When he co-wrote “409” with Brian Wilson for the Beach Boys’ first single on Capitol Records in mid-1962, he first associated the hot rod fad with surfing in popular culture. By his own reckoning, Usher wrote and recorded over 50 car songs in a month in 1963.
All of this would make Gary Usher an important figure in pop music. But, of course, there is much more. Much more. To understand his universe, you have to reckon with groups or studio creations like The Hondells, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, Sagittarius and The Super Stocks. Then there’s auteur musical figure Curt Boettcher, Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde, and former Byrd Gene Clark. The role call helps define Usher as a central part of California music. Not bad for the man fired in August 2020 by another former Byrd David Crosby: “He was not a good producer.
Gary Usher (born 1938 in New England, moved to California in 1957) died in 1990 so could not respond to Crosby’s rudeness, but comment likely stems from what was going on with The Byrds during the latter half of 1967. Usher produced their final single with Crosby, “Lady Friend” (released July 1967). Usher also produced The Famous Byrd Brothers album (January 1968). Crosby was fired from the band during recording. Usher would have already known The Byrds were unstable: in 1966, he produced just over half of Byrd Gene Clark’s first original solo album.
Usher got into the music business thanks to the Beach Boys and their creative kingpin Brian Wilson. Usher had worked, then worked in a bank and then had a spell in the army while dipping his toe in music on the sidelines. A few bachelors in 1961 did not click, but in 1962 he visited the Wilson family, who lived near him. He and Brian bonded, and he wrote lyrics for The Beach Boys that reflected his appetite for cars. Hired by a music publishing company as a songwriter, Usher began releasing singles under made-up band names. He was also credited as an arranger and, from around 1964, as a producer. His work has tracked changes in popular music and creatively culminated in stunning, complex, filigree, harmony-infused, lush and psychedelic baroque albums for Chad & Jeremy and (with Curt Boettcher) as Sagittarius in the second half of the sixties. .
Byrds’ ‘Lady Friend’ Opens Stunning New Compilation Happy in Hollywood – Gary Usher Productions. The track-by-track commentary of the booklet says of “Lady Friend” and The Byrds that “As a newly appointed producer, balancing the conflicting demands of each band member became Gary Usher’s primary task: not so much a producer, more a The band’s original recording was, unbeknownst to the rest of the band, allegedly remixed by Crosby prior to its release, with his multitrack vocals replacing the band’s vocal performance. Indeed, Usher would later recall, “I always considered it a Crosby recording, not a Byrds recording.
The Byrds weren’t the only band heard on Happy in Hollywood where the friction was in the mix. Los Angeles psychedelic-punk band The Sons Of Adam “were more interested in trying to capture the rawer stage work [in the studio]. Usher didn’t understand their approach. Of the furry hippy-pop outfit Peanut Butter Conspiracy, Usher reportedly said, “They were a weird bunch, different in so many ways. [to me], in culture and way of life in particular. I never really liked working with them because their scene was so alien to me. I have always felt uncomfortable with them. That wouldn’t be a problem with The Spiral Starecase and The Surfaris, whose Happy in Hollywood the tracks feature session players brought in by Usher rather than most of the band members themselves. It wasn’t a problem when the names of bands on record labels were ripped off, as what was heard was played entirely by session musicians.
Happy in Hollywood takes its title from a 1976 single produced by Usher and Curt Boettcher that was credited to California. It’s nice and firm Happy in Hollywood – the final track of 24. But on the way to this point, it becomes clear that despite the sun, the surf and the sparkling harmonies, things haven’t always been cheerful in Hollywood.
A little later it was the same. Usher was recruited for what became Brian Wilson’s 1988 solo album. [producer for the album] being tested by Eugene Landy, Wilson’s later discredited doctor and self-proclaimed “executive producer” of the project. Usher kept a meticulous diary throughout his involvement with the project, and was wise to do so: his diaries would later be used as evidence against Landy in the lawsuit brought by Wilson’s family.
The contrast between the scintillating, optimistic and uplifting material collected for Happy in Hollywood and the problematic stories of some of the individual tracks can be striking. Even so, the music that Usher was integral to creating is jaw-dropping. The first four tracks here instantly make the case: “Lady Friend” (The Byrds), “My World Fell Down” (Sagittarius), “So you Say you Lost Your Baby” (Gene Clark) and “Just one More Chance” ( The Hondells). Going forward, dark cuts, a few things one would expect, top-notch rarities, and a big flow to the listening experience. Get this – no matter what the studio upsets, Gary Usher kicked them all out. And no matter what David Crosby thinks, making the perfect record for the moment was his goal.