Jim O'Donnell: From bad pitchout to pitch-perfect — Brian Wilson and Al Jardine set for Waukegan

WHEN THINGS GET TOO CROWDED around Chicago's Sports Mass, go long.

Like in search of verifying a tale about the Beach Boys, endless summers and prep football.

So today, near a sunny championship Sky and a constrained rookie Bears QB, the question is:

Did the American pop icons come together because of a muffed pitchout?

Who better to answer than Al Jardine?

He was merely one of the founding members of the band, a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and is still doing it again six decades later.

The story is in play because Saturday night in downtown Waukegan, Jardine, Brian Wilson and a galaxy of associates conclude an autumn tour at The Genesee Theatre (7:30 p.m.; Tickets at the theater box office, and Ticketmaster charge by phone).

ACCORDING TO THE GROUP'S myth and lore, Wilson was a QB for the Hawthorne High (Calif.) Cougars and Jardine was a running back.

Legend holds that Wilson missed on a pitch to Jardine and Jardine broke his leg.

The teenage Wilson was so apologetic, some music historians say, that he and Jardine bonded, realized their common passion for music and — voila! — surf was up.

A MARVELOUSLY AFFABLE JARDINE told The Daily Herald the story is more true than false, but not completely accurate:

“It was a sophomore 'B' game at Culver City. Brian, built like a string bean, was our quarterback. I was the determined No. 31 behind him.

“The call was a pitch right to me. Our halfback misunderstood and collided with me as the ball was arriving. I wound up in a tangle of bodies and yes, my leg was fractured.”


“Brian and I had been friends. He stopped playing football after that season. I stopped a year later. We all knew the Wilson household was big into music. Some people, Brian included, knew my family has some very good singers, especially my dad and brother.

“On the team bus, coming home from away games, we didn't necessarily lead the singalongs, but our voices were prominent. I think our most reliable hit was 'Tijuana Jail' by The Kingston Trio. We, like a whole lot of America, were massively in love with The Kingston Trio back then.

“So, we graduated and our lives seemed to move on. I attended Ferris State (Mich.) for a year because my father had gotten a job teaching there. I was going to be a dentist.

“But the next summer, I was back in Hawthorne and Brian and I ran into each other at the Foster Freeze on Hawthorne Boulevard.”

LIKE A DRIVE-IN MILKSHAKE, the truth thickens:

“He started telling me about a band he and his brothers Carl and Denny were putting together with their cousin (Mike Love) and one of Carl's 14-year-old pals from the neighborhood named Dave Marks.

“He told me I'd be a perfect fit. I had my reservations, but didn't really like Michigan winters and was going to transfer to the same community college he was attending.

“So, I joined the band.”


Within a few months, despite positively primitive recording conditions, the Beach Boys had the regional breakout “Surfin'.”

Jardine played standup bass. Wilson tapped on a snare drum with an index finger for percussion. Co-composer Love — the uncle of the Cleveland Cavaliers' Kevin Love — stole the “ba-ba dip-da-dip-da-dit” from Jan and Dean's “Baby Talk.”

The song was the opening note that would reach an amazing crescendo five years later with “Pet Sounds.” That album prompted Paul McCartney, John Lennon and producer George Martin to go deep-deep in concept and available technology to craft the more heavily promoted “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

TECHNOLOGY IS A KEY on the current tour, according to Jardine.

“Brian is still so precision-driven. And since we're playing different venues every night, we are so reliant on all of the tech stuff being perfect.

“The other night, somewhere, my earbuds weren't working properly. That's not a big problem on the peppy, happy hits. But on some of his more advanced stuff, like from 'Pet Sounds' and 'Surf's Up,' a malfunction of any kind on stage keeps you on your toes.”

JARDINE EXPECTS TO BE BACK around Chicago next spring along with eldest son Matt Jardine for a few nights of more intimate “storytelling.”

“Those nights are great fun,” he said. “COVID has crushed so much of what touring should be all about right now. We have such limited interaction with the fans and I've heard that even the (Rolling) Stones big thing is off 50 percent from expectations.

“Matt and I played The City Winery (on West Randolph) a couple of years ago and it was a blast. Chicago is such a phenomenal music town, for fans, influences and performers.”

HE AND WIFE MARY ANN have a lush “hobby farm” near Big Sur where they bred Arabians — Arab horses — for decades. His pride and joy is a vintage John Deere tractor.

The also own a ranch in Arizona.

He no longer gets pitchouts — good or bad — from Wilson. But his football fandom rolls on.

“At Big Sur, we're about an hour, hour and a half from where the 49ers play. So they're one of my teams. That Super Bowl appearance seemed to have them positioned for great things and then all the injuries came along. When he's on, I'm in love with Jimmy Garoppolo.

“The ranch in Arizona, though, also means I get to root for the Cardinals. Who would have believed that six weeks in, they're the only unbeaten team left? And that young quarterback (Kyler Murray) can do so many amazing things.”

No more amazing than the endless summer of Al Jardine and all of the joy and “happy” he has helped bring to so many people.

Along with the genius of his “string bean” QB from the Hawthorne Cougars.

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at

Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Courtesy of Brian Bowen Smith
Brian Wilson and Al Jardine in concert in 2016. They'll be together this weekend in Waukegan. Courtesy of Jardine Productions
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