Bruce Johnston joined The Beach Boys following the departure of Brian Wilson from the group’s touring schedule in 1965. He played with the band until 1972, when he began solo work. He is a Grammy-winning songwriter and producer who wrote several songs from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. In 1978, Johnston returned to the Beach Boys. The following are excerpts from a phone interview with Johnston from his Santa Barbara, Calif., home.
Hatchet: Why is the music of The Beach Boys enjoyed by people of many generations?
BJ: I think its kind of like Star Wars; its got a lot of zip and zang and zango and its got simplistic messages … and while you’re watching it you can always have fun along the way.
Hatchet: Would you say the band had a rivalry with The Beatles?
BJ: I’d say more a big friendship; It was more a parallel planet with parallel bands … we were doing the complete opposite, but achieving great success in the meantime.
Hatchet: What’s it like performing to parents and their children?
BJ: You . look around at these nice looking parents and cannot believe that (they) probably worried their parents to death, probably cruised around with long hair … and maybe were more radical than students your age … I’m just going to get a big kick out of it.
They’ll realize that your generation is doing a lot better job than they did getting through school. They’ll probably look back on their life and wonder how they did it.
Hatchet: You replaced Brian Wilson. How would you describe your relationship with him?
BJ: He’s cool; I often call him when I need a chord; Besides, you don’t replace Brian Wilson you just kind of get in there and give the illusion that you’re in his vocal range.
Hatchet: What’s Brian doing right now?
BJ: He’s out probably having the time of his life as a composer; he’s like Gershwin going out on the road . I think it’s great. Brian ultimately will be remembered for music – he’s really a great melody guy. Mike is the lyricist.
Hatchet: What’s the relationship with the other original member of the group, Al Jardine?
BJ: Al Jardine put together a band last year with Brian Wilson’s daughters and the two older sons . it was more the Beach Boy and his family friend – they didn’t stay out very long. He has us in the middle of a law suit and we’re in the no-comment level.
Hatchet: What is your opinion on MP3 services, such as Napster?
BJ: It’s really interesting. I have a bigger, broader view and it’s simply that although Napster probably won’t survive I think what it does will in many different forms. It’s like a big radio station that creates a lot of buzz in our music world. A lot of new bands will be discovered because of Napster-type companies because it gives the listener the opportunity to turn digitally … like a never-ending dial the way you scan a radio. I think, ultimately, it will get people very interested in the kind of music they’re looking for.
Hatchet: But how about downloading The Beach Boys’ music, do you ever feel you’re missing out on royalties?
BJ: (Downloading) is a great idea; you’re gaining people that will eventually buy Volume One, Volume Two (of The Beach Boys’ Greatest Hits). If anything . it will gain an audience that might not go and purchase The Beach Boys products. It might kind of lure them in. I think when people look at our music . they might start relating to some of our messages.
With my 15 year old, I was explaining about Eric Clapton and Cream, so we decided (to) find the song online . He now owns a Cream album. Just under my nose I’m watching my kids use Napster and get into music that they would never think to do otherwise.
Hatchet: What will people who attend next Sunday’s concert hear?
BJ: We’ll probably get in 30 songs over an hour and a half . they’ll even get a nice peak into pep sound. We’ll probably play one song we didn’t record, like a doo wop, a little Kokomo. We change the set every day.
Hatchet: On the current leg of your tour, how many shows are you performing?
BJ: Too many and never enough. I’ll bet . probably about 170.
Hatchet: What kind of activities do you guys do when you go touring?
BJ: I’m actually the only guy in the band that actually still gets into surfing. For the first time in my life, I went down and surfed next to Hatteras (N.C.). We have an offer to go to an old gambling town in France to play at a huge 20-year old surf festival; it ranges from extreme surfing to longboard surfing; we’re looking to get out of the country.