Calling from his home in snowy Lake Tahoe, Mike Love was clear: He is excited to bring the Beach Boys back to the Florida sunshine.
Next week, the band will embark on a tour including eight Florida cities, starting at Sarasota’s Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall. Other stops include The Villages, Naples, Orlando, St. Augustine, Melbourne and Coconut Creek. The group will later depart from Miami for The Beach Boys Good Vibrations Cruise. The five-day stint on board will feature Mark McGrath, the Isley Brothers and the band’s longtime pal, “Full House” actor John Stamos.
The Beach Boys’ last hit, “Kokomo,” came out in 1988. In more recent years, Love’s most prominent public appearances have been in support of former President Donald Trump. Following a tumultuous history with band member Brian Wilson, Love is the only original living member who still tours with the Beach Boys. He’ll be joined by Bruce Johnston, musical director Scott Totten, Brian Eichenberger, Christian Love, Tim Bonhomme, John Cowsill, Keith Hubacher and Randy Leago.
Ahead of the Beach Boys’ Feb. 22 stop in Clearwater, Love spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about his long career, the group’s current lineup and his top spots around Florida. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell me about some of your favorite Florida memories over the years.
We have had so many great concerts in the Florida area, whether it be on the beach in Fort Lauderdale on July 4th a couple of years back [or] Ruth Eckerd many times. We’ve been in Sarasota to the venue there many times. And we have two sold-out shows coming up in Naples. So up and down either coast, we love Florida. We love California, too, and we also love Hawaii. Those are the three great states for me.
I know you have a busy tour schedule, but are you able to get away while you’re traveling and hit the beach?
Oh yeah. We have a close friend — in fact, the producer of “Full House,” Jeff Franklin — who bought a place in Miami, and after our tour we’re going to spend a couple of days with him.
We have some friends that have really a beautiful little cottage in Key West. We spent Thanksgiving there. So yeah, absolutely. That’s the kind of place where you want to spend a little time. In fact, we’re going to have a day off in Naples after our two concerts there and we’ll be able to have a really nice time enjoying Naples.
Do you have a favorite spot where you like to hang out when you’re in the area?
I once went to a surfing contest in Sebastian — it’s been 20 years at least. Like California, with this huge coastline, Florida’s got all kinds of diversity. It’s beautiful. It’s just a great state. We’re big fans of that beach life.
What is the vibe of a Beach Boys show in 2023?
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I like to start retro. I like to start with surfing songs — “Catch a Wave,” “Hawaii,” “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and “Surfer Girl.” I like to go into the car songs, too — “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “409” and “I Get Around.” Then we’ll get into “Pet Sounds” some more, you know, “God Only Knows,” “Sloop John B” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” And then just other songs from various years. We do an hour of music with a 20-minute intermission followed by another hour.
That’s what we like to do in a theater such as Ruth Eckerd. And one of the fun things is my best friend in high school is going to be there. We both graduated winter of 1959 and he lives in Florida now, so that’ll be fun. I think it’s going to be nostalgic, but it’s going to be present day, too, because those songs come alive every time we perform them. We’re doing them in the same keys they were recorded in, and I’m the lead singer and co-writer on many of the songs. So we’re re-creating them again.
Tell me about the group you’ll be playing with in Clearwater.
I mean, we lost our drummer, Dennis Wilson, in 1983. He drowned, sadly. And then Carl Wilson, our lead guitar player who sang lead on “God Only Knows,” we lost him to lung cancer a couple decades ago. And that was sad to lose my cousins and our group members, there’s no doubt about that.
My son, Christian Love, is with us, and he sounds beautiful. He does such a great job, as if the songs were written for him.
[We have] John Cowsill, who was in a group called the Cowsills with a number of big hits back in the late ′60s, early ′70s. And he’s a great drummer. He did like 400 shows a year in theaters before he joined our group a couple of decades ago.
My cousin, Brian Wilson, who co-authored a lot of songs, decided that he wasn’t cut out for touring life in 1964. Glen Campbell filled in for a few months and then Bruce Johnston took Glen’s place. Bruce has been with us pretty much since 1965, with a couple year hiatus in the late ′60s. So we have a lot of great musicians. We have a keyboard player from Canada, and like half of the people in Florida this time of year are from Canada.
Some fans might be curious about the choice to tour under the name the Beach Boys even though the lineup has changed so much over the years.
I might do a song or two that I personally recorded during the show. But primarily we have a wealth of songs to do that were recorded as the Beach Boys. Because the songs were created under the name of the Beach Boys, we keep that name and we keep those songs alive and we keep the Beach Boys legacy present as the years go by.
At 81, what’s pushing you to keep touring and sharing these songs?
To tell you the truth, it’s when you see an audience of all ages having such a great time and enjoying what you created so much. It’s very uplifting. It’s very inspiring. If your health is good and you’re still capable of singing in those ranges, it’s a blessing to be able to go out and enjoy what you’ve been doing for a lifetime.
I grew up in a family household with a grand piano and an organ and a harp. My mom was an avid music fan. She sang light opera. She woke us up to go to school with opera music, which is, you know, traumatic [he laughs]. I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t music in my life. In fact, the first time I remember Brian singing was on my grandma’s lap, singing “Danny Boy,” maybe about 10 years old. For me, it’s just been a total blessing to have the health and have people who still enjoy listening to your songs.
If you go
The Beach Boys play Ruth Eckerd Hall (1111 McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater) at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 22. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets range from $53.25-$128.25. Visit rutheckerdhall.com to purchase.