The Dark, Weird Beginnings of Bruce Johnston…

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Bruce Johnston – On a buoy, and a strange looking bus…

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Listen/Download -Bruce Johnston – Jersey Channel Islands Part 7

Listen/Download -Bruce Johnston – Capetown

Greetings all.

I hope you’re all well as we settle in for another week.

The tunes I bring you today are some crazy shit from a very unlikely source.

I’ve certainly known of Bruce Johnston for years, first and foremost as a longtime member of the Beach Boys, and before that (with Terry Melcher) as part of Bruce and Terry.

That said, I had no idea that he had anything like the cuts I bring you today inside of him.

I first heard ‘Jersey Channel Islands Part 7’ last year, and when I did the experience was akin to opening a box of Cheerios and finding a pack of rattlesnakes singing four part harmony, i.e. the very spirit of incongruity.

Recorded in 1963 and released on the Columbia label, ‘Surfin’ ‘Round the World’ is proof positive that no matter how much you dig, no matter who you hobnob with, you will never know all the cool music there is to know.

This also has something to do with the old saw about leaving no stone unturned.

If I saw a Bruce Johnston album in a record store, I’d probably pass it by. While I dig surf music a lot, I am in neither an expert nor a connoisseur, happy to get by with a couple of compilation CDs and whatever interesting looking albums or 45s I manage to pick up on the cheap.

However, when I heard these tracks I knew I had to track down this record. My initial efforts met with little success because ‘Surfin’…’ is both obscure, and I would later discover, rare and costly.

Fortunately for me (always thankful for Ebay sellers who know not what they have), I got lucky and managed to pick up a lot with both mono and stereo copies of the record for about a third of what a single copy usually goes for.

Interestingly enough, alongside manic episodes like ‘Jersey Channel Islands Part 7’ and ‘Capetown’ (most of the albums tracks namecheck famous surfing locales) there are a couple of fairly run of the mill Beach Boys-y tracks, which were no doubt what Johnston turned over to the suits when they agreed to release this album. I suspect that had he whipped any of the crazy stuff on them they would have soiled their Brooks Brothers, spit out their 12 year old scotch and had him killed and buried in a shallow grave.

If you take a look at the pictures of Johnston on the cover of the album, looking all clean-cut and wholesome, you’d probably never match them up with this lunacy.

The best tracks on the album sound as if some mental case in a 1990s surf revival band, with a whole lot of grain alcohol and bad attitude under his belt had been set loose in a recording studio.

I don’t doubt that somewhere in 1963, someone was making music this unhinged, but that it made it onto a major label release is especially shocking.

The cuts are filled with insane, fuzzed out guitars and bass, electric piano (probably all Johnston) and wailing sax, packed with sounds that were years ahead of their time.

What you get is a basic template of hardcore, Dick Dale-ish surf, frat rock, lots of studio experimentation and just a dash of psychosis.

Interestingly, one of the tracks from the LP (‘Maksha at Midnight’ which sounds like Hank Marvin on vacation in California) was released a year later on a Bruce and Terry 45.

In addition to his Beach Boys duties, Johnston also went on to write ‘I Write the Songs’ for Barry Manilow. Go figure…

Fortunately ‘Surfin’ ‘Round the World’ has been reissued on a CD two-fer for a much more reasonable price.

I hope you dig this madness, and I’ll be back next week.

Peace

Larry

 

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PS Head over to Funky16Corners for a soulful cover of Question mark and the Mysterians.

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1 Comment

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