Obituary: Terry Melcher

Record producer and writer of songs for the Beach Boys and for his mother, Doris Day

The singer, songwriter and record producer Terry Melcher, who has died of cancer aged 62, helped shape Los Angeles pop into the California sound.

He was born in New York city, the son of an 18-year-old Doris Day and her first (of four) husbands, trombone player Al Jorden. They separated soon after Terry's birth and Day resumed her singing career, which brought her to Hollywood. Terry later took the name of Day's third husband, the agent/producer Marty Melcher.

Day encouraged her son to sing, and he made his first recording in 1961. He took the demo to Columbia Records, where they were impressed enough to invite him to join their producer-trainee programme. Having completed this, he composed songs for his mother's movies (including the title ballad for Move Over, Darling, 1963) and signed up the futureBeach Boy Bruce Johnston. As Bruce & Terry they enjoyed a minor hit in 1964 with Summer Means Fun.

Melcher then signed the Rip Chords to Columbia. He began to produce and sing backing vocals on their recordings.That helped them to a major hit with the hot-rod song Hey Little Cobra.

· Terry Melcher, songwriter and music producer, born February 8 1942; died November 21 2004 In 1964 a group called The Jet Set were signed by Columbia and Melcher was assigned to produce them. Their demo featured a recording of an unreleased Bob Dylan song and Melcher shaped it into a classic by refusing to let any of the band other than singer/guitarist Jim (later Roger) McGuinn play on the recording; he employed top LA session musicians to back McGuinn.

The band were renamed the Byrds and their debut single, Mr Tambourine Man, went to No 1 worldwide, opening the doors for folk-rock. Melcher said: "I thought the only guy in the band who could play well enough to record was McGuinn, so I used all the normal guys I used for sessions. I took the bass-drum groove from Don't Worry Baby and put Tambourine Man over it, and had McGuinn weave his Rickenbacker 12-string through the whole thing. I put him on [overdubbed] about four times, so it just jangled forever."

Melcher produced the Byrds' first two albums, overseeing such hits as Turn! Turn! Turn! and All I Really Want To Do before the band dispensed with his services. They were reconciled in 1969 for Ballad Of Easy Rider and Untitled in the 1970s, although the results were uneven and did not bring the band back to the charts. Melcher also made stars of Seattle garage band Paul Revere & The Raiders. Melcher wrote Him Or Me (What's It Gonna Be?) and The Great Airplane Strike among their many hits, and produced their four top 10 albums between 1965 and 1967.

He then became the Beatles' sub-publisher for the US, Canada and Japan, helped to promote the Monterey Pop Festival and enjoyed a life of extreme hedonism. Forming with a few male friends what they called "The Golden Penetrators", they attempted to lay as many groupies as possible, which led them into the circle of an aspiring singer-songwriter, Charles Manson.

Manson had surrounded himself with young female acolytes, and through them made friends with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. (Melcher sang background on several Beach Boys recordings, including Pet Sounds). Wilson introduced Melcher to Manson and his harem, and Melcher seriously considered signing Manson to a recording deal.

When Melcher cooled on the deal, Manson became angry. The house on Cielo Drive, Los Angeles, where Manson's minions murdered Sharon Tate and four others on August 9 1969, had once belonged to Melcher; he was so traumatised that he spent some years in a drugged haze, yet maintained close friendships with the Los Angeles rock aristocracy.

He released two unsuccessful solo albums in the mid-1970s (his mother sang backing vocals on one). In the late 1970s Melcher concentrated on dealing in real estate until Mike Love and Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys asked him to help find new material. In 1987 Melcher co-wrote and produced Kokomo for the Beach Boys. It was a US No 1 hit.

Melcher and his mother remained close. He was an executive producer of her CBS television series The Doris Day Show from 1968 to 1972 and later became her manager, arranging her return to television in the mid-1980s with the show Doris Day's Best Friends.

Byrds' leader Roger McGuinn later recalled: "He brought that creamy California sound that he superimposed on the rough-edged folk rock sound that we were doing and . . . it gave a lustre that it wouldn't have had."

Melcher is survived by his mother; his wife, Terese; and a son from an earlier marriage, Ryan.


Garth Cartwright

The GuardianTramp

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