I was returning from a business trip and my short layover was in LAX. He was standing in front of me in a short line on the tarmac. We were waiting to board our flight to Bakersfield.
His duffel bag was strapped across his shoulder and zipped closed — except for a pair of drumsticks poking out of his carry-on. I took a closer look, and clamped to a strap of his duffel bag was a “Beach Boys Band”-laminated VIP Pass. Except for his long flowing black hair, there was nothing about him that said, “I am a rock star and play drums for the world famous and legendary Beach Boys.”
For the musically uninitiated, the Beach Boys are considered by many as one of the most influential groups of the 1960s. Creating the unofficial “surf sound” with songs like “Good Vibrations,” the Beach Boys would eventually establish themselves as musical icons.
Just so you know how much the Beach Boys meant to my musical life, and much to the chagrin of my daughter, Nikki, I choose Beach Boys’ song “Surfer Girl” as the father/daughter dance at her wedding.
As we are standing in line, waiting to board the plane, I realized the Beach Boys were playing that night in the Grandstands at the Kern County Fair Grounds. “It can’t be,” I thought. I’ll never get another chance like this in my life time.
So I did it.
I tapped him on the shoulder and timidly asked, “Excuse me, but aren’t you the drummer for the Beach Boys?” He turned and with a surprise look on his face, said, “Yes I am. People don’t normally recognize me.”
Bobby Figueroa introduced himself while I tried not to embarrass myself with the awe and shock of meeting someone so intimately tied to a band that was literally the backdrop for much of my youth.
I introduced myself and he quickly noted that he has an uncle with my same last name who lives in the Oakland area and plays in a band. So we connected immediately. Bobby was amiable, open and cordial.
I knew my time with him was limited, so I embarrassingly asked him how he became a Beach Boys band member. He told me the story of how he played in a rock band that performed on the Red Lion Hotel lounge circuit throughout California. He received a call one evening from someone who identified himself as a Beach Boys representative. They heard him play drums at one of the Red Lions and wanted to know if he would be interested in auditioning for the Beach Boys. Yeah, sure, no problem, he thought. It must be a joke.
To Bobby’s surprise, the next day, they came to pick him up and flew him to an audition. I remember Bobby’s words as clear as if he were speaking to me now. “Steve, I went from playing to 30 semi-interested inebriated people in a Red Lion Lounge to the next day playing to 30,000 ecstatic fans in Seattle with the Beach Boys. I can’t believe I am still playing for them”, Bobbie claimed.
We eventually boarded our plane. As we approached Meadows Field, we flew directly over the Kern County Grandstands. It was already full with Beach Boys fans. I tapped Bobby on the shoulder and told him to look out the window. “That’s where you are playing tonight,” I said. Bobby asked if I was going to the concert. I explained I have been out of town on a business trip and didn’t have a chance to buy a ticket. He unzipped the duffle bag that started this whole story and pulled out an “All Access Beach Boys” pass and said, “You better come.” And he added, “Have you met the guys?” I shook my head “no.”
I did go to the concert that night and yes Bobby introduced me back stage as “his friend from Bakersfield” to original Beach Boys Carl Wilson and Al Jardine.
I still can’t believe this happened.
And yes, I will be going to the Beach Boys concert September 19 at the Kern County Fair Grounds to try and recapture any and all good vibrations.