Answer Man

August 31, 2014

Answer Man: How many Beach Boys are coming to Belleville?

Answer Man

Got questions? You've come to the right place

Q. Could you please research the Beach Boys and let us know how many of the original members will be here for our Bicentennial celebration? Also, a brief history of the group if you please.

-- Lillian Schneider, of Belleville

A. With apologies to Brian Wilson and Mike Love, wouldn't it be nice if we were younger and could see the Beach Boys in their prime? And wouldn't it be nice to sing with them all their great hits from that time?

Alas, that won't be possible when America's "first, best rock band" (according to AllMusic) takes the stage Sept. 19 during the city's gala Bicentennial Oktoberfest Celebration. Of the group's original quintet, only one will be here next month -- and it won't be their initial creative genius, Brian Wilson.

Instead, local audiences will have fun, fun, fun with founding member Mike Love along with Bruce Johnston, who became a full-fledged Beach Boy four years later. Backing them will be five more recent additions, including one name that should be familiar to any pop music fan -- John Cowsill.

Cowsill, of course, is best known for his work as a singer and drummer with his family's band, the Cowsills ("The Rain, the Park and Other Things"). But he also has played with Jan and Dean, worked with Dwight Twilley and joined one-hit wonder Tommy Tutone for the 1982 earworm "867-5309/Jenny." He joined the Beach Boys on tour in 2000.

Adding to the good vibrations will be singer-guitarist Scott Totten, who also joined the Boys in 2000 and moved up to musical director in 2008, and Randell Kirsch, who has worked with a host of artists and bands (Stephen Bishop, Toad the Wet Sprocket, etc.) before becoming a Beach Boy in 2004.

Rounding out the crew will be Jeff Foskett, who was part of Mike Love's Endless Summer Beach Band back in 1979, and Canadian musician Tim Bonhomme, who began sitting in at the Beach Boys keyboards 20 years ago.

But those subs all joined years after brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson teamed with cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine to form a casual singing group in 1961 in Hawthorne, Calif.

At first, they called themselves variously Carl and the Passions, the Pendletones or Kenny and the Cadets as they rehearsed and played high-school hops in the area.

But already in the late '50s, Brian had been dissecting how his father, Murry, played piano and how tight vocal groups like the Four Freshmen were making it big. For his 16th birthday, Brian received a reel-to-reel tape recorder, which he used for overdubbing vocals while learning and teaching his mates new piano, guitar and rhythm techniques.

Then came the coup de grace: Dennis, the group's only real surfer dude, suggested they do a song about his favorite pastime, so they wrote and recorded "Surfin'" for the local Candix label. But when they picked up their box of 45s, they noticed that the label had rechristened them as The Beach Boys.

A music legend was born. The song took off locally and climbed to No. 75 nationally. Their father immediately seized on the opportunity to become the band's manager and win it a national recording contract with Capitol Records in 1962.

Like most success stories, this one is filled with far more triumphs, tragedies and legal spats than I have space here to do justice. In its long history, the group has had 36 U.S. Top 40 hits, including four No. 1's, and sales of 100 million-plus records and discs worldwide.

But as early as 1965, Brian Wilson was beginning to battle mental health issues and temporarily stopped touring. Brother Dennis drowned in 1983, and Carl died of lung cancer in 1998. Brian, now 72, and Al Jardine, who turns 72 Wednesday, have enjoyed solo careers while joining the 50th Reunion Tour in 2012.

Still, the original five were enshrined into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, and dozens of musicians have joined in to keep that original spirit of girls, sand, surf and sun alive ever since.

Q. In the process of moving, I found a whip with a gold-embossed inscription of "Oldest Harness, Saddle, Collar and Whip Store -- George Bieser of Belleville." What can you tell me about him and his store?

-- Kent Knowles, of Millstadt

I can tell you he wasn't exaggerating about his business's longevity.

On June 11, 1857 -- six months before the Belleville Weekly Democrat began publishing -- Adam Bieser established a leather business on East Main Street between High and Jackson. A decade later, he moved it to 210 E. Main, where it would remain a fixture for the next 85 years.

During the Civil War, Bieser had a subcontract with a St. Louis business for the manufacture of artillery harnesses. In 1892, he turned the operation over to his 33-year-old son, George, who later expanded his offerings to include billfolds, purses and luggage. By 1938, the George A. Bieser Saddlery and Luggage Shop was the last of eight Belleville harness shops and reportedly the oldest Belleville business still in existence, save for Merck Bakery.

According to a 1932 Daily Advocate story that celebrated the business's 75th anniversary, George Bieser was a founder of the local Kronthal-Liedertafel singing society and was the first Belleville resident to receive a diploma as an honorary member of the Nord Amerikan Saengerbund German singing society. A year before he died in 1947 at age 87, George turned the business over to longtime employee Fred Wild, who ran it until it closed in the early '50s.

Today's trivia

Who took Brian Wilson's place when he quit touring in 1965 because of stress?

Answer to Saturday's trivia: In 1933, Ruth Bryan Owen, the daughter of the renowned William Jennings Bryan, became the first woman named as a U.S. ambassador when President Franklin Roosevelt selected her to serve Denmark/Iceland. She had been the first woman to serve on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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