Warmth of the Sun

Posted on November 22, 2008 – 3:11 PM | by OldManFoster
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by Dean Seavers

I’m not sure if it’s just Sacramento—or perhaps all military and government towns due to the transient nature of that kind of population—but when it comes to local pop culture history, a lot tends to get ploughed under and forgotten. By nature, pop culture is of its time and place—a snapshot vs. the sitting portrait of politics, social science and war in the realm of history. While it’s easy to unearth the facts and figures and versions of the milestone events of a given time, it’s easy to lose the context of the event if we have no way to frame it or anchor it to something we can relate to.

Beach BoysNovember 22 marks 45 years since John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. It also happens to be the 45th anniversary of a Beach Boys concert in Marysville.   These seemingly unrelated events became intertwined, and a permanent link was forged that night in a hotel room off Highway 160 in Sacramento.

Fred Vail, an alumnus of El Camino High, Class of ’62, is now a recording studio owner in Nashville, but in 1963 he was a booking agent for the hottest surf band in the country- The Beach Boys.   Vail had booked the Beach Boys for his senior class fundraiser, and in the process netted the boys more money than they had ever gotten before. An alliance was formed and Fred started booking tours for the band. By all accounts the Beach Boys owned Sacramento in the early sixties, and were huge here before they were big anywhere else. Tales abound of kids strapping surfboards to the roofs of station wagons in landlocked Sacramento as a manifestation of the spell the five boys from Hawthorn had cast on their neighbors 400 miles to the north.

Beach Boys FlyerBy the fall of 1963 the Beach Boys were a pop sensation, yet were still willing to play shows in outlying areas to build the fan base– hence the Marysville Civic Auditorium show.  On the morning of Friday, November 22nd, Vail was up early, monitoring the local radio stations and getting ready to call the various ticket outlets to see how sales were going.

“I was out in one of the KXOA news cars with Johnny Gunn, one of the jocks, when we first heard of the tragic event in Dallas. Without hesitation, we headed back to the radio station. By the time we entered the lobby, the whole place was in chaos. Secretaries were crying, salesmen and others were waiting anxiously for the latest news reports.”

Vail hastily put in a call to Murry Wilson, the Wilson boys’ father and manager, who was in just as much shock as the rest of the world. “How can we play the show tonight, Fred?’ was his first question.  Vail was eager to see the ‘boys’ and just as eager to go on with the show, “but several questions lingered in my mind: would the city of Marysville allow us to go ahead with the concert? Would parents allow their kids to go out on such a tragic day? What about ticket sales? Would there be any backlash if we played the gig? I told Murry: ‘Let me make a few calls. It’s still morning. We still have plenty of time for all of you to make the flight if we get a ‘go ahead’ from city officials and everything else checks out.’”

“I immediately began calling the different parties connected with the show: the local Marysville/Yuba City radio stations, local record shops, the police, and city administrative offices. The city government, including police and parks and recreation, had no problem letting us go ahead with the show. The local radio stations had been flooded with calls about our appearance since the death of the President had been announced. Local ticket outlets were already doing a brisk business in sales as all the schools had been let out early…there was not much else to do. All regular radio and television programming had been suspended. Recaps of the events of the day were played, replayed, and replayed again. Not too unlike a major story on CNN today! Most contemporary music stations either carried news reports or played only soft instrumental music out of respect to the president. For kids – particularly Beach Boys fans – it was all pretty boring, to say the least.

“I called Murry…and he said: ‘Are you sure this is okay?’ I told him that I honestly felt we should go on with the show. He agreed, and we made plans for me to meet the plane at the old Sacramento Municipal Field [now called Sacramento Executive Airport].  I borrowed my folks’ 1954 Chevy station wagon, and got ready to pick up the boys. If I recall, they got in about 4:30 or 5 PM, we loaded all the gear into the back of the wagon, and we headed toward Marysville. We did, however, stop long enough at the El Dorado Hotel in Sacramento for the group to check in and get freshened up from the flight. It made more sense to stay in Sacramento so that they’d be closer to the airport for the flight the next day.

The show was a huge success, Vail remembers. “It not only broke the existing hall attendance record, but there were absolutely no incidents. The kids were well behaved and very, very grateful that their favorite ‘surfing band’ had gone ahead with the show. I settled up with the box office manager, stuffing thousands of dollar bills and small change into grocery bags, which Murry and I carried to the cars. We headed back to the El Dorado Hotel, excited about the success of the evening’s performance, but still very mindful of the tragic events that had happened just twelve or fourteen hours before in Dallas, Texas.”

“It was probably about 1 AM when we got back to the rooms. Murry and I dumped the bags of cash out on to one of the beds. The boys were amazed, perhaps shocked, to see all the cash sitting on the bed…seeing nearly $6,000 in cash, was a bit unusual, even for The Beach Boys, as they were only getting $1,500 to $2,000 for their usual fee.”

As they all began to wind down from the events of the day, Vail watched as Brian Wilson and Mike Love started working on a song that they’d begun earlier that morning. “They were in the corner of the small room, tightening up lyrics, working on the melody, and humming and singing a few lines here and a few lines there. By about 2 AM or so, the song was nearly complete.”  Although one would never realize it from the lyrics, the song would be their musical tribute to Kennedy, the youngest president ever elected, and also, the youngest to die in office. The song was ‘The Warmth of the Sun.’

The tune is one of the Beach Boys’ loveliest and is well known amongst even casual fans even though it wasn’t a radio hit. Brian Wilson recounted writing “The Warmth of the Sun” in the 1995 movie I Guess I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times and the emotional elements surrounding the day: “Mike said, ‘Do you want to write a song in tribute to JFK tonight?’ It was a spiritual night. We got going and a mood took over us. Something took us over. I can’t explain it…”

Of the people in that hotel room that night, only Vail, Mike Love, Brian Wilson and Al Jardine are left.  Brothers Carl and Dennis Wilson are gone, as is their father Murry. The Hotel El Dorado is long gone too; the Radisson now stands on the same site.  So, the next time you’re bombing down 160 on your way to the hinterlands, take a glance over to the right, and as you pass the Radisson, remember when world history and pop culture crossed paths in Sacramento, leaving a permanent nugget of pop culture behind… and continue to wonder what else has happened in our burg that teeters on the brink of being lost forever.

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