So how does an accordion-playing boy from Baltimore end up a career keyboardist with legendary sun-and-fun band the Beach Boys?
Practice, practice. And a deep appreciation for all kinds of music, from Beethoven to Chick Corea to the Beatles.
Baltimore native Mike Meros, 46, was introduced to the Beach Boys when he was a teen-ager. "I remember turning on the radio, and the DJ said, 'The next group is better than the Beatles.' And then I heard 'Good Vibrations' for the first time. And I thought, 'He could be right.' "
Meros cut his chops playing with his six siblings in a "Partridge Family"-style band managed by mom Helen Meros.
The Meros Brothers, as they were known, included a sister. Each child chose an instrument and took private lessons. A 6-year-old Michael picked an accordion nearly as big as he was. "The drummer," Helen recalls of her son Dennis, "had to sit on a pretzel can, he was so small."
The popular Brooklyn Park band played weddings and parties, gigs Helen booked and drove her kids to and from. They even won some local competitions, she proudly points out, citing a 1963 coup at the Glen Burnie Jaycees Talent Show.
"But it never occurred to me that Mike could end up with the Beach Boys," she says. The family group disbanded as various sibs were lost to higher education. Mike played in a few garage bands before heading off to University of Maryland Baltimore County and later College Park. His major? Music, naturally.
Then came some local studio work and other small-time stuff in the region. When that dried up, Meros skipped around the states, finally settling in Los Angeles during the late '70s.
After establishing himself as a solid studio performer, Meros got the opportunity to play on a Beach Boys LP. Bruce Johnston, who joined the Beach Boys in the mid-'60s, liked his work and asked Meros to do some light touring with the band. The weeks turned into months, and soon Meros went full-time.
That was 19 years ago, and Meros' endless summer still has no end in sight.
Not that he's complaining.
"I absolutely love it," he says. "I think it's one of the best jobs that any musician could hope for. I keep coming back to the music. Their catalog represents some of the best pop music ever written. I'm privileged to be playing it."
Meros speaks highly of Brian Wilson, whose parts he plays each night, calling the founding Beach Boy a "musical genius" who produced "an amazing body of work." Wilson quit touring with the band in 1964 but continued to write and produce. A short period in the early '80s saw Wilson back on stage, but now the songwriter makes a scant two to three surprise appearances each year.
It's Meros' job to become "Brian Wilson's orchestra" at each gig, he says. He plays a multi-keyboard setup that includes an organ and synthesizers, and he digs into the oft-copied arrangements with relish. His favorite? "God Only Knows," a "gorgeous piece of work" Brian ripped out in 20 minutes' time.
The lifestyle, he says, is "a lot of fun for a certain amount of time, and then after a while you feel like you've stayed at the party too long. I do enjoy touring quite a bit. I love the music, I love to play the music. But after three weeks on the road, I'd like to go back home."
His home now is Thousand Oaks, Calif., where wife Jane and their three children -- Meghan, 11, Kelly, 6, and Austin, 10 months -- reside. With the exception of Christmas, there aren't many days Meros is guaranteed to be there. Summers belong to the Beach Boys. Tour dates accumulate throughout the other three seasons, and side projects tie him up as well. Meros misses birthdays, dance recitals, anniversaries. For the past three years, he's rung in the New Year with thousands of strangers in a Las Vegas audience, but never his wife.
"If the family could be here, it'd be a wonderful, incredible life," Meros laments. "But it's lonely because you don't get to share it with a whole lot of people except the small family that represents the Beach Boys and their entourage."
A self-proclaimed "Baltimore booster," Meros tries to visit his other family (the biological one, still in Brooklyn Park) as often as possible. Concert dates like tonight's stop at Merriweather Post Pavilion allow for walks up Federal Hill, Oriole games, mom's cooking.
"You learn to appreciate the little things," he says.
Still, Meros says he has no regrets. And he says retirement is the furthest thing from his mind. He'll play with the Boys until there are no Boys left to play with. Which won't be any time soon, if ticket sales are any indication.
"The Beach Boys are an institution, like Disneyland," he says. "I think they'll be around a long time, and their music will go on even longer."
Pub Date: 6/17/97