Q&A with Marilyn Wilson and Ginger Blake of The Honeys

Ken SharpCategories:Featured ArticlesUncategorized

Rock Cellar Magazine

Just like the Beach Boys, a band that featured brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson and cousin Mike Love (plus Alan Jardine), ‘60s female surf group The Honeys featured two sisters, Marilyn and Diane Rovell and cousin Ginger Blake.

The trio clicked musically and created their own signature brand of feel good music with classics like “He’s A Doll” and “Hide Go Seek.” Rock Cellar sat down with Marilyn Wilson and Ginger Blake, two of the three founding members of The Honeys, for a fun look back at their career.

Rock Cellar: The band formed in 1961 and was originally called The Rovell Sisters, which featured you, Diane and your sister Barbara. What led to her leaving and your cousin Ginger Blake joining the group?

Marilyn Rovell and Ginger Blake:  The Rovell Sisters performed on a family amateur level as well as did Ginger. Before The Honeys group was formed, sister Barbara had a career as a wild animal trainer and Marilyn, Ginger and Diane were singing in the studio as background singers for local groups.

Rock Cellar: The band got their name from a Beach Boys song?

Marilyn and Ginger: Yes, that’s true. It came from the Beach Boys song “Surfin’ Safari,” which had the lyrics, “early in the morning we’ll be starting out, some Honeys will be coming along …”

Rock Cellar: I understand that producer Gary Usher discovered the group.

Ginger Blake: No, Gary did not discover the group, although he certainly had a great part in our meeting The Beach Boys. Gary and I were recording on a record label together and he told me about The Beach Boys he was associated in as a surf music co-writer. He took me to Pandora’s Box in West Hollywood where he introduced me to Brian (Wilson).

We talked about the similarities of my also singing with my two cousins who were sisters – like The Beach Boys. He was interested in meeting them. We came back the next night. He wanted to hear us sing together. He loved our sound and discovered the makings of The Honeys as a female surf sound group.

Rock Cellar: How quickly after discovering the group were you in the studio cutting tracks?

Marilyn and Ginger: Within a few months.

Rock Cellar: How did the band come to be signed to Capitol Records?

Marilyn and Ginger: Brian was so excited to present his female surf group discovery to Capitol Records where the Beach Boys had their recording contract with Capitol. They loved our sound and offered us a contract immediately.

Rock Cellar: What are your recollections of being in the studio for the first time?

Marilyn and Ginger: We were so excited to work under the mastery of Brian Wilson as well as the band of musicians now known as The Wrecking Crew with A&R director Nick Venet.

Rock Cellar: Take us into a typical Honeys recording session.

Marilyn and Ginger: Prior to our coming to the studio at Capitol Records, Brian had all the arrangements and vocals ready. We wanted to be there to hear the musicians lay down the tracks. Then it was only a 4-track studio so everything had to be perfect. Once singing our song, Brian loved being a “4th” Honey and would lay down a part to sing with us. It was awesome.

Rock Cellar: Characterize Brian Wilson’s role in the studio as producer and chief songwriter.

Marilyn and Ginger: Brian was energetic, inspiring and we were in awe of his producer, arranger skills and his songwriting abilities.

Rock Cellar: What was Brian’s greatest contribution to the Honeys’ sound?

Marilyn and Ginger: Brian would love singing falsetto singing with Diane. It would sound fabulous.

Rock Cellar: Share the back story behind several classic Honeys tracks starting with “Surfin’ Down The Swanee River.”

Marilyn and Ginger: Brian loved the original song and thought it would be great to rewrite a surf sound lyric in the surf genre. He loved being in the groove.

Rock Cellar: “He’s a Doll.”

Marilyn Wilson: Brian would always notice when we saw a cute guy we would say, “He’s such a doll” so he picked up on it and wrote one of the great songs for us. We feel it’s a classic with The Wrecking Crew jamming too. That track and arrangement is amazing!

Rock Cellar: “The One You Can’t Have.”

Ginger Blake: Brian wrote this one inspired by me about a guy I was crazy about but he could not return the feelings in the same way.

Rock Cellar: What did your parents think about you pursuing a career in music?

Marilyn and Ginger: We all came from a musical family. Our parents would entertain a lot. They were thrilled that we had the opportunity to have our sound and music heard.

Rock Cellar: Being a teenager, was it tricky making the transition where you’re performing onstage to thousands of people?

Marilyn and Ginger: It was very exciting and natural for us. The Beach Boys backed us up so we were in familiar territory.

Rock Cellar: What are your recollections of The Honeys playing at The Hollywood Bowl with the Beach Boys?

Marilyn and Ginger: Not only did we sing with The Beach Boys, but also sang with Duane Eddy. It was a blast. Marilyn’s skirt ripped during the cheerleading but “the show must go on.”

Rock Cellar: Did the Honeys’ association with the Beach Boys help you get a step ahead of the competition?

Marilyn and Ginger: Certainly we initially got shows with The Beach Boys surf genre gigs. We had an agent, Marshall Berle from the William Morris Agency, who booked us on independent jobs too.

Rock Cellar: The Honeys sang background vocals on the Beach Boys’ smash hit, “Be True To Your School,” what are your memories of that session?

Marilyn and Ginger: Brian had us come into the studio and had us listen to the song. It was already an album cut but he wanted a single cut. He asked us to sing some cheerleading parts. We had the best time recreating the high school cheers. Brian loved it.

Rock Cellar: Your role as consummate background singers of renown also carried over to Jan & Dean as well. Was there a different vibe in the studio than working with Brian?

Ginger and Marilyn: Lou Adler was the producer. He was very mellow and Jan and Dean were always so funny but we sang what was asked of us and had a great time. We always held our own and followed the producer’s wishes.

Rock Cellar: What are the hits you sang on for Jan & Dean? 

Marilyn and Ginger: We sang on “New Girl In School.”

Rock Cellar: You also sang background vocals on “Guess I’m Dumb” by Glen Campbell, a track written and produced by Brian.

Marilyn and Ginger: It’s a shame that Capitol Records did not carry out the promotion of one of the finest performances by Glen Campbell and the beautiful songwriting from Brian Wilson. Brian loved the song as did we. It’s a mystery as to why it was not a hit.

Ginger and Marilyn: Richard Stevens, a Honeys fan, called us to say there was interest at Rhino Records to record a first new product album and not a compilation album they were putting out. Richard set up the meeting with the owners of Rhino and the rest is history. The first cut, Running Away From Love, also garnered a video on MTV. It was very exciting.

Rock Cellar: How did you come to cover the Raspberries song “Ecstasy”? What was its appeal?

Ginger Blake: Our producers, Lou Maxfield (Natkin) and Mark Avnet suggested the song and Marilyn, Diane and I wrote an extra verse to make it work for us. I love singing edgy songs and this one was a great opportunity for me.

Rock Cellar: For you, what is the definitive Honeys track and why?

Marilyn Wilson: “He’s A Doll.” I think it is such a great Brian Wilson session and The Honeys with the energy and the commitment of young imagination of the perfect boyfriend.

Ginger Blake: I’d have to say Hide Go Seek. It has an R&B flair that I love and so does Brian. It was an homage to him and his love for R&B. Great groovin’ track by The Wrecking Crew.

Rock Cellar: Closing your eyes and thinking of your days with the Honeys, what are the watershed moments for you?

Marilyn Wilson: Singing with my sister and my cousin and having been fulfilled with the love of music. Singing in the studio with Brian and hearing our songs on the radio…what a thrill!

Ginger Blake: There is nothing better in life than sharing music with my family. My cousins mean everything to me. Singing together commercially was a dream come true. Being together and singing with the master Brian was the most magical memories to cherish. We were together when we first heard our song on KFWB’s Sam Riddle Show. We were jumping up and down and filled with joy. We are filled with love, love, love.

Rock Cellar: How did you get involved with Rock Cellar’s slate of charity events?

Ginger and Marilyn: We came on board through our friend, Stephen Kalinich who was involved with a Beach Boys tribute show in July of 2015. Kevin Wachs heard about us and wanted us to be added as special guests on their show; we were so thrilled. The group of people are like a new family feeling for us. We’ve done two shows now and hope to do many more.

Special thanks to Lauri Reimer for helping to arrange the interview.

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