Bruce Johnston

Highly Appreciated


Bruce Johnston  (born Benjamin Baldwin on June 27, 1942) is an American singer, songwriter, and record producer best known as a member of the Beach Boys.  He joined the band for live performances in 1965, but then became a contributing member on subsequent albums.  Johnston is also known for his early 1960’s collaborations with Terry Melcher as Bruce & Terry and with the surf band the Rip Chords, as well as composing the 1975 Barry Manilow song “I Write the Songs”.   (More from Wikipedia)
Much to my surprise, in the Rip Chords I finally found a rock band that did not have a listing in Wikipedia with a genuine hit song; their single Hey Little Cobra was one of the biggest hit songs in surf music, making it to #4 in early 1964, even though the surf scene was already in significant decline following the recent arrival of the British Invasion.  I had recently picked up the second album by the Rip Chords, Three Window Coupe, and it is every bit as good as their common first album, Hey Little Cobra and Other Hot Rod Hits.  I was able to debunk the idea that the Rip Chords weren’t a real band but just a studio fiction that revolved around Bruce & Terry, i.e., Bruce Johnston, who later joined the Beach Boys (and is still in the band) and top producer Terry Melcher (Doris Day’s son). 
 (July 2013)
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The album, the Pebbles, Volume 4 LP was the first time I had heard of Bruce & Terry, two LA studio whiz kidsBruce Johnston, now a member of the Beach Boys, and Terry Melcher to be specific.  (The surf scene seemed to have people like that by the carload – others include Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and Jan Berry of Jan & Dean).  When I looked up the Rip Chords in Wikipedia before starting my post on the UARB, I was redirected to their entry on Bruce & Terry


LSD-25” by the Gamblers is one of several surf instrumentals toward the end of the Pebbles, Volume 4 CD.  This track dates from 1961; the allstar line-up includes Bruce Johnston, Larry Taylor (later in Canned Heat), Elliot Ingber (Fraternity of ManCaptain BeefheartLittle Feat, etc.), and famed drummer Sandy Nelson.  According to the CD’s liner notes (by Nigel Strange):  “Actually, surfers were the first subculture to embrace LSD, at a time when it was almost exclusively the plaything of the academics.  With their footloose existence, and a sometimes mystical rapport with the ocean, the early surfers (we’re talking years before the craze, of course) were in many ways the true inheritors of the beatniks’ existential tradition, standing outside normal society and contemplating the void.  In any event, this must surely be the first acid reference to appear on a record by several years.”  


(December 2014)


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In the Chris Estey interview, Kim Fowley describes his early show-biz work in his usual name-dropping and self-promoting fashion (not that there is anything wrong with that):  “[M]y first major job in the business was working in the publicity, and press, and background music, media, for Doris Day’s production company; and I was the boy genius in the office.  The two movies that I worked on were Please Don’t Eat The Daisies and Pillow Talk.  I brought Bruce Johnston in as a songwriter, and stayed with him his entire career.  He wrote I Want to Teach the World to Sing . . . ’, whatever that was, the Barry Manilow classic [‘I Write The Songs].  And then all those songs for the Beach Boys, I can’t remember all the titles.” 


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Fleshing out the details (via Wikipedia), Kim Fowley’s first venture into music was to become the manager in 1957 for a band called the Sleepwalkers that included Bruce Johnston and drummer Sandy Nelson; future superstar record producer Phil Spector was also occasionally with the band.  Last month I mentioned a band called the Gamblers which released an instrumental in 1961 called LSD-25; Johnston and Nelson were both in that band also. 


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Perhaps believing that there was only room for one Annette in show business, Annette Kleinbard changed her name to Carol Connors and had a lucrative career as a songwriter and performer.  For instance, with Terry Melcher (Bruce Johnston’s partner in Bruce & Terry), Carol Connors co-wrote the hit song Hey Little Cobrafor past UARB the Rip Chords.  


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Kim Fowley’s first producer credit was on the song Chargeby the Renegades, a band that was composed of Bruce JohnstonSandy NelsonNick Venet – yet another future record producer, specifically at Capitol Records – and Richard Podolor, whose later credits as a record producer include “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night.  


(January 2015/1)


Last edited: April 7, 2021