75 Cool Things About Carl Wilson

75 Cool Things About Carl Wilson

By Howie Edelson

1. His breathless and blissful opening note, singing “I. . .” in “Good Vibrations.”

2. The Bigsby vibrato on his Gibson ES-335.

3. Possessed rock’s greatest beard of the 1970’s.

4. Played all the instruments on 1971’s “Long Promised Road.”

5. Took the lead on songs written by all of his bandmates and sang them as though they were his own.

6. Learned guitar from neighbor John Maus -- who himself learned from the great Ritchie Valens.

7. His almost mechanical avoidance of avoiding using the root of the chord in the bass in the chorus of "The Trader" - D/A to A/B to A/C# to G/D, G/E, G/F#.

8. Taught Alex Chilton how to play guitar.

9. After touring with Buffalo Springfield, had The Beach Boys add “Rock And Roll Woman” to their setlists.

10. His backing vocals on Chicago’s “Wishing You Were Here.”

11. The photos of him in 1965 -- elatedly -- touring the California Fender factory.

12. The way he would pray with brother Brian prior to the Pet Sounds sessions.

13. His original, unused lead vocal on the early version of “Sloop John B.”

14. Was still only a teen when he started sharing guitar duties on Beach Boys recording sessions with jazz guitar legends like Barney Kessel and Howard Roberts. To his credit, Brian often gave him the most interesting parts -- while relegating the jazzmen to strumming chords.

15. At the peak of “Beatlemania” Carl Wilson blew more than a few minds by choosing to play a Guild Starfire on national TV -- paving his own way an American guitar icon.

16. The white-on-white Fender Telecaster he played during the group’s 1968 Ed Sullivan Show appearance.

17. Wrote the parts to and sang the backing vocals on Elton John’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.”

18. Following Dennis Wilson’s death, he kept his memory alive by reviving his brother’s signature tune, “Forever” in the band’s late-‘80s shows.

19. Carl taught his niece Carnie how to drive in his Bentley.


20. Carl's interior chord voicings on songs he wrote or played piano on were consistently progressive, such as on "Long Promised Road" where he alternates dissonances to outline F6 and F Major 9 chords on the third and fourth bars of the track. Similar interior movement happens on his electric piano part in “All I Wanna Do.”

21. His lead vocal and production work on “I Can Hear Music.”

22. Co-wrote “Dance, Dance, Dance” and created the ageless 12-string introduction.

23. His whispered singing on “Wonderful” from 1967’s Smiley Smile.

24. Helped brother Brian complete the “Fairy Tale” from 1973’s Holland.

25. Although only 20, sang like an R&B veteran throughout 1967’s Wild Honey album.

26. With very little rehearsal, handled bass duties with Al Jardine during 1967’s “Lei’d In Hawaii” concerts.

27. Drummed on The Mike Douglas Show in 1969 when brother Dennis came up to front the band on “Never Learn Not To Love.”


28. Opened for The Doobie Brothers during his solo tour in 1981.

29. Switched things up and periodically took over lead vocals on “Help Me, Rhonda” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”

30. Signed and co-produced South Africa’s The Flame for Brother Records.

31. Co-wrote “Good Timin’” with brother Brian.

32. Covered John Fogerty’s classic “Rockin’ All Over The World” on his second solo album, 1983’s Youngblood.

33. Joined forces with America’s Gerry Beckley and Chicago’s Robert Lamm for the posthumously released 2000 Beckley-Lamm-Wilson album, Like A Brother.

34. Became an ordained minister in the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness.

35. Was declared a conscientious objector upon being drafted to serve in Vietnam. He and The Beach Boys played numerous benefits in lieu of fighting overseas.

36. The only Beach Boy to live in Colorado.

37. Sang backup on David Lee Roth’s 1985 version of “California Girls.”

38. Sang lead on “God Only Knows” – Paul McCartney’s favorite song.

39. Reinvented Brian & Wilson & Mike Love’s “Let The Wind Blow” onstage to become one of the most soulful and meaningful songs in The Beach Boys’ catalogue.

40. Co-wrote “River Song” and “Rainbows” with brother Dennis Wilson for his groundbreaking 1977 Pacific Ocean Blue solo album.

41. His 1983 solo album, Youngblood enlisted the help of such heavyweights as The Doobie Brothers’ Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, The Guess Who’s Burton Cummings, iconic keyboardist Nicky Hopkins, and The Eagles’ Timothy B. Schmit.

42. Stevie Wonder wrote “I Do Love You” for him to sing on The Beach Boys’ 1985 self-titled album.

43. Collaborated with Randy Bachman on two songs for The Beach Boys’ 1980 Keepin’ The Summer Alive album.

44. Embodied the soul of the American teenager during the groundbreaking solo on 1964’s “I Get Around.”

45. Perfectly morphing surf and psychedelia during the guitar solo on 1968’s “Do It Again.”

46. Drew attention to the plight of the Native American on 1973’s “The Trader.”

47. Fused Chuck Berry with the California sun during the intro to “Fun, Fun, Fun.”

48. His discretion and taste when crafting satisfying bass lines using synthesizers. From "Long Promised Road" to "The Trader" to "Where I Belong," Carl produced synth bass lines that held down the low end with clarity and punch.

49. Gave Dick Dale a run for his money on The Beach Boys’ 1964 live take on “Let’s Go Trippin.”

50. Led the way on the wordless backing vocal during the second verse of 1965’s “Let Him Run Wild.”

51. During The Beach Boys’ 1975 joint tour with Chicago, took the lead on “Saturday In The Park.”

52. Despite the sweltering July heat, wore a suit at 1985’s LIVE AID.

53. His first guitar was a Kay single cutaway acoustic – with a pickup added – as heard on The Beach Boys debut single, “Surfin’.”

54. First solo composition, an instrumental titled “Tune X,” was recorded in March 1967 during the legendary SMiLE sessions.

55. Being tapped by his brothers to sing their songs – including Brian’s “Darlin,” “Wild Honey,” and “This Whole World” – and Dennis’ “San Miguel,” “Only With You” and “Baby Blue.”

56. The incredibly inventive, even eccentric at times, sonic textures and production on Ricci Martin’s 1977 Beached album.

57. Integrated The Beach Boys with the addition of South African members Blondie Chaplin & Ricky Fataar in 1972.

58. When hitting the road for his one-and-only solo tour in 1981, despite playing arenas and stadiums for most of his career, he went back to square one to play such important clubs as New York City’s Bottom Line; Chicago’s Park West; San Francisco’s Old Waldorf; Roslyn, New York’s My Father’s Place; and Boston’s Paradise Club, among others.

59. Showcased his acting chops by chastising John Stamos’ character as an under-rehearsed musician in an episode of the short-lived ABC sitcom, You Again?

60. Was brothers-in-law with the late, great Billy Hinsche – one third of California pop stars, Dino, Desi, & Billy. Later, he became the son-in-law of Dean Martin.

61. Carl’s oft-overlooked and massively significant contribution to The Beach Boys’ recorded legacy as “Mixdown Producer,” not just on The Beach Boys Love You -- but on just about everything the group released from “Do It Again” up through In Concert. He had the patience, attention to detail, and innate musical gifts to create amazing sonic landscapes from the raw materials on the multitracks -- especially when he was working side by side with the legendary Steve Desper.

62. On The Beach Boys Love You in particular, Carl brought his own sense of dynamics to his mixdowns, knowing instinctively what to highlight -- and more importantly, what to leave out -- in order to bring a “build” to many of the songs that aren’t necessarily there on the multitrack masters. “Let Us Go On This Way” and “The Night Was So Young” are perfect examples.

63. Possessing the knack for creating wonderfully dense chord clusters. With Carl, an F chord was never just an F chord (no matter what the chord chart in the music book might say. . . )

64. Held his young son Jonah on his shoulders for 1970’s Sunflower album cover.

65. Conveyed all the emotions of young love with the 16-note guitar solo to “Don’t Worry Baby.”

66. A completely egoless musician; although known for being the band’s lead guitarist, his productions hardly had any guitar featured on them.

67. Carl was able to sing at any level in the vocal stack and make the voices below him and above him (he was almost always in the middle somewhere for this very reason) blend perfectly for that rich vocal sandwich between Brian up high and Mike down low.


68. He had a brilliant gift for enhancing his brothers' work. Whether it was adding his touches to "It’s About Time" or "River Song," or producing "Mount Vernon And Fairway" or The Beach Boys Love You -- Carl was a pro who could be relied upon to get the job done as a musician or producer. He gladly rose to any and every occasion. 69. His Rickenbacker guitar riff for “Girl Don’t Tell Me.”

70. Wailing on his priceless “Old Yeller” extremely early-make Stratocaster during “Keepin’ The Summer Alive” during the Beach Boys historic July 4th, 1980 Washington, D.C. concert.

71. Jammed with Jimmy Page at TWO gigs in one day in different cities when The Beach Boys played Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. on July 4th, 1985.

72. Used the sound of his then-three year old son Jonah to introduce 1973’s “The Trader” with an optimistic, “Hi!”

73. Always played the extremely difficult “Good Vibrations” bass part on his guitar. One of rock’s coolest examples of walking and chewing gum.

74. While still a teen living at home and topping the charts with The Beach Boys – like everyone else -- he had pictures of The Beatles on his bedroom wall.

75. Was so in love with the instrument that while still only a toddler, he pretended he was playing guitar on a toothpick.