Jeffrey Foskett, a singer-guitarist that spent decades in the Beach Boys and played a pivotal role in Brian Wilson‘s late Nineties comeback thanks to his soaring falsetto and effortless ability to harmonize, died Monday after a long battle with anaplastic thyroid cancer. He was 67. A spokesperson for Wilson confirmed Foskett’s death to Rolling Stone.
“Jeff was always there for me when we toured and we couldn’t have done it without him,” Brian Wilson said in a statement. “Jeff was one of the most talented guys I ever knew. He was a great musical leader and guitarist and he could sing like an angel. I first met Jeff in 1976 when he knocked on my door in Bel Air and I invited him in, and we were friends ever since. I don’t know what else to say. Love and Mercy to Jeff’s family and friends, we will remember him forever.”
Fosekett grew up in San Jose, California, and became a huge Beach Boys fan from the moment he heard “I Get Around.” On the day he turned 20 in 1976, he gathered up the courage to knock on Brian Wilson’s door on Bellagio Road in Los Angeles. “Brian opened the front door and said, ‘Come on in,’” Foskett recalled to Rolling Stone in 2019. “He had no idea who we were and I was in awe. There was a bass guitar laying around, a piano in the living room. He just started playing music.”
A few years later, Beach Boys singer Mike Love came into a restaurant where Foskett was playing with his band. He impressed Love that night and earned an invitation into his Endless Summer Beach Band for the recording of his solo album Looking Back With Love. Right around this time, Carl Wilson took a break from the Beach Boys to focus on his solo career, and Love, who saw similarities to Carl’s falsetto in Foskett, invited him into the group to fill the void.
“Two months later Carl came back and I assumed that I would be gone,” Foskett said in 2019. “We had a big rehearsal at the Beach Boys’ building on Lincoln Boulevard. We got out four songs and Carl stopped it. I remember this very clearly. He said, ‘First of all. I’m not responsible for anyone’s personal financial situation. I’m responsible to make this band sound as good as it can sound. So there will be some changes made.’ And everybody left with their tails between their legs, thinking that no one was coming back. So fortunately Dennis [Wilson] pulled me aside and said, ‘You’re good, man, you’re in the band, don’t worry.’ I felt really good about that.”
Foskett spent the bulk of the Eighties in the Beach Boys touring band as they relentlessly toured the oldies circuit and scored a shock comeback hit in 1988 with “Kokomo.” He left the group in 1990, but remained close with the band. And in 1998, when Brian Wilson was receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Foskett was asked to play guitar with him. “The place went nuts hearing Brian sing, because he had been out of the public eye for some time,’ Foskett said. “So then I walked the Wilsons back to their limo and [Brian’s wife] Melinda said, ‘We would like to go out on tour with this album, but we just don’t know how to go about putting a band together. Would you be interested in helping us?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’”
Foskett reached out to his buddies Darian Sahanaja and Nick Walusko in the L.A.-based band the Wondermints, lifelong Beach Boys fanatics who Foskett knew would be perfect for the job. A 1999 Brian Wilson solo tour with Foskett and the Wondermints was an astounding success and led to a 15-year odyssey for Foskett, which included tours honoring the albums Pet Sounds and Smile (long before complete album shows were common in the classic rock world). He also joined Wilson in the studio for his solo albums Gettin’ in Over My Head, Brian Wilson Presents Smile, What I Really Want for Christmas, That Lucky Old Sun, Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin, and In the Key of Disney.
In 2012, Foskett joined Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys when they reunited to celebrate their 50th anniversary. He resumed his work with Wilson the next year, but was burned out by the demands of the road and parted ways with him in 2014. Not long after, he teamed up with America’s Gerry Buckley to front the band on tour when band co-founder Dewey Bunnell wanted time off.
When Love learned that Foskett was no longer in Brian Wilson’s band, he invited him to his house in San Diego for a chat. “He said, ‘You know, we’re thinking about making some changes in the band, would you consider coming back in?’” Foskett said in 2019. “We worked on a couple different details and I was back in the Beach Boys.”
He lasted four years in Love’s Bach Boys, but had to step away shortly after getting diagnosed with anaplastic thyroid cancer. He was originally told the cancer was terminal but lived for five years by taking part in an experimental drug trial at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.
“He was so talented on so many different levels but it was his wonderful sense of humor that kept him balanced and helped him navigate all the hard knocks you get in the music business,” Beach Boy Al Jardine said in a statement. “Jeff had a contagious positive spirit and never gave up hope. God bless his beautiful spirit and zest for life, we will really miss him and cherish all the great times we shared together. Keeping his wife Diane, his daughters and family and fans everywhere in our thoughts. Rest in peace Jeff and thanks for always making us smile.”