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Don Randi
Don Randi

(Working with the likes of Lou Rawls, Cannonball Adderly, Elvis Presley, Phil Spector and the Beach Boys, Don Randi has played piano on literally hundreds of classic records. Nancy Sinatra's conductor for over thirty years, Don is perhaps most famous for his legendary North Hollywood jazz club, "The Baked Potato," which he opened in 1970 as a spot where new jazzers as well as veterans could play their favorite music. It is now the oldest jazz club in L.A.)

DON: "Instantly, from the first date with Brian, it meant something to me. The first time I worked with him, can't remember which tune...but something like 'Help Me Rhonda.' What impressed me was just the sound, just the approach.

"As a piano player, Brian had an idea of what he wanted, and he would sit down, and especially at the beginning, he would start something and realize he didn't like what he had, even from himself. You would play something and that would trigger something in him, and he knew how to make the best use of it. He wasn't bashful about saying 'I don't like that."

"He would come and sit at the piano with you and you would go back and forth or from the booth. His brain never stopped, going all the time. You would be joking and having a conversation, and you would see his eyes dart back and forth. [He was] hearing it. Formulating it all the time. He didn't know exactly what the finished product was gonna be, but he had an idea.

"And even if you were working on just four or eight bars at a time, he stayed with it until he got it right. He wasn't the greatest at preparation; he liked to do it in the studio.
"One session went so long...I remember it was Glen Campbell, Billy Strange, Ray Pohlman and Hal and I, and we started eating pistachio nuts, throwing the shells on the floor. We were there so long that when we left, the entire studio carpet was a solid red. "We were doing Spector sessions at the same time we were doing Brian's, and it seemed like if you had those two guys in one week, you didn't have to work for two months because that's how long they kept you. They set a precedent because they never fudged about having a union contract. Now, in retrospect, we get residuals from use in movies; we get all these residuals. You didn't think of it at that age. And now it's called a 'new use' at today's scale. It's really neat.

"I did commercials, and I remember one where they got the rights to 'The Warmth of the Sun.' I had to hire the best studio singers to do the commercial because nobody else but the best could do those harmonies. Those [original Beach Boys] records were very complicated harmony-wise; that's why they didn't have a lot more covers [other artists recording their songs].

"Pet Sounds had such great songs.. 'God Only Knows' is beautiful. That one, they should give to every music class, and say 'Here, do this one. Do it a capella.' Give 'em a key note and see what happens. There'll be a lot of suicides.

"When we were doing 'Good Vibrations,' there was a low note that sustains through everything. He knew he wanted everything to go off of that note. The session went really late, and it got to the point where I took a pillow and laid down. I was so tired. I laid down with the pillow on the bottom note on the foot pedals and took a nap; my note never stopped.

"Unfortunately, I think the word genius is overused, but it applies here. He was a genius, but he also was the consummate stickler for what was right. He was hearing things all along, always hearing things.

"All the time, he would come up with chords or changes that just blew you away. He just heard things different. A lot of times, when it was just chords, you couldn't outdo him; you didn't want to. You couldn't have come up with anything better than what he was doing. You might trigger something, but he was hearing it already.

"The music was very simple and very deep. That's the essence of Brian Wilson. The core of it. He was all of that and more. There wasn't a harsh bone in his body. He was a gentle giant. And he had a way of getting it done. He never would scream, never one of those out-of-line human beings. It may have taken some time, but he never injured anybody. The most you might have gotten was tired.

"I loved to work for him because he heard things in a jazz harmonic way. His close harmonies, the way a lot of jazz guitarists play. Being a jazz player, that's where my love was. Musically, he was a hip guy. I always felt that Brian was capable of doing anything.

"And then, when you played a lick he liked, he would get that cute smile. We loved it. We made a lot of money. And we had great experiences. I love hearing those records. I have a little daughter, grown children and Grand children, and like me, they're proud of the fact that I played with the Beach Boys."

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