Carl Wilson: 26 years since goodbye to the sweet voice, to the ‘glue’ of the Beach Boys

Music news

The youngest of the family, the youngest of the three Wilson brothers and the founding member of the Beach Boys. It was also the glue that held them together when they came badly. Reserved, out of the spotlight, it was easy to “forget” about him; The genius and talent of his brother Brian captured almost all the attention. He was the lead guitarist from the surf soundtrack sold 100 million records worldwide. The sweet and main voice of ‘Good vibration’ or ‘God only knows’. His contribution was key. Even though he was sick with cancer, and with an evident deterioration in his health, He continued to appear on stage almost until the end of his days.. On February 6, 1998, Carl Wilson died in Los Angeles. He was only 51 years old.

Beach Boys: ‘God only knows’, the love song that arose between discussions jumps to ‘OT 2023’ to make you fall in love

In early 1997, Carl Wilson was on vacation at his home in Hawaii when he became ill. He was diagnosed with lung cancer – which spread to the brain – and treatment began. She faced the disease with courage and dignity. He combined chemo and radio sessions with the Beach Boys’ summer tour, which concluded in the fall. He himself insisted on doing it. Sometimes he felt bad and had to sit on a stool to sing and play his guitar. Sometimes, he needed oxygen after performing some songs. There are those who saw him with teary eyes while singing ‘God only knows‘, one of the songs that, unfailingly, he sang at all the concerts.

Despite everything, Carl did not lack encouragement and according to the band’s publicist, Alyson Dutch: “He did very well.” On February 6, 1998, Carl died in a Los Angeles hospital. along with his wife, Dina (daughter of Dean Martin) and their two children. It had been just two months since his mother, Audree Neva Wilson, had died at the age of 80.

Carl Dean Wilson with his two older brothers, Brian and Dennis, his cousin Mike Love and his friend Al Jardine, founded the Beach Boys in 1961. With a distinctive sound – fast guitar riffs, harmonious vocals, infectious lyrics – the band helped define surf music and became the quintessential image of Southern California. According to rock music historian Steve Brigati: “In regards to the meaning of a supergroup, The Beach Boys are the closest thing America has to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.”.

Beach Boys in front of the Eiffel Tower

Beach Boys in front of the Eiffel Tower / Michael Ochs Archives

Carl’s influence on the band was key. As lead guitarist, his Chuck Berry playing provided the distinctive sound of the ‘beach boys’ in their beginnings. Something that is clearly heard in the guitar solo of ‘Surfin’ USA’. Additionally, over nearly four decades, Wilson was known for her sweet voice and his perfect tone, which stood out in some of the group’s most famous songs such as ‘Good vibration or ‘God only knows’. “Carl Wilson could sing anything. He could sing the phone book and it would sound great”said Andy Paley – songwriter and staff producer at Sire Records – in the Los Angeles Times. It is considered that his voice was the one that best conveyed sadness and uncertainties that emerged, more and more, from Brian’s songs.

Carl Wilson was the stabilizing presenceespecially in the tumultuous timeswhen the group was torn apart by family disputes or issues related to drug abuse, fame… or after the death of Dennis Wilson in 1983. “Carl was like a rock for the group. The most stable. It was the rudder”Said Sandy Friedman – the Beach Boys’ publicist between 1975 and 1992 – in the Los Angeles Times. As his cousin Stan Love (brother of Mike Love) recalled, he was a reserved person who preferred to stay out of the spotlight: “I never wanted credit for his success, but He was the glue that held the band together.. Every time you saw a big Beach Boys concert, There was Carl Wilson, at the front of the stage.”

Carl Wilson in concert in 1987

Carl Wilson in concert in 1987 / Gie Knaeps

In a 1985 interview with The Times, Carl himself admitted how hard was the road that the band had gone through. “There’s no doubt we’ve had our fair share of ups and downs.. But I don’t know if we’ve had more than any other rock band… the truth is that we have gotten ourselves into hot water”. His friends, those who knew him well, assure that he was a kind and good person, sweet and loving, with his feet on the ground, “he never let fame get the best of him.” and he had a tremendous sense of humor.

Brian Wilson and Carl Wilson

Brian Wilson and Carl Wilson / Richard E. Aaron

According to an article published in The Times two days after his death, “Wilson was the ‘ignored’ Beach Boys, even though it was lead vocals on some of the band’s most significant songs and his guitar style was the distinctive sound of the first hits. It was easy to forget about him because his brother Brian attracted all the attention… and Dennis became the ‘poster boy’ of the California lifestyle who served as the image of the band. But it was Carl who provided the sound to the group…creating the recognizable California surf rock from the 60s.

Carl Wilson and Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys with their mother at a 1976 concert

Carl Wilson and Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys with their mother at a 1976 concert / Robin Platzer

Carl lived through many particularly hard and very sad moments. Especially painful was the death of his brother Dennis. Brian’s estrangement, with whom he did not speak for a long time, also affected him enormously: “I don’t even know his phone number.” In 1995, when the waters returned to his channel, participated in the documentary about Brian’s life – ‘I just wasn’t made for these times’ – directed by producer Don Was. There is an emotional scene in which Brian, Carl and their mother, Audree, are sitting together at the piano singing the melancholy ‘In my room’. Was a family moment that hadn’t happened since the Wilsons were children. “This is going to sound stupid,” Brian remarked in an excerpt from the interview, “but that’s the first time we’ve done this. Carl and mom and me singing.”


Written by

Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is a dedicated writer and key contributor to the WECB website, Emerson College's student-run radio station. Passionate about music, radio communication, and journalism, Christopher pursues his craft with a blend of meticulous research and creative flair. His writings on the site cover an array of subjects, from music reviews and artist interviews to event updates and industry news. As an active member of the Emerson College community, Christopher is not only a writer but also an advocate for student involvement, using his work to foster increased engagement and enthusiasm within the school's radio and broadcasting culture. Through his consistent and high-quality outputs, Christopher Johnson helps shape the voice and identity of WECB, truly embodying its motto of being an inclusive, diverse, and enthusiastic music community.