By Ken Sharp
For many years, David Marks, a founding member of The Beach Boys, was a mere footnote in music history, a forgotten figure relegated to an obscure answer in a rock trivia game.
In the candid new tome, “The Lost Beach Boy,” Marks finally tells his story. Penned by Marks and Beach Boys authority Jon Stebbins, the book shatters the mythology surrounding his role in the band. Ultimately, “The Lost Beach Boy” restores Marks’ rightful place in the Beach Boys’ saga and, in the process, offers a wealth of fascinating insight into the group’s formative years. The following is Part 1 of a two-part interview.
Goldmine: In the book, you speak about sneaking over to the Wilsons’ home and watching Brian painstakingly practice.
David Marks: I would always be busting in at the house over there every day. Sometimes there wasn’t anyone at home except for Brian, and he would be playing the piano. And I was fascinated by what he was doing, so I would kind of spy on him through a window and watch him in the music room. I watched him quite a few times when he was working out harmonies. He was studying The Four Freshmen. His method was to play the same three or four notes over and over again on the stereo. When he had it in his head, he would take it over to the piano and sing it. Carl and I used the same method Brian did to learn guitar parts by Chuck Berry, The Ventures, Dick Dale [and] Duane Eddy.
As we were unveiling the statue at the Hawthorne landmark a few years ago, I sheepishly confessed to Brian that, as a kid, I used to spy on him when he was at the piano working out arrangements. He half smiled and said he knew, and that it was OK I was there watching. I always felt like I was kinda on the outside as far as the Beach Boys go, so when Brian told me it was OK with him that I was part of that private musical world of his, it finally dawned on me that I spent a lot of time needlessly feeling excluded from those guys, and it really helped me embrace my past and got me into the right frame of mind to work with Jon on this book.
GM: How did you come to join The Beach Boys?
DM: Joining the Beach Boys is kind of an elusive thing, because I had been involved with the Wilsons’ musical endeavors as soon as I moved in across the street. The music evolved, and I was just normally there every day.
The Beach Boys band slowly evolved; it wasn’t an overnight thing. It was like, one day Brian was playing the piano, and he heard Carl and I playing guitar, and he recruited us to play along with what he was playing on piano, which turned out to be “Surfer Girl.” So he had us doing that little strumming thing on “Surfer Girl.” He was intrigued that Carl and I were so into Chuck Berry. The surf instrumental thing was a big thing for us, and Carl and I were really into that. Brian wanted to incorporate the reverb unit, big Fender guitar sound that was happening at the time.
GM: It’s amazing to realize that in early 1962 The Beach Boys were playing small gigs and less than a year later, in October of 1962, you were performing onstage at The Hollywood Bowl.
DM: Early on, we had played a couple of local things around and played a party at Milton Berle’s house for his daughter’s birthday. Gigging back then was very exciting.
Brian had already gone in and experimented in the studio. He was using different people. His mom was even involved in one of the sessions. He did the session for “Surfin’” and “Luau” with Al, and that was getting airplay locally in L.A.
In the meantime, Al split. He got a job at an aircraft company. He really wanted to do folk music, and he wasn’t into the direction that the Beach Boys were going with the electric sound. They had shopped the acoustic stuff that Brian had done at Candix around to all the labels, and nobody was interested. With the incorporation of our electric guitars, we did some new demos of “Surfin’ Safari,” “409” and “Lonely Sea,” and that’s what got Capitol interested in the band, that electric sound. Of course, they still had their doubts, because they didn’t think surfing was gonna catch on. I think it was the “hot rod” songs that really made the band go national.
As for playing at the Hollywood Bowl, try to imagine yourself at 13 or 14, and you’re just having fun playing and not really thinking that much about it. Then all of sudden you hear your song on the radio, and it’s going national, and you’re getting called for all these jobs. Our heads were spinning. It just happened so fast, and it was really exciting. We immediately adapted to it.
GM: Did this sudden success seem unreal to you or were you feeling this is what should be happening, that we’re gonna be big stars?
DM: Yeah, exactly. When we walked out on the stage at the Hollywood Bowl, it felt like a natural thing. We were excited and proud, but we felt like we belonged there. It wasn’t humbling, because we were arrogant (laughs). We had the world by the balls. So when we walked out on the stage at the Hollywood Bowl, we were like, “Here we are everybody!”