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Fun, fun, fun in ‘mini-Hawaii’

Local surfers at Mentawai Islands off Sumatra introduced The Beach Boys' studio drummer Stevie Heger to Gisborne.

He was an official SurfAid International entertainment ambassador, and in those Indonesian waters he met the man who founded SurfAid in 1999, former Gisborne resident Dr Dave Jenkins. He also met other Gisborne surfers like Steve Hathaway and Phil Dreyfuss.

“They always told me ‘if you want a place to get away to, play a little music and splash around in the sea, come to Gisborne.

“There's nothing but love and open doors here, man.”

The Californian took up an offer of accommodation and has enjoyed a stay at a beachside house owned by one of the surfers.

Told not to bring a surfboard, he has surfed East Coast waves on a six foot, six inch single fin hand-shaped by Gisborne boardmaker Ray Dalton.

He also enjoyed hearing Gisborne talent at Smash Palace and the Poverty Bay Blues Club, and jamming with Gisborne musicians.

“You'd think between the surfing and the music I'd have been here sooner than this,” he says.

“It's like a mini-Hawaii.”

At 57 Heger is the youngest of The Beach Boys.

He had hoped to take the upbeat Californian summer pop sound to the stage at Rhythm and Vines but was dissuaded when he found the line-up was largely electronic dance music.

While in Gisborne he was impressed by the town's talented musicians as much as he was intrigued by New Zealand and Gisborne idiosyncrasies.

Told New Zealanders generally book and attend shows at the last minute, he was reminded of his Poverty Bay Blues Club experience.

He had arrived in good time for the club's 7.30pm show but few people were there.

By 8pm the place was packed.

“What's that about?” he laughs.

He loves Gisborne band The Karuthers Brothers' album Two Sides but generally finds the tempo of New Zealand music a little sedate with a tendency to minor chord melancholy.

“Pick it up, guys!”

Growing up in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a small beach city on California's Monterey Peninsula, Heger started playing drums as a four-year-old when he was given a tom-tom drum that came with a book and a monthly teacher.

For his fifth birthday he was given a snare drum and the following year a set of cymbals.

By the time he turned 10 he had a full kit.

“By 10 I could read music and play. I took up piano and guitar when I was 12. That's really helped me stay employed.”

Heger was noticed by The Beach Boys when jazz singer Dinah Shore's drummer was unable to perform in her suicide prevention fundraiser.

The Beach Boys were also part of the evening's entertainment.

“My mom is a total stage mom,” says Heger.

“She said ‘Dinah, my son can read music. Dinah handed me a stack of music. Clint Eastwood was at the show, front and centre, introducing the band.”

Actress/singer Doris Day's son Terry Melcher was impressed with Heger's performance and the record producer, singer/songwriter introduced him to The Beach Boys.

This led to long-time studio work as a session drummer with the band,

Having studied percussion at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, and performed with The Flying Burrito Brothers, Heger became an audio-engineer just at the time analogue recording was switching to digital.

“I got a job as engineer in the Beach Boys' studio – a giant, old barn. It's like a Beach Boys museum. The studio is still analogue – two inch tapes and knobs.”

Heger played drums for the Beach Boys pop song Kokomo, a song even he finds relentlessly cheesy. Warner Brothers possibly felt the same way because the company shelved the recording.

Having sat at the top of the charts for some time the Beach Boys star had faded a little at that stage.

That all changed when actor Tom Cruise sought “affordable” music for his movie Cocktail.

He found Kokomo and the song took the Californian surf pop band to the top of the charts again.

Heger also produced and engineered Al Jardine's debut studio album A Postcard from California released in 2010. Part of the producer/engineer's role was to call up top artists to be part of the album.

“I took Al's old Rolodex (a rotating desktop file) and went through it and called about 20 people.”

Among them were country rock heavyweights such as Neil Young, Steven Stills, David Crosby, Glen Campbell, the band America, and out of left field, alternative rock act Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Actor Alec Baldwin even makes an appearance in the spoken word piece Tidepool Interlude.

Heger has regularly toured the US, UK and Japan, where he has developed a solid fan base.

He has also recorded seven solo albums, including his self-titled album which can be heard on iTunes, Spotify and Bandcamp.

Three new tracks from a new record to be released in Manchester over Easter can be heard on Soundcloud.

I GET AROUND: Stevie Heger, studio drummer and audio engineer for California surf pop band The Beach Boys, has enjoyed the warmth of the sun, the opportunity to catch a wave and to jam with the locals in Gisborne over summer. Picture by Mark Peters