Born into the Beach Boys: Al Jardine and his son Matthew on 30 years of good vibrations

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As the son of a Beach Boy, Matthew Jardine often joined his father on the road.

"As a family, we tried to come out," he says. "'Cause they were on the road a lot."

The thought of joining Al Jardine on stage as a performer never really crossed his mind in those days.

"I never saw myself doing it," Matthew says. "I kind of saw it separately. That was what Dad did. That was what Carl did. That was what Mike and Brian did."

He's referring, of course, to the other members of the legendary California hit machine he came to view as an extension of his family.

Brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love and Matthew's father, Al Jardine, a friend from Hawthorne High School, formed the Beach Boys, originally called the Pendletones in 1961.

Matthew arrived in 1966, the same week "Good Vibrations" topped the Hot 100.

Asked how it felt to see his baby grow into the role of a lead singer in the band he founded in his teens, Al replies with a laugh, "Have you got an hour or two?"

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How joining the Beach Boys happened 'by accident'

Watching the Beach Boys as a kid, Matthew wasn't convinced he could do what his father was doing.

"You always had rock 'n' roll dreams of getting up there and playing guitar in front of an audience or singing or whatever," Matthew says. "But it just kind of happened by accident, it seems, in a strange kind of way."

He and his dad have been touring together since the '80s, when Matthew joined the Beach Boys touring family on percussion before landing the gig of a lifetime — supplying those iconic high notes as a lead vocalist that, in many ways, define the Beach Boys sound.

The Jardines are about to spend another endless summer on the road with Brian, who launched a 25-city tour with Chicago at Ak-Chin Pavilion in Phoenix on June 7.

It was practically a hometown gig for the Jardines.

Al and his wife, Mary Ann, have a home in Pinnacle Peak. "It's beautiful up there," he says.

Matthew lives in Flagstaff and attended the University of Arizona.

They'll be on the road this Father's Day, enjoying a day off in Missouri.

"Probably try to have a Fathers Day dinner. Not sure yet as I haven’t looked that far ahead yet," Matthew said.

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Matthew Jardine with Al Jardine in Hawaii, 1967.
Matthew Jardine with Al Jardine in Hawaii, 1967.

Matthew's first Beach Boys recording

The Jardines also sing together in Al Jardine & His Family & Friends, alongside Brian's daughters, Carnie and Wendy Wilson of Wilson Phillips.

The first time Matthew lent his vocals to a Beach Boys song was in the studio, providing the narration that opens "(I Saw Santa) Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" before joining his brother Adam and the other members' kids on backing vocals.

"That was so cute," Al recalls. "I loved it."

Matthew was 11.

"It was fun because all the kids were there," Matthew says. "The whole Beach Boy environment was kind of like a second family, but with all of our different school schedules, the kids were never out there at the same time that much."

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Joining the band on percussion

As a teen, Matthew started working summers as the Beach Boys' assistant road manager.

Before long, his duties expanded to include percussion in 1989, replacing "Full House" star John Stamos, who handled percussion during the Writers Guild of America strike of 1988.

"When the strike ended, I was doing all the road-managing gopher stuff," Matthew says, "and they asked if I could come up and fill in on parts like the sleigh bells on 'God Only Knows,' the timpani on 'Wouldn't It Be Nice.'"

He had no percussion experience but was up for the challenge because, as he says, it was "kind of an auxiliary role."

It did feel weird, though.

"I had enormous respect for all the people that were up there because they're all trained musicians that had earned their wings grinding it out in clubs and out on other tours," he says.

"And I didn't have that kind of experience. I started at the top and got to learn on stage in front of 8,000 to 10,000 people every night."

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Stepping into the spotlight on vocals

In 1991, he graduated to a more important role.

"He was delivering luggage to the rooms when someone heard him sing this really high part in the hallway and said, 'Well, that sounds beautiful. I wonder who that is,'" Al recalls. "So I said, 'Well, that's my son, Matt.'"

Al suggested having Matthew join the Beach Boys on lead vocals, singing parts originally done by Brian, who hadn't been a regular touring member of the group since 1964.

"But Carl Wilson was a little skeptical," Al says.

"He thought Matt needed a little more time before assuming that role. Carl and I argued about it for about a year. So it was about time when he got the job. I was ready for it. I just had to convince the Wilsons, which is not always easy when you're outnumbered."

The Beach Boys were in Phoenix for a private gig when Matthew got a phone call "out of nowhere" from the road manager.

"He said, 'You're gonna stay an extra day here in Phoenix. The guys want to rehearse with you and go over vocals.' I said 'What?!' He said, 'They want to see if you're ready to take that high harmony part."

They ran the set in Carl's hotel suite, after which, Matthew says, "Everyone nodded and said, 'All right, we'll see you in Helsinki in two weeks. Go home and study.'"

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Matthew Jardine, with Brian Wilson’s band, performs at Ak-Chin Pavilion in Phoenix on June 7, 2022.
Matthew Jardine, with Brian Wilson’s band, performs at Ak-Chin Pavilion in Phoenix on June 7, 2022.

First gig attendance? 700,000 people

That first concert in Helsinki was what Matthew calls the largest festival in northern Europe at the time.

"I cut my teeth in front of 700,000 people," he says.

"There were so many people in every direction. People in the trees. People on buildings. People everywhere. And it was broadcast live to 5 million people. So that was quite the introduction to singing in the band. Luckily, I had a pretty good show."

Looking back, he understands why Carl thought he wasn't ready.

"I was untrained and I think he could probably see that," Matthew says. "And honestly, listening to older recordings, I can hear it."

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'Whatever you're doing, don't stop'

One day, Carl offered some friendly advice.

"He said, 'Hey, I really think that you should take some vocal lessons,'" Matthew says.

"That was his contribution to just encouraging me to start working on the craft. And then at some point, he did, like, a double-take and said, 'What happened?' Then he told me, 'Whatever you're doing, don't stop doing it.'"

Hearing his son tell the story, Al says, "Aww, that's nice."

Things got better from there.

"When I started getting the guys' blessings and could see that I was gaining their confidence, that's when things really started to take off," Matthew says.

"I said, 'OK, I've finally got some firm footing here and I know what I need to work on.'  Because if you got five different bosses, you're gonna get five different answers."

After Carl's death in 1998, the Jardines left the touring lineup of the Beach Boys and began performing regularly with a group called Beach Boys: Family & Friends.

That same year, Matthew was asked to perform with Brian on TNN's Front Row and Center as well as Farm Aid '98. Brian was quoted in Billboard saying of Matthew, "His voice is stronger than mine, and he can actually hit those high notes."

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Singing Brian Wilson's parts in Brian's band

Singing Wilson's lead vocal on classics like "Don't Worry Baby" while Wilson is sitting right beside him is a great experience.

"Because he really likes to hear it," Matthew says.

"Brian has always been good at delegating. That's why he didn't sing every single lead vocal on his songs. He has capable singers that he can rely on to deliver his music, if I can say that without sounding conceited."

It helps to have his father in the mix.

"He's got that Beach Boy tone that no one else has," Matthew says.

"It's dad's vocals that really kind of help to glue that vocal stack together. Dad's tone and Brian's tone are totally different. And yet, when they sing together, they're just absolutely angelic."

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Touring with Carnie and Wendy Wilson

Father and son also are enjoying the Family & Friends experience.

"It's just a beautiful thing to hear those voices as adult singers now with their maturity," Al says. "And all of them sound wonderful."

Matthew recalls a recent soundcheck where his dad was working with the Wilson sisters on a vocal part. He believes it was "Surfin' Safari."

"And the blend was so utterly cool," he says.

"It just has a life of its own. That's the thing. You can get great singers to sing this stuff. But you get people that have the right tones and the right inflections, you have that family connection and it takes on a life of its own."

Al agrees.

"The genetic material is there," he says. "That's for sure."

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Matthew and Al Jardine backstage at Ak-Chin Pavilion in Phoenix on the opening night of Brian Wilson's summer tour with Chicago.
Matthew and Al Jardine backstage at Ak-Chin Pavilion in Phoenix on the opening night of Brian Wilson's summer tour with Chicago.

'It's just a family thing. It's good'

The best part of touring together, Al says, is "we get to see each other. It's great to see Matt. I've been watching him now for the last 30 years."

For Matthew, the best part of working so closely with his dad is trust.

"It's great to be able to have someone that you can rely on and trust out here," he says.

"We watch out for each other and help guide each other, which is good. So that's an extra layer that kind of helps onstage and off. It's just a family thing. It's good."

And it's a family thing that just keeps growing. Al speaks glowingly of how Matthew's son and daughters sing.

"I'm thinking, 'My gosh, his kids sound amazing,'" Al says.

"His daughter Abby plays incredible bass. His daughter Olivia plays wonderful piano and sings and writes amazing songs. I'm going, 'Whoa, I can't even keep up with it.' So we're gonna have another band pretty soon, another little offshoot."

Reach the reporter at ed.masley@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4495. Follow him on Twitter @EdMasley.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: The Beach Boys' Al Jardine and son Matthew on 30 years of touring