WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . DAVID MARKS: The boy who left the beach too soon

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Surfin' USA
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . DAVID MARKS: The boy who left the beach too soon

He came out of Erie, Pennsylvania and was of Jewish-Italian heritage. At age five or thereabouts he was enthralled by the mandolin playing of his grandfather Carlo and the singing of those he called Uncle Benny and Uncle Johnny (also on guitar) from the old country.

When Benny and Johnny appeared on the Amateur Hour television show in late 1953 the boy was even more impressed.

Music became his passion and when, two years later, the family packed up and moved to California the sound of rock'n'roll was in the air and he fell in with the neighbourhood kids, Dennis and Carl.

And so David Marks was there when the Wilson brothers Dennis, Carl and the teenage Brian began to shape the sound of Southern California and became the Beach Boys.

Brian, being older, was a bit removed from the younger kids but Marks would secretly sneak over to the Wilson house and listen to Brian practice on piano as he repeatedly listened to records to learn the chord changes and vocal parts.

By this time Marks had set aside the trumpet for guitar, drawn to it when he saw a friend of his cousin Toni playing in local band.

That friend was John Maus – later to become John Walker of the Walker Brothers – and Marks, along with Carl Wilson, went to him for lessons.

Then Brian heard the kids playing and started paying attention. He taught them songs he was writing. Slowly Brian's music moved from piano to guitar-based pop, always incorporating the complex vocal harmonies he'd admired in the Everly Brothers and doo-wop groups.

With the Wilson's cousin Mike Love, the Beach Boys began to take shape.

And David Mark was there right playing rhythm guitar.

To hear writer and champion Jon Stebbins tell Marks' story in The Lost Beach Boy, this young kid was important in creating the sound of the Beach Boys and hasn't been given enough credit.

Stebbins' book – while clear-eyed about Marks' later, much troubled life -- advances the case for his co-writer.

Also on the scene was Al Jardine who drifted in and out of their informal sessions.

It was Mike and Al that Brian really liked to work with because they were older and could sing well. And Dennis, Carl and Marks were just kids.

In October 1961 the group – such as it was – went into the studio to record Surfin', their first single . . .

Marks, only 12 at the time, wasn't on the record.

Jardine was, so in subsequent years could be considered a founder member of the Beach Boys.

But Marks was still around and when Jardine was vacillating about whether to stick with the group or go to college, Marks was there when Jardine chose college in early '62.

Surfin_SafariCoverAnd then Marks on Fender Stratocaster became a Beach Boy, playing hundreds of gigs, touring, appearing on their first three albums Surfin' Safari, Surfin USA and Surfer Girl.

He was there on the album covers (second from the left on Surfer Girl) and wasn't yet 15.

Although being on many of their classic early songs he has been all but written out of the Beach Boys' story. He barely rates a mention in the four CD box set Good Vibrations.

However David Marks was on their classic early songs: In My Room, Surfer Girl, Hawaii, and Surfin' USA among them, sang lead with Carl on their version of Summertime Blues and featured on their instrumentals Miserlou, Honky Tonk, Surf Jam, Let's Go Trippin, Stoked . . .

SurferGirlCoverHe would later admit he was unsure of how much of his vocals made it onto those early albums, but his guitar was certainly present.

David Marks was a Beach Boy and on tour he enjoyed the rock'n'roll life-style of booze, girls and fast times with the dangerous Dennis.

When Mike Love insisted he write a letter home to his worried parents he did and showed it to Love. It read, “Dear Mom and Dad, I'm having a fucking great time on the road! We're drinking lots of whisky and screwing whores in every town. My dick is oozing green pus but don't worry, we're all getting penicillin shots soon. I can't wait to tell you about the rest of the things we've done. See you in a week! Love David”.

For a kid barely in his teens this was just a lark.

But then there was also the Wilson's father Murry who was a brutal and bullying disciplinarian and ambitious for them and himself.

And when Murry heard about their tour shenanigans he caught up with them in Chicago, fired their tour manager and berated them in the car, especially Marks who he said was the worst of the bunch.

At that point David Marks, in a fit of fury after being on the road for six weeks and on the receiving end of Murry's rage said, “OK, I quit”.

And he did . .. but kinda didn't.

He was still around the Beach Boys, continued to perform and record with them as Al Jardine made his way back into the band as Murry glowered at him and negotiated a way to get him out of his contract.

He even appeared on the album and the cover photo for the Little Douce Coup album which also included Jardine . . . and then he was really out.

He was just 15.

marksmenDavid Marks' story after that weaves in and out of the Beach Boys' lives but he started a garageband David and the Marksmen and for much of the rest of his life he was one step away from the fame he'd previously had.

He was invited to join an emerging band but declined (the band was Paul Revere and the Raiders and not long after their career took off), the Marksmen had with little success, he joined another band, he did session work (Sonny and Cher), got into LSD, met then had as a flatmate Warren Zevon (who was just a few years away from fame), was invited to join the Turtles when Howard Kaylan quit so packed his bags but then Kaylan returned . . .

marksHe joined and left other bands, took more drugs, was in car accidents, straightened up and studied at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, jammed with Mick Taylor who was then in the Rolling Stones, briefly played lead guitar with Delaney and Bonnie until Eric Clapton turned up . . .

He was on the Joe Cocker Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour (they turned up at his house and trashed the place while partying), when Brian Wilson was writing more and more elaborate arrangements for the Beach Boys Mike Love invited Marks to rejoin them (he wanted an ally to return them to their original surf sound) . . .

David Marks' life after quitting the Beach Boys was a series of close encounters with success, metaphorical and literal car crashes, hitting rock bottom, small then non-existent royalty cheques from his brief time in the band and any number of reunions with various Boys.

It wasn't until 2006 – after the deaths of Carl and Dennis Wilson – that he was awarded an accolade: a platinum disc for the Beach Boys compilation CD Sounds of Summer.

And he briefly became a touring member of the Beach Boys again.

At the time of this writing David Marks is 73 and has been clean and sober for about two decades.

505068Given how damaged Brian Wilson became, the deaths of Carl and Dennis, and the passing of so many of his fellow musicians (Zevon, various members of his bands) the fact that Marks came through it all – from fame at 14 – and is still around.

That is reason enough as to why we need to talk about David Marks.


Elsewhere is indebted to the biography The Lost Beach Boy by Jon Stebbins with David Marks (2007) in the preparation of this article. It can be found at amazon here


For other articles in the series of strange or interesting characters in music, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . go here.

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Mick - Jan 24, 2022

This is an excellent, brutally honest book by a man who hit went from high to low and stayed there for a couple of decades. Anyone who wants to know more about the Beach Boys will enjoy David Marks' story.

It was great to see him front and centre on lead guitar and harmony vocals when all the surviving Beach Boys reunited for the 50th Anniversary tour 10 years ago. Definitely a lost talent for so long.

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