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Jeffrey Foskett keeps the Beach Boys reunion in harmony

As the Beach Boys tour comes to the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday, the man standing between Brian Wilson and Mike Love on stage, Jeffrey Foskett, is a key player.

June 02, 2012|By Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times
  • Jeffrey Foskett, center, perfoms with Beach Boy Brian Wilson, left, during the legendary Southern California band's show in Chula Vista.
Jeffrey Foskett, center, perfoms with Beach Boy Brian Wilson, left, during… (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles…)

CHULA VISTA —The Beach Boys'1968 hit "Do It Again" unfolded gradually during an afternoon sound check before the group's evening performance here late last week. In jeans and T-shirts, the band started in on the infectious and rhythmic rock song.

"It's automatic when I talk to old friends," they sang, "the conversation turns to girls we knew when their hair was soft and long and the beach was the place to go."

Then came the sound of Brian Wilson's signature falsetto, launching the group's distinctive harmonies into the musical stratosphere.

But those glorious high notes that define Beach Boys hits such as "California Girls" and "Good Vibrations," weren't coming from Wilson, 69. They were emanating from the mouth of Jeffrey Foskett, the 56-year-old guitarist standing a few feet behind, and strategically between, Wilson and founding member Mike Love.

There is no shortage of veteran bands hitting the road now, but the Beach Boys reunion tour, which lands at the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday, is the first time Wilson, Love, 71, Al Jardine, 69, and David Marks, 63, have toured together since the 1960s. It marks the Beach Boys' 50th anniversary, and their first album with Wilson in 23 years, "That's Why God Made the Radio."

Since Wilson doesn't quite have the voice — or relationship with the group — he once had, the ability of the Beach Boys to tour depends heavily on Foskett's voice and the role he plays connecting Wilson with his former bandmates.

Foskett was no different than thousands of other musicians who toil in anonymity when he and his cover band were banging out Beach Boys hits in the late 1970s. In a moment of serendipity, Love heard the amateur musician playing in a Santa Barbara bar, and hired him.

For a kid who grew up loving the Beach Boys' music, Foskett said he felt like a former Little Leaguer who got a call to report to Dodger Stadium.

"That's exactly what it is like — and probably as rare too," Foskett said with a gentle smile last week backstage at the Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre. "How many amateur athletes turn pro? And how many of the thousands of musicians — tens of thousands of musicians — in Los Angeles are going to get into the band that they really loved, and tour with them?"

During the sound check in Chula Vista, Foskett, Love, Jardine and longtime singer Bruce Johnston went over who would sing what parts in the group's intensely complex harmonic arrangements.

But it's not all about music for the Beach Boys' sole "vice principal," the title bestowed on Foskett by the five "principals." When a rack of freshly dry-cleaned flower-print shirts showed up in a dressing room, Foskett dutifully sorted them for his bosses. "Did I mention I also get to do laundry?" he said with a smile.

Laundry detail notwithstanding, Foskett is more than just a musical cog in the Beach Boys juggernaut. He's the only one — including the Beach Boys themselves — who's played with the Beach Boys, the Brian Wilson Band and the Endless Summer Beach Band that backed Love's solo shows.

Surf's up

The Beach Boys formed in Hawthorne in 1961 with brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson, their cousin, Love, and two pals, Jardine and Marks. But Marks left in 1963 and Brian Wilson quit touring two years later to focus on work in the recording studio (Johnston came in to round out the touring lineup). The group's creative leader also frequently went MIA in the '70s and '80s. In 1983, Dennis Wilson drowned, and Carl died of cancer in 1998.

The Beach Boys' lyrics often centered on surf, sun, girls and car culture, but it was Brian Wilson's falsetto that propelled their music into the heavens, a vocal manifestation of unbridled teen freedom, joy and heartbreak. But he became one of rock's most notorious casualties after suffering nervous breakdowns stemming from his father's dictatorial control over his sons and the band, Brian's drug use and growing tensions within the group itself.

Wilson spent much of the '70s and '80s in seclusion, emerging only occasionally to perform with or without the other Beach Boys, until he mounted a return to the spotlight in 1998. His once-exceptionally pure and high voice, however, reflected the ravages of what he'd been through.

"Jeffrey is invaluable to keeping the continuity between the various component parts," Jardine, 69, said backstage. "He supports Brian in every possible way."

The trust Wilson has in Foskett, musically and personally, is a crucial element of the current tour. In some ways, he is closer to the group's creative leader than anyone except Wilson's wife of 17 years, Melinda.

"He has Brian's confidence," Jardine said, "and basically kind of makes it possible to have Brian Wilson on the road with us. [Without] that shoulder to lean on, I think it would be very difficult for Brian to tour. And I'm very grateful for that."

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