By Jimmy Magahern
It’s about a month away from the debut of Al Jardine’s acoustic show at Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum, and Jardine, a founding member of the Beach Boys with a special connection to Scottsdale, is just starting to sketch together his show, a Springsteen-on-Broadway-style mix of songs and storytelling backed only by his son Matt and a media projectionist.
“I’m going to start with the first song we ever recorded, ‘Surfin’,’ and I’m hoping they can place a big double bass on stage for me, because that’s what I played on that song,” he says. “They should have one at the museum, I think.”
Obviously Jardine has never been to the MIM: One of the museum’s centerpieces is its 12-foot-tall bowed Octobasse, one of the largest string instruments ever made. But Jardine plans to rectify that situation before his concert by dropping in on pal Peter Asher’s MIM show prior to his gigs. For Jardine, who lived in Scottsdale during the ‘80s when he was a familiar face around the Lasma Arabians horse ranch (he and second wife Mary Ann bred some million-dollar mares there), debuting his unplugged show at the MIM will mark a kind of homecoming.
“We lived in Scottsdale for about ten years, and my wife’s parents and her brother still live there,” he says. “Our twins Robbie and Drew were born there. Those were great years, man.”
If Jardine’s show shapes up anything like his easygoing conversational style, the 75-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is guaranteed to deliver an intimate, freewheeling account of his life as the one non-family member of one of America’s most influential family bands. It was a young Jardine, an early Kingston Trio aficionado, who first recognized in next door neighbor Brian Wilson’s tuneful odes to surf, bikinis and hot rods a rich mythology worthy of its own folk music, and encouraged the three Wilson brothers, Brian, Carl and Dennis, along with their cousin Mike Love, to sing about the Southern California life they knew best.
“The California that existed before we got here,” Jardine jokes, acknowledging that the Beach Boys created an indelible fantasy image of their Hawthorne surroundings that continues to draw hordes of Huarache sandals-wearing pleasure seekers down Doheny way (“I got pretty tired of the traffic in Los Angeles,” he grouses). Perhaps because of that, Jardine downplays the attractiveness of Northern California’s Big Sur, where he’s maintained an 80-acre ranch in an isolated canyon near Pfeiffer Beach since the early ‘70s and where he and Mary Ann narrowly survived a large wildfire in 2008.
“Big Sur is a gorgeous place, but it’s very difficult to live here,” he says, noting the massive round of fires that engulfed Northern California this past October — which at least cut down on vacationers. “I’m not going to talk about Big Sur very much because we don’t want more traffic,” he adds, with a laugh. “There’s only one stoplight between me and Monterey!”
If Jardine fears overcrowding in Big Sur, he’s only got himself to blame. His ambitious contribution to the Beach Boys’ 1973 album Holland, the three-part “California Saga,” put the NoCal paradise on the map, painting a vivid portrait of the coastline from Salinas to Morro Bay and name-dropping everyone from Steinbeck to local legend Penny Vieregge. On his 2010 first-ever solo album, A Postcard from California, Jardine revisits the suite’s closing song with backing vocals from Neil Young, David Crosby and Stephen Stills, and elsewhere includes paeans to San Simeon, Carmel’s Hurricane Point and other sights along the region’s picturesque Highway 1.
“That’s an awesome drive,” he says. “It’s like the Nā Pali coast along the north side of Kauaʻi. I’d better stop — I’ve said too much already!”
Interestingly, it’s Jardine’s mythologizing of Northern California and its eco-friendly counterculture, first captured on early ‘70s albums like Surf’s Up and Sunflower, that is now finding favor with new young Beach Boys fans.
“There was just such a richness in what they were doing in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s,” says Matt Jardine, who was featured as a kid on the Sunflower album cover and now, at 51, tours with his dad in Brian Wilson’s band (set to hit the road again in fall of 2018). “They were older. They weren’t kids anymore. They had families. And the beauty of living along the Big Sur coastline and just the wildness of it all became a part of the tapestry of their lives. And I think younger generations are really tapping into that era now. We recently played at this festival in Brooklyn, and it was all, like, twentysomethings out there in the audience.”
The younger Jardine, who now lives in Flagstaff with his wife and three kids, admits even he’s not sure what songs and stories will find their way into the MIM show.
“He’s always telling stories that even I haven’t heard before,” Matt says. “There’s just so much history in that band that there’s always something new coming out. It’s like he’s peeling back the layers of an onion.”
Al says he hasn’t scripted anything. “I’m just going to tell the stories behind the making of the songs — which I think is better than writing a book,” he adds, bucking the trend of rock star-penned memoirs, from Springsteen’s to Brian Wilson’s, currently saturating Amazon. “I can’t stand that idea. So I thought I’d just talk about it, between the songs. I think this will be more fun.”
Al Jardine performs A Postcard from California with Matt Jardine at 7 p.m. January 29 and 30 at the Musical Instrument Museum, 4725 E. Mayo Boulevard, Phoenix. Tickets cost $63.50 to $78.50. Call 480-478-6000 or visit mim.org for more information.