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Al de Lory
Al de Lory

(Another veteran of Phil Spector's sessions [like the classic "He's A Rebel], Al played on dozens of Beach Boys tracking dates. His most noteworthy musical moment with Brian was his organ solo near the end of 'California Girls.' As he explains, all that session work groomed him for A&R work at Capitol where he produced a string of 1960s hits with Glen Campbell including such great records as "Wichita Lineman." A five-time nominee, he won Grammy Awards for "Gentle On My Mind" and Glen's By The Time I Get To Phoenix LP.)


AL: "I was an A&R executive at Capitol when Brian was having his hits, and the company was awed by him. I was aware of the Beach Boys' power at the label. He was great business for the label. The leadership was good in the company then, especially in A&R. Karl Engemann was like the father of the AO floor. He was so supportive creatively. It was like a ball team. When a great record came in, we felt that we were well-directed and cared for.

But when they put out that greatest hits record [Best Of The Beach Boys] right after Pet Sounds, I remember I was really upset. The politics at the company really was changing from when I started there. I knew that when they do a 'Best of' on you, you're done. I said, 'Why are you doing that with the Beach Boys?' Capitol was becoming greedy. They wanted to get it all while they could. Do a 'Best of' while the guy is still at his peak, and you'll sell more. That's the beginning of the 'no talents' and the marketing people who want to get it all while they can.

When you do a 'Best of,' you're saying that this is the best of what he'll ever have. And it wasn't right to do that to Brian."


"During Pet Sounds, I had my A&R job at Capitol, but I was still being called to play on Brian Wilson dates. Because I have a sense of being a producer, I know when something important is going on or not. When there's real talent. I wasn't making those judgments back then consciously.

"But one of my vivid impressions were these playbacks from Brian and Chuck Britz. Maybe not enough credit has been given to Chuck Britz, who knew what to do. An engineer is so important to the whole thing. Whatever, I was just fascinated by the stacking sound; the whole sound in the room was so revolutionary. Very big sound, very full, very exciting.

"I remember that I met Brian at Western Studios. That was the first time I had any contact with him. We used to gather in that little studio. He would come in with a fresh idea; it wasn't necessarily even a complete song. He would sit down and play a few things, and we would write down what he was playing, and begin recording it. A lot of times, it seemed to be segmented. In the case of 'Good Vibrations' we recorded part of it at Western and other pieces at Gold Star.

"Anyway, Brian would come in and sit down and have his own notes down on paper, and it seemed like it was a very inspirational thing. We would take our notebooks out and write down what he would be demonstrating at the piano. We would take it and transcribe it.

"Unlike Spector, Brian had real close contact with the musicians. He would interact with us, talking... communicating musically. Phil was a very inaccessible guy, and he would always be in the booth; we didn't see him...didn't hear much from him. I was always comfortable with Brian, whereas I was intimidated by Phil.

"Brian had a real 'hands on' thing, showing us what to do. He would be out in the studio, explaining what he wanted. As I recall, he would sit at the piano and he would bang it out, the idea he was working on. I had a sense he knew what he was doing and what he wanted...communicated to us what he wanted. He didn't need a lot of help. He was telling us everything he had in his head, and we were quickly writing it down. He didn't waste any time, and we felt that something important was happening here. 'Let's get it down on paper. Let's get it right.' He would play the piano and sing. Maybe what he was singing to us might have been scratch vocals, scatting, maybe he didn't have all the lyrics. He had melodies and some words.

"He was doing things differently. That's oversimplifying. His chord changes were very different, and I somehow had a subliminal feeling of knowing that this guy...it was like hearing a great singer, you believe that they are really very talented. And I've always been a person who has been eager to learn, and I was impressed by what other people did as a learning experience. Brian had a different angle, and I was just soaking it up.

"He was very confident, he might not have been inside, but he seemed to have a certain confidence and he was going for it. I did that on my records, too; I must have got stuff from him and Spector along the way. Brian and Phil did it the way they thought it should be. And I learned to do the same thing. Get good material together and cut it.

"Brian was turned on by what he was doing...making the best possible sounds. I got ideas of sound from him and Phil, boldness in a sense...creating that wonderful thing, chart and arrangement. Without any pressure or influences. "What a good producer gets out of the players is just an unexplainable feeling, a labor of love of what you're working on, and when it's right, it's right. Brian picked the right guys to do the job, and they came through for him. The one thing that I liked about him was that he rubbed elbows with you. I never really got to know him personally beyond that. He was busy. There wasn't time for small talk.

"However, creative by-play was part of the sessions. When you have a producer who is willing to listen to his players because he trusts them, it gives the players the freedom to breathe their creativity into the tracks. He had, which is really important, the ability to listen to other people, what they have to offer and give it a chance to work.

"He was producing the tracks, but he was a musician, a composer. So a composer, if they're really good, hears it all at the same time. All of it is composition and creativity. And being able to keep the flow going. There's got to be some light-heartedness to it because you want to keep everybody comfortable, but mostly what I recall is that it was serious business.

"With Brian, I was a good listener and imitator; when he would put down a piano track, that's what I would put down on the record. That's what he wants, and I'm gonna come as close as I can. Basically, I just played rhythm.

"Brian, to me, was a person who would sit at the piano and really experiment. It's like taking a walk in the woods...you don't know where you're going and there's no telling what you might come up with. You might not even know the name of the chord. He would be led somewhere, and there's definitely a spiritual or metaphysical connection to this. We get messages. I got the impression that he was a guy who would sit and experiment and reach and take some chances. He was not predictable.

"My studio perspective might be different from some of the other players because I'm a pianist and arranger too, and as a producer, I heard a lot of things from Brian that interested me. He worked at being unpredictable, which is good. But there's a balance...you have to be gifted to understand the balance.

"What I mean is that some guys will go off the deep end and start writing for themselves and lose their audience. There is a balance of artistic and commercial appeal, and Brian had that. For me, it was always an experience. Like 'Good Vibrations' felt like his finale. I didn't work on every date of that with him, but I always felt that was the creative culmination. It was like, he's blowing it all out now.

"There is a magic involved in these things, and it is hard to put your finger down on where the magic is coming from. You can't really analyze it. It's more, 'C'mon. Let's play, guys.' And you play together. As a sideman in the studio, when there was a hit song, you felt the presence of great material. It gave you ideas. You were totally turned on by that song.

"The unpredictability of Brian's material...his experimentation with chords, the harmonization of his music...turned me on a lot. You can take a simple triad and add extra notes in the bass, not the predictable ones, and it becomes more modern or contemporary. If you sit down and take the time to learn the piano part on a record, once you've done it, there is a simplicity there. But by creating different sounds...like bass notes in the chords...when you first hear it, you're overwhelmed.

"Like his chord progressions in 'Caroline, No'...that was a great song. And he was unpredictable where he went from one place to another. His chord progressions went from one place to another but it all balanced and made sense.

"What really knocked me out was when we did the tracks, the record was just a little bit done, and there were interesting things happening already. We would leave the studio after a session with Brian, and when we came back, it had taken on a whole different dimension. The guys might have put their vocals on and he would add instruments. We were the foundation. You walk in and say, 'Gee, is that what we did?'

"We're the foundation and then to hear it all completed, and hear your part and have it all make sense with the rest of it, harmonically, and everything else, was really exciting. I had no idea what those songs were gonna sound like when they were done. We were just cutting tracks.

"Once we did our thing, there was a long way to go in making that record. But his sound...you don't get tired of it even though you've heard it before because he was always doing it in a different way, with the falsettos and the vocal harmonies. On Pet Sounds in particular, he was harmonically and structurally doing things that were all new. It was, in a way, a culmination of the music he loved and his own instincts."

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