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Music / Carl Wilson

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Carl Dean Wilson (December 21, 1946 — February 6, 1998) is an American Singer-Songwriter/guitarist who remains known as a member of The Beach Boys along with his two older brothers Brian and Dennis and his cousin Mike Love.

Born in Hawthorne, California, Carl's musical upbringing was rooted in rock'n'roll and country. His friend David Marks had guitar lessons by John Maus and it inspired him to do the same and get a guitar at the age of 12. Thanks to the Wilson family's group singing, he also shaped his tenor voice. As a Beach Boy, Carl was relegated to instrumental and backing vocals duties along other members such as Dennis or Al Jardine. After some rare lead vocals in the band's early career as well as some instrumentals written by him, he had his vocal breakthrough on the Pet Sounds masterpiece "God Only Knows". While Brian's mental health was deteriorating due to the troubled production of SMiLE, he had more involvement in the band's creative output, starting with Wild Honey and reaching a peak on Surf's Up where he composed his first songs "Long Promised Road" and "Feel Flows". He was also the band's musical director and, figuratively, the band's leader during the seventies until drinking and substance use started to become a hindrance on his life. It was during this time that the band began to splinter into two camps with he and brother Dennis on one side while cousin Mike Love and Al Jardine made up the other.


The '80s marked the beginning of his solo career which was also a brief hiatus from the band's touring (which he compared to Las Vegas shows). After releasing two solo albums, he came back to the band and remained as a performer more than a songwriter. One notable event, however, was his discontent with Brian's "Paley Sessions" which may have been one of the reasons why they were shelved. Despite having lung and brain cancer, he kept touring with The Beach Boys until 1996 and died in February 1998, just two weeks after his mother.

Carl remains known for his vocal talent, being dubbed "Voice of an angel" thanks to his performance on "God Only Knows". He was also a major internal element in the band's career and his death has been regarded as a major breaking point in the group's split.



His work provides examples of:

  • The Cameo: He is a backing vocalist on a couple Elton John songs ("Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" and "Since God Invented Girls"). Also did backing vocals and arrangement work for the Warren Zevon song "Desperadoes Under the Eaves". He also performed lead guitar duties and backing vocals (as well as co-writing two of the songs) on his brother Dennis' solo album.
  • Cover Version: The Beach Boys cover of The Ronettes' "I Can Hear Music" (appearing on 20/20) features Carl's first production role.
  • Cult: He was an ordained minister of the Movement of Spiritual Awareness (whose leader John Roger has been accused of criminal conduct and abuse) and it was the inspiration for the song "Where I Belong" on The Beach Boys' self-titled album.
  • Determinator: Despite having a growing lung cancer in the nineties, he kept performing on stage and retired two years before his death in 1998. During his last tour, he had to sit and take oxygen between every number, but would always stand to sing "God Only Knows" and sound note perfect.
    • Carl, recovering from back surgery, and in tremendous pain, had to be propped up on a stool in order to record vocals for his brother Dennis’ solo album simply because he promised that he would. Dennis was so touched by Carl’s efforts that he ended up in tears.
  • Drunken Master: His late-70s live performances are notable for his drunken singing where his voice gained more vibrato. This performance of "God Only Knows" has him completely drunk, yet he doesn't sing off-key or off-tempo.
  • Face on the Cover: His two solo albums feature him on the cover.
  • Long Runner: A founding Beach Boy from 1961 to 1998.
  • Record Producer: Of 2 solo albums, a many Beach Boys songs during the seventies, and Ricci Martin's debut album.
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: Whether it was on a Beach Boys track or a song from his solo albums.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: He always wore a suit on stage since the early eighties. It often clashed in comparison to Mike, Al, Brian, and Dennis who always wore casual clothing.
  • Vocal Evolution: After more than 30 years of touring, his vocal range hardly changed and his lung cancer didn't affect his voice on his last concert performances.