Jon Stebbins, author

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Dennis Wilson FAQ

Note: Jon's still working on all the answers for this page. So, if your question hasn't been answered, keep checking in. Thanks.

The questions that I get asked repeatedly are:

1.What's that song in Summer Dreams?
"The song in the film “Summer Dreams” is not a Dennis Wilson song. It was created specifically for the movie to simulate Dennis’s style without having to pay for the real thing."

2.Do you really believe Dennis co-wrote "You Are So Beautiful"?
“Billy Hinsche emailed me a while back just to remind me that although my written account of the Dennis/Preston connection was accurate I should remember that Preston's status in no way deserves any degradation because of it. I agree, and would not expect any changes in the "You Are So Beautiful" author credit. The simple truth is yeah Hinsche and a couple others (not Roach by the way) remember Dennis helping Preston finish the song one hazy night long ago. But there is nothing out of the ordinary here. Musicians cross pollinate, help each other, and jam into the night constantly. Credit usually goes to the person who initiates a composition even if he is influenced and assisted by others to it's completion. The point is that Dennis loved the song, and felt it was a part of him. He sang it to thousands upon thousands in concert. When he mentioned to some folks that he had helped out in it's creation many people laughed him off. Billy Hinsche knows different and had the courage to go on the record with his recollection. He NEVER said Preston should give up a share of the credit. He just told a story about a night when one of his friends had a great new song he played for the pleasure of a few partying dudes, and how another of his friends sat down and helped him finish it...and then fell in love with it forever. I think if Dennis had believed he had somehow missed out he would have gone after the credit himself. That wasn't his style. Let Billy P. have it, Dennis made it his own anyway.” * * * * “Billy Hinsche went on the record with me for my book stating that he witnessed Dennis helping Billy Preston write You Are So Beautiful. Hinsche also repeated this claim for the Endless Harmony interview he taped but that was left out of the documentary. If anyone has a problem with this You Are So Beautiful thing they need to take it up with Billy H. He was there.

By the way. It came to my attention prior to my interview with Billy that many of Dennis' friends believed he had a hand in writing this tune. Dennis mentioned it offhand to more than a few people over the years. When I heard this I had the same reaction that many still do, "Oh that's just Dennis telling one of his whoppers." But BB's engineer Tom Murphy said to me, "Listen to the chord changes in that song, it's just like so many of DW's songs. How many Billy Preston tunes have changes like that?" I though about it and asked a few more people. I thought maybe, just maybe they were hanging out getting high and Dennis showed Preston how to finish a tune he was working on. Of course Dennis would never care about the credit. That's like Dennis too. Then Billy Hinsche confirmed it when I asked him about it. He was very clear on this. Not that Dennis wrote the song, but that he helped Preston finish the song. Magical is how he described the collaboration. I totally believe him.”

3.Do you think Dennis' death was a suicide?
"The exact cause of Denny's death is still a bit of a mystery. His lungs were full of water therefore deprived of oxygen which caused him to expire, but why? Many of Dennis' own friends and family have wildly differing opinions on this. Some believe he had an alcoholic seizure, I don't. Some believe he suffered hypothermia, I don't. Some believe he was murdered, I don't. If I wanted to sell the maximum amount of books I would have called it "The Murder Of A Beach Boy" or something like that. I would have had several friends and an ex-wife backing me up on the murder theory. But it's just not true. Here's what I believe. Dennis had been telling his closest friends for at least a year that he was going to die soon. He knew his time on earth was ending. He was looking for a way out. He was very addicted to alcohol and couldn't break the cycle. His family had all but disowned him because of his self destructive behavior. His body was breaking down. The fun that meant so much to him seemed harder and harder to achieve. At the Marina he was in a place he loved. The irony of finding bits of his former life on the ocean floor was not lost on him. He found the window there that led to other side and he went through it. 58 degree water was nothing for Dennis, a .26 alcohol level was not unusual for him either. Dennis even in his deteriorated state was about as good a swimmer as there ever was. I truly believe he could have surfaced again if he really wanted to. Usually drowning victims are found contorted with debris under their nails from the struggle. Dennis was found curled up in a fetal position with a calm expression on his face. I don't think it was a suicide, I think it was an escape. That's what some of his closest friends believe and so do I.

You've got to remember that although 39 sounds young Dennis lived several lifetimes in that span. He had far more life experience than you, me, or anyone else we know. Most of his family and friends told me they were surprised he made it to 39. The Beach Boys, especially Carl did really try to help Denny. He was impossible to control. Back in the early 80's there weren't the type of programs or the type of understanding of substance abuse that there is now. He was given the opportunity to attend the very best (including Betty Ford) the early 80's had to offer, but could not stick with it. Barbara had two kids to worry about and wasn't getting any consistent help from Dennis. She was the least judgemental person in Denny's life but didn't want to travel the path that seemed inevitable to her. She did her best but couldn't help him.

The sweating was due mostly to alcohol consumption. But Dennis did suffer from a free floating anxiety
syndrome from his chilhood, probably contributed to by the physical abuse from Murry. Brian was considered the "cash cow" so he got attention from all corners. The meal ticket. Dennis did get equal attention from Carl and Audree, but not from the BB's organization. Also Dennis was a significantly scarier person than Brian. Brian never beat anyone up. Dennis beat everyone up including Carl. So many people like Fred Vail, Jerry Schilling, James Guercio, Eddie Roach, Carl, John Hanlon, Stan Shapiro, and on and on tried to help Dennis but he never overcame his desire to rebel. I believe the one thing that would have made the difference to Denny is if the Beach Boys had embraced his creativity. He could have been the primary songwriter for the band starting in the early 70's. He loved to create but found little support from those he wanted it from. If he had been allowed to lead the band creatively his heart may have endured the darkness that eventually forced him to leave us. The opinions expressed are mine. Peace J.S."

4.Why wasn't "Bamboo" ever finished?
“I agree with Jordan in that Bamboo shows definite artistic growth. While I too much prefer Pacific Ocean Blue for it's lushness and depth, I think parts of Bamboo are actually more progressive. I mean the compositional structures of Companion and It's Not Too Late are beyond anything on POB for sure, but then there is that rough, raw, and yes drunken quality to some of it too. I think Bamboo desperately needed an outside producer to pull it together, which is what caused the unfortunate split between James Guercio and Dennis, JG felt that way too. As talented as Dennis was, he was not a good finisher. I can attest that his lack of follow through even hurt Pacific Ocean Blue. There are mixes that exist of some of it's songs that are vastly superior to the released versions, you wouldn't believe how good "What's Wrong" could have sounded, and "Dreamer" too! I mean a HUGE difference in a better way. But Dennis decided he wanted to split and let a hired engineer finish off the last few mixes before mastering, and wasn't there to choose the ones I know he would have. Sounds like Orson Welles if any of you know what I mean. Bamboo is like Smile in that it was almost finished yet it wasn't even close too.” * * * *“Yes Dennis and Gregg J's collaboration continued into the early stages of Bamboo. It was their plan for a recording studio and resort in Hawaii that spawned the name "Bamboo". There are those who believe it was never actually a working title for the second LP but only a label for the grand plan percolating around it. Jakobson continued with an adjusted version of the Hawaii plan after Dennis had dropped out. If the Bamboo LP had seen completion the Producer would probably have been Dennis Wilson. That's precisely why it didn't see completion, he didn't want to share the vision, and his vision was fuzzy. Tom Murphy could have been a co-producer, or Carli Munoz, or even Jakobson or Jim Guercio who desperately wanted SOMEBODY brought in to co-produce and to save the sessions. It seems as though he was right. “

5. What happened to Brothers Studio?
"While hanging out with Denny's friend Ed Roach during the research for my book I had an interesting experience concerning this issue. Ed had an office on 3rd and Broadway in Santa Monica only a couple of blocks from the Brother Studio site. One night after spending many hours looking at BB's footage, pooring through Ed's photo archives, and listening to him tell me colorful stories about nearly each item we examined he suddenly realized it was 1:45 a.m. This of course meant we only had fifteen minutes to go buy some more beer. So we stepped out into the crisp sea air and jammed down the sidewalk towards the nearest market.

After we had walked about a block or so Ed stopped me and said "look at that". There behind a chain link fence was a construction site or rather a HUGE hole in the ground. A massive area had been dug several stories deep to make the way for an underground parking garage. "As if it wasn't enough to tear down his studio, they had to obliterate the ground it stood on too", said Ed as his eyes fought back tears. This was the place where Dennis and his brothers had lovingly created some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard, and now it was only a massive, dark, cold hole. Ed and I turned and continued along to the where our beer was waiting.

Neither of us mentioned the studio for the rest of the night."

These are things that somehow have regularly become accepted truths about Dennis that are absolutely false.

1.Dennis did not play drums on the BB's records. FALSE.
Dennis was the drummer on a great many of the BB's recordings including many of the biggest hits.

2.Dennis was the least talented Beach Boy. FALSE.
The evidence suggests he was probably the second most talented Beach Boy and gaining.

3.Dennis didn't sing on the BB's records. FALSE
Dennis voice is all over most of the BB's most popular songs.

4.Dennis was not a good drummer. FALSE
Hal Blaine says it best. "Dennis was a fantastic drummer in concert" He was primitive but he rocked the house every time.

5.Dennis sang lead on Hawaii. FALSE
That was Mike with a cold.

6.Dennis sang lead on Catch A Wave. FALSE
Mike again with the same cold.

7.Dennis was not at the session for "Surfin.'" FALSE
His voice is prominent on the recording and he sings a lead line on the flip side "Luau".

8.Dennis was not a good surfer. FALSE
Dennis was for his time a pretty good surfer, and occasionally very good.

9.Dennis drink of choice was the screwdriver. FALSE
Dennis liked Meyers Rum and Grapefruit juice 50/50 best.

10.Dennis dove off his boat and drowned. FALSE
Dennis did not own a boat when he died.