Born Benjamin Baldwin, 27 June, 1942, Peoria, Illinois
Vocalist / songwriter / producer / multi-instrumentalist. Bruce Johnston has been in the music business for over fifty years. As a child Johnston was adopted by William and Irene Johnston of Chicago and grew up on the West side of Los Angeles. He studied classical piano, but switched to popular music in high school, where he befriended Sandy Nelson and Phil Spector. Bruce's first band was the Sleepwalkers, which did not record professionally. In 1958 Nelson and Johnston joined Kip Tyler and the Flips, then one of the most important rock 'n' roll bands in Los Angeles, who recorded for the Challenge and Ebb labels. They replaced drummer Mike Bernani and pianist Larry Knechtel who had defected to Duane Eddy's Rebels. The two friends (Bruce and Sandy Nelson) both played on the # 1 smash "To Know Him Is To Love Him" by the Teddy Bears, Bruce handling the bass duties.
In May 1959, Sandy and Bruce played on "Charge"/"Geronimo" by studio group the Renegades (American International 537), two high-speed instrumental rockers, written by Nik Venet. "Charge" has Bruce playing a crazed piano solo midway through. Bruce also plays (superb) piano on "Big Jump", the exceptionally good B-side of "Teen Beat", Sandy Nelson's first solo record (# 4 in the autumn of 1959). Bruce claims that he made a significant contribution to "Teen Beat". "By virtue of how we put it together, I qualify, along with Richard Podolor, as the writer with Sandy Nelson, but it didn't turn out that way 'cause we were too green to ask for a writing share". Johnston was just 18 years old when he became a producer. After hearing some of Bruce's songs, Bob Keane, owner of the Del-Fi and Donna labels, hired him to work with Ron Holden who was working on an album to follow his Top 10 hit "Love You So". Apart from "Love You So" and "My Babe", all songs on Holden's LP were written by Johnston, some in cooperation with Holden.
In 1962, Bruce started recording surfing instrumentals, first on Donna (3 singles) and in 1963 on Del-Fi (1 single, one live LP). That year he left Bob Keane and teamed up with Terry Melcher, Doris Day's son, establishing a working relationship that continued through the late 70s. The duo recorded prolifically for Columbia, as the Rip Chords, the Rogues and Bruce and Terry. Their biggest hit was "Hey Little Cobra", credited to the Rip Chords, which went to # 4 in early 1964. Altogether, they had seven chart entries in 1963-64 (including those by Bruce and Terry). On April 9, 1965, Bruce became a member of the Beach Boys, after Glen Campbell (who was substituting on stage for the group's chief song writer Brian Wilson) decided to embark on a solo career. Johnston's first vocal recording with the Beach Boys was "California Girls". He sang on every subsequent album through 1972's "Carl and the Passions - So Tough". In some cases, Bruce was allowed to sing lead, most successfully so on his own "Tears In the Morning" (1970), which surprisingly failed to chart in the USA and UK, but it was a # 6 hit in the Netherlands and still one of my favourite Beach Boys records.
Bruce left the group in March 1972, after a falling out with then-manager Jack Rieley. Bruce reunited with Terry Melcher and in 1973 they formed their own label, Equinox Records, which was distributed by RCA. When the RCA deal fell apart in 1976, Bruce departed. In that year he won a Grammy Award as a songwriter for Song of the year. The song in question was "I Write the Songs", first recorded by David Cassidy in 1975 (# 11 in the UK), then covered by Barry Manilow, whose version topped the Billboard charts in January 1976. During the 1970s Bruce also worked with such artists as Barry Mann, Elton John, Cass Elliott, Art Garfunkel and Eric Carmen as an arranger, pianist or background singer. In 1978, Johnston rejoined the Beach Boys and today, in 2008, he is still a member of the touring version of that group, performing some 170 concerts a year.
More info on Johnston's non-Beach Boys contributions:
See also the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Johnston
The quote about "Teen Beat" comes from Brad Elliott's book "Surf's Up: The Beach Boys On Record, 1961-1981" (1982), which has an extensive section on Bruce and was very helpful.
|These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at email@example.com