David Marks- The Forgotten Beach Boy

The Beach Boys say goodbye to David Marks, 1963…

David Marks: Lost Beach Boy

Playing rhythm guitar is a noble but unglamorous job. But even for such an unheralded job, David Marks, one of rock’n’roll’s greatest rhythm guitarists, has been given an unfair pass by history. David Marks, the rhythm guitar player in the Beach Boys from 1961-3 has always fascinated me since he was basically written out of history. The Beach Boys always kept tight control over their image and legacy (in fact, the best book on the Beach Boys– David Leaf’s The Beach Boys and The California Myth has been out of print almost since it’s first printing, and it’s author hired by the Beach Boys, probably to shut him up). The official Beach Boys party line is the Marks replaced Al Jardine for a few months when Jardine returned to school, in reality Marks was in the group for nearly three years, joining the band shortly after their first single–Surfin’ for the tiny Candix (later X) label, joining in time to play on Surfin’ U.S.A. ,he was on all their early tours and first four LP’s, his last session was Be True To Your School b/w In My Room.
David Marks, whose family moved from Pennsylvania to Hawthorne, California was the across the street neighbor of the Wilson family, he learned to play guitar along side Carl Wilson (taking lessons together from the same instructor) and ran with Dennis from the time he was eight years old.

Marks too has a book— The Lost Beach Boy (David Marks with Jon Stebbins, Virgin Books, 2007), an incredible read and probably the best bird’s eye view of the early Beach Boys we shall ever see. Marks’ tale is often riveting, more often hilarious– where else can you read of the Beach Boys’ first trip to the whorehouse? Or their first experience with the clap? The stories of Dennis’ Wilson’s wild and woolly ways are alone worth the cover price. Already nuts, and when rock stardom kicked in at age 17 Dennis went totally bonkers (as drummers will do), but I don’t think we’ll get a closer or more honest look at the young Dennis Wilson than the one Marks paints.

The Lost Beach Boy is quite candid, from page 92 a letter from the road Marks never mailed:
Dear Mom and Dad,
I’m having a fucking great time on the road! We’re drinking lots of whiskey 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
The first part of the book which deals with his years as a Beach Boy and what happens when you take a bunch of teenagers and give ’em a hit record (they go ape shit) is the most interesting. Marks quit the band in 1963, at the peak of their fame, after a fight with Murray Wilson, who had been trying to force him out of the band all along . Of course Murray comes off as the bad guy, he’s virtually impossible to defend, but Murray Wilson is also a lot of fun to read about, as any Beach Boys fan knows. You just can’t have too many ‘crazy Murray’ stories for me. Brian come off as the hardest to pin down, and Marks was in such awe of his talent he never really gets close to him. Carl comes off like a nice, fat, kid, Mike Love an unexpected decent guy, and Marks himself caught in a dream he didn’t quite understand. He left the Beach Boys convinced he could pull it off solo– in fact he made some pretty good sides doing biz as David Marks and the Marksmen, including a couple of killer surf instrumentals– Sheriff of Noddingham (a dope reference?) and Travelin’ are excellent surf instrumental sides, and I love the snot nose rocker Crusin’. I also like his version of Chris Montez’ Let’s Dance, and the goofy, Beach Boys-esque (ish?)– Kustom Kar Show. For perversity’s sake I thought I’d throw in this one as I can’t imagine anyone really thought a Food Fair would be the next big craze after Surfin’, which it wasn’t but didn’t stop Marks from releasing it as a single. As good as these sides were, David Marks was simply not in the same league as Brian Wilson (who was?), and the idea that he could compete with his ex-band mates does show a hint of unreality. The fact that his first single (Cruisin’ b/w Kustom Kar Show) was released just as the Beatles began their usurpation of American pop music didn’t help matters at all.
Upon leaving the Beach Boys, David Marks was simply written out of their history. Al Jardine? He was only gone for a couple of months according to the new official party line. Just had to finish his schooling! In truth Jardine had only been in the group for a couple of months, and was gone for nearly three years. You will not find the truth in any official account of the Beach Boys story, come to think of it, even the non-official versions have given Marks’ the short shrift.
After David Marks and the Marksmen broke up, Marks formed the psychedelic group Moon, whom some folks love (me, not so much), a short stint in A Band With No Name (funded by Casey Kasem) and eventually went back to music school at Berklee in Boston. Of couse, he spent a lost decade in an alcohol and drug induced haze emerging with the dreaded Hep C, and finally rejoining the Beach Boys occasionally, starting in the early 90’s and into the Wilson-less years, where only he, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston (who still has never become a full fledged voting member of the band, after forty five years in the group) where the only Beach Boys on a stage full of people. Even Al Jardine was eventually booted out in the mid-nineties, and one would assume Mike Love was desperate for some “authentic” Beach Boys to fill out the stage.
Marks and Carl Wilson might’ve been goofy teenagers but they were a great and highly under rated guitar team, as the first four Beach Boys LP’s prove, and Marks’ story is a must read for any hardcore Beach Boys fan. It might be the only believable account of their earliest days. From terrorizing their Hawthorne neighbors (with Dennis as the natural born leader of the gang) to morphing into a great rock’n’roll band under Brian’s tutelage, this book is the best inside account yet written. The second part of the book of course deals with Marks’ hard landing back into the world, no longer a teenage star, in fact practially unknown, and involved in an ugly battle with Murray Wilson who used his considerable power to sabatoge Marks’ career whenever possible. This too is interesting reading, if a somewhat familar sounding story. Oddly enough, in these wilderness years, Mike Love again comes to Marks’ rescue, more than once!
Yes, playing rhythm guitar is indeed a noble occupation. A great rhythm guitar player should leave well enough along, too many rhythm guitar players have destroyed themselves attempting to show the world they can do more than “just play rhythm”–
David Crosby (great in the Byrds, worthless in every other way) and Brian Jones both come to mind, you can add David Marks to that list.
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