Beach Boy Bruce Johnston is at home surfing or on stage

Published on March 29th, 2021

By Jim Dail

It’s been a long time since five young men who would become The Beach Boys gathered in the home of Murray and Audree Wilson to work out the Brian Wilson-Mike Love composition, “Surfin.”

A lot has changed over the years. Carl and Dennis Wilson have passed away, Brian Wilson is now focused on a solo career and Al Jardine is no longer with the band.

However, what has not changed is The Beach Boys are still packing people into their shows, one of which is at The Pechanga Showroom on May 16.

“The songs are the stars of the show, not any of us,” said Beach Boy Bruce Johnston who continues to tour with original Beach Boy Mike Love, whom Brian Wilson has called “his favorite singer of all time.”

Just about everyone knows a Beach Boys song, whether it’s “Surfin’ USA,” “I Get Around,” “Good Vibrations,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” or “Kokomo,” among others.

After all, the band has sold more than 100 million records.

Johnston, while not an original member, is as close to an original as one could get.

In 1964, Brian Wilson, following a nervous breakdown aboard an airplane, decided to no longer tour with the band. The group tabbed session guitarist Glen Campbell to replace him, but Campbell left soon after. He was replaced by Johnston whose other claim to fame is as a songwriter, most notably being the author of Barry Manilow’s megahit “I Write the Songs.”

 “I asked one time how many records with the song on it have been sold, and I was told ‘probably 20 million,’” he said. “I said ‘cool. That works for me.’ I got to write another song.”

There’s no doubt that Johnston has enjoyed his role with the Beach Boys and life in general.

“Am I luckiest guy in the world or what,” he said.

In fact, Johnston is living the stereotypical Beach Boy life. On the morning of this interview he had just come from, naturally, the beach in Santa Barbara.

“That’s what I’ve done all my life, be at the beach,” Johnston said. “I live in a great place. Last night I went sailing. It was Wet Wednesday so I just hitched a ride on a boat.”

Don’t think it’s all fun and games because he’s serious when it comes to The Beach Boys.

Originally, he was tabbed to sing Brian’s high vocal parts, such as the lead vocals of such songs as “Let Him Run Wild,” “Don’t Worry Baby” and “The Warmth of the Sun,” but he soon was doing other parts as well.

“The songs are kind of like a straight symphony, and you have to hit your parts,” he said. “You can’t not do the note or it’s like having a cheerleader’s pyramid and pulling out one piece of it. The whole thing collapses.”

Of course, with such a diverse catalog of songs, there are quite a lot of parts to choose from.

“We change the songs every night,” he said. “I mean, we could do a whole show of signature songs. Actually, we do a whole set of signature songs. We could do hours of signature songs.”

Part of the selection process can come down to where the band is playing.

“Sometimes when we are at a place like Vegas, they’ll say do 70 minutes of hits and then go,” he noted. “Outdoors we have to put the pedal to the metal, but in theaters we can stretch it out, maybe do four songs or so from ‘Pet Sounds.’”

Of course, there’s a chance that some fans may go home not hearing their favorite song.

“We can’t please everybody,” he said. “I mean if someone is that anal about it they really are missing the big picture. They should be worried about taxes in California, cuts in the schools, pollution.”

Indeed, Johnston is very concerned about education.

“At one of our schools the music teacher of 25 years won’t be doing that job because of the budget,” he said. “She’ll probably be teaching a geography class or something.”

One could assume he’d also be active in coastal issues, which is accurate.

“Anything involving coastal water issues I’m concerned about,” he said.

That’s part of the reason he’s involved with Surfrider Foundation USA, which is dedicated to protecting oceans, beaches and waves.

 Of course, as time has gone on and the members of the band have changed, Johnston at times feels a little eerie on stage.

“There are times when I’ll be on stage and our drummer will do a fill that sounds just like what Dennis would do and I’ll turn around,” he said. “I can’t help it. He does something like that every few nights and I’ll tell myself ‘that was Dennis.’”

While Carl and Dennis have passed away, Brian remains, but it’s not likely he’ll be returning.

“The reason I’m in the band is because Brian couldn’t imagine himself up on stage,” Johnston said.

While Johnston enjoys playing live, the studio is another matter.

“Anything I can do to stay out of the studio,” he said. “I’d rather write than record. I’d like to actually write something that gets into a TV show. Not a theme song, but a song that gets played during the show.”

Speaking of shows, there’s no signs the band is slowing down.

“We do about 150 shows a year,” he said. “We float around the first few months of the year and then we gear up and go all over the place.”

And The Beach Boys like Pechanga, despite the fact they’ve never played here.

“We’ve stayed there and it’s a great place,” he said. “Just think how cool the hotels are now.”

Despite the success, Johnston has not changed much over the years.

“I really live an Ozzie & Harriet kind of life,” he said. “I’m still doing the things like surfing I’ve done my entire life.”

In fact, had the Beach Boys not come calling, he’d still be surfing.

“If I had to choose between surfing or being a Beach Boy, bye, bye Beach Boys,” he said.


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