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Beach Boys celebrate 50 years with stop at Red Rock

Do the Beach Boys have anything to prove with the long-awaited reunion fans are just happy to see? Maybe a little. Asked about that loss-of-upper range thing that happens to older men, Bruce Johnston has a quick reply.

"Lemme ask you something: What’s the end of ‘Fun, Fun Fun’?"

Before one can quite lock in on the answer, Johnston supplies it from the other end of the phone, singing the familiar falsetto "Ooh-wee-ooooh …"

"I’m 69 and three-quarters. I don’t think I’ve lost the upper range. Thank you very much."

Those who grew up with the Beach Boys are thanking them for "When Surf Freezes Over," the name Johnston coined as a play on the Eagles’ own endless summer of a reunion, "When Hell Freezes Over."

"It’s like world peace. I never think about it because it’s never happened. It’s way too abstract for me," he says.

The 50th-anniversary tour that launched on February’s Grammy Awards continues Sunday in the outdoor grandstand at Red Rock Resort, reuniting three factions of the legendary pop band who have played the market separately over the past 15 years: The band’s writing/producing mastermind Brian Wilson, lead singer Mike Love and guitarist Al Jardine.

The sizeable ensemble includes guitarist Johnston, a part of the Beach Boys family since 1965, and David Marks, the "forgotten Beach Boy" who has been with the extended family off and on since his brief official tenure in 1962 and ’63.

Love controlled the official Beach Boys name during the years he and his cousin Wilson were back and forth in court. "My new partners are conservators and executives," Jardine noted in the heat of the battle in 1999, when he was trying to establish his own band. "I don’t like my new partners."

Johnston stuck with Love and the name. "The band that’s going to win the noncompetition, no offense to Brian, is whoever’s called the Beach Boys," he explains. "I just kind of stuck with what I know. I just hung in there. Mike got the license to be the Beach Boys, and he’s kind of the front guy. I thought, ‘Well he’s my friend, I’ll just kind of hang in this world.’ "

And, let it not be forgotten, "We built a huge, huge business out of it. Huge."

Johnston’s own career began when he arranged and played on the 1959 hit "Teen Beat" by drummer Sandy Nelson (who now lives in Boulder City).

And he made good royalty income as the actual writer of Barry Manilow’s 1975 hit "I Write the Songs." ("He was so afraid to record it," Johnston says. "If it was a hit, he’d have to be, ‘No no no, I didn’t write it’ for the rest of his life.")

Johnston was a staff producer at Columbia Records when he "just kind of wound up in the band" in time to be on 1965’s "California Girls," after Brian Wilson retreated to the recording studio and the others kept asking him to play guitar on road dates.

After never really touring with Brian, a reunion "was never on my mind," he says.

"I never thought about it because I guess my mind ruled that possibility out. I just thought, how’s everybody going to get together? C’mon. We don’t have Carl, we don’t have Dennis. C’mon," he says of Brian’s brothers, drummer Dennis Wilson, who drowned in 1983, and Carl Wilson, who died of cancer in 1998.

But the impossible seemed more tangible when the group reunited last year to record a remake of "Do It Again." "Musically, it took about three minutes," Johnston says, and "redefined the word ‘easy.’ There was nothing to it. What is so hard about pulling the dynamic back together if that’s the plan?"

Still, he admits, "People were working on how it should be for us a lot longer than that. Like preparing a stage, getting it really right before anyone walks on it."

The reunion includes a new album, "That’s Why God Made the Radio," with 11 new songs produced by Wilson, coming out June 5. The band has been playing the title track in its shows.

If instead someone had phoned him up and said, "Let’s have dinner New Year’s Eve and bring your guitar," that too "would have been perfect," he says. "But if everyone chose to go out and do what we’re doing, that’s the new perfect."

As Jardine noted last summer, when he brought his solo band into the Riviera, "It’s not for us anymore. It’s really about the fans now. And, at the risk of sounding corny, about our country. We need some positive, uplifting music and also to be reminded that some things can last. And still be good."

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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