HAPPY IN HOLLYWOOD-THE PRODUCTIONS OF GARY USHER.
Happy In Hollywood-The Productions Of Gary Usher.
Label: Ace Records.
Release Date: ‘29th’ July 2022.
Although Gary Usher was born in Los Angeles, California, on December ‘14th’ 1938, he spent his childhood and teenage years living in New England. That was where his lifelong love affair with music began.
Growing up, music was an important part of Gary Usher’s life. He spent time listening to the radio at the family home in New England. Then at the dawn of the rock ’n’ roll era he began collecting records. Elvis was a favourite of the future producer.
By 1957, Gary Usher had returned to California and was working as a labourer for his uncle Benny who lived in Hawthorne, south-west LA. This wasn’t far from the Wilson family who had three sons Brian, Dennis and Carl.
Gary Usher’s career as a labourer was short-lived, when he got a job with the Bank Of America. This was where he met guitarist Dick Burns, who taught him how to play a few basic chords. Little did either man realise that this was the start of Gary Usher’s musical career.
Before it began, Gary Usher enlisted in the US Army and was posted to Seoul, where he became a company clerk. In his spare time, he formed a group with other soldiers.
The nascent group played a mixture of chart hits while Gary Usher began writing his own compositions for the first time. This was an important development.
When Gary Usher was discharged from the US Army and returned to California he knew that wanted to pursue a career in music. He was reunited with his friend Dick Burns when he joined Bobby Fry and His Troupe. The group entered the studio which was a new experience for Gary Usher. However, he had a dilemma.
He wasn’t sure whether he wanted to pursue a career as a songwriter or producer. Despite this, Gary Usher released singles on two local labels, Titan and Lan-Cet. However, neither single sold well and it looked like his solo career was going to be short-lived.
It was at this time that Gary Usher met the Podolor brothers. Don Podolor helped him with the business side of music, while his brother Richard would go on to play on a number of Gary Usher productions.
Over the next few months and years, Gary Usher met musicians who would play on his sessions. This included drummer Wayne Edwards plus singer and guitarist Les Weisner, who were part of the Bobby Fry Group. That was in the future.
Before that, in 1962, Gary Usher, who was still living in Hawthorne at the time, heard good things about the Wilson brothers and visited them for the first time. Straight away, he bonded with Brian the eldest brother and they began writing songs for The Beach Boys.
The group was just starting to make a breakthrough, and the first Usher and Wilson composition was 409, which featured on the B-Side of their sophomore single, Surfin’ Safari. The song lent its name to the group’s debut album, which featured five further compositions from the burgeoning songwriting partnership. This, however, didn’t please everyone.
Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson’s father Murray, who was also the group’s manager, made it clear to his sons that he didn’t want outsiders cowriting songs. He was of the belief that songwriting should be kept within the family. After all, publishing was a lucrative business.
By 1963, Gary Usher had signed to Four Star Music as a songwriter and to Challenge Records as a recording artist. However, during this period, he started to learn more about the music business. This included the role of the producer. Gary Usher watched and listened to the arrangers and engineers he worked with, absorbing their knowledge which he would soon be put to good use.
Later in 1963, Gary Usher released singles by two studio he groups he put together. This included The Sunsets and The Four Speeds, a project which Dennis Wilson was involved with. There was also The Super Stocks, which was the up-and-coming producer’s first project for Capitol Records.
Meanwhile, Gary Usher was also working with local DJ Roger Christian. The pair cowrote numerous surf, drag and hot rod tracks that became singles and various compilations. Many groups recorded the pair’s songs including The Competitors, The Hondells and The Kickstands. Usually, Gary Usher was the arranger but by 1964 was being credited as producer.
In 1964, Gary Usher was in demand as a producer and was enjoying the most successful period of his career. Between 1962 and 1969 he produced twenty-four hit singles and twenty-four of the albums that he produced went on to chart. Three of these albums were certified gold.
As the sixties drew to a close, Gary Usher was regarded as a versatile producer who was able to seamlessly switch between musical genes. Music was changing and producers had to be adaptable. By then, the thirty-four year old had already produced an eclectic selection of successful singles and albums. This was just the start of a long career as a producer.
His career is celebrated on Happy In Hollywood-The Productions Of Gary Usher. It’s the latest instalment in Ace Records’ Producer Series, and this twenty-four track compilation will be released on the ‘29th’ July 2022.
Amongst the artists on Happy In Hollywood-The Productions Of Gary Usher are The Byrds, Gene Clark, The Hondells, Keith Allison, The Spiral Starecase, The Neptunes, The Surfaris, The Sons Of Adam, Brian Wilson and The Peanut Butter Conspiracy. These tracks are part of a carefully curated overview of Gary Usher’s production career between 1964 and 1987.
Opening Happy In Hollywood-The Productions Of Gary Usher is Lady Friend by The Byrds. It’s the B-Side to their 1967 single Old John Robertson. The session wasn’t an easy one for the newly appointed producer. Gene Clark had left the group in late 1966, and this session was punctuated by squabbling between Roger McGuinn and David Crosby. This resulted in the producer spending part of his time acting as referee and peacemaker. Despite the conflict, the group recorded what’s regarded as one of their finest songs.
Gene Clark was seen as the best songwriter within The Byrds. He left the group in March 1966, and was soon offered a solo recording contract by Columbia. So You Say You Lost Your Baby is one of the singer’s compositions and features on the album Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers. The song was arranged by Leon Russell and produced by Gary Usher and is one of the highlights of what’s now regarded as an influential album which featured everything from baroque pop to country rock and folk rock.
In early 1967, a studio only lineup of The Hondells entered the studio to record a new single for Columbia. This was Yes To You. The B-Side was Just One More Chance a slice of memorable sixties pop-psych arranged and produced by Gary Usher who proves that he’s an innovative producer who could work across disparate musical genres.
Keith Allison was a familiar face on American television by 1967. He featured on the popular program Where The Action Is. That was how Larry Marks asked him to record the In Action album. Originally, the project was meant to be produced by Larry Marks. However, when he left Columbia Gary Usher took over and completed the project. The finest is the album opener Louise, a joyous fusion of sixties pop, psych and rock.
The Spiral Starecase were based in Sacramento where this talented group played regularly. However, for many people lead singer Pat Upton was seen as the group’s shining star. This included Gary Usher who arranged and produced their cover of Baby What I Mean, which had previously given The Drifters a hit single. For the session, members of the Wrecking Crew replaced band members and were augmented by a horn and string session as they accompanied the charismatic vocalist. Despite the all-star lineup this pop-rock single stalled at 111 on the US Billboard 100.
When The Neptunes recorded Shame Girl for Warner Bros in April 1964, at Western Recorders in LA, members of the Wrecking Crew played on the session. Sharing lead vocal dudes were Chuck Girard and Gary Usher who also arranged and produced a track whose roots are in the surf, drag and hot rod which was popular at the time.
I Don’t Wanna Say Goodnight was released by The Forte Four in November 1966. It was Gary Usher’s first production for Decca. It’s a slick, carefully crafted track with a commercial sound that should’ve found favour with DJs and record buyers.
Gary Usher began working with The Surfaris in 1964. In 1965, he arranged and produced their cover of The Beach Boys’ Don’t Hurt My Little Sister. Tucked away on the B-Side was Catch A Little Ride With Me a memorable example of a sixties Californian pop song which is based around a fairground theme and features drummer Ron Wilson on lead vocal. Sadly, the single failed commercially and this hidden gem was only unearthed much later.
For their classic album Sweethearts Of The Rodeo, this latest lineup of The Byrds covered Bob Dylan’s You Ain’t Going Nowhere. It was recorded in Nashville while Gram Parsons was a member of the group during the session. He plays an important part in the sound and success of this country rock track. It’s a reminder of a truly talented group who pioneered this genre.
Show Me, Girl was The Hondells swansong for Mercury. This Goffin and King cover was one of six recorded during June 1966. Just like the rest of the songs, it was arranged and produced by Gary Usher and released as a single later in 1966. Despite its commercial sound, the single failed commercially and it was a case of what might have been for the group?
When Brian Wilson recorded his 1988 eponymous album for Sire, a variety of producers were used during the lengthy and complicated sessions. Gary Usher produced Let’s Go To Heaven In My Car, which featured on the soundtrack for Police Academy 4. It’s one of the highlights of the album and is a welcome reminder of one the legendary figures of music as he makes a welcome return.
Happy In Hollywood was the title-track from California’s 1976 album for A&M. The group features many big names from the LA music scene, including David Batteau who in 1967 worked with Gary Usher on his previous project, Sagittarius. This time around, the pair co-produced the album. The title-track is a perfect example of laid back soft rock and without doubt, is one of the album’s highlights. It’s the perfect way to close the compilation.
Happy In Hollywood-The Productions Of Gary Usher is the perfect introduction to one of the most innovative and versatile producers in LA during the sixties. He was able to seamlessly switch between musical genes. Proof of this can be found on the compilation which features a variety of disparate genres which show that music was changing and producers had to be adaptable.
Not all producers were as adaptable as Gary Usher. However, his ability to work with a wide range of groups resulted in him producing many critically acclaimed albums during the sixties across various musical genres. Between 1962 and 1969 he produced twenty-four hit singles and twenty-four albums that he produced went on to chart. Three of these albums were certified gold. This was just the start of a long career as a producer.
Gary Usher’s career continued through the seventies and into the eighties. By then, he was a hugely respected figure and was working with some of the biggest names in music. This included his old friend Brian Wilson who he met back in Hawthorne, LA in the early sixties. A lot had happened to both men since.
Just two years after working with Brian Wilson, Gary Usher died in LA on May the ’25th’ 1990. He was just fifty-two. The singer, songwriter, musician, arranger and producer had enjoyed a career that spanned three decades and enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim.
However, it’s as a producer that Gary Usher is best known. He was a musical pioneer whose productions were inventive and innovative. Partly, this was to do with the musicians he worked with, including members of the legendary Wrecking Crew. They can be heard on some of the tracks on Happy In Hollywood-The Productions Of Gary Usher which is a fitting tribute to a pioneering producer whose much missed.
Happy In Hollywood-The Productions Of Gary Usher.
- Posted in: AOR ♦ Country ♦ Country Rock ♦ Folk ♦ Folk Rock ♦ Psychedelia ♦ Rock
- Tagged: Ace Records, Brian Wilson, California, Gary Usher, Gene Clark, Happy In Hollywood-The Productions Of Gary Usher, Keith Allison, The Byrds, The Forte Four, The Hondells, The Neptunes, The Spiral Starecase, The Surfaris