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The halcyon days of the 1960s music scene shaped a generation, as British groups such as The Beatles and Rolling Stones produced hit after hit.
But for many teenagers growing up in Salt Lake City, the Beach Boys bested all those rock invaders. Teens listened to AM rock stations KNAK and, later, KCPX on transistor radios, often debating well into the night about the merits of their favorite band or whether to wear their hair as a "greaser" or a "beta."
"I always picked the Beach Boys first, the Beatles second and then the Rolling Stones," recalled Lynn Lehman, a popular disc jockey with both stations in the 1960s and '70s. "The Beach Boys embraced surfing and cars. It was a Western United States thing. We may have more of a love affair with cars and surfing because of Salt Lake's close proximity to the West Coast."
The Beach Boys are bringing their 50th-anniversary tour to the Stadium of Fire on Wednesday at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo. Original members Carl and Dennis Wilson have passed away, but lead singer Mike Love, songwriter Brian Wilson and Al Jardine are scheduled to perform along with David Marks and Bruce Johnston, who have been with the band, on and off, since the 1960s.
The band's Utah roots run deep. KNAK is believed to have been one of the first stations outside California to play tapes of Beach Boys songs in the early 1960s. The Wilson brothers' father, Murray, was good friends with Bill Hesterman, then the Utah station's program manager.
And from 1963 until 1973, the band played at Lagoon's Patio Gardens at least a dozen times.
Lagoon owner Peter Freed remembers that his brother Bob became friendly with the band, hosting the Beach Boys several times at his home. In fact, the group sent him a tree that was planted in his front yard. "We got them at the height of their popularity," Freed said.
The Beach Boys, with Love as the lead singer and with various lineups of band members, have come to Utah often, playing venues such as Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Huntsman Center, ParkWest, Abravanel Hall and, in 2005, the Sandy Amphitheater, when a warm-up band was led by then-Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.
After penning "Salt Lake City," a song celebrating Lagoon, Utah's pretty girls and KNAK, the band received keys to the city from the Chamber of Commerce, said Gene Davis, known as Droopy-Eyed Gene because he worked his years on the night shift at KNAK.
Davis, now a state senator, owns a vintage 45 of that song and remembers being proud hearing a background singer either Dennis Wilson or Jardine bellowing out the call letters KNAK.
Back when the Beatles and Beach Boys had a professional rivalry, song requests at the radio station were received based on whichever group had the most recent hit. "After 'Good Vibrations,' we didn't get many Beach Boys songs," recalled Davis. "They didn't have hit records after that."
Lehman, the former DJ, remembers when he introduced the group in 1965 at Patio Gardens as a scared 18-year-old who had just graduated from Olympus High.
Legend has it that one of the group's biggest hits, "Fun, Fun, Fun," traces its roots back to Salt Lake City and may have been written in a limousine after a concert on the way to the airport. KNAK owner Howard Johnson had a teenage daughter named Shirley, who owned a turquoise and white Thunderbird. When Brian Wilson watched the two interact, that's where he supposedly came up with the idea of a girl who "has fun, fun, fun until Daddy takes the T-bird away."
Davis met Brian Wilson four years ago at a BMI awards dinner saluting the musical genius. "He remembered coming to Salt Lake, but it was not a big deal. When you talk to Mike Love, Salt Lake was big time to them. He loved Salt Lake City. But [Wilson] remembered writing 'Salt Lake City' as one of those fun songs they sat down and did."
Stadium of Fire
The Beach Boys will headline, with opener Scotty McCreery from "American Idol."
When • Wednesday, July 4, at 8 p.m.
Where • LaVell Edwards Stadium, Brigham Young University, Provo
Tickets • $25 to $120 at freedomfestival.org/sof/ or by calling 801-422-2981