Hitting the high notes: Jeffrey Foskett keeps the Beach Boys reunion in harmony
The Beach Boys' lyrics often centered on surf, sun, girls and car culture, but it was Brian Wilson's falsetto that propelled their music into the heavens, a vocal manifestation of unbridled teen freedom, joy and heartbreak. But he became one of rock's most notorious casualties after suffering nervous breakdowns stemming from his father's dictatorial control over his sons and the band, Brian's drug use and growing tensions within the group itself.
Wilson spent much of the '70s and '80s in seclusion, emerging only occasionally to perform with or without the other Beach Boys, until he mounted a return to the spotlight in 1998. His once-exceptionally pure and high voice, however, reflected the ravages of what he'd been through.
"Jeffrey is invaluable to keeping the continuity between the various component parts," Jardine, 69, said backstage. "He supports Brian in every possible way."
The trust Wilson has in Foskett, musically and personally, is a crucial element of the current tour. In some ways, he is closer to the group's creative leader than anyone except Wilson's wife of 17 years, Melinda.
"He has Brian's confidence," Jardine said, "and basically kind of makes it possible to have Brian Wilson on the road with us. (Without) that shoulder to lean on, I think it would be very difficult for Brian to tour. And I'm very grateful for that."
Writer and documentarian David Leaf, author of the 1978 biography "The Beach Boys and the California Myth," has followed the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson's solo career closely. It's not that Wilson can't hit the high notes he sang routinely in his 20s, says Leaf, it's just that he often chooses to leave that task to others.
"He has the hardest job I've ever seen a singer pull off," Leaf said of Foskett's role. "Those high parts are the ones that go straight to your gut, the ones that hit you in the heart. And he sings them perfectly. It's an important point to make that there are other singers who could hit those notes, but to do it with the right feeling is the issue."
Wilson himself said this union of the Brian Wilson Band, which has backed him for the last 14 years, and the Beach Boys brings the best of both together on this tour, which began last month in Tucson.
"Mike and Al love our musicians, and it steps up their show," Wilson said from his perch in a chair at side stage during the sound check. "Their show is such a thrill, but with our band, their show is even better."
Foskett was 8 years old and living in San Jose, Calif., when his older brother brought home the Beach Boys' latest single.
"'I Get Around' was a huge hit, but 'Don't Worry Baby' really spoke to me," said Foskett. "I just couldn't get enough of their music from that point on."
As the young musician grew more inspired each year by Wilson's innovative music, Foskett decided to seek out the reclusive singer, songwriter and producer in the mid-'70s.
During this period, Wilson, who'd been battling mental illness exacerbated by his drug use, had pulled back from the spotlight and famously put a giant sandbox in his home because he thought it would fuel his inspiration to write.
Foskett knew the quirky but troubled musician lived in Bel-Air, so one day in 1976, he and a friend embarked on a musical pilgrimage. They found Wilson's house and rang the buzzer.
"Brian opened the door and said 'Hey, come on in' — like he'd been expecting us!" Foskett said. "I said, 'Great!' We hung around and went to the music room. (Wilson's then-wife) Marilyn made us a sandwich. He said, 'Stay in touch.' And I did — and I'm glad that I did."
Foskett was a student at UC Santa Barbara and struggling musician when Love discovered him playing in the bar on State Street and drafted Foskett to tour behind his solo album. He joined the Beach Boys by the early '80s, when the band consisted of Love, Dennis Wilson, Jardine, Johnston and, on occasion, Brian Wilson.
Foskett was part of the touring band for nearly a decade, until tensions between Foskett and "a couple of the guys" — he won't say which ones — got him politely fired.
Foskett spent most of the '90s pursuing his own music. The lure of the Beach Boys, however, was never far from his mind. He ran into Wilson at a mutual friend's wedding as the Beach Boy was preparing to record a second solo album, 1998's "Imagination." "That rekindled my relationship with Brian, and I've been with him ever since," said Foskett, who became musical director of the Brian Wilson Band.
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