Dennis Wilson

Written By: Stomp

Dennis '64Dennis Carl Wilson (December 4, 1944 – December 28, 1983) was an American rock and roll musician best known as a founding member and the drummer of The Beach Boys. He was a member of the group from its formation until his death in 1983.

Compared to his bandmates, which included his brothers Brian and Carl, and his cousin Mike Love, Dennis often did not sing backup vocals at live performances, though he did so in the studio. His prominence in the group increased as their careers went on, sometimes singing lead, and as a writer towards and into the 1970s.

Born in Inglewood, California, Dennis was the second oldest of the three Wilson brothers. Their mother, Audree, forced Brian to include Dennis in the earliest lineup of the Beach Boys. Urged by older cousin Mike Love, Dennis had approached Brian to form a group and compose a song about surfing. The Beach Boys formed in August 1961 under the guidance of father Murry Wilson, meeting immediate success. Though the Beach Boys were named for and developed an image based on the California surfing culture, Dennis was the only real surfer in the band.

During the first few years of The Beach Boys, Wilson was given the role of the drummer. Wilson had little musical experience at the outset but quickly learned to play the drums. Although he rarely sang on stage, his raspy-sounding vocals were a key ingredient to the group’s vocal blend in the studio.

wilson_dennis_01lThough given few important lead vocals on the early Beach Boys recordings (“Little Girl (You’re My Miss America)” and “This Car of Mine” as well as the bridge verse on “Girls On The Beach”) he sang lead on “Do You Wanna Dance?” in February 1965. Later that year on Beach Boys’ Party!, Dennis sang a rendition of The Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”. He accompanied himself on guitar, and like the other Beach Boys, became a multi-instrumentalist. His piano playing in particular was showcased on his Pacific Ocean Blue album.

Dennis Wilson’s first major released composition was “Little Bird”, the B-side of the “Friends” single, though he had already helped Brian write a few other songs dating back to 1963.

Wilson had further compositions featured on later Beach Boys albums such as 20/20 (1969), Sunflower (1970), Carl and the Passions – “So Tough” (1972), Holland (1973) as well as others. Sunflower included the track “Forever”, not only popular with fans, but also earned him some much sought praise from brother Brian and father Murry. The album included three other songs written by Wilson which were not originally recorded for the album.

The 1973 live album The Beach Boys In Concert features Wilson alone on the album cover, but none of his songs was included in the lineup.

In 1974, concurrent with the success of the ’60s hits compilation Endless Summer, Wilson returned to his role behind the drums.

Dennis Wilson starred alongside James Taylor and Warren Oates in the critically acclaimed film Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) as “The Mechanic”. It depicts “The Driver” (Taylor) and “The Mechanic” driving aimlessly across the United States in their ’55 Chevy surviving on money made by street drag-racing.

Solo career

In 1969 Wilson released his first piece of solo material, a little-known single released under the name “Dennis Wilson & Rumbo.” The single featured “Sound of Free” on the A-side with “Lady” (also known as “Fallin’ In Love”) on the B-side. The song was later covered by American Spring and released as the B-side to their single “Shyin’ Away.”

Pacific Ocean Blue

Wilson released his debut solo album Pacific Ocean Blue in 1977. His collaborators on the album included Daryl Dragon (the ‘Captain’ of Captain & Tennille) and Gregg Jakobson. The album peaked at #96 in the US and sold around 300,000 copies, matching that year’s Beach Boys album Love You. Dates were booked for a Dennis Wilson solo tour but these were ultimately cancelled, possibly due to internal politics – however Wilson did occasionally perform his solo material on the 1977 Beach Boys tour. Despite Wilson himself claiming the album had “no substance”,Pacific Ocean Blue performed well critically and continues to maintain a cult following. The album was out of print and difficult to obtain for more than a decade, but has been reissued as of June 2008.


Pacific Ocean Blue‘s follow-up, Bambu, was initially scuttled by lack of financing and the distractions of simultaneous Beach Boys projects. A sampling of its music was officially released in 2008 as bonus material with the Pacific Ocean Blue reissue.

Two songs from the Bambu sessions – “Love Surrounds Me” and “Baby Blue” – were lifted for the Beach Boys 1979 L.A. (Light Album). Wilson and brother Brian also recorded together apart from the Beach Boys in 1980 and 1981. These sessions remain unreleased though widely bootlegged.

Wilson was quoted in the sleeve notes for the album All Summer Long:

They say I live a fast life. Maybe I just like a fast life. I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world. It won’t last forever, either. But the memories will.

On December 28, 1983, shortly after his 39th birthday, Wilson drowned at Marina Del Rey, Los Angeles On January 4, 1984 he was buried at sea off the California coast by the U.S. Coast Guard.

This is an abridged extract from wikipeida