Beach Boy's former St. Charles house for sale
The man who bought Brian Wilson's St. Charles home in 2001 never used its custom-built, underground recording studio.
"It's just space," said the resident who answered the door there last week.
But to Wilson's fans, that space -- and the house itself -- is part of music history.
Wilson, the former Beach Boys member and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who is legendary for his mad, musical genius, wrote and recorded most of his 1998 "Imagination" album in that St. Charles estate.
The album's most popular song, a Top 20 hit called "Your Imagination," was cowritten and recorded there by Wilson, Chicago radio personality Steve Dahl and famous music producer Joe Thomas, who lives next door.
Overnight guests in that house have included celebrities like Paul McCartney, Sean Lennon and Eagles band member Joe Walsh.
The five-bedroom house in tony Crane Road Estates, near Randall Road and North Avenue, is now on the market for $1.49 million.
Thomas said he has fond memories of Wilson's former residence and spent many regimented days and nights there working with him on the album. Thomas said 90 percent of "Imagination" was written and recorded in St. Charles, and the rest in Nashville and California.
"Brian would get up around 11, and we'd work for two or three hours in studio, go out for lunch -- Brian always had whitefish from ZaZa (restaurant in St. Charles) -- then Brian would take a nap and I'd go golfing. We'd go out to dinner at Mill Race Inn in Geneva, and go back to the studio and write and work at night," Thomas said. "It was pretty much the same exact thing every day."
Wilson, a California native, had no connection to Illinois when he and his wife, Melinda, bought the St. Charles house in 1997 for $1.4 million.
During an interview with the Daily Herald last week, Wilson said he moved here because he wanted to work with Thomas. Their wives also were friends.
Thomas couldn't go to California. His River North Recorders business in Chicago -- also a place rich in music history -- had just gone public and his wife was expecting their fifth child. So the friends decided to buy houses next door to each other in St. Charles so they could make the album. Thomas still lives in the house he bought.
Shortly after moving in, Wilson put a massive addition onto the then-7,500-square-foot home, including the lower-level recording studio, Realtor Betty Theisen said.
Thomas said Wilson dug out the basement an extra seven feet deep just so they could record down there, and they had three recording rooms and a mixing room. According to a 1999 Daily Herald story on the house, the studio has separate security and air conditioning systems, and the walls were lined with black men's gaberdine suiting fabric for sound control.
After a falling out with Thomas, Wilson put his house on the market in 1999 and returned to his native California. The home's original asking price was $2.4 million, but after two years on the market, it sold for just $1.5 million, according to published reports.
Before he left town, Wilson did a live taping for VH1 in St. Charles East High School's auditorium to promote the "Imagination" album. Guest performers included Christopher Cross, Beach Boys member Bruce Johnston and Eagles member Timothy B. Schmit.
Excerpts of that show were featured in a 1999 VHS tape that, according to a Facebook page dedicated to the album, is now out of print.
Thomas said St. Charles is a perfect environment for someone with a music career and a family, because it has great schools and laid-back fans who don't hound him or other celebrities when they're out and about.
"Everyone we've worked with thinks this is one of the nicest places to live, and they could live anywhere in the world," said Thomas, who has worked with many famous musicians, including Jimmy Buffett, Stevie Nicks, Toby Keith, Bon Jovi and Dave Matthews.
He also produced many of their DVDs at his St. Charles warehouse and studio, HD Ready, and also produces "Soundstage" on WTTW-Channel 11.
Wilson's St. Charles years weren't without strife. Wilson and Thomas ended up filing nasty lawsuits against each other in 1999 over the "Imagination" album, and settled them out of court a year later. Details of the settlement were not disclosed, Rolling Stone magazine reported.
Wilson and Thomas have since mended fences and resumed their close friendship and working relationship, Thomas said.
"Brian's one of those guys who can just walk over to your house, open the refrigerator, and make himself a sandwich," Thomas said.
Wilson might be doing just that, because he plans to stay with his former neighbor when he's in town for a greatest hits show Saturday, July 30, at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles.
Thomas wouldn't reveal details during an interview last week, but don't be surprised if Wilson stays in St. Charles and writes some new songs while he's here.
• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for suburban people in showbiz. If you know of someone, send a note to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff Writer Josh Stockinger also contributed to this report.