IN THE BEGINNING...
When all the major books about the band disagree about something, and even Stephen McParland can't definitively unravel the mess, then it's probably time to give up and accept that we'll never really know. Such is the position regarding Beach Boys history before they were even The Pendletones: did Brian go along with Alan to audition for Hite Morgan… were there one or two auditions before the session of September 15th, 1961… and does it really matter ?
Well, it does to me, so much so that I decided to see if I could shed any further light on the matter. Re-reading all the available information resulted in a headache but little in the way of enlightenment. Then inspiration struck - why not ask someone who was actually there ? So I did.
Gary Winfrey first met Alan, Brian & Bob Barrow when they played together on the same football team at Hawthorne High in the late fifties. A year older than the other three, Gary played right guard and was team captain, Brian and Alan were quarterback and halfback respectively (Keith Lent, of whom more anon, was also on the same team).
Hawthorne High B squad, fall 1957
Bob #19, Keith Lent #24, Gary #22, Brian #51, Alan #45
(obviously taken before November 7th as Alan has both legs intact)
Photo courtesey of Gary Winfrey
Gary played in the fateful November 7th 1957 game during which Alan's leg was broken (as a result of Brian calling one play then executing another), although he doesn't recall the incident: "I saw Al last summer  and we laughed over me not remembering. I don't remember if we were that close friends at that time". The football soon led to other things: "The Kingston Trio had just come out with "Tom Dooley" and we would sing it after football practise in the locker room. We liked singing so Al, Bob and I formed a folk singing group called the Tiki's. We later changed the name to Islanders as we thought there was another group called the Tiki's. We would spend hours practicing Kingston Trio songs and writing some of our own songs at my parent's house."
The Islanders at Gary's house, July 1960 - Gary, Alan, Bob
(note banjo on couch)
Photo courtesey of Gary Winfrey
The Islanders came to an inevitable end when Alan & Bob left for college in the fall of 1960 (as did Brian and Keith Lent - Gary had graduated the previous year), but not before Gary & Alan approached someone in the music business to see if the group might take that one step further. "Al and I were over at Brian's house and it was Mrs. Wilson who gave us the idea to contact Hite Morgan. We took an audition tape to Hite's recording studio: the song was "The Wreck Of the Hesperus". It was a poem by Longfellow put to music by us. We thought it sounded terrible on his professional sound equipment. They said they were just getting their studio together and would call if anything comes up." This was, in Gary's opinion, in late August or early September and he & Alan were convinced that they'd just been handed the old 'don't-call-us-we'll-call-you' line, and for a time it certainly seemed so as despite having been offered (according to his mother) a football scholarship at Pepperdine U., Alan followed his parents back to the Midwest to enrol at Ferris State U., Big Rapids MI, where his father was a lecturer. This newly discovered information runs entirely counter to over forty years of accepted Beach Boys history, which states that Alan went to Ferris in 1962, after the band had had some small success, but makes the pre-Pendletones scenario infinitely more logical. Bob Barrow attended Brigham Young in Utah on a football scholarship, and Brian joined Gary at El Camino Community College, majoring in psychology with additional classes in music. And that was that for the next nine months.
By mid-June, Alan was back in Los Angeles and enrolled at El Camino for a pre-dentistry course (El Camino is a local college with free tuition and many Hawthorne High grads went there): doubtless he knew that Gary was at the college, but was pleasantly surprised when he bumped into Brian again, and not just because he was an old high school buddy. Apparently one of the first things Alan did on his return to California was to resurrect The Islanders with either Gary's brother Don or Keith Lent replacing Bob Barrow… and it seemed that the Morgan's interest was genuine: they did call back. "So they called and said come on down as they had a song for us to record. My brother Don, who I believe was in Carl Wilson's class, was at school during the week, so we asked Keith Lent [who had previously been in one version of Carl & The Passions alongside Brian] to take his place that day. The song was written by Hite's son [Bruce] and was called "Rio Grande"." Gary remembers that it was after this session that Brian was first involved musically: "We were getting nowhere on the record and asked Brian's help. We didn't make much progress and dropped the project. Brian met Hite [again - he had auditioned for Art Laboe at Hite's suggestion four years earlier] and the rest is history." What apparently happened was that, in parallel with the revived Islanders, Alan was helping form a band with Brian - Gary recalls them (Gary, Al, Brian and some unknown) singing together in the Nurses Room at El Camino - his brothers and cousin Mike Love, and when he auditioned for Hite again, this time they, and not The Islanders, accompanied him. Whether or not they played "Rio Grande" or "Sloop John B" - or both - is unclear: what is certain is that when the Morgans asked if they had any original material, Dennis stunned his band mates by announcing that Brian and Mike had written a song about surfing. They hadn't, of course, but this little white lie was soon rectified… and the rest was, indeed, history.
Although The Islanders had been consigned to history for a second time, Gary and Alan remained friends, enabling Gary to cast some light on Alan's history following his departure from The Beach Boys in February 1962. "He quit The Beach Boys to continue his dental education, thinking that the record "Surfin'" would be a one time thing." As stated earlier, it was long assumed he quit the band to continue his dental studies in Michigan, considering the band had no future, but in fact he remained at El Camino College until June 1962 before taking up a position with a local aerospace company (Gary thinks it was Garrett Air Research). John Rout, who graduated from Hawthorne High in 1963 recalls "spending the summer of '62 lifting weights with Alan in Dean Stafford's garage" and further remembers that Alan offered two reasons for quitting the band: "The first was that it cost them $100 to record "Surfin" and "Luau," and they didn't make their money back, so there wasn't any money to be made being a Beach Boy. The second reason was that he hated the concerts. He said that he got tired of being hassled by jealous boyfriends every time they came off the stage. Girls would swoon and some guy would want to take a punch at them as they came down. He didn't like it." In addition to working, Alan reformed The Islanders for a second time - with Gary & Don Winfrey - and they presumably occupied much of his spare time, practising and recording until he rejoined The Beach Boys at Brian's request in summer 1963. Brian hated touring and was missing as many dates as he could, and even though Alan had left the band over a year previously, they'd kept in touch, as evidenced by two recollections from Gary: "I was living at my parent's house in Hawthorne, CA and the date was Monday Aug 16 1962 at about midnight and we were awakened (Don and I shared a bedroom) by a rapping on our window. It was Al Jardine and Dennis Wilson. Al wanted to borrow some money (I think he wanted to buy a car, but I'm not positive on this point). He said he would pay me back on Friday when he received his pay check and I was willing to slide the money out the window and go back to sleep. However during all the commotion we woke my parents and my Dad came in to see what was happening. He said not to give him the money without a promissory note. He suggested that they come back tomorrow and we would make it legal, so the next morning Al and Dennis came back and I typed a promissory note, Al signed and Dennis witnessed it [although the small fact that both were under the age of twenty-one rendered the document legally meaningless !]. Al got the money and paid it back on Friday as promised."
About five months later, Gary & Alan became roomies: "Al and I moved into an apartment in Gardena in January, then in February we moved to Hermosa Beach. It was while living there he got back into the Beach Boys. I do remember him bringing a preview copy of "Surfin' USA" home [to Hermosa]." Gary's opinion of the song ? "I said "It will never sell 'cause it sounds too much like "Sweet Little Sixteen" by Chuck Berry !". Evidently Alan didn't pass this sage observation on to Brian: pity - if he had it might have saved Brian a lot of money about a year later when Berry's lawyers threatened litigation on those very grounds (the end result was Chuck's sole credit on subsequent pressings of the song into the seventies and the royalties also heading his way).
Gary was soon drafted and joined the Air Force, returning to California in late 1968… which explains his credit on two songs from Surf's Up. "Here's the story about "Feet". My wife Sandi was pregnant with my son (born December 1969) and we were visiting the Jardines, probably in November as Sandi was pretty far along. Her ankles were swollen from the pregnancy. The song "Hair" was popular at that time and someone, I'm not sure who, suggested writing a song about ankles which evolved into "Take A Load Off Your Feet". "Looking at Tomorrow" was also written at the same time. Later on Brian added some lyrics and helped with the melody on "Feet". The song was recorded at Brian's Bel Air mansion and I got to sing in some of the background parts." Shortly thereafter Alan bought his ranch near Monterey and the friendship inevitably faded slightly, but even to this day, they keep in touch: "I was in Southern California last summer visiting my mother and called Al. He had some business in L.A. and came over and spent three nights at my mother's house. We had a great visit as I hadn't seen him for more than five years. To me he's just Al, and not Al of the Beach Boys, and I believe he likes it that way"
My grateful thanks to Gary Winfrey for his recollections and for kindly agreeing to talk about these events now over forty years in the past. Thanks are also due to Brad Elliott, the denizens of the Net Sounds Message Board, and to Cindy Adolf of the Registrar's Office at Ferris State U..
Andrew G. Doe, March 2002
©Andrew G. Doe/Middlefield Media 2002. Used by permission. No reproduction of any or all of this material, by any means now existing, is permitted without the express agreement of the author. So there. Photographs and note ©Gary Winfrey 2002. Used by permission.