LONG PROMISED ROAD is a limited edition CD compilation of the highlights of Carl Wilson's musical career, both with the Beach Boys and as a solo performer. This collection was produced by EMI/Capitol Records and Billy Hinsche, with track selection and liner notes by Brad Elliott, as a memento of thanks to those who gave so generously by attending the Carl Wilson Benefit Concert, held on Oct. 18, 1998 at The Roxy in Los Angeles. Each guest who attended has received a copy.
In addition, a limited quantity of the CDs are available for contributions of $100 to the American Cancer Society in memory of Carl Wilson. Details are available on the American Cancer Society website.
The youngest of the three Wilson brothers who were the core of The Beach Boys, Carl initially was heard in the harmonic blend of backing vocals that was the hallmark of the group's music. “Michael [Love] always sang the bottom,” Carl explained. “I would sing the one above that, then would come Dennis [Wilson] or Alan [Jardine], and then Brian on top.”
In the group's first years, Carl rarely sang a lead vocal. When he did, the song was tucked away as an album track. But in 1966, Carl's voice came into its own, and Brian recognized it for the powerful instrument it was. Brian first showcased Carl's voice on God Only Knows, an international Top Ten hit and Carl's trademark song in concert until his death. And it was Carl who sang lead on the group's next single, Good Vibrations, which went to Number One all over the world.
“His singing voice was incomparable,” remembered Billy Hinsche, Carl's former brother-in-law and a member of The Beach Boys' touring band for many years. “He had perfect pitch to match his flawless delivery and phrasing.”
Carl also was responsible for the guitar solos that highlighted many of The Beach Boys' hits. Never accorded the popular acclaim received by many later guitarists, Carl nonetheless was held in sufficiently high regard to be named one of the 30 Greatest Rock and Roll Guitarists in The Book of Rock Lists. “His guitar playing inspired a young generation of kids, like me, to pick up an instrument and learn how to play,” said Hinsche, “and he could rock with the best of them.”
“I've always been the one who worked real closely with Brian,” Carl said. “I was his sounding board; I was his underling. I always tagged along. In addition to being one of the players in the studio, I worked with him in the control room, because he wanted my ear.” His first solo production was I Can Hear Music, a cover of a Phil Spector tune that cracked the Top 30 for the group. Carl had learned a lot from his older brother; the recording, featuring sleighbells and an a cappella break, was true to Brian's production technique in every way.
In the early 1970s, he expanded his contributions to include songwriting. The first songs he wrote were Long Promised Road and Feel Flows, both of which appeared on the Surf's Up album. Another song, The Trader, appeared on the group's Holland album. By that time, Carl was acknowledged as the group's defacto leader, both in the studio and on the road.
“He was the leader of the band,” said Hinsche. “No one knew the vocal and instrumental parts like Carl did. His attention to detail and his knowledge of every nuance of every song was astounding. He insisted that the group not only play and sing the parts accurately, but that they do so with feeling. He was a total professional.”
During Brian's much-ballyhooed comeback of the mid-Seventies, Carl stepped aside from the songwriting and production in favor of his older brother. At the end of the decade, his writing skills came to the fore again as the band settled into a more democratic approach to recordmaking. He contributed three songs to 1979's L.A. (Light Album) (including Angel Come Home, sung by brother Dennis) and two to 1980's Keepin' the Summer Alive. Then, frustrated by the group's refusal to begin work on another album, Carl went solo.
Collaborating with him on songwriting was Myrna Smith, a member of the black gospel trio, The Sweet Inspirations, who sang backup on all of Aretha Franklin's greatest hits and toured with Elvis Presley throughout the 1970s. Carl and Smith wrote all eight of the songs on Carl Wilson and seven of the 11 songs on Youngblood.
The first album highlighted soulful ballads like Hurry Love and Heaven. Producer James William Guercio recalled, “He had the most phenomenal vocal range and texture that I ever had the privilege of putting a microphone in front of.”
On his second album, Carl decided to cut loose. “I wanted Youngblood to be a singing album,” he said at the time. “I wanted to express sides of myself that I could never do in the Beach Boys, more hard rock stuff. I wanted to get myself to sing freer, with a greater dynamic range.” Covers of John Hall's uptempo What You Do to Me and John Fogerty's rowdy Rockin' All Over the World afforded him the opportunity to rock as hard as he wanted.
Carl rejoined the Beach Boys when they agreed to his demands for more rehearsals and a new album. On their 1985 album, simply titled The Beach Boys, he contributed three songs, including two written with Smith.
In March 1997, Carl was diagnosed with cancer. Despite his condition, he went on tour with the Beach Boys again that summer, hitting the road in May and persevering until late August. “Carl put on such a positive face about his illness that ... I honestly believed he was going to beat it,” said fellow Beach Boy Alan Jardine. “And I think he did, too.”
Carl passed away February 6, 1998, at age 51 from complications due to lung cancer. His mother, Audree, had preceded him only two months earlier.
“Carl was the most wonderful human being I ever had the opportunity to work with,” stated Guercio. “He had the most spiritual sensitivity and respect for all mankind. It was an honor and pleasure to work with and know him. We will all miss his talents and principles.”
Liner notes written by Brad Elliott. Used by permission of the author.
Copyright © 1998 Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved.
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