Saturday, 21 August 2010

Daryl Dragon: The Cat in the Hat

The Beach Boys, including Daryl Dragon, on the cover of this Dutch/German release of Marcella.

Singing and playing to a backing tape on the Old Grey Whistle Test, 1972

There’s more than one hat here, but the one we’re interested in is that worn by the piano player – the one that’s not Dennis Wilson. Daryl Dragon, son of the composer and arranger Carmen Dragon, was a member of The Dragons, a psychedelic jazz rock group, along with his brothers Dennis and Doug in the 1960s (see Around 1967, Doug was asked by his friend Bruce Johnston, to audition (in front of Carl Wilson) to become members of the Beach Boys’ touring band. Although Doug did play with the band, it was Daryl (who had played on Bruce and Terry (Melcher's) version of Four Strong Winds in 1965) who ended up contributing more and almost became a fully fledged Beach Boy. They were later joined by their brother Dennis, who played percussion.

In 1970, Daryl became the band’s ‘musical director’, putting together brass sections and arranging brass for the tours and brass and strings for songs on albums, as well as contributing keyboards. Although he was offered a more permanent position with the band around the time of Holland, he turned it down. Daryl is on 20/20 and both he and Dennis feature on Sunflower; Daryl, at least, is on Surf’s Up and Carl and the Passions and is profusely thanked on the sleeve of the Holland album for his earlier work.

Although he’s not credited in the liner notes, he’s more than likely on the 1973 In Concert album, because some of it was recorded over the Winter 1972 tour when both he and his future wife, Toni Tenille, were with the band.

During this period, Daryl worked a lot with Dennis Wilson and is credited as helping him develop his piano playing. In 1970 the pair released a single in Europe, Sound of Free/Lady, credited to Dennis Wilson and Rumbo and he worked extensively on Dennis' unreleased solo project from the early 70s.

“My real function with Dennis was to give him encouragement. The band didn’t see the value in his writing because they didn’t see it as commercial. They were looking for the next hit, because this [1969-72] was when the hits had stopped coming. Dennis didn’t think on those terms. My contribution to his songs has been somewhat overstated, to be frank. My relationship with him was more like Salieri’s with Mozart. I’d sit there and try and write down what was coming out of his head. There was never any thought but that we were shaping his musical inspiration. If I did anything, it was really just to help him commit to his ideas, which was not always easy for a guy with his constant energy overload.” (

In 1972, his future wife, Toni Tennille joined the Beach Boys’ tour to play keyboards alongside Daryl, who had been christened Captain Keyboards because of his penchant wearing a “sea captain’s” hat. Later that year, rather than accept an invitation to join the band on a permant basis, he left with Toni to form the sub-Carpenters soft-rock/pop duo, the Captain and Tennille.

The Captain and Tennille, with prog-rock keyboards, sing Neil Sedaka's Love Will Keep Us Together

Their first album, Love Will Keep Us Together (1975), included material by their former employers: God Only Knows, Cuddle Up and Disney Girls; it also had the first released version of Johnston’s I Write The Songs. The Captain and Tennille are still married, although Daryl has unfortunately recently been diagnosed with a form of Parkinson’s Disease.

Tennille doesn’t seem to have recorded much with the Beach Boys during her tenure with the band, but she did provide backing vocals to Mike’s Everyone’s In Love With You on the 15 Big Ones album in 1976.

Here’s a rare photo of her playing keyboards with the band, sitting behind a Mike in a hat at the University of Georgia in 1972

For good measure, here are two more photos from that gig: Dennis at the keyboards

Dennis and Carl


Daryl’s name turns up as arranger for that song and as keyboard player (with Dennis on drums) for Susie Cincinnati; the latter, however, dated from the Sunflower sessions in 1969. Daryl and maybe Dennis are probably on Good Time from 1977’s Love You, but only because it was recorded during the Sunflower sessions too. The last Beach Boys’ album Daryl receives any credit for is Keeping The Summer live (1980); he played keyboards on the new track Some of Your Love and probably featured on When Girls Get Together, another track from the Sunflower period. Part of the album was recorded at his Rumbo Recorders studio.

On 3 June 1972, the Beach Boys played Crystal Palace Bowl in London. The cats in the hats are Al Jardine and a rather elderly-looking Mike (all of 31 at the time); that’s Dennis Dragon playing percussion behind Al. The other Beach Boys present that day were Carl and Dennis Wilson, Blondie Chaplin and Rikky Fataar. Elton John and Keith Moon appeared with them that day, but Elton’s appearance at the start of this clip doesn’t seem to be related to the song. Carl and Daryl are on keyboards.

Some “Rock Family Tree” moments:

1/ This shot from the Crystal Palace show in the Getty Archives shows Elton with the band, and emerging from his head is Billy Hinsche, Carl’s brother-in-law, who had been part of the band Dino, Desi and Billy, which also featured "Dino" Martin (Dean Paul Martin, son of Dean) and Desi Arnaz, Jr. (the son of television stars Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball). Although he turned down an offer to replace Bruce Johnston in the late 60s, he was a key part of the Beach Boys band from 1967 onwards, singing Sail On Sailor on stage and being given the first crack at the vocals of Honkin’ Down The Highway for the Love You Album (1977) before being replaced by Al Jardine. He now tours with Al Jardine and is his musical director.

2/ After Carl’s marriage to Annie Hinsche broke up, he remarried Dino Martin’s sister, Gina.

3/ Back in the 60s, a young guitarist Tim Weston auditioned for the band that became Dino, Desi and Billy, but was turned down; thirty years later, an accomplished jazz guitarist, he produced and played on Wouldn’t It Be Nice: A Jazz Portrait of Brian Wilson (1997).

4/ Carl Wilson, Bruce Johnston, Toni Tennille and Billy Hinsche sing backing vocals on Elton John’s Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me (1974).

5/ One of the Dragons’ sisters, Kathy, played flute on Bruce Johnston’s Going Public album (1977). The other, Carmen, was an accomplished harpist, as is Mike Love’s sister Maureen, who played on the Beach Boys’ Catch a Wave and In My Room and on presently unreleased material by her brother.

6/ The Dragon’s father, Carmen, wrote music for a number of movies, the most famous being Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

Here's a recent - 2016 - interview with Toni in which she discusses her relationship with Daryl and briefly discusses The Beach Boys:


  1. Thank you for the photos of Dennis and Carl Wilson. It's great to see candid photos of them.

  2. Please correct the misspelled "Tenille" to Tennille on your blog. Thanks!

  3. As a fan of Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille, I want to say thank you for putting that together -- it was definitely something 'new' for our fans, well-written and very informative.

    If you'll forgive me, I would disagree with you on one point: your characterization of Captain & Tennille as "sub-Carpenters." Although both were duos, both on A&M Records and both on the pop charts -- the comparison stops there. Each of the group's repertoire were very much in different leagues. And, in terms of quality of music, although, of the two, Carpenters had more hits, a bit more notoriety, and a longer-lasting legacy, C&T were vastly underrated (potentially due to their television variety series which, as Daryl has said, overexposed them) and you can find material on all of their albums that shows the brilliance of Daryl Dragon as a musician, arranger and producer.

  4. Correction on the above: sorry, I didn't mean 'our' fans, I meant 'us' fans. No, I'm neither Dragon nor Tennille!

  5. Re: their overexposure - allegedly, Tennille went to see one of Pink Floyd's Wall concerts. A Floyd fan recognised her as half of The Captain and Tennille and expressed surprise she was there - until she pointed out that she had sung on the record - which, of course she had, along with Johnston, after the Beach Boys had, for various reasons, declined to.