Interview with Andrew G. Doe (7-31-05)

Author of
"Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys-The Complete Guide to Their Music"
By Ronnie

When it comes to rock 'n roll books (especially reference book) - I'm a stickler for little facts and details. Just today I was reading a new rock biography (I won't say which, but it will be reviewed soon in EAR CANDY) that had a musician listening to the Beatles' "Butcher Cover" of "Yesterday and Today" in 1965! It went on to say that he was revolted by the cover. Not only was this a year before it was released (1966), but the "Butcher Cover" was NEVER commercially available (it was recalled BEFORE it hit the stores).

So, it is refreshing to read an accurate rock 'n roll reference book (and these ARE actually very rare in number) that not only gets the facts straight, but is a fun read. I'm talking about the book, "Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys-the Complete Guide to their Music" (a 2004 update of the previous 1997 "The Complete Guide to the Music of the Beach Boys") by Andrew G. Doe. It references each Beach Boys release (plus solo albums) through 2003 with dates, song listings, pertinent facts, trivial facts and finally reviews. Not only is it a handy reference guide that I've used time and time again, but I really enjoy the (sometimes) brutally honest record reviews!

Actually, I had been in contact with Andrew G. Doe before I actually realized that he had authored a Beach Boys' book. Around 1998, my growing fascination with the (then) "lost" Beach Boys SMiLE album had found a new outlet - the internet. One of the regulars of the various message boards over the years was Andrew G. Doe, who was always helpful in correspondence to any questions I had. Andrew also runs Bellagio 10452 - a Beach Boys reference site.

We recently chatted about Andrew’s books, his fascination with The Beach Boys and what he thinks a rock ‘n roll writer SHOULD strive for. And of course we talked about SMiLE…

E.C.: Are the Beach Boys the only rock band that you research?

Andrew G. Doe: Currently, at least to this insane degree, but back when my collaboration with John Tobler began, I got to know a lot about The Doors very quickly. Interesting point, though - I was listening to a BBC Radio series about CSN&Y, and as the story unfolded, it dawned on me that I knew a lot about them too. I guess it all boils down to, if I like the band, or artist, I want to know as much about them as I can... but The Beach Boys are far and away the band I've researched most, by several orders of magnitude.

E.C.: "The Complete Guide to the Music of the Beach Boys" first came out in 1997 in a CD-sized book. How did the first version come about? Had you authored any books on music or the Beach Boys before?

Andrew G. Doe: Back to John Tobler. For those who are unfamiliar with the name, he's one of the best UK rock journalists, ever. Beginning with the early days of the legendary ZigZag magazine, he went on to author a huge number of books on just about every aspect of rock. I met him via a friend, and knew him only as a person who'd written a book about The Beach Boys, back in 1977. We met, we got on well, and next thing I knew, I was helping him research projects like the BBC Guitar Greats book. My 'official' intro into the world of rock journalism was The Doors project: he called me and said to come on over as we had a book on The Doors to write. So I did, and upon arrival was presented with every Doors album and bootleg then available (and this was 1980, pre-CD), a stack of clippings about two feet high, maybe ten books and a small stack of interview cassettes. JT had interviewed them all, including Jim at the 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival. So I'm thinking, OK, more research, at which point I'm told I'm actually writing the damn thing ! Now, by this point I'd been contributing to Beach Boys Stomp, the UK fanzine, for some three years... but it’s one thing to write any old dreck knowing it'll be printed anyway, and quite another to be told by a professional, and highly respected, that you'll be writing a contracted book that will bear his name as well as yours. Like, no pressure ! I learned a lot about writing in a very short space of time. The book was eventually published in 1984, got good reviews, and only went out of print maybe three years ago. Looking back on it now, it's obviously a freshman effort, but at the time - and I think maybe even now - it was the only book that took the story past Jim's death.

OK, so, that's how it all began, and as time passed we collaborated on other projects. The ComGuide project came about when the commissioning editor at Omnibus, Chris Charlesworth, asked JT if he could write the entry for The Beach Boys. No, he replied, but I know a man who can!

E.C.: You and John Tobler are both listed as authors. What role did each of you have in the writing of the book?

Andrew G. Doe: Very simple, very sharply defined. John landed and closed the deal, I wrote the book... which meant listening to every CD at least three times. I think I may be the only person who's listened to the band's entire CD output sequentially, from "Surfin'" to STARS & STRIPES VOLUME 1 plus the solo stuff and the compilations, with almost no interruptions - it sure gives you a feel for the sweep of their career. It also makes you painfully aware that, while they recorded some of the most sublime rock music you'll ever hear, they also released a goodly proportion of steaming crap. But in the back of my mind I kept the thought that I was being paid to listen to my own CD collection, and to pen my thoughts on same. That said, listening to SUMMER IN PARADISE three times on the trot has probably scarred me for life. Then, when it was done, we sat down together and did the 'final mix'. One ten-hour session, the intent being to make it a) edit-proof; and b) equally proof against legal action - The Beach Boys, as you may have noticed, are a highly litigious group of people ! In both objectives, we were successful. I should point out here that the immodest title - Complete Guide - owed nothing to either of us, but was rather the generic title of the series, which comprised 44 titles cover such diverse artists as The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Steely Dan & Metallica. I gather it was one of the better sellers, and certainly didn't hurt at all when I went online in February 1998.

E.C.: In 2004, the book was updated with a slightly revised title ("Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys-the Complete Guide to their Music") and a different book size (from a CD-size book to your standard book size). It included info about the 2004 performances of SMiLE but came out before the official SMiLE 2004 CD release - will there be another update?

Andrew G. Doe: The update came about because, with a few exceptions - Beatles, Floyd and the like - the original CD sized volumes had gone out of print, and there was a steady demand for them, so Omnibus set about reissuing them, or rather some of them, and given the nature of rock, it was obvious that there had to be some updating. In the case of the BB, this concerned mainly a slew of compilations, but I also got to include the solo albums, which were excluded from the original version due to space constraints. Fortunately the revised version - and the title tweak was the idea of Omnibus, by the way - was printed before I got to hear GETTING IN OVER MY HEAD, which just has to be not only Brian's worst album but the worst solo set by ANY BB. Dire. Having attended the February 2004 RFH SMILE gigs, I managed to get a swift mention of them in, but of course the studio version came much too late. The other thing the reissue enabled me to do was to include new information and, frankly, to excise as many of the errors as I could. About the dumbest thing any so-called expert can do is write a book on their chosen subject - you can check it, double check it and then get someone else to check it...and it's dollars to donuts that at least one glaring mistake will still make it through. And the BB fan world is just full of people looking for things like that - I can say that, I'm one myself.

Will there be another update ? I'd like to think so, but it won't be for a few years, and will probably comprise even more compilations, GIOMH, BWPS, the impending Christmas album - which I just can't get worked up over, sorry - an expanded reissue of POB and of course the 40th anniversary SMILE SESSIONS 1966-67 box set. The latter is just so logical, it has to happen.

E.C.: What I really like about your writing is its straightforwardness and the emphasis on facts. What do you consider the ultimate goal of a rock music historian? Presenting the facts first? Presenting them without a bias or a revisionalistic attempt?

Andrew G. Doe: You have, just HAVE, to have a foundation of the best facts you can muster: without that there's no point. Then you can build upon that, expand and extrapolate, offer opinions and theories, but again, you have to make it clear that what you're presenting are your own theories, or those of others, and not established fact. The problem of late has been that the relationship between The Beach Boys and facts can be tenuous at times. 'Accepted' history has a habit of unraveling when you look closely. Here's a for instance - on a Beach Boys message board a few years ago, the topic under discussion was Alan Jardine and his early days in the band, and the one thing that everyone knew was that he quit after the Hite Morgan sessions to go to dental school. Now, I got in touch with an old friend of his, Gary Winfrey, and in the course of our email exchanges, he produced evidence that Alan wasn't at dental college in 1962, but working in LA. Cue much head-scratching. Then a couple of us did the obvious thing, which no one (including me) had thought to do in the intervening 40-odd years: call Ferris U and ask about the time he was there. Turns out he was there, but BEFORE The BBs were formed, in 1960/61. Researcher's golden rule #2: question everything. (#1 - always keep a copy of everything you unearth: many, many years ago, I saw a clipping that mentioned the mythical SMILE track "Red Run". Never seen it since, and neither has anyone else I know).

Sorry, I've drifted. Present the best facts you have as you found them - with no side, spin or agenda. Let the reader decide: sure, you can open a door, or point down an interesting alleyway, but never impose your own theories on them, never push them through one door in preference to another. Of course, this is much easier said than done, and I'm as guilty as the next man. Further, if you've new information that runs counter to the accepted wisdom, make sure you've damn good supporting evidence (although I must confess, when questioned on a fact in the ComGuide, I once baldly stated "Bruce Johnston told me so !"). And of course, facts change as new information turns up, and any good historian will accept this: in his seminal discography, Brad Elliott gave a detailed outline of the events leading up to the release of SUNFLOWER... which turned out, on further research, to be pretty much entirely wrong. Kudos to him, in a leading fanzine of the day - Add Some Music - he held his hands up, admitted his error and proceeded to give us the accurate version. Granted, the incorrect version is still in the book, but that's down to the finances of publishing more than any inflexibility of outlook or ego.

E.C.: I am did a Brit become so fascinated by "America's Band" to devote so much time to research of their work? What is it about the music of the Beach Boys that calls to you, rather than another band such as The Beatles?

Andrew G. Doe: I'd love to say I was seduced by the complexity of Brian's music and the beauty of the harmonies, but the fact is, my interest in the band was sparked by one article. The household I grew up in wasn't exactly musical (unless you count my father's efforts on harmonica, which sounded like Larry Adler on speed), but there was always music, courtesy of the radio. Thing about radio is, you don't have a choice as to what you're hearing - well, except to change the channel - so you're going to hear a good cross-section of the current crop whether you want to or not. I grew up with The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Stones & The Who, and about a zillion other artists, as the background to my days, but that was about it until I started reading the UK music press and in particular the New Musical Express, which in the seventies was just the best rock paper out there - you had the likes of Charles Shaar Murray, Max Bell, Mick Farren, Steve Clarke and Nick Kent writing, and even if you didn't like the band they were covering, you still read, because you knew the standard of the writing would be superb. OK, so in June 1975 - the 21st to be precise - I get the NME, and on the front page there's a photo of a huge breaker, with this chubby guy wearing a cricket sweater and a quizzical expression superimposed. The middle four pages were devoted to this guy, under the title "The Last Beach Movie: A Story Of Brian Wilson 1942 - ". I read the first paragraph - and that was it, I was hooked. By the story, not the music. There were two more installments, and by the end, I was thinking, 'hmmmmm, something interesting going on here - I have to hear some of this music". First Beach Boys album I ever bought ? PET SOUNDS... and dammit, the music matched the stories Kent was spinning.

Of course, the lure of SMILE was like a candle to this particular moth: I've always been a sucker for a really good mystery, be it Bigfoot, UFOs or Colonel Fawcett, and SMILE was a lulu. That we've very recently discovered that Kent , er, 'appropriated' a lot of the info regarding SMILE from a late 60s interview with Michael Vosse matters not - this one article turned my life around... and I'm glad it did.

The Beatles... never had the same allure to me, I suspect partly because they were omnipresent in the background of my life, and also partly because I've always a contrary cuss. I've never understood the near-deification, or in some case the musical attraction. As someone once said, "there's less to this than meets the eye (or ear)", but in this I'm definitely in the minority. PEPPER, to me, is over-wrought. REVOLVER is the one. But there's never been anything like the affection, or interest, that I've felt for The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson. The only other artist who even comes close is Jim Steinman. But of course, you have to get the joke...

E.C.: In your research, were there any revelations that you found particularly interesting?

Andrew G. Doe: A question that presupposes I did any concerted research for the ComGuide ! In fact, as outlined above, the majority of the book was written by simply listening to the albums and pulling stuff out of my head...which I guess gives you a pretty fair insight into my mental processes, in that I can retain that much ephemera in my memory. If course, once the basic text was down, I did extensive fact checking - which didn't prevent me giving entirely the wrong composer credit for one song - and rewriting... but the fact remains, I did precious little new research for the first edition.

Now, if you're talking during my 30-odd years of BB fandom, I'd have to say that Brian wasn't really that much involved with the SPRING album at all... that the relationship between the band and Charles Manson ran deeper and was more involved than I'd suspected, and than the band were willing to admit... that the commonly accepted that the band hardly played on their albums wasn't entirely true... the early days of Alan Jardine and his part in the formation of the band... and that Mike Love has NOT been married nine times or more ! Last time I checked, it was five. Same as Dennis, if you count Karen twice. Truth is, I find it all fascinating, even now. How could I not ? A band formed of three brothers, a cousin and various friends; the outside work; the solo stuff; the non-musical nonsense... you couldn't make it up.

E.C.: In both editions of the book, when talking about the song "Vega-Tables" you mention that it was a myth that this song was the "earth element". Yet, when SMiLE 2004 was performed, "Vega-Tables" was indeed the "earth element" (at least in the 2004 version). Will there be any revisions to this, or any other SMiLE-related facts in any updates to the book?

Andrew G. Doe: 'Myth', on reflection, may be too strong a word. Maybe it was the 'Earth Music' at one point (my preference is for "Fall Breaks..."): the SMILE booklet illustration gives credence to that theory... but then again, on the back cover, the title is clearly separate from "The Elements", and later still, "Vega-Tables" was set to be a single. Go figure. As for SMILE '04, the thing that must be borne in mind, but is commonly overlooked, is that - as Darian says in the Beautiful Dreamer documentary - what we have is NOT a finished SMILE, but rather the parts that would work best in a live context.

Further, the contention that the track order is how it was back then is highly debatable. The linking sections and segues work just fine, but a few years ago, when I asked, let's just say 'someone-who-should-know' about the format of SMILE as envisioned in 1966, I was told that it was going to be a single LP of 12-14 separate tracks, banded as such, no linking sections, no cross-fading EXCEPT for "The Elements" which would be so configured. Again, go figure. My best guess - and that's all it can be, for anyone except Brian and Van Dyke - is that "Vega-Tables" was originally part of "The Elements" but was later spun off to became a track on its own and was replaced by a variation on the "Fire" music. I can't prove it was, but equally no one can prove it wasn't. Frustrating, isn't it ?

Should there be a further update, say in 2011, then yes, obviously there will be more and hopefully better SMILE info, as I fully expect we'll have had a sessions box for some five years by then. The thing about SMILE is that, while we know, or strongly suspect, a lot of the detail, the overall picture is still murky. What was the track sequence ? We don't know, except that "Prayer" would probably have opened the album. Which version of "H&V" ? Beats me. The full intensity of "Fire", or the 'candle' ? No one knows, and I suspect no one ever will, unless a working time machine becomes practical.

That said, excellent research is being done on the Beach Boys message boards: the discovery of the aforementioned Vosse interview from Fusion in 1969 (which in my view is most interesting for what he DOESN'T say...), and the unearthing of David Oppenheim's notes for the reels of film he shot of Brian and the band for the Inside Pop program. Deciphering the latter has been akin to translating cuneiform, but what has emerged has rewritten a small corner of SMILE lore, dated the filming precisely and put one supposition to rest.

E.C.: On the 20/20 album - we all know about Charles Manson's input on "Never Learn Not To Love" (originally his song entitled "Cease To Exist"). But, do you know what input Manson had on "Be With Me" or "All I Want To Do"?

Andrew G. Doe: For this I was reliant on someone who'd interviewed Manson, and established a somewhat strained relationship with him (I believe he has a collection of death threats), and according to Charlie, he co-authored both the latter titles. And you have to admit, both the lyric and overall tenor of "Be With Me" are Mansonian, plus when I ran this up the flagpole, no-one shot it down. However, when I proposed the credit for "All I Want To Do", it was swiftly brought to my attention that Steve Kalinich had in his possession the original lyric sheet that he'd written out for this song. At the risk of invoking Charlie's ire, I'll go with hard copy here.

E.C.: How often do you update your website, Bellagio 10452?

Andrew G. Doe: When new info crops up, when someone points out a gross error, when there's a new release, or when the idea for a new page hits me. No set schedule, just when and as. On average, once a week - but mostly they're very small, cosmetic, changes. I had planned on adding a page about the Candix/X releases this year, and the research is all there, but it's finding time.

E.C.: With all the Beach Boys-related books out there now, do you feel that there is no "final word" and that these books need to be updated as new information comes to light? Other than your book (which will be reviewed in this issue) what others do you think contains "must read" information? Also, what faults do you find in any of the books out there?

Andrew G. Doe: Oh sure, nail me to a tree and shoot arrows at me ! OK, compared to say Elvis or The Beatles, the number of BB/related books is comparatively small, and I would have to say that there are very few that are totally disposable. To take a for instance, the Gaines book, "Heroes & Villains" has some glaring mistakes, yet the business information is not only fascinating but also highly accurate, as it would be given the source. Of the 'major' books, probably the least essential is, curiously enough, Brian's 'autobiography' - because it's nothing of the sort. During the case brought in 1994 by Mike concerning his missing songwriting credits, Brian stated under oath that he 'dropped off a bunch of tapes' to Todd Gold and that this was his sole involvement in the book. Apparently he's never read it. The general opinion is that for the first section of the book Gold lifted parts of primarily the Gaines and Leaf books, and that the second section was written, or at the very least, heavily influenced, by Landy. Gold has admitted the lifting of material in a Billboard interview, justifying it by saying he had to flesh out Brian's comments. Hmmm...There can be no 'final word' on the BB, just as there can be no definitive biography, unless you get them to all pen their recollections... and even then, it'd be hell to edit for, as all BB researchers are only too well aware, the band's recollection of events can sometimes be at odds to what actually happened. There will always be new material cropping up, be it audio or documentary. We're still finding out new things about people dead for centuries, so why should the band be any different ? As for updating, that's down to the publishing house and the financial dynamic of the market. Or in English, if it doesn't sell enough first time out, there won't be a second edition.

E.C.: Do you have any other books pending, Beach Boys-related or others?

Andrew G. Doe: Not currently. My job takes up a lot of my time. I have a few ideas floating around, but nothing concrete.