While attending Good Shepherd Catholic School in Beverly Hills, Billy Hinsche befriended classmates Dino Martin and Desi Arnaz Jr. The trio bonded over music, practiced in Lucille Ball’s garage and at Dean Martin’s mansion. Eventually signed by Frank Sinatra to Reprise, Dino Desi & Billy released four albums over four years, had a string of hits and toured with the Beach Boys. In the aftermath, Billy joined the Beach Boys’ ‘family’ and had further musical adventures, which he details for PKM’s Valerie Simadis.
Billy Hinsche has had an ear for music since he was a child. While he was reared on the classics and musical scores of the day, he gravitated towards the local Los Angeles AM radio stations like KFWB and KHJ. As a youngster, he purchased a few singles by the Kalin Twins and Jan and Dean. “In retrospect,” Hinsche mused “I was developing an ear for harmony. It caught my ear and I liked it.”
While attending Good Shepherd Catholic School in Beverly Hills, Billy Hinsche joined up with fellow schoolmates Dino Martin and Desi Arnaz Jr. and the trio became a garage band. Hinsche recalled, “I like to say, we were a garage band like so many others…the only difference being, we were rehearsing in Lucille Ball’s garage.” The three friends, now calling themselves Dino, Desi & Billy, eventually moved to a rehearsal space at Dean Martin’s home, and it wasn’t long before they were auditioning in front of Frank Sinatra, in hopes of being signed to his record label, Reprise.
Dino, Desi & Billy went on to release hit singles like “I’m a Fool” and “Not the Lovin’ Kind”, and the group eventually went on their first tour, opening for The Beach Boys in 1965.
Dino, Desi & Billy – I’m A Fool (1965):
Since that tour with The Beach Boys in 1965, Hinsche was invited to participate on several Beach Boys albums (Beach Boys’ Party!, Smiley Smile, Holland, 15 Big Ones, etc.) and ‘officially’ joined The Beach Boys in 1974. According to Hinsche, “1974 was a turning point in that I had graduated from college and was put on a retainer, and so that sort of marked an official beginning for me.”
I sat down with Billy to discuss his teenage years with Dino, Desi & Billy, and touring and recording with The Beach Boys.
PKM: You were born in Manila. What is your earliest memory as a child in the Philippines?
Billy Hinsche: We had a lot of ‘help’. A lot of staff would be a nice way of saying it. My sister and I each had a Yaya (babysitter). I remember we had a driver named Mgn José (‘Mgn’ meaning ‘Mister’). With the aid of my home movies, it’s all quite vivid. We had big birthday parties in our back yard where kids would get dressed up in costumes.
On special occasions I would wear a traditional formal shirt called a ‘Barong Tagalog’. It’s not something you would wear every day, unless you were the president. You wear a white T-shirt under it, and then the Barong Tagalog. It’s very formal, like the equivalent of wearing a tuxedo. It’s way too hot to wear a suit in the Philippines. Just like nobody wears a suit in Hawaii and Las Vegas.
PKM: How did your father end up in the Philippines?
Billy Hinsche: I’ll give you the answer that my Aunt Martha (my father’s sister) gave me when I asked her. “Aunt Martha? Why did Pop go to the Philippines?” and she said very casually, very offhand, “Well, to meet his destiny!” and I said “Wow, that’s heavy”. I don’t think she knew either, specifically. What happened after he ended up there was that he assembled a group of his buddies and they opened a supper club and casino. He also had a rattan factory. I think he might have imported cars from the States as well. Pop was a wheeler dealer. I mean, you have to be to open a restaurant and a casino. You’ve got to have a sense of adventure, right? Anyway, that’s all I know. Then the war broke out, and he was a POW for three years.
PKM: How did he become a Prisoner of War?
Billy Hinsche: Pop lived in an apartment in Manila, and he was observing activity on the streets. It was ominous. Right after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese came to Manila. I believe he said he saw them setting up machine gun nests in the street. It’s like “Uh-oh. What’s going on?” Then he heard a knock on the door. He opened the door and there was the commandant of the Japanese army with a couple of other soldiers. He read a preassigned script, if you will, which said to pack enough clothes for three days. As my father would add, it ended up being three years. He was in two different camps. One was called Santo Tomas, which was the University of Santo Tomas, the oldest Catholic university in the world if I’m not mistaken.
One day Dino calls and says “Can you come over tomorrow? Frank Sinatra’s going to be here and we’re going to audition for him because he has a label, Reprise.”
They turned the campus into a POW camp. There were men, women, children, nuns, priests, Catholics, Americans, Brits…whoever wasn’t Japanese, and who wasn’t Filipino. They wanted ‘the enemy’ so to speak. Really, Filipinos at that point weren’t the enemy. They were just the occupied city. The second camp was Los Baños. I don’t know exactly how much time he spent in both, but he was not on the Bataan Death March. That was a military march from one camp to another.
PKM: You and your sister were born in the Philippines. Why did your folks decide to move to Beverly Hills?
Billy Hinsche: It was more like “Let’s get out of here!” My dad wanted to get out of there because the Korean War had broken out. Which, as you know, is not that far from the Philippines. Pop did not want to be put in jail again. I mean, jail was probably the nice word for it. So he cashed in his chips, literally, and he chose Los Angeles, as opposed to the East Coast. He was born in Hoboken, New Jersey and he had had enough of the winters back east, and he wanted the warmer climes. I think he had friends in L.A., so he wanted to get away from another war.
PKM: What was the first instrument that you learned to play?
Billy Hinsche: I learned piano while I was still in Manila. Pop was very much into me and my sister Annie learning to play an instrument. He got Annie and I a tutor at a very young age.
PKM: What were some of your musical influences growing up?
Billy Hinsche: My dad, in the musical vein, was ahead of his time, insofar as he recorded my sister and I singing nursery rhymes. I can’t recall whether we went to a recording studio or somebody came to the house to set up a microphone. He recorded us, he made records, so I’ve been recording since I was an infant, you might say. It’s interesting how my life became that, ultimately. My folks loved musicals and they bought all the great LPs of the day. South Pacific, My Fair Lady, Gigi, Carousel, and I listened to those. Pop also had some of the masters, like Beethoven. It was a great education to be brought up hearing those incredible orchestrations and beautifully written songs.
I loved listening to the radio, AM, either KFWB or KHJ which were the two big stations in L.A.. The first couple records I bought were “When” by the Kalin Twins and Jan and Dean’s “Baby Talk”. In retrospect, I was developing an ear for harmony. It caught my ear and I liked it. I also bought “Splish Splash” by Bobby Darin.
PKM: How did you meet Dino and Desi?
Billy Hinsche: We met at school. I was already at Good Shepherd Catholic School Beverly Hills, and I was kind of big man on campus. I was the president of my second-grade class which means I was seven years old. My sister was in an upper class, and then one day the Martin children arrived. Dino and his little brother Ricci, and his older half-sister Deana (who was in my sister Annie’s class.) A few years later, Lucie Arnaz and her brother, Desi Arnaz Jr. came to our school. Lucie was in Dino’s and my class and Desi was at least a year younger. So that’s how we all met.
PKM: You’ve mentioned something about Desi playing drums in class?
Billy Hinsche: One day we’re coming back from lunch break, filing into the building. Dino and I were walking down this long hallway, and there’s Desi [makes drum sound effects]. Desi was set up at the end of the hall and we were like “Whoa, what the heck is this? We’re getting special treatment here!”, but it went beyond that! He took his drum kit…it wasn’t very big. You know, snare, tom, floor tom, hi-hat, and he went around to each of the classrooms. He would set up in front of the class and he’d do a little demonstration. He was impressive! I mean, nobody else that I knew could play drums, especially at that level. He must have been eight or nine at the time.
PKM: I’m surprised that the teachers were cool with that.
Billy Hinsche: Well, the teachers were proud of their students, and they encouraged them. Heck, you asked me what my first instrument was and I said piano, but my second was violin at age seven and they featured me. My music teacher (one of the nuns) had me go around to every classroom, and we did a little duet for the school. I don’t think there were too many other kids who were featured like Desi and I.
PKM: Did you ever feel intimidated being in the presence of legends like Lucille Ball and Dean Martin?
Billy Hinsche: You bet I did! Absolutely. I was as star-struck as the next person. First of all, I didn’t know that Dino’s father was Dean Martin, even though his name was Dino Martin. He was blonde-haired, blue-eyed. He looked like his mother Jeanne. Then one day it dawned on me at age seven, and I said “Is your dad Dean Martin?” and he was like “Yeah”. And I ran away from him! I couldn’t handle it! I just scooted away from him. He followed me and said “Hey, don’t run away, it’s okay!” Then I started to put it all together “Oh my gosh, this is the man in the movies with Jerry Lewis!”
I didn’t know that Dino’s father was Dean Martin, even though his name was Dino Martin. He was blonde-haired, blue-eyed.
When I first met [Dean Martin], I was impressed and in awe. I was just a little kid and he was a big, tall six-footer. Similarly, with Lucille Ball. She might have been even more of an icon than Dean. She had a weekly television show, was so popular and well-loved, and there was nobody like her. So yes, I was definitely a little bit intimidated and a little scared about meeting her, but she was very nice.
PKM: When was the pivotal moment that you boys decided to form a group?
Billy Hinsche: With the advent of groups like the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Peter and Gordon and Chad & Jeremy, we wanted to play guitar too. Right around the same time as the violin, I learned ukulele in Hawaii. So I knew a few basic chords. With those basic chords, I showed Dino how to play some guitar chords. We started playing acoustically as a duo and singing simple songs. Then at some point we thought to ourselves “Remember that kid Desi who did that drum demonstration? We could ask him to join us, and then we would have a group.”
The moment of asking Desi and then actually forming the group was in the school yard on a lunch break. Dino and I were out by the basketball court and we called Desi over. Either Dino or I said “Hey, you wanna be in our group?” And he was like “Sure!” instantly. No hesitation. He didn’t even think twice.
PKM: How did the group land a recording contract with Reprise?
Billy Hinsche: I should preface it by saying that we got together and we rehearsed a lot. We rehearsed at Lucille Ball’s place. I like to say, we were a garage band like so many others…the only difference being, we were rehearsing in Lucille Ball’s garage. Dino and I realized that we had better go electric because Desi was drowning us out on the drums, and we couldn’t have that.
We were still so new at all of this that we were both playing six-string electric guitars through one amp, which is not recommended. It doesn’t sound good, but that was all we had. Eventually we moved to Dean Martin’s house because he had a larger area for us to rehearse in. Now we’re both playing six-string electric guitars with Desi on drums. One day Dino calls and says “Can you come over tomorrow? Frank Sinatra’s going to be here and we’re going to audition for him because he has a label, Reprise.” And I said “Great!” Many years later I said to Jeanne Martin, “You know, I always wondered how we got that audition with Frank Sinatra. How did that come about?” And she just said very emphatically “Well I called him. I said ‘Frank you’ve got to come over here and hear the kids. They’re really good’.” I like to say when Jeanne Martin says “Jump”, you say “How high?” Even Frank Sinatra. So he scurried over there to the Martins’ home.
PKM: Tell me about the audition for Frank Sinatra.
Billy Hinsche: I met Dino and Desi over at the Martin’s home. The Martin’s had a sunken part of the living room that we set up in. We came in, and there was Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra sitting at the bar. Where else would they be? Of course they’re at the bar! Are they going to be in the kitchen making a sandwich? I don’t think so! There they were, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. Old blue eyes and old red eyes.
So we said hello. I think Frank had already met Desi and he knew Dino, and we played three songs. I’m thinking we played “Twist and Shout”, “Glad All Over”, or another Dave Clark Five song like “Bits and Pieces”. They sat there respectfully, listening tentatively. After we were done, we took off our instruments and they got up and met us in the middle, so to speak. Sinatra said, “How’d you boys like a contract with my label Reprise?” And we were like [speaks in a high pitched voice] “Sure, Mr. Sinatra!” In that voice. And that’s how it all came about.
PKM: When you boys were signed, there was no official name for the group yet. What names did you consider, and who decided on Dino, Desi & Billy?
Billy Hinsche: Originally, going way back, we thought we’d call ourselves The Deadbeats. Some other options were Martin and the Martians, Arnaz and the Argonauts, and Hinsche and the Henchmen. Desi’s stepfather, Gary Morton, suggested, “How about two D’s and a B?” That didn’t fly either.
Eventually, when we appeared on The Hollywood Palace TV show, Tony Martin the host, introduced us as “Ladies and Gentlemen, here they are! Dino, Desi & Billy!” And that’s how our name evolved.
Dino, Desi & Billy – Since You Broke My Heart
PKM: For a boy in his early teens, you had some wardrobe. What boutiques did you frequent in the Sixties?
Billy Hinsche: The best boutique to this day was De Voss. It was a little hole in the wall, on Sunset Strip, right across the street from Le Dome, next to a little alley. The Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas, all those bands that Guy Webster shot shopped at De Voss because it had the hippest clothes.
The reason we knew about it was because of Lee Hazlewood. Lee was our second producer, and he came to the Martin home to talk about what songs we’d like to record. He was wearing the coolest boots Dino and I had ever seen! It was like “Whoa! Where’d you get those.” It was midcalf, had a zipper on the side, very pointy toe, ostrich leather. And he was like “I got them at De Voss, this place on Sunset.” They were very expensive, but Dino got a pair.
Second was a place called Beau Gentry, which was on Vine, a little bit north of Sunset. The guy who owned it or managed it, Harry, was a real salesman and very old school. He’d be like, “Oh yeah, you gotta see this jacket! You know Elvis got one of these last week!”
Mike Love affectionately referred to the store as ‘Blow Gently’ in honor of Harry because of his propensity to hype the merchandise. On a more conservative scale, we had Carroll & Co. in Beverly Hills. That was catering to the Dean Martin crowd, you know, that era.
PKM: When did you first meet the Beach Boys?”
Billy Hinsche: July 3, 1965 at sound check for the show. The sound check might have been July 2nd, but It was definitely at a rehearsal for the Hollywood Bowl show which would occur on the night of July 3, 1965.
PKM: You did your first tour with the Beach Boys in 1965. What was it like being on the road with them?
Billy Hinsche: It was fun. Carl took me under his wing, probably because we were both lead guitar players, and played twelve-string Rickenbackers, Fireglo red. We just gravitated towards one another. I think Desi and Dennis had a rapport because they were both drummers. Maybe Dino was hanging out with Bruce [Johnston]? At the Bowl Brian played because it was in L.A.. He had already retired from touring, but it was easy for him to just drive down the hill from Laurel Way. Not Laurel Canyon. I always like to specify that. Laurel Way in Beverly Hills.
Bruce was on the road for Bakersfield, Fresno, and Hawaii. That was the tour that we did with Barbara Lewis. That was the package. Barbara Lewis, Dino Desi & Billy and the Beach Boys. It was a blast! They were still wearing striped shirts and white pants. It was the era where you would run to the limo after the show because the fans and the girls would be screaming and trying to get to you. We were loving it.
PKM: That year you performed “I’m a Fool” and “Not the Lovin’ Kind” on The Ed Sullivan Show. What were some highlights from that day, and were you nervous?
Billy Hinsche: Oh yes, I was nervous! That was the biggest show on TV I would say, for its genre. The show was broadcasted from L.A. which was historic for Ed Sullivan because normally he’d be in New York at the CBS theater. We dressed very smartly in our powder blue suits and ties. We were at rehearsal and I remember the curtain on stage right opened up. All of a sudden this man walks around and it was Ed Sullivan wearing full makeup. Of course, he was nice. This is Dean Martin’s kid and Lucille Ball’s kid. He’d better be nice! And he was.
“Not the Lovin’ Kind’-Dino, Desi & Billy, on the Ed Sullivan Show, 1965:
One of the stand out memories was as we were about to go on the air live, Dino and I are in position and it’s like “Where’s Desi?!” And the crew guy is like “Someone find, Desi!” So everybody is scrambling to find him. Just as Ed Sullivan is doing his announcement “Ladies and Gentlemen, would you please welcome…” Here comes Desi from stage right, running to get to his drums! The audience laughs and Ed doesn’t have a clue because it’s all happening behind him. Ed turns around and says, “Here they are!” You know, one of his clumsy introductions. And so, that was a heart stopping moment. Later, it was like “Desi, where were you?” “Oh, I was trying to get a candy bar out of the machine.” Aha. I could just picture him with his foot on the machine and pulling at the knob. I brought this up to Desi the other day and he said to me “You know, I never did get that candy bar. I’m still trying to get it.”
PKM: [laughs] This photograph made the cover of The Washington Post in 1966. What is the story behind the photo, and did the girl end up tackling you?
Billy Hinsche: We were playing a teen festival at the Washington D.C. Armory, which is still there. There were other acts, but I think we were the headliners. There was a square stage and a runway that led from the stage to backstage which is really just where you exit the building. There were a couple of steps onto this runway to the stage, and no dressing room, as I recall.
So we’re playing and people are going crazy. They’re throwing stuff onto the stage. You can see in the photo that the stage is covered with all kinds of debris. It’s weird that I remember this, but I wore contact lenses and I heard this click! I don’t know if it was an M&M or a jelly bean or what. It was that kind of a show. Anyway, I’m playing and then all of a sudden this girl got on stage (the stage wasn’t that high), and she grabs a hold of my leg! I’m singing, I’m leaning, and then this cop grabs her leg. Did she end up tackling me? No. I maintained my balance throughout. The show must go on!
PKM: What year did DD&B break up and why?
Billy Hinsche: Most people don’t know this, but we stayed together as a group and went to Columbia Records, CBS for a year. We recorded several tracks with them – some which remain unreleased. We were beginning to write and produce our own material at that point. After that, we went back to Reprise for 1970.
When we went back to Reprise, we had a hit with “Lady Love” which I co-wrote with Brian Wilson. The last hit we had with DD&B was in 1968 with a song I wrote called “Tell Someone You Love Them”.
“Tell Someone You Love Them”-Dino Desi & Billy:
So that’s the chronology. I’d say by 1970/71, there was no activity.
We broke up because the contract with Reprise was over, and we had run our course. We had released four albums…one a year, since 1965. So that was part one. Part two, Desi was going into acting with his sister, and being on their mother’s show Here’s Lucy. Dino wanted to be a tennis pro, and actor, a pilot, a football player…he wanted to do all kinds of things. I was easing into being with the Beach Boys and also going to college at UCLA. We were all going in different directions.
PKM: You mentioned that you were spending more time working with The Beach Boys. I believe you officially joined the group in 1974?
Billy Hinsche: Well, yes and no. I was going on the road with them to Europe and the States in the early ‘70s when they were struggling a little bit. I got a gold record for the 1973 album The Beach Boys in Concert. Then I was there for the upsurge in 1974 when Endless Summer was released, and there was the Beach Boys / Chicago (BeaChago) tour, which I was on in 1975.
1974 was a turning point in that I had graduated from college and was put on a retainer, and so that sort of marked an official beginning for me.
PKM: Would you say that your first tour with the Beach Boys in 1965 cemented that camaraderie with the band?
Billy Hinsche: Yes, and the fact that Carl Wilson was dating my sister and eventually married her. I joined The Beach Boys as a part of their already large group / family. You know, three brothers, a cousin, and then me.
PKM: You contributed to several Beach Boys albums including Beach Boys‘ Party!, Smiley Smile, and Holland, to name a few. What was it like being in the studio with Brian and the boys?
Billy Hinsche: I knew The Wrecking Crew from the Dino, Desi & Billy recording sessions, so they were friends of mine already. I first started hanging around the studio when Carl and Annie would take me. Annie and I would go to the sessions and Brian was producing and there was the Wrecking Crew. Everybody knows one another, and it’s like one big family, really. It was great. Brian was in top form, and he was really calling the shots as a producer. He knew what he wanted. It was always great when Brian would say “Billy, get out there and sing this part!” They were good, fun, and innocent times.
They (Beach Boys) were still wearing striped shirts and white pants. It was the era where you would run to the limo after the show because the fans and the girls would be screaming and trying to get to you. We were loving it.
PKM: What is one of your favorite memories of being on the road with the Beach Boys?
Billy Hinsche: The earliest tour in Hawaii. We were so young in 1965. I was fourteen, and I’m the old man in the group! Just having the freedom to be able to go and rent motorcycles (and we didn’t have a driver’s license). It was so casual, riding around with the Beach Boys on our Hondas.
During that tour, Dennis and his wife, Carole, asked Dino, Desi and I If we’d babysit their son, Scott. There’s a picture of the four of us (I think Scott posted it on Facebook) and somebody said, “If you’re babysitting him, who’s babysitting you?” We were so young!
My favorite tour to this day was the Beach Boys Chicago tour, which I named the BeaChago tour. Terry Kath and Dennis Wilson were still with us. It was fantastic. Successful, fun, thrilling, you name it. Every superlative that one could use.
PKM: Let’s talk gear. What guitars and keyboard do you use when you’re on tour?
Billy Hinsche: They’re usually provided. I prefer a Roland RD-800 or RD-900, I like the action, the way it feels, and the weighted keys. I don’t like to get my sounds too far afield. I like a good piano sound. The other auxiliary keyboard player can handle the horns and the strings and the organ. I’m the piano player, primarily.
My go-to for many years now is my black on black ‘74/’75 Telecaster. It’s got a DiMarzio pickup. I bought it secondhand and it’s been a good workhorse guitar for me. I played it all throughout the Carl Wilson tours and I used it for my own solo shows here and there. On the road I’ll use a Hot Rod DeVille amp, which is a good combination. I don’t like a lot of pedals or effects…maybe a Chorus, but I like to keep it simple.
PKM: Are you finicky about what sort of strings you use?
Billy Hinsche: I prefer Ernie Ball, regular Slinky. I’ve been using them for years.
PKM: What projects have you been working on lately?
Billy Hinsche: A few months back, I co-wrote a song with Robert Lamm. He really gets the lion’s share of the writing duties, but I’m happy to share a co-writing credit with him. It was the first song, first side of Chicago Christmas and the song is called “(Because) It’s Christmastime”.
Dino, Desi & Billy perform “Lady Love”, a song penned by Billy Hinsche and Brian Wilson, 1970.
PKM: Tell me about your live stream series on Facebook.
Billy Hinsche: It started out as a thirty-minute show. I tried to get three different artists or musical personalities into the show, and then I found that I needed more time! So it’s gone to 45 minutes, and now it’s an hour. I’ve built an audience, and a following. Psychologically, it’s keeping me focused on a weekly project. I have a wealth of musical material at my fingertips. All I have to do is learn it and put it together and write a good script.
I also have special guest callers. Elvis Presley’s best friend Jerry Schilling called in last week. James William Guercio called, I did a Zoom meeting with John Stamos, I’ve had Desi Arnaz Jr. call in, and Olivia Hussey who was married to my friend Dino for a while, and Brian Wilson’s first wife, Marilyn, to name a few. I have some really great guests. This has given me a raison d’être as the French say, and I’m happy to keep doing it.
PKM: When this pandemic eventually comes to an end, would you consider taking your act to the stage?
Billy Hinsche: That’s what I wanted to do before the pandemic hit. I had interest from a venue in New York City and one venue in L.A.. I was ready to debut this show, but if I only had 75 minutes to do a show, I don’t know what it would be anymore. I’d really have to pick the best of the very best and whittle it down to this really tight show with multimedia and graphics. It will just be little old me with a guitar and at the piano singing songs and telling stories.