LIKE A BROTHER - SESSION NOTES
by Producer Phil Galdston
"I once heard Jackson Browne say about Don Henley and Glenn Frey, "It's amazing when your friends become your heroes." For me, it was amazing that three of my heroes - Gerry Beckley, Robert Lamm, and the late Carl Wilson - became my friends. These consummate songwriters, singers, and musicians had a profound influence on my musical life. If, years ago, anyone had told me that I would be writing and producing with them, I would have laughed and gone back to some dreams with a little greater chance of coming true.
Of course, if, years ago, anyone had told me that members of America, Chicago, and the Beach Boys would come together to make an album, I would have found that wacky, as well. Each had a unique style and impact. Even thirty years or so after America and Chicago hit the scene, and forty years after the Beach Boys arrived, their music remains popular and influential in a way no one could have predicted.
In February 1992, I flew To L.A. from New York to play some undefined role in what everyone agreed was a project with great promise. It was one thing to have known and collaborated with both Carl and Robert. But I had yet to meet Gerry and co-producing was an entirely different story. But all three put me at ease right away. They were very generous with their compliments about Vanessa Williams' record of "Save The Best For Last," a song I had co-written. I tried to keep my success in perspective. For example, although my #1 song was featured on my airplane's audio program, each of them had a chestnut from their catalog featured, as well!
Six years later, on another February afternoon in Los Angeles, Robert, Gerry, and I sat in a restaurant after Carl's funeral and agreed that, sadly, all of the music we'd made would never be heard by the outside world. The record wasn't complete and we couldn't imagine how we could ever finish it without Carl.
In between those two days, we'd spent countless hours in studios in
New York and L.A. recording, plotting, planning, arguing, and angling to bring the project home. There were weeks of intensive effort and months of hiatus, while each of us concentrated on other, less speculative aspects of our careers. All three loved the work, but their day gigs made it impossible for them to make the kind of commitment the music biz demands.
Nonetheless, it was a joy to watch how their relationships worked. Here were three people who could have easily been competitive, even within appropriate boundaries of a group. Instead, their mutual respect - their love - for each other helped each to raise high the bar of performance. As a result, there were many thrilling, joyous moments along the way.
For my part, the most emotional experience of the entire project
may well have been when I first showed Carl the lyric to "Like A Brother." It had been a long, grueling road to conceiving the idea - about ten months of sporadic attempts to find something that matched the music we had written rather quickly. One day, I found myself thinking of how difficult it would be to be in Carl's position: distanced from my big brother by circumstances and forces beyond my control. Suddenly, the phrase "Love you like a brother" came to me. Two hours later, the lyric was done. A couple of weeks after that, I was nervously singing it to Carl, worried that I might have invaded extremely personal territory. When I was done, he tearfully embraced me. "Thank you for caring enough to write about my life," he said. Just then, the phone rang. His wife, Gina, called, "It's Brian." I left Carl with the phone. In the kitchen, Gina was amazed. "They haven't spoken in over a year," she said.
In the spring of 1997, Carl called to say that he was ready to set aside a significant period of time to complete the album. He and I had written a new song, he had dreamed up some new parts, and he felt that B-L-W was ready to move forward. He would work out a timetable while on vacation in Hawaii.
Two weeks later, Carl was diagnosed with the cancer that would take his life. Although he struggled heroically - even performing on the Beach Boys/Chicago tour between chemotherapy sessions - and each of us spent some precious time with him, we never again made music together. By February 1998, Carl was gone at 51. The three remaining members of the team toasted his memory, embraced, and drove off into the kind of sunset Carl had sung about for most of his life. About four months later, a friend asked if he could hear the B-L-W tunes. I put the tape on and within minutes I had tears streaming down my face. I picked up the phone and called Robert and Gerry to tell them we had to finish the record; we owed it to Carl. They agreed.
A week of overdubbing and mixing - a week of intense emotion best summed up by Gerry's comment the first day: "This is most thrilling and the saddest day I may have ever had" - and we were done. Some have commented on how much of the record concerns the passing of time and of loved ones. I don't think any of us were aware of that while recording. I think - I know - we were transported by the music, lyrics, and performances, and the joy of seeing it all come to life.
In a conversation shortly after she heard the entire record for the first time, Gina Wilson revealed that she had kept her fingers crossed that we would complete the record. She had "spoken" with Carl in a dream. "I want my music to be heard," he told her. Finally, and proudly, it can be.
Phil Galdston, New York City, May 2004