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Julius Wechter
Julius Wechter

(In addition to being the percussionist on so many dates for Phil Spector and the Beach Boys, Julius Wechter was also the leader of the very successful Baja Marimba band and he played for many years with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. In fact, he wrote such big hits as "Spanish Flea." After over 30 years of success in the music business, Julius returned to school in 1992 and recently earned his master's degree in family and child counseling, a field in which he is currently interning.)

JULIUS: "As a percussionist, when you got calls in those days, they always told you what to bring, usually a marimba, a bag of tricks (hand percussion instruments like tambourines, triangles, castanets, maracas) and bells. When Brian called, I brought everything I had--marimba, vibes, xylophone, timpani, bells, chimes. I usually ended up playing mostly tambourine. Bells and chimes were a big accent, especially sleigh bells, When I would play vibes, it would either be chords or melodic lines with guitar or piano.

"The most obvious thing I remember is that the parts he handed out were blank pieces of paper with staffs and measures marked off, but with very few notes. He would put chord symbols with blank notes. It was the most opposite type of recording from movies or TV, where every note is written and there are strict time limits.

"I remember that the first couple of hours were spent writing our own parts. Before we even wrote a note, he would come in and play the song he had just written. He was saying, ‘Here's what it's supposed to sound like.’ He had the whole thing in his brain; he couldn't or wouldn't write it down. So we would get a blank piece of paper with just chords. The pieces of paper usually didn't have a name on them; we didn't know what we were recording.

We just knew it was gonna be number one.

"The drums, bass and guitars would start playing the chords, and we would get the idea of the path the tune was taking, and all we had to do was fill in. What Brian would do is stop every once in a while and say ‘I wanna hear chimes at bar eight.’

"The thing that impressed me the most is that he was creating on the spot. He would come in with an idea, but as the hours went by, he was discovering things he hadn't thought of. He knew the basic sound of the whole record. When he heard something he liked, his eyes would light up, and he would say ‘Don't change that; it's perfect. Write it down.’ He would allow us to make up stuff, our own parts.

"He really respected musicians. There were a lot of leaders, like Spector, who just treated musicians like paid employees, like machines. The more I think of it, Brian used to come out of the booth, shake hands with everybody. It was more like a party. We got the feeling we were helping create the sound, and after the session, we felt like we had left some creative juice there. We weren't just playing the notes; we were writing the notes.

"I think one of the reasons for Brian's success at those sessions was that he stuck with the same guys. We knew what he wanted, and he knew we knew it. He didn't have to come out each time and introduce himself to a bunch of strangers; we just went in and started playing the tune. But the thing I remember the most about those days, whether it was Spector or Brian, was Hal Blaine. I remember that Hal was definitely the leader, and nobody could have gotten anything done if not for Hal. They built their sessions around Hal's availability. He had a set of drums at every studio in LA., and I really believe that if Hal hadn't have been on those dates, they wouldn't have happened.

"Hal was ‘the sound,’ the sub-leader; he kept up a running line of humor, and it really affected everybody. He had the innate ability to give the leader, in this case Brian, exactly what he wanted, and still be one of the guys.

Usually, it's us against them; Hal gave the booth [the producer and engineer] exactly what they wanted and kept us [musicians] happy. Hal held the whole thing together. If we did 100 takes, he was just as fresh and enthusiastic as he had been six hours earlier. Amazing patience and psychology. He was the Sigmund Freud of the drums. There was nobody like him. On the few occasions when Hal was sick or couldn't come, the dates just weren't the same.

"How important were we to the success of those records? I don't know. We didn't really ever hear the tune. All the Beach Boys signature sound happened after we left--all the overdubbing, the vocals that made those records. Still, it's a nice feeling to know I was part of history."

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