Born on February 8, 1942, in New York, NY; died on November 19, 2004, in Los Angeles, CA; son of Doris Day (a singer and film actress).
While regarded by some critics as little more than a footnote in rock history, Terry Melcher is one of the architects of pre-Beatles' American surf-rock music, as well as post-Beatles' folk rock. In the former category, Melcher worked as a member of the duo Bruce and Terry, and with pop group the Rip Chords, with future Beach Boys' member Bruce Johnston. In the latter category, Melcher shaped the sound that became synonymous with folk rock, as producer of the Byrds' earliest and most popular singles, remakes of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" and Pete Seeger's "Turn, Turn, Turn."
Melcher was born in New York City on February 8, 1942, and was the son of singer and film actress Doris Day. Day was 18 and married to her first husband, Al Jorden, when Melcher was born. Jorden was a trombone player and had a reputation as a jealous and abusive husband. Day left Jorden after Melcher's birth, and married George Weidler, a member of the Blue Devils. Day had also been a member of the Blue Devils when she was 16. The Blue Devils' aversion to alcohol and drugs prompted the nickname "The Milkshake Band." The young family moved to California, where Day's career took off. Her marriage to Weidler, however, fell apart, and Day married her manager, Marty Melcher, in 1951. Melcher adopted Day's only child, who took his surname.
Terry Melcher spent much of his youth harboring ambitions to be a singer, most likely influenced by his mother's busy film and recording career. After lackluster success in the early 1960s as a recording artist using his mother's surname, Terry Day, Melcher began training as a record producer at Columbia Records. He also composed the title song for his mother's film Move Over Darling, a production that also starred James Garner and Polly Bergen, and was a remake of the screwball film My Favorite Wife. Also in 1963, Melcher teamed with future Beach Boys' member Bruce Johnston to form the pop duo Bruce and Terry. Bruce and Terry recorded minor hot rod hits, including "Custom Machine" and "Summer Means Fun." Melcher also had a hand in forming the Rip Chords, which featured Phil Stewart, Ernie Bringas, Arnie Marcus, and Rich Rotkin. As the Rip Chords were touring, Melcher wrote and produced "Hey, Little Cobra." The song was recorded by Bruce and Terry, but Melcher decided to credit the Rip Chords, in order to increase the group's public recognition. In addition, Bruce and Terry also recorded as The Rogues, the name under which they released the single "Roger's Reef."
Melcher's success as a producer and performer of hot rod and surf hits led him to tour with genre stalwarts Jan and Dean, and with the Beach Boys in 1964. However, Melcher decided he did not like onstage performing, and he left Columbia Records briefly in 1964 to produce Capitol recording artist Bobby Darin. He returned to Columbia in 1965, where he took over production responsibilities from Johnston for Paul Revere and the Raiders. He also wrote and produced the band's hit single, "Him or Me (What's It Gonna Be?)." As Paul Revere and the Raiders toured incessantly, Melcher habitually cut tracks with studio musicians, flying in singer Mark Lindsay to record the vocal tracks. He employed the same strategy when he recorded the first singles for the Byrds in 1965. In fact, guitarist and singer Roger McGuinn is the only de facto member of the Byrds actually to appear on "Mr. Tambourine Man." Melcher produced many of the Byrds' early albums, which included the classic singles "Turn, Turn, Turn," Gene Clark's "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better," and "The Bells of Rhymney." He also produced recordings by Frankie Laine, Wayne Newton, the Mamas and the Papas, Glen Campbell, and Pat Boone. He also helped organize the legendary Rising Sons, a group that included session guitarist Ry Cooder and ethno-musicologist Taj Mahal, but the band failed to gel. In addition, Melcher assisted with Beach Boys' recordings of the era, including lending vocal and keyboard assistance to the classic Pet Sounds.
Melcher's relationship with the Beach Boys wasn't all surfer girls and beach parties, however. Through Beach Boy member Dennis Wilson, Melcher was introduced to songwriter Charles Manson. Melcher declined an invitation to record Manson's songs after one abortive attempt. Another Manson project involving Melcher was a documentary that would have used Manson's music. Melcher cancelled the project after watching a violent outburst directed by Manson at a stuntman. Melcher and then-girlfriend Candice Bergen had sublet their home to director Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, and when Tate and several guests were murdered by Manson and his cohorts; it was believed for a time that Melcher had been Manson's intended victim. Indeed, Manson had visited the house several times looking for Melcher, and Manson follower and accomplice Susan Atkins stated that they had intended to scare Melcher for perceived unfulfilled promises. As a result, Melcher sought psychiatric counseling and hired a personal bodyguard to deal with the fear, and he testified against Manson at the trial.
The latter part of the 1960s was a busy time for Melcher. He helped organize the first major U.S. rock festival, Monterey Pop, with John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas. The festival included breakthrough performances by such acts as Big Brother and the Holding Company, featuring Janis Joplin), Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, and the Who. In 1968 he assumed executive producer responsibilities for his mother's television sitcom The Doris Day Show, which lasted for four years. As the 1970s dawned, Melcher returned to the recording studio to record the Byrds' albums The Ballad of Easy Rider and Untitled, which featured the Roger McGuinn and Jacques Levy classic "Chestnut Mare." A third Byrds album produced by Melcher during this period, Byrdmaniax, was labeled "Melcher's Folly," as it turned out to be the low point of the band's recorded output.
In the mid-1970s Melcher released two solo albums, Terry Melcher (1974) and Royal Flush (1976). While neither grabbed the attention of critics or fans, both albums featured guest appearances by such noteworthy talents as Ry Cooder, members of the Byrds, and Doris Day. He continued to serve as producer and agent for his mother for the next two decades, and collaborated on the hit single "Kokomo" from the Tom Cruise film Cocktail. His collaborators on the single included Beach Boy Mike Love, John Phillips, and Scott Mackenzie, and the latter scored a major 1967 hit with Phillips's song "If You're Going to San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)." It was a return to the hit charts after a long hiatus, and a fitting conclusion to more than three decades of shaping pop music. Melcher died in 2004 after a long battle with melanoma.
by Bruce Walker
Terry Melcher's Career
Formed surf music duo, Bruce and Terry, with future Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, early 1960s; composed song "Move Over Darling" for mother Doris Day's film of same name, 1963; recorded "Hey, Little Cobra" with Rip Chords, 1964; produced the Byrds' hit singles "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Turn, Turn, Turn," 1965; wrote and produced singles for Paul Revere and the Raiders, mid-1960s; assisted in organization of Monterey Pop Festival, 1967; executive producer of television series The Doris Day Show, 1968-1972; released solo albums Terry Melcher and Royal Flush, 1974 and 1976; co-wrote Beach Boys hit "Kokomo," for Cocktail soundtrack, 1988; died of melanoma, 2004.
- Selected discography
- Terry Melcher Reprise, 1974.
- Royal Flush RCA, 1976.
- Singles (as writer or producer)
- "Move Over Darling," Doris Day, 1963.
- "Hey, Little Cobra," The Rip Chords, 1963.
- "Mr. Tambourine Man," The Byrds, 1965.
- "Him or Me (What's It Gonna Be?)," Paul Revere and the Raiders, 1966.
- "Kokomo," The Beach Boys, 1988.
- Los Angeles Times, November 21, 2004.
- USA Today, November 20, 2004.
- Mark Lindsay Official Website, http://www.marklindsay.com/terrymelcher.com (December 23, 2004).
- "Terry Melcher" (obituary), Opinion Telegraph, http://www.opinion.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml+/news/2004/11/23/db2301 (December 23, 2004).