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Chuck Britz
Chuck Britz

(Chuck Britz started in the recording business in 1952, cutting big bands for the Armed Forces Networks and the Salvation Army Band until about 1958. Circa 1960, he went to work at Western, engineering rock 'n roll records at a time when the big labels had their own studios and the independent labels in Los Angeles were just entering their golden age, recording their acts at studios like Gold Star and Western.

Chuck's domain was Western Studio 3, the home of the vast majority of the Beach Boys hits and where most Pet Sounds was recorded. By 1966, Brian, Chuck and the session players were quite used to working together; Chuck begins here by describing a 'typical' tracking session at Western 3 for Pet Sounds.)


CHUCK: When Brian would come in, there were usually no sheets, no music. Everything was going on inside his head. A lot of times, he didn't even have a title for the song. He would play it for Ray Pohlman; Ray would take what Brian was telling him and write it out. That was the chord structure.

“Most of the time, Brian started with the rhythm section but not always. He might start with the percussion. He knew what he wanted, but he worked with each musician as a separate entity. After Ray would work out a chord structure for the guitars, then Brian would work with the organ, the pianos. While I got everything all set up, the mikes and everything, Brian was working with the musicians. The musicians were a tremendous help to him because they gave him alternatives. Not that he needed them, but it does make a difference.

“It was all in his mind; he could go over to the piano and play what he wanted to hear. Which was great, because he knew what he wanted and if they didn't get it, he would play it. Then, they would play it, and he would finally get them to realize what he heard. There was hardly any instrument he didn't play. Well, the drums. [Note: At Beach Boys concerts circa 1964, when Dennis would sing "The Wanderer," Brian would play the drums.] But he'd up and say, 'I want you to play such and such here'. ‘Hal, give them a beat.’ ‘Tempo,’ and they'd play it. That's how it worked. Step by step. All this time, I was in the booth by myself, except if there were musicians in the booth who were going direct." [NOTE: An electric guitar would sometimes be plugged directly into the recording console.]

Sometimes, the horn players would be standing in the hall waiting for two hours. I spent a lot of time talking to the musicians until he was ready for them. I had worked with these guys so long, there wasn't that much EQ to be done. You get used to certain microphones; from my point of view, it didn't take me long to get the sound pretty close to where you want to be. Occasionally, Brian would say, ‘Chuck, I'd like it just a little brighter,’ but basically, I knew from experience what to do.

"Anyway, he would rehearse everybody on the floor. He always did the musical part of the arrangement out on the floor. Very seldom was he in the booth. Of course, because sometimes the room was too small for the number  of players he had booked, I might have guys playing in the booth, so he would come in there to work on their parts. Once we had 21 people in that little studio.

"A typical session for one track might take three or four hours. It took so long because he would work with almost each musician separately. It was unheard of, but that's the way he preferred it. The musicians appreciated Brian. [If they got a call for a Brian session], they would even hire other musicians to work on their [other] gigs, so they could play with Brian. They just loved his ideas, and the way he came up with this beautiful sound. Other than Spector, it was basically unheard of for so many musicians to play live in that early period.

"Once Brian was done with the arrangement, he would come in the booth and say, ‘Let me hear you, Hal.’ He would have certain guys play things. He'd say, ‘Let's hear everybody.’ I wouldn't be rolling tape. He was just listening. He would tell me to add this much echo...let me hear so and so. He would go back and forth until he heard the instruments he wanted to hear, and then he would tell me what he wanted. Then he would sneak the pots [control knobs] up, and I would move his hands off the board. When he had the sound he wanted, he would say ‘Okay, Charlie, let's record.’ It went pretty quickly after that. "It was interesting, because you would hear him working with each musician, but it didn't mean a hill of beans until they started playing it together. The arrangement was at the same time very complicated and very together.

He knew what he wanted, liked to do it and not dwell on it. Spontaneity was the gift of God to him. "Sometimes, Brian played on the session, piano or bass or accordion, and he would be out on the floor, so after the take, he would come in and listen. Once he had what he wanted, I would give Brian a 7-1/2 IPS [tape] copy of the track, and he would take it home."


"When I first started working with him (in 1962), he was very precise. There was no question in his mind. He just never really changed it. Around 1964 or '65, being the striver that he was, he would listen to and re-do things. He wanted everyone to respect him so much, and he didn't realize that everyone already did. His thinking was, 'I know
I can do it better, and if someone's willing to give me some reason to do better, like suggesting a different idea, I'll do it better.' And that's why he would change his mind so many times.

"He experimented all the time. For example, people couldn't believe some of the bass we had. Lyle Ritz would be on stand-up, and Ray Pohlman or Carol Kaye on Fender Bass and maybe Bill Pitman playing the Danelectro which had that great sound, plus you have an organ bass going all the time too.

"I don't think Brian was ever frustrated musically. His frustration came from the fact that he couldn't always tell musicians what his brain was telling him. He knew what he wanted; it was just a matter of being able to communicate with the people he was working with.

"Brian couldn't hear too well out of his right ear, but I don't think it affected him all that much, except sometimes he would turn his head in the studio. But it didn't seem to stop him from knowing exactly what he had. Stereo wasn't a necessary thing at that time. I think mono was great from the standpoint that there's no second guessing, no 'We can correct it later.' You do certain things when you're doing mono, like you're equalizing, you're doing feedback, echo, all the things you have to do to make the sound big."


(When asked how Chuck handled the Beach Boys, Brian responded, "Chuck maintained a very cool disposition, but he was working under extreme pressure. He was working with five guys who were out of their minds. And he kept his cool. Chuck was always saying, 'I've got to get out of here by 6:30 because I have a bowling tournament.' (laughs) And we'd say, 'C'mon, let's get to work. We're gonna lose Chuck.')

CHUCK: "When the guys were on the road, Brian would lay down his scratch vocals. Then, when they were going to come in to sing, I would make more tapes and send them out, so they could hear them. That way, when they came in, they would have an idea what the song was all about. If we were lucky, and they had enough time, they'd rehearse at his house and then come into the studio. Most of the time, they were never ready to sing. They would rehearse in the studio. Actually, there was no such thing as rehearsal. They'd get on mike right off the bat, practically, and start singing. Brian knew all the parts, and they all knew each other's parts so well, that it just kind of flowed.

"We had two U-47s, which Dennis, Carl and Al would sing on, and a little cheap 5-35 right in the middle. It was real directional. I put a little filter on it. When Brian was doing his solos, he'd be on that mike, and it sounded so great, fantastic. Every single song, Brian would always be on that mike. Then, he'd lean over and do backgrounds with the guys to do the four-part harmony. Mike Love was always on his own mike because he wasn't strong enough vocally to cut through. That's why he was on that mike so tight. That's how we got that deep sound.

"It was an interesting group. It was such a beautiful sound. I could get beautiful tonalities out of them. Five voices that blend so beautifully with the talent to direct them. Brian knew how to make voices sound like instruments. Brian could hit the high parts, and it wasn't falsetto. His voice was unreal."


"I remember when he just went from one period of writing to another style. When he started writing those songs, 'God Only Knows.' 'Wouldn't It Be Nice,' 'Caroline, No.' All of Pet Sounds. I think it is, without a doubt, his best thing. That album was his greatest, and it will be the greatest thing that anybody ever does, as far as I am concerned. It is one helluva album.

"That was a musician's album. It was something that every musician would have to appreciate because of the techniques. He took all this stuff that people wouldn't understand if they heard it on its own, and combined them and turned it into his own thing. In a way, how he blended things made new sounds. He was doing what he knew was an upgraded version of what had gone before and made it different. He was trying to show the world that he wasn't just a Beach Boy but that he was an artist."

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