Back in the day, and for many it’s hard to remember, the Beatles and the Beach Boys were friendly rivals in musical innovation. From the early ’60s through the release of Rubber Soul, Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper, and the demise of the Beach Boys’ ill-fated Smile project, it seemed the two musical forces were sending messages back and forth by way of creative breakthroughs in recording, arranging, and songwriting. Today it’s all history. But, somehow the story that follows touches on these two streams of rock music that have come down through these pockets of time.
This is the part of the story where we bring in two musical rivers who flow together to create a soulful blend of rock ‘n’ roll influence that spans decades and continents. Both the Beatles and the Beach Boys are the origin. The feeling of the music is deep and rich as the blue Atlantic that separates the American and British Isles.
The two artists are Dave Humphries—a British-American singer-songwriter and Stephen Kalinich—an American poet, lyricist, and songwriter.
With the 2015 release of the album, The Hollywood Project, the pair have created an album of sweet, psychedelically informed pop rock tunes that echoes the Beatles Rubber Soul-Revolver period and the era of the Beach Boys Friends and Wild Honey albums.
It’s no wonder. Coming of age in the late ’60s England, Humphries’ musical vocabulary was developed by the sounds he heard during that era. Later in his life he has found himself playing in bands with the Beatles’ mate, Tony Sheridan.
After traveling to California from New York state in the mid-1960s, Stephen Kalinich wrote the lyrics to the classic Beach Boys Haiku song, “Little Bird.”
Both of their stories and how they have come together for this unique project traces something of rock music history in the telling.
Surf’s Up for Stephen Kalinich
In the mid-’60s, when lyricist and world peace advocate, Stephen Kalinich was a very young man living in Binghamton, New York, he traveled to Hollywood, California. It was, after all, the land where dreams came true. With his love and talent for poetry, it didn’t take long to meet and strike up a deal with the Beach Boys, who were riding the crest of popularity with songs like “Good Vibrations,” as they transitioned out of their surf and hot rod song days.
The timing was just right. It was the gateway into the era of psychedelia that would soon produce Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, and the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour period. For Kalinich, this was not new. He had been walking in the world of psychedelic imagery through his poetry since the late 1950s.
He took flight on the wings of his lyrics in “Little Bird,” written and performed by Beach Boy Dennis Wilson for the classic 1968 album, Friends, which was laced with harmonic psychedelia patterned after Brian Wilson’s lost Smile project. It is a wistful melodic song with lyrics that perfectly match the soul of the melody.
Little bird up in a tree
Looked down and sang a song to me
Of how it began
The trout in the shiny brook
Gave a warm and loving look
And told me not to worry
About my life
With the simplest of imagery and melody layered with rich harmonies, the song brought the work of Stephen Kalinich to the light of day.
According to Kalinich, “I wrote those words first. It was a meditation before Transcendental Meditation came along. I saw a little bird on a tree and the philosophy came to me. Before things become real they are first in your mind. A thought of love. If you cling to every thought that’s real, your life will be ‘free from toil, free from strife, free from chains that hold you down.’”
But, this was a time of career identity crisis for the band and, soon, Stephen was without a contract or income. A few years later he found himself living in a motor hotel room in Century City while working at a gas station and sweeping an office building nearby.
“Al Jardine came in one night and was shocked to see that I had fallen from the Beach Boys and “Little Bird” to pumping gas and washing windows for $1.75 an hour.” Kalinich says.
This was when he was inspired to write a whim of a letter to Paul McCartney, which reads,
Dear Paul McCartney. Enclosed are a few poems of mine. Please read them through and if you like them please drop me a line. I write them in the morning when the world is still asleep. I write them in the evening in the cellars that I sweep.
He never sent the words to McCartney, but just his thought accelerated a creative muse within him. Thirty years later, through the dips and turns of a life that put out peace as more than just an empty-headed ideal—but a real living reality—Kalinich would hear the ex-Beatle sing his lyrics with Beach Boy, Brian Wilson on his solo song, “A Friend Like You.” It is a sweet song of friendship expressed with the deepest sense of gratitude and authenticity without a trace of saccharine detected.
For Stephen Kalinich the road has been a long one. He has walked sometimes alone, sometimes with the support and love of celebrities at the highest level of show biz. It’s not unusual to see him arm-and-arm with Johnny Depp. But, as he reaches show business heights, he remains intent on staying grounded in the moment and in the heart of even the everyday soul who walks life’s path alone.
In the days since his time with the Beach Boys he has kept his message of peace through words and music pure and delivered it with a passion that makes his message hard to avoid. It is a message of love, as he encourages us to face the light that is buried deep inside each one of us. He has traveled to India and today even the most celebrated of celebrities seek him out for spiritual guidance.
Riding the San Diego Surf with Dave Humphries
For most readers of the San Diego Troubadour, Dave Humphries is no stranger. Since 1996, with one interlude to the Pacific West Coast, Humphries has been bringing his own unique turn to the legacy of the Beatles as well as original songs that carry the flavor and brand of classic rock of the late-1960s. His releases, including 2008’s and so it goes and 2014’s well-received Retro, cover the musical ground of a student of American and British rock rooted in the 1950s and ’60s with an appealing original twist. There is a certain Lennon and McCartney influence with a bit of George Harrison running through his work, but there is his own distinct hybrid remake of a funkier version of the Davies brothers and their Kinky adventures in the late ’60s. However, it was through his collaboration playing in a band with one of the few musicians who have walked the earth and who can say they fronted the Beatles—Tony Sheridan—where the story begins to take off.
According to Stephen Kalinich, he was invited to appear at a Beatle convention in New York City by DJ and Beatle authority Ken Michaels. It was during this time he heard Dave Humphries. He was so taken with Humphries’ sound that Kalinich spent the next year reaching out to the singer-songwriter to collaborate on an album. Finally, in 2015, The Hollywood Project was born. With music and performance by Humphries and the unique blend of lyrical color from Kalinich, the album is a bit of an understated pop music masterpiece. In terms of performance, what the pair have devised with the help of Sheridan producer Wolfgang Grasekamp brings together the loose sound of the Traveling Wilburys with the creative inspiration of the late ’60s Beatles and Beach Boys. It’s a match that makes the listener wish these two sometimes-competing musical camps would have joined together at some point during their artistic heyday.
But for Kalinich and Humphries, this may be only the beginning of a beautiful friendship and collaboration.
According to Kalinich the album has sold well enough for two pressings, with a demand for still more. They have plans to perform and record another album. While Kalinich continues to work with his most recent musical partner, the great producer, singer-songwriter Jon Tiven, and Humphries holds forth his own legacy in San Diego, the two look forward to more work together in 2016 and beyond.
Their story and collaboration illustrates how two musical influences from long ago is still bearing fruit. Only this time they swim together along the same shore and the water is warm.
A concert has been planned on May 13 at the Coffee Gallery in Altadena, California. Visit https://www.reverbnation.com/davehumphriesmusic for detailed information.