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Behind.

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The Internet remains a wonderful tool for solving all of those little mysteries I’ve been carrying around for years. God only knows what I’d be without it.

Speaking of which, the ‘webs tonight have cleared up something I’ve wondered about for close to 30 years … a rock n’ roll mystery, and thus fair game for discussion on this blog.

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Years ago, somebody (possibly a Beach Boys-loving cousin) gave my dad a copy of the band’s 1973 live album The Beach Boys In Concert. He’s never been a BBs fan, but I took a shine to some of their music, and as a kid, I remember hearing the album several times.

In Concert, while surely improved by studio sweetening, is an excellent document of the band’s live show before it completely toppled over into nostalgia. Plain and simple, the record rocks. Compare the studio version of “Marcella” with the onstage version and tell me you disagree:

Not only was the music good, but Ed Caraeff’s cover photography provided evocative images of the live experience for a kid who hadn’t been to a concert yet. In particular, there’s one shot of Carl Wilson at the mic, spotlights bouncing off his hollowbody Epiphone Sheraton, that nails the touring-troubadour vibe as well as any live photo I’ve seen. He looks simultaneously like he’s working magic, and like he’s just another guy doing his daily job.

(Remarkably, it doesn’t seem to be on the ‘Net. Maybe it doesn’t speak to anyone else the way it spoke to me. Go buy the record and you’ll see it. — Edit: Actually, you can see it front and center in the video for the live version of “Marcella.” It appears at about 1:45 in.)

Caraeff’s gatefold photography also offered a curious glimpse at the petty bitchiness of the rock n’ roll life, in a clue the average listener could only guess at.

One of his backstage pictures shows early-’70s Beach Boys drummer Ricky Fataar slumped down in a chair in some interchangeable sports-arena dressing room, accompanied by an unidentifiable man in a football jersey.

I say “unidentifiable” because — in a crude bit of pre-Photoshop photo manipulation — the other guy’s face is blocked by the random and somewhat jarring image of an eight-ball.

Of course I knew the meaning of the term “behind the eight-ball” as a kid. I could only wonder what sort of backstage backstabbing could lead to such treatment. I assumed that the person pictured must have been well and truly on the outs with the BBs organization.

eightballI wasn’t the only person who wondered about it. A Google search turned up all manner of online speculation among Beach Boys fans. Among the leading candidates:

– Jack Rieley, the band’s short-tenured manager around that time. (Nope, the Internet chorused; Rieley is bulkier of build than the guy behind the eight-ball.)

– Brian Wilson, then making only occasional live appearances — and, by some tellings, only occasional contact with reality. (Nope again. ’72 Brian was also larger than the man in the picture, and at any rate, the Beach Boys didn’t have any clear reason to punk him that way.)

– Dennis Wilson, who — bereft of drumming duties — was kind of a man without a country in the ’72-’73 Boys’ live act. (Very likely nope. Dennis appears unaltered on the front and back covers, and in at least one gatefold shot.)

– Ed Carter, Beach Boys road guitarist. (I forget what the nope here was, but it wasn’t him either.)

It turns out that the guy behind the eight-ball wasn’t persona non grata after all. In fact, he would continue to be part of the band’s live show for the better part of the next decade.

According to multiple sources, the censored dude next to Fataar was keyboardist Carli Muñoz, who toured as the band’s keyboardist from 1970 to 1981. (Muñoz is one of several sidemen credited in the liner notes to In Concert, though his name is misspelled “Carly.”)

I’d heard of Muñoz before — most recently in the liner notes for Dennis Wilson’s reissued Pacific Ocean Blue album. Muñoz worked extensively with Wilson on Bambu, the never-released follow-up to Pacific Ocean Blue, until Wilson’s self-destructiveness drove him away. Five songs written or co-written by Muñoz appear on the bonus disc of Bambu recordings issued with the Pacific Ocean Blue re-release.

As is so often the case with sidemen and support players, Muñoz’s story is deeper and more interesting than that.

A native of Puerto Rico, he played in an early band with Jorge Calderon, who went on to become Warren Zevon’s longtime sideman and co-writer.

Muñoz also played with a wide-ranging variety of acts in addition to the Beach Boys — among them Wilson Pickett, Peter Cetera, the Association, and jazz drummer Chico Hamilton.

Today, he plays and records jazz and owns his own restaurant and nightclub in San Juan, where he often performs. (The site hasn’t been updated in a little while, so perhaps this is not the latest information.)

I cannot find a circulating explanation of Muñoz’s treatment on the In Concert cover. But he has confirmed to Beach Boys fans that it was him behind the eight-ball, and has even been known to autograph the picture, which is pretty cool of him.

Now that I’ve cleared this up, maybe I’ll spin the vinyl this weekend. Usually my ears gravitate to the vocals, but this time I’ll listen for the piano and organ parts, now that I know who’s playing them.

Even if I don’t know what he looked like.

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