Thursday, July 2, 2009

SMiLE: The Rest of the Jeffrey Foskett Q&A (2004)

Shortly after the release of Brian Wilson's SMiLE in 2004, I got the opportunity through WORLD magazine to interview Jeffrey Foskett, who, besides having enjoyed a long-running stint in the Beach Boys' touring band, had played a prominent role in SMiLE's recording and was serving as the musical director on Wilson's SMiLE tour.

The specific reason for the assignment was that Foskett had just released Stars in the Sand (a compilation of his best solo work featuring cameos by Marshall Crenshaw, Chicago's Robert Lamm, the Knack's Doug Fiegler, and Brian Wilson himself) on the Pop Collective label. As people could guess from Pop Collective's first release--Making God Smile, an album of Brian Wilson songs as covered (and covered well) by contemporary-Christian musicians--the label had what might be called Christian leanings. So it was that its CEO, Steve West, had contacted WORLD and that WORLD put him in touch with me.

The published Q&A of my Foskett interview concentrated on Foskett’s Christian faith and his experiences with the Beach Boys. It can be found here:

What follows--aside from a little more about the Beach Boys--is what Foskett had to say about Stars in the Sand, the making of SMiLE, getting to know Marshall Crenshaw, working with Robert Lamm, and performing uncredited all over a Beach Boys-covers album I’d loved for almost twenty years but had never realized he was on.
ORTEZA: What's the story behind Stars in the Sand?
FOSKETT: It’s my U.S. debut, but it's also kind of a compilation. I have some new songs on there that haven’t been released, and Steve [West] really liked the songs that I’d had on other CDs, and he said, rather than re-record a bunch of different things and release a new album where you are now, let's introduce people to where you’ve come from, and then our next record can be a totally new album.

ORTEZA: What other CDs of yours had he heard?
FOSKETT: I had nine discs before this one, and they were all released on New Surf, which is my own label. Steve liked a lot of those songs, and I gave him a choice of thirty, I guess. Or he gave me a choice of thirty. Then I gave him ten or twelve that I liked the most out of those, and the three guys involved in that label picked ten or twelve that they liked, and then I gave them two previously unreleased songs.

ORTEZA: Which two are those?

FOSKETT: “Living Alone” and “The Mystery of Moonlight.”

ORTEZA: The two co-written by Robert Lamm.

FOSKETT: Correct. Yeah.

ORTEZA: I'll come back to those. But first, as someone who spent a lot of time with the California “Jesus Movement” musicians in the 1970s, did you ever know Chuck Girard [the former lead singer of the Jesus-rock band Love Song and the '60s surf band the Hondells]?

FOSKETT: Oh yeah.

ORTEZA: He had some early Brian Wilson interaction, didn’t he, back when he was in the Hondells?
FOSKETT: Oh yeah. I think there was another guy’s name in front of the Hondells, like “Buddy Randall and the Hondells.” But obviously it was Chuck Girard’s band. He was the lead singer and everything. But somebody else probably had the mother who rented the equipment or something.

ORTEZA: Speaking of renting equipment, how long was it after Mike Love saw your band [the Reverie Rhythm Rockers] perform that he hired you?
FOSKETT: Two or three days. His manager called and asked our band if we wanted to go out on the road to support his solo project.

ORTEZA: Which was Looking Back with Love?

FOSKETT: Looking Back with Love and some of the Almost Summer stuff. We said, “Yeah, sure, we’d love to do it obviously.” And from there he hired me to be in the Beach Boys when Carl left to do his solo tour.

ORTEZA: So you were Carl Wilson’s official replacement?
FOSKETT: Myself and a guy named Adrian Baker, who, strangely enough, I’m still very good friends with--and in another band with.

ORTEZA: Were you ever in Papa Doo Ron Ron?
FOSKETT: I’m in them currently. I don’t say I’m a full-time member. The keyboard player and leader is my former brother-in-law. And as he says onstage--the way he introduces me--“Yeah, Jeffery married my sister. Then she divorced him. So we decided to remain brothers-in-law, and I no longer have a sister” (laughs). It’s kind of a cute thing. We’re very good friends, and he’s a very sweet guy. So that’s my relief and my fun. It’s what I do with them because I don’t have any responsibility in that band. I show up. I hang a guitar around my neck, and away we go, whereas in Brian’s band, you know, everything falls to me.

ORTEZA: Are you on the Papa Doo Ron Ron album that came out on Telarc in 1985?
FOSKETT: I’m credited in the “thank you”s, but I actually sing all of the voices on eight of the songs and lead on eleven of the songs.

ORTEZA: I’ve enjoyed that album for almost twenty years.
FOSKETT: “Don’t Worry Baby” and “In My Room” and “The Warmth of the Sun” were all my voices. The liner notes wouldn’t say that because they didn’t want people to think that it was anyone other than Papa Doo Ron Ron doing it.

ORTEZA: That was a tremendous record.
FOSKETT: It really was. It’s not that accurate, looking back at it, but it sure was a lot of fun.

ORTEZA: It was accurate enough.
FOSKETT: Yeah. In 1985 there was no digital recording of the Beach Boys. So, I mean, that was it.

ORTEZA: You performed with the Beach Boys for a decade. Are you still in touch with them?
FOSKETT: I’m still good friends with everyone in the Beach Boys. There are no hang-ups or animosity towards anyone or anything. I was just at LAX on Sunday and saw Al Jardine. And I’m friendly with Bruce [Johnston]. I call him a couple of times a month. And, obviously, I see Brian all the time. Michael and I don’t speak all that often, but we’re friendly when we see each other.

ORTEZA: How did you meet Marshall Crenshaw?
FOSKETT: I was in the Beach Boys, but I was still living in Santa Barbara, and when I heard his record--when I spun that thing for the first time--I was absolutely bowled over. And I was in a power-pop trio called the Pranks. The Reverie Rhythm Rockers was our club band, and the Pranks was the same personnel, but it was only original music. We tried doing it as the Reverie Rhythm Rockers, but people would yell, “Play ‘Nowhere Man’! Play ‘Twist and Shout’!” So we changed the name, and they knew it was only original music when we were the Pranks, and they knew it was only cover music when we were Reverie.

As the Pranks we were being courted by a couple of different record labels, one of them being Warner Brothers. This gal, Roberta Peterson, who was Ted Templeman’s sister, was really hot on us, but she was also really hot on another trio from the East Coast, and that happened to be Marshall Crenshaw’s band. She said, “I’m only going to sign one of you guys, so I’m bringing all the big wigs to your next concert.” Well, the big wigs didn’t even show up, so we figured that they’d signed the other band. And I’m really glad they did, because when I spun Crenshaw’s disc, man, I was flipped. I mean, that first record of his is the standard by which all power-pop records should be measured, in my opinion. And being that kind of fan, of the music and then the guy that wrote the music, I was in awe. So I read an interview with him where he said that the guitar he really wanted was an Epiphone Wilshire 12, which is a twelve-string guitar. And he said, “I saw a picture of one in a catalog, but I’m convinced Epiphone never made one because I’ve never seen one, and I’ve looked in every pawn shop and in every music store.”

Now, one strange thing was that I owned one. So what happened was, he was playing the home club that I used to play in Santa Barbara. I wasn’t in that band anymore, and they were now just having big-name acts come through and play. Crenshaw was playing, and I knew all the guys there. So I walked up onto the stage after his sound check, and I put the Epiphone Wilshire 12 on his guitar stand, and I wrote, “Merry Christmas from Jeffrey Foskett.” He didn’t know who that was, so he said, “Hey, is there a Jeffrey Foskett in the audience?” So I went up there, and I said “Yeah.” And he said, “Are you giving me this guitar?” I said, “Yeah” (laughs)!

ORTEZA: Now, that’s the way to make a good first impression.
FOSKETT: Exactly. So obviously we hit it off well, and we remain close to this day.

ORTEZA: I’m guessing that you came into contact with Robert Lamm through the Beach Boys since they and Chicago go way back?
FOSKETT: Yeah. We did a lot of “Beachago” tours, as they call them. We did several months, two or three times, with Chicago and the Beach Boys. And Robert and I, fortunately, always shared a microphone and always stood on the same spot onstage. And he loved my energy and loved the way that I sang. You know, if Jimmy Pankow didn’t write it [a Chicago song], Robert Lamm did. Pankow wrote a lot of the early stuff, and Robert’s the one that kept them going through the “lean years,” as I like to say. He’s such a talented guy, and to this day he’s just so--what’s the word I’m looking for?--so non-egotistical and so generous with letting other people sing his music. And I said, “Robert, man, you wrote seventy percent of those live songs, and the rest of the guys in your band are singing them.” And he said, “I don’t mind being the puppet master as long as we work” (laughs). And I thought, “What a cool thing!” So he was very cool. And he let me sing “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” onstage when we would do that because he liked the way I sang it, you know? That was cool, and we got along very well.

And one day--I don’t know, a couple of years ago--he called me and said, “Hey, I’m looking for some new writing partners. You know, I like to just change things and change styles and get other ideas. Are you interested?” And I said, “Of course!” He said, “Great.” Well then--I mean, this guy is no nonsense. He said, “I’m free on the thirtieth at two o’clock. I’ll be at your house.” And I said, “Great” (laughs)! So, sure enough, at 1:55 up pulls Robert Lamm, takes his keyboard out of his trunk, comes into the house, and we hammered out three or four songs.

ORTEZA: Did it break down along lyrics-music lines, or was it more of a mesh?
FOSKETT: No. It was total fifty-fifty on everything, except for “Living Alone.” What happened was, he has an entire cache of lyrics and other things. And he said, “If you want to look through these, go ahead.” It was like looking through, you know, the Holy Grail, because this is stuff that he never lets anybody see. He said, “I‘m very hesitant to show my unpublished lyrics to anybody, but I want you to look at them.” So he had this song called “Living Alone,” and I said, “This is a very interesting song. How did you write these lyrics?” And he said, “I haven’t looked at those in almost twenty-five years. I wrote those the night after Karen Lamm left me.”

ORTEZA: For one of the Beach Boys, right?
FOSKETT: Yeah, for Dennis. I said, “Do you mind if I take a shot at writing some music for that?” And he said, “No. Go ahead.” So I only changed a couple of the lyrical things. I would say it’s ninety-nine percent Robert. I think I added one line. And then I wrote most of the music, probably ninety-eight percent of the music. And he made some chord changes in there that he thought would go better than what I had.

ORTEZA: The new SMiLE album is a completely new recording, right?
FOSKETT: It’s absolutely a new recording. We cut the basic tracks in four days at Sunset Sound, and then we did the vocals, and it took about a week to do the vocals.

ORTEZA: Was the original version anywhere close to being finished back in 1967 when Brian abandoned it?
FOSKETT: Well, as he did with “Good Vibrations,” he recorded everything in sections. So were the sections recorded and did we have a template to work from? Yes. But was it put in any kind of sensical order? No.

ORTEZA: So this sequence is the first official one?
FOSKETT: If you look at Brian’s quote-unquote handwritten sequence in a lot of the publications of what these experts think of SMiLE, first of all, it’s not Brian’s handwriting. I know that for a fact because obviously I would know. And secondly they had it ending with “Old Master Painter,” which doesn’t make any sense. “Old Master Painter” is that old folk song, you know, that is all of thirty-three seconds long or whatever it is. And obviously it’s just stuff that they had recorded at that point. It wasn’t an order. And, don’t quote me, but I think it’s Diane Rovell’s handwriting. And I think she was just writing down things that were recorded. The order makes no sense! So there was never a version cut together. And all the experts are like, “Oh, this is the definitive order! This is Brian Wilson’s handwriting!” Yeah. O.K. Whatever. No, there was never an order put together, but there were a lot of those songs, as I said, that we drew from to have our template, made and recorded already.

ORTEZA: It seems odd that this album that went unfinished for over thirty years finally came together so quickly.
FOSKETT: Well, we had been performing it live, which was a good move. We went out and took it on the road for four months before we recorded it. So we were very familiar with it. And we were able to do it almost live. As a matter of fact, we cut it section by section. We did basically the three full sections. And then, with the exception of a couple of the songs--like “Good Vibrations,” which we did as a totally separate entity.

ORTEZA: Why did he decide to go with "Good Vibrations"' alternate lyrics?
FOSKETT: Those are the original lyrics that Tony Asher wrote. Michael Love wrote the other ones because, quite frankly, he didn’t like Tony’s lyrics. And Brian always liked Tony’s lyrics better. So he wanted to use them because they were the ones that he wanted originally. Michael Love was also aware of publishing in those days, of songwriting credit and whatnot. And, quite frankly, Mike told me he wrote the lyrics on the way to the recording studio. It’s nothing that he sat down and thought about. He wanted new lyrics, and he wanted to impress Brian. So he wrote them on the way to the session. And he didn’t live that far from the studio, you know? He lived on Coldwater, and the studio was on Sunset. So it wasn’t that big of a deal.

ORTEZA: I’m guessing that serving as the musical director for the SMiLE tour must be enormously daunting.
FOSKETT: Well, actually, I really enjoyed every minute of it. When we talked about it originally, I thought, “I don’t know how we’re going to do this.” But I'll give credit where credit is due--obviously, Brian’s genius is in writing all that stuff, and then this fellow Darian [Sahanaja], who plays the keyboards in the band, deserves a lot of credit as well. He was the one that kind of put together and made sense out of all of the parts for us to learn to sing. So that was nice, because it saved me a ton of time. Darian is a very sweet guy and a very right-on musician, and he actually helped a great deal in that fashion.

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