by John M. Borack
The Wild Honey Foundation is gearing up to present an eclectic playlist filled with both well-known and esoteric Beach Boys tunes from 1967-1977 performed by a talent-laden house band dubbed the Wild Honey Orchestra, along with special guest vocalists and performers. The much-anticipated event, which will benefit the Autism Think Tank and The Children’s Music Fund, will take place Saturday evening, February 13 at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California.
Having taken its name from the 1967 Beach Boys album, it makes perfect sense for the benefit concert producers/music fans behind Wild Honey to return to their Beach Boys roots, which include a 1994 Brian Wilson tribute show (with Brian performing), and a 1996 celebration of the classic Pet Sounds and Friends LPs.
The Wild Honey franchise dates back to late 1993. “Myself and two fellow rabid music fans, David Jenkins and Andrew Sandoval, staged a Beach Boys gathering/party in my rented house on Olympic Blvd. near Highland Ave.,” remembers Wild Honey co-founder/co-organizer Paul Rock. “We had nearly 100 folks [attend], with performances by our new friends Baby Lemonade, Wondermints, and many others. Wild Honey was born that night and so were a lot of great friendships.”
“A year later, we moved to the 200-seat Morgan-Wixson Theatre and hosted the Brian Wilson tribute that included the set by Brian himself, as well as Alex Chilton,” Rock continues. “A star-struck Teenage Fanclub were in the audience, but declined to perform. It was a magical, surreal night.”
This time around, Wild Honey will turn the spotlight on the underappreciated and often overlooked decade between 1967’s Smiley Smile through 1977’s The Beach Boys Love You records. More than 30 songs from this musically fruitful yet often commercially unsuccessful era will be performed by the Wild Honey Orchestra and the guest vocalists, along with a full string and horn section. (This writer is particularly looking forward to hopefully hearing the downright wacky “Johnny Carson” from Love You and the Dennis Wilson-penned heartfelt declaration of undying love from Sunflower, “Forever.”)
But why choose ’67 – ‘77 to explore? It’s simple, says Paul Rock: he and his cohorts love the music the Beach Boys produced during this period. “We chose this period because too often the media paints the Beach Boys’ story as the rise to Pet Sounds/”Good Vibrations,” and then a total collapse in the late ‘60s and the early ‘70s, when in fact, the group made one excellent record after another, featuring songs by all members of the group,” Rock explains. “We feel that this period is tragically overlooked and deserves its full due, with full respect given to all members of the band, especially Dennis and Carl [Wilson].”
Guest performers for the evening will be numerous, and include: the Beach Boys’ Al Jardine and David Marks, Micky Dolenz of the Monkees, Debbi Peterson (The Bangles), Rumer, Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate), Susan Cowsill, The Muffs, Cindy Lee Berryhill, Bill Mumy (Yes, the “wish it into the cornfield” kid from the classic Twilight Zone episode is an accomplished musician), Stephen Kalinich (longtime Beach Boy collaborator), Billy Hinsche (Dino, Desi & Billy, Beach Boys), Bobby Figueroa (Dennis Wilson collaborator/former Beach Boys touring drummer), Anna Waronker & Rachel Haden (That Dog), John Wicks (The Records), and “the always-possible very special guests.”
Many of the guests are holdovers from previous Wild Honey gigs, and many are new to the scene. Paul Rock is grateful for the involvement of all the artists who continue to support his vision, and he is also excited about the first-time guests. “It’s always great to have new faces,” he explains. “This year, I’m really looking forward to Al Jardine, Rumer, Micky Dolenz, Steve Wynn, Jason Brewer of the Explorers Club, and Danny Henry, a young kid who is working with Scott Bennett from the Brian Wilson Band.”
Another new face on the stage this year will be singer/songwriter Rob Bonfiglio, who has a special familial connection to the music of the Beach Boys. “Well, first and foremost, I’m a fan,” Bonfiglio admits. “Brian Wilson is my father-in-law [Bonfiglio has been married to Brian’s daughter Carnie Wilson since 2000]. I’m guitarist and musical director with Wilson Phillips, as well as with California Saga. I met my wife directly via Al Jardine. At the very least, I’m connected to this music by rote.”
“That said, my participation is not born of a purely nepotistic nature,” he adds. “Quite the contrary; I’ve felt I’ve had to doubly prove my abilities. I’ve been a working musician for many years and have experienced modest successes as a musician and songwriter far removed from the reaches of the Wilson family.” [Bonfiglio was a member of the power pop outfit Wanderlust, who saw their fine debut record released by RCA in 1995.]
Bonfiglio also admits, “I’ve wanted to get involved in Wild Honey for some time now, Beach Boys music or not. I’m friendly with a number of the core participants but have never had the opportunity to make music together. I’ll be accompanying Bobby Figueroa on his performance and hopefully singing and playing on a few other numbers.”
Current members of the Wild Honey Orchestra include a veritable who’s who of highly respected L.A.-area musicians, including: musical director Rob Laufer; vocal director Chris Price (Emitt Rhodes); drummer Jim Laspesa (Dave Davies/Susanna Hoffs); bassist Derrick Anderson (The Bangles); guitarists Mike Randle and Rusty Squeezebox (Baby Lemonade, Love); Darian Sahanaja (Wondermints, Brian Wilson Band); X drummer DJ Bonebrake, keyboardists Debbie Shair and Gary Griffin, and many others. “It’s a huge team effort to create these shows, and we are hugely grateful to everyone that volunteers each and every year,” Rock tells us.
As has been the case with recent Wild Honey shows, the concert will benefit the Autism Think Tank. This non-profit organization gathers together a team of top autism specialists, via an Internet medical conference, to tackle the medical and psychological problems faced by children and young adults with autism. The event will also benefit the Children’s Music Fund (CMF), a national charity that provides music therapy and instruments to children and young adults with chronic or life-altering illnesses, and supports research on the effects of music therapy on children.
Rock has a special connection to both these non-profits. “My 11-year-old son Jacob is autistic; he’s non-verbal and on the severe end of the spectrum, mostly due to his bouts of self-injury. The Autism Think Tank has been at our side for the past 3 years, providing us huge insights into Jake’s digestive issues and giving us access to a variety of autism specialists and therapists that have greatly eased his overall pain situation,” Rock says. “The Children’s Music Fund has provided Jake with music therapy that has inspired him to put his love of music into action,” Rock continues. “Jake now spends a good part of each day at his piano, plunking away his own eccentric collection of notes. In short, he has something to call his own and it’s quite inspiring. In short, these organizations make a HUGE difference for the kids and their parents. Besides my passion for the music, I’m motivated by my desire to help autistic kids like Jake,” Rock says.
Rob Bonfiglio also recognizes the importance of the cause that the musicians are coming together to support. “We’re lucky to not have been directly affected, but the prevalence of autism in children is at an epidemic; autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability today,” he explains. “Helping spread the word to raise money for research and doing so in a joyous musical way seems like a great idea to me.”
Tickets are available at the Alex Theatre box office at www.Alextheatre.org