esque textures and psychedelic styles that only a handful of contemporary "prog surf" guitar instrumental bands have approached. But, among them, I DO consider Pollo Del Mar among the best that's out there.

One thing that struck me while listening to the band's latest 12-inch gift of music, is that the sequencing here is really good. IMO, when you produce this kind of sophisticated guitar work, good sequencing is important. It's sort of a lost art that shows here.

And, the only non-original track is Pollo's cover of The Pyronauts' "Sifaka." The original has, I think, become a modern classic and this cover is a very good salute.

There aren't many guitarist/writer/arrangers out there who seem to be as familiar with so many sonic corners and dark musical alleys as Ferenc Dobronyi, who has a lot of guitar tricks in his saddle bag. I don't think there's really a bum track in the bunch. It all flows nicely and sounds great when played loud at the speed of dark.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Satan's Pilgrims "Go Action!!!" Review

Satan’s Pilgrims -
Go Action!!

Hi-Tide Recordings

2022 turned out to be a huge year for the nearly 30 year old Satan’s Pilgrims. An induction into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame followed by an all-star “Dave Stomp'' memorial concert for Dave Pilgrim. There was a new single on Get-Hip, a track on an Otitis Media sampler, an archival live album released on Record Store Day, and this release of Go Action!! on HiTide. The recording for Go Action!! began before covid struck, but was completed with the band members recording their parts in their own homes. Dave had just finished recording his last organ parts before his untimely passing.

As for the music of Go Action!!, beyond some DNA level connections to the PNW sound, soul music and Richie Podolor, it seems useless to try and pick out influences or make comparisons to other bands, as the Pilgrims stand alone as a monolithic entity. They have been doing this long enough to have found their own distinct groove and sonic coherence; so, it really doesn’t matter that they were spread out around the country to record. One advantage of remote recording emerges in that the sound of each track, especially the drums, is slightly different, which keeps it all fresh from song to song, like a collection of singles. Essential common elements are found in the breadth of songwriting, the seeming minimalism and the patience in the execution and production. Every song has just what it needs, and nothing more.

You’d think that with three guitar players, everyone would be fighting to get their little licks noticed, but the five perform as tightly as knuckles curled into a fist. If you want to hear what three perfectly intertwined guitars sound like, check out the chorus in “Clam Diggin’.” The single chord intro of “Go Action!!!” comes flying out of the gate, strongly melodic, spooky keys, and then the chorus opens up with tuned tympani toms lockstep with percussive strings mutes on the guitar. “Gear Grinder” is a primal rocker that I keep coming back to. Primarily, it’s all chords, with nary a melody other than drummer Ted and his son harmonizing on some “Owooms.” When was the last time you heard a song that had zero drum fills?

“Spider Island” is a tense, spine tingling, hair raising spooker. “Riot on the Seaside Strip” has the Pacific Northwest swagger, with the guitars playing right on top of each other and Justin Thompson (Impala) blowing hard sax for some delightful cacophony. “Captain’s Cove” is a sweet ballad embellished with melodica that gives me the Podolor/Pacific Surfers feels. “Beenz and Greenz” is another fun one, with a modified Bo Diddley beat and a wholly original maraca plus percussive string mute break down. And, “Pilgrim’s Party”… with a dream audience cheering along throughout, this is the fantasy live Pilgrim’s show we all desperately needed during the pandemic. I can imagine the band members rocking out in their home studios, summoning the telepathic connection required for a live show. The perfect set closer.

Go Action!! is a stylistically and sonically varied album. In the typical Satan’s Pilgrims mode, it’s a party platter that’s fun from beginning to end.

(This review appears in Continental Magazine #34 available from Double Crown)

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Ivan Pongracic reviews the new "Stargazers" single.


Truly enjoying this fantastic new 7" by Frankie and the Pool Boys, recently released by Hi-Tide Recordings. Both sides hold new tracks composed by my dear friend of 25 years, Ferenc Dobronyi, who has IMO developed one of the most distinctive melodic approaches to surf music of the past 30 years. I've been a huge fan of F&tPB since their debut s/t album in 2008 and through their two wonderful follow-ups, and this single continues that incredible streak.
Side A is "The Stargazers" which takes the Ho-Dads' '64 surf classic "Space Race" as the launch pad for a grandiose, heroic, even Shadow-esque (think Wonderful Land and Atlantis) melody that effectively captures the yearning of reaching ever further out to the stars. (The track is dedicated to the band's Seattle friends and fans, which strikes me as especially apropos given that Tacoma, just slightly south of Seattle, was the home of the Ventures, who wrote the legendary track "Journey to the Stars!")
The B-side is "Breathing Your Air", a gorgeous, romantic, even sensual, mid-tempo track with several mood changes, that nearly-miraculously for an instrumental does sound like a celebration of love (and I'm guessing it's Ferenc's dedication to his amazing wife Karen, who also plays the keys in the band)!
Both songs were recorded and mixed by Boss Martian Evan Foster at his Seattle studio, and they sound warm and crisp - and perfect.
A beautiful single, Frankie & the gang! Well done!

Order directly from Hi-Tide Recordings