Like A Brother
Beckley, Lamm, Wilson United
NEW YORK-Artistry like friendship, can take years to properly season. In the ease of "Like A Brother" a collaborative labor of love between longtime musicians and comrades Gerry Beckley, Robert Lamm, and Carl Wilson, a full decade has passed between conception, completion, and, now release of their 10-song ensemble album.
As founding members of three of the most enduring and cherished pop/reek bands of the last 30 years-America, Chicago, and the Beach Boys, respectively-the trio had kicked around in shared professional circles for years and discovered a magical vocal synthesis while working together on a track for a solo project of Lamm's in 1990. For the next eight years, while still tirelessly active in their groups, the artists flitted to New York and Los Angeles in between exhaustive worldwide tours to write and record, acknowledging a fusion that brought new colors to each of their highly recognizable voices.
While the set was completed a few years ago, the untimely death of Wilson in 1998 shelved "Like A Brother." But now, thanks to the nurturing support of New York based Transparent Records, on June 20, fans will be able to hear the results of these coveted recording sessions.
"From a sonic standpoint, this album is very true to the vocal character of the artists and their parent bands," says Chuck Mitchell, co-principal of Transparent. "There are enough of the kinds of harmonies and vocal styling that fans of these artists will be in comfortable territory. But what's being expressed lyrically are themes about growing up and the things that happen as you grow older in a pop-driven world. There's some really heartfelt emotional content that anybody of a certain age will connect with very strongly"
"The guys were very enthusiastic and felt very empowered throughout the making of this project," adds Transparent co-principal David Passick (the third principal is Herbie Hancock). "I'm thrilled that we're able to be a part of this, and we look forward to finding the audience that we know is going to love this record."
Says Lamm, "It's really a fairly typical story in many ways, with the brotherhood of musicians admiring each other and taking advantage of the opportunity to hang out through the years. The whole point of doing this trio project was that in all three cases, our lyrics are fairly autobiographical and probably don't fit the context of what our bands traditionally do."
In fact, what makes the project such an adventure for the listener is that each of the artists trades off on the song writing and lead vocals throughout the album. The common link is Granny-nominated producer/co-writer Phil Galdston.
The collection of adult-appealing tracks is replete with themes of spirituality compassion, and evolution, including the universal anthem of affection. "I Wish For You," with lead vocal by Wilson, which will be worked to AC radio; the title track, a poignant tribute by Wilson to brother Brian; and the caressing "Sheltering Sky" with lead vocals shared among the three.
"We'd had a meeting early on with an A&R guy in L.A. who gave us a speech that really touched the base of what we were trying to do," recalls Beckley. "He told us that this project had the potential to convey our lives and everything we'd been through and that if we stuck with these honest seeds of family and emotion, there was no better foundation. I think we all took that to heart. That had a lot to do with setting us on the right path."
It's a path whose true roots can be traced back to the early days of three kindred Los Angeles-based rock'n'rollers on the walk of fame in the '70s.
The Beach Boys and Chicago first crossed paths in 1974 in a Denver airport via early Chicago producer Jimmy Guercio meeting that led to shared touring between the bands the following summer.
"We played a lot of dates and spent a lot of time doing room service in hotels together," says Lamm. "That began the relationship that I personally had with all of the Wilsons," which continued as the bands toured again in the '80s.
Beckley had been a longtime fan of the Beach Boys by the time America broke in 1972. "The first album I ever bought was 'Surfin' Safari.' I virtually learned to play guitar listening to those surf records, and I knew that stuff inside and out."
Beckley was l7 when he met Carl Wilson and says, "There was an instant bond with him. I think he understood what I was going through at 17 like he had at 15. The whole band totally embraced us and were incredibly warm from the beginning." When America moved to Los Angeles in 1972, its bond with the L.A.-based Beach Boys was strengthened.
A few years later, Lamm and Beckley became friends in Los Angeles, via the women they were married to in the '70s. "We would see each other socially then bumped into each other while on tour and hung out singing Beatles songs one night in a hotel room," Lamm says. Even so, in all the time that both bands have been around, Chicago and America have yet to tour together.
In 1990 Lamm was working on his second solo album with Phil Ramone, who had suggested he record Beckley's "Watching The Time" and invite Beckley and Wilson to accompany Lamm on background vocals.
"Who can say no to that?" Lamm asks. "As we proceeded to stand around the mike and do the vocals and create the parts when the tape wasn't rolling, it was such a kick. By the time we were finished, the song had nothing to do with my solo album anymore. It sort of took on a life of its own."
Adds Beckley "That was the birth of this album."
"That's when we started on the path of getting together to write songs and rehearse and see if this thing could actually flit" Lamm acknowledges. "Six months might go by when we didn't see each other, but when we did, we got a lot of work done. And we were always talking on the phone."
"It really was a testament to our devotion," Beckley says. "It's hard to redirect your energy when you've just done a four-month, 90-date summer tour and all you want to do is lie on a beach, but we just couldn't deny how good it sounded when we all came to the table."
The process of recording "Like A Brother" stretched from 1992-97, and, with a round of demos, the trio began shopping the record-but found less than enthusiastic response from most labels.
"The track record of the three guys was a plus but also a detractor" says Lamm. "In rock'n'roll it's always, What have you done for me lately? Chicago, America, and the Beaeh Boys have an incredible record of great American rock music, but we all struggle to get on the radio.
"At that point, we were kind of waiting for some A&R guy to call us and say, 'Hey, this is great,'" he adds. "But in the meantime, Carl got sick" with cancer.
Wilson's death in 1998 proved a devastating turn of events for the two remaining singers. "When he was diagnosed, we put the whole thing on hold with the best of intentions, but within a year he was gone.
We all took a year off in a process that continues to this day to mourn the loss and celebrate his life," Beckley says.
By this time, the Beckley/Lamm/Wilson project had piqued the interest of Passick at Transparent, who held Galdston as a client and had previously met with the trio with the idea of managing them should they choose to tour in support of the project.
He approached Lamm and Beckley and encouraged them to pursue release of "Like A Brother." That led to a call to Wilson's wife and two sons, asking for their thoughts.
"I know that my dad loved working with Robert and Gerry. He was an incredibly busy man, and he made a lot of time for this project, so it was definitely a priority" says Jonah Wilson, Carl's son. "I know he would be very pleased and very proud to see it coming out now.
"And I've known Gerry and Robert most of my life," he adds. "It seemed very normal for them to be working together at my dad's condo in L.A., even though it really wasn't.
I think the album fits into my dad's catalog really well because he cared about it and loved working with them. It was part of him branching out and doing something separate from the Beach Boys, which he hadn't done since his last solo album In the early '80s."
Setup for "Like A Brother" has seen in motion for months, with the fundamental goal of making adult music buyers aware of the project.
"The first thing we'll do is concentrate on the fan bases of the three parent bands, reaching out through Web sites, concert tour venues, and grass-roots mailings," says Transparent's Mitchell. "We hope to tell the story through the press and build the record that way" Amazon.com will feature the band on its site between June 20 and July 20, offering a free download of the radio release "I Wish For You."
Retail will be equipped with promotional materials, with listening posts also in place.
"I think it's going to be a cult following type of thing," says Paul Marabito, a buyer for Compact Disc World. "We've seen spikes in sales for Chicago, and the Beach Boys always sell pretty well; the main issue will be making sure people know it's out there."
While its radio release is in its infant stages, Joe Jason, president of Jason Communications, which owns WDOW-AM-FM South Bend, Ind., says of "I Wish For You," "What a moving piece of music. I have always been a huge fan of all three groups. Carl's vocal reminds me of a song he sang on his '81 album on Caribou called 'Heaven.'"
For Beckley and Lamm, the album's release brings a sense of rebirth to an inspired quest that carried the pair, with Wilson, through the entire last decade.
"On one hand, each of us brought a unique set of circumstances to this project," Beckley says. "But once we were sharing time and the mike, we realized how many similarities there were in our professional stories. As we started to share this time together I understood just how appropriate the title of this album is."
"One can spend a long time on this rock'n'roll trail," Lamm says. "If your eyes and your heart are open, you can come to learn about love, life, and friendship. Putting on the headphones in the studio and hearing those familiar voices left me in awe. It's an experience I will never forget."
Last Revised: 7 June 2000