After his elder brother Brian's retirement from the stage in 1965, Carl became the de facto leader of the band onstage, and shortly after became the band's in-studio leader, producing the bulk of the albums 20/20, Sunflower, Surf's Up, Carl and the Passions - "So Tough" (named in honour of his effective leadership of the band at this point) and Holland.
Carl's leadership role in the band diminished somewhat in the late '70s, both due to Brian's brief reemergence as the band's producer and substance abuse problems. He nonetheless remained a prominent and recognizable voice in the band, taking lead vocals on many songs and serving as "mixdown producer" on the Brian-produced Love You album. By the time of recording of 1979's L.A. (Light Album), Carl again found himself filling the vocal and songwriting gap left by a retreating Brian Wilson.
By the early 1980s the Beach Boys were in disarray. Frustrated with the band's sluggishness to record new material and reluctance to rehearse for live shows, Carl Wilson took a leave of absence in 1981, rather than remain as part of what he saw increasingly becoming a nostalgia act. Thence, he released a solo album, Carl Wilson, to little critical notice, in 1981, made up of songs co-written with Myrna Smith-Schilling. He recorded a second solo album, Youngblood, in a similar vein, but by the time it was released in 1983 he had already rejoined The Beach Boys. Although Youngblood did not chart, a single, the John Hall-penned "What You Do To Me," did, the latter being cast as a tribute to brother Dennis after his death in December 1983.
Wilson was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer in early 1997. Despite his illness and chemotherapy treatments, Carl continued to perform after diagnosis. Carl played through the Beach Boys' entire summer tour which ended in the fall of 1997. Carl Wilson lost his battle with cancer on February 6, 1998, just two months after the death of his mother, Audree Wilson. He was survived by his brother Brian, wife Gina (daughter of Dean Martin), and two sons by his first marriage, Justyn and Jonah.
A handful of recordings of Wilson have been released - notably the album Like a Brother, by a "supergroup" Beckley-Lamm-Wilson, comprising Carl Wilson, Gerry Beckley of America and Robert Lamm of Chicago.
Carl Wilson (2) Jazz organist
Carl Wilson (3) Technician from Downunder
Carl Wilson (4) Carl "Flat Top" Wilson - Bassist from the shellac era.
Carl Wilson (5) Credited for liner notes
Carl Wilson (7) Photographer
Carl Wilson Discography
- 75 Vocals
- 58 Instruments & Performance
- 137 Writing & Arrangement
- 4 Featuring & Presenting
- 50 Production
- 2 Technical