The son of Doris Day, Terry Melcher was a key player on the L.A. music scene in the '60s and early '70s. Melcher's career started with the surf craze that was kicked off by the Beach Boys in the early part of the decade. Teaming up with future Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, Melcher formed the Rip Chords, who scored a hit with "Hey Little Cobra." Melcher and Johnston were also responsible for the one-shot studio group the Hot Doggers. He also began writing surf songs with Bobby Darin and, of all people, Randy Newman. Yet it was not until Melcher was hired as a staff producer at Columbia Records that he really began to shape the sound of California rock.
Assigned to a new band named the Byrds, Melcher helped craft the group's fusion of rock and folk into a groundbreaking sound. Tension between the producer and the Byrds' manager, however, caused Melcher to be booted as the band's producer, but not before the group, under Melcher's direction, recorded the definitive version of Pete Seeger's "Turn, Turn, Turn." After his departure from the Byrds, Melcher went to work with a ragtag Stonesy garage band named Paul Revere & the Raiders. Using his studio expertise, Melcher transformed the group into an accessible pop outfit and eventually began writing songs with the group, including the hits "Him or Me -- What's It Gonna Be?" and "The Great Airplane Strike."
By now a hot producer, Melcher was instrumental in signing another near-legendary L.A. band, the Rising Sons, led by Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder. Yet in opposition to the Byrds and Paul Revere (groups who had a definite direction), the Sons' collective influences never came together and Melcher had difficulty producing them. Melcher remained a presence on the L.A. scene throughout the late '60s, collaborating with such mainstays as Glen Campbell and Bruce Johnston and, passing into infamy, when his former house on Cielo Drive became the site for the grisly Manson Family murders. Melcher had known Manson and it was rumored that the producer's lack of interest in Manson's songwriting career was why the house on Cielo Drive was targeted.
Melcher was once again hired as the Byrds' producer on albums such as The Ballad of Easy Rider, Untitled, and Byrdmaniax, but his producing and arranging choices were so off the mark that the latter album was referred to in Barney Hoskyns' book Waiting for the Sun as "Melcher's Folly." As the mellow country sound of the mid-'70s eventually took over the southern California musical climate, Melcher eventually faded from the spotlight and, with the exception of an occasional production (the Beach Boys' comeback hit "Kokomo"), did less and less in the studio each year. After a long battle with cancer, Melcher passed away November 19, 2004.