Melcher was born Terrence P. Jorden
in New York City to trombonist Al Jorden and his wife, singer-actress Doris Day. Known as "Terry", the boy was named by his mother after the hero of her favorite childhood comic strip, Terry and the Pirates
.Before the birth, Day was planning to leave the abusive, violent Jorden. Outraged when he found out about her pregnancy, Jorden had demanded Day get an abortion. Shortly after giving birth, Day filed for divorce and left the boy with her mother in Ohio. Doris went back to touring with big band leader Les Brown and after the divorce, Jorden visited his son infrequently and had little presence in his life.After divorcing her second husband, saxophonist George Weidler, Day married Martin Melcher, who would become her manager and produce many of her films. Melcher adopted Terry, giving the child his surname. (After Martin Melcher's death in 1968, Day discovered that he had mismanaged or embezzled $20 million of her money.)
In the early 1960s, Terry Melcher and Bruce Johnston formed the vocal duet Bruce & Terry. The duo had hits like "Custom Machine" and "Summer Means Fun". Melcher and Johnston also created another group, The Rip Chords, which had a Top 10 hit with "Hey, Little Cobra". Later, Johnston would join The Beach Boys. By the mid-1960s, Melcher had joined the staff of Columbia Records and went on to work with The Byrds. He produced their hit cover versions of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" and Pete Seeger's "Turn! Turn! Turn!", as well as their respective albums. Due to conflicts with the band and their manager, Melcher was replaced by Allen Stanton, although he would later work with The Byrds again on their Ballad of Easy Rider
, and Byrdmaniax
albums. Melcher also worked with Paul Revere & the Raiders, Wayne Newton, Frankie Laine, Jimmy Boyd, Pat Boone, Glen Campbell, Mark Lindsay and The Mamas & the Papas. He was instrumental in signing another L.A. band, the Rising Sons, led by Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder. Melcher also performed on the Beach Boys' platinum album Pet Sounds
as a background vocalist, and introduced Brian Wilson to lyricist Van Dyke Parks in February 1966, beginning their partnership on the The Smile Sessions
project. Melcher was also a board member of the Monterey Pop Foundation and a producer of the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.
Encounter with Manson Family
In 1968, Beach Boy Dennis Wilson introduced Melcher to ex-con and aspiring musician Charles Manson. Manson and his "family" had been living in Wilson's house at 14400 Sunset Blvd. after Wilson had picked up hitchhiking Manson family members Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey. Wilson expressed interest in Manson's music and even recorded two of Manson's songs with The Beach Boys. For a time, Melcher was interested in recording Manson's music as well as making a movie about the family and their hippie commune existence. Manson met Melcher at 10050 Cielo Drive, the home Melcher shared with his girlfriend, actress Candice Bergen, and with musician Mark Lindsay. Manson eventually auditioned for Melcher, but Melcher declined to sign him. There was still talk of a documentary being made about Manson's music, but Melcher abandoned the project after witnessing his subject become embroiled in a fight with a drunken stuntman at Spahn Ranch. Both Wilson and Melcher severed their ties with Manson, a move that angered Manson. A feature film titled "Bigger Than The Beatles" to be released in June 2014 depicts the story of Melcher's interaction with the Manson family and The Beach Boys. Not long after splitting from Manson, Melcher and Bergen moved out of the Cielo Drive home. The house's owner, Rudi Altobelli, then leased it to film director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate. Manson visited the house asking for Melcher, but was turned away because Melcher had moved. On August 9, 1969, the house was the site of the murders of Sharon Tate (who was eight months pregnant at the time), coffee heiress Abigail Folger (known as Gibby to her friends), hairdresser Jay Sebring, writer Wojciech Frykowski and Steven Parent by members of Manson's "family". Some authors and law enforcement personnel have theorized that the Cielo Drive house was targeted by Manson as revenge for Melcher's rejection and that Manson was unaware that he and Bergen had moved out. However, family member Charles "Tex" Watson stated that Manson and company did, in fact, know that Melcher was no longer living there, and Terry's former roommate, Mark Lindsay, stated: "Everybody speculated that Manson sent his minions up there to get rid of Terry because he was angry about not getting a record deal. But Terry and I talked about it later and Terry said Manson knew (Melcher had moved) because Manson or someone from his organization left a note on Terry's porch in Malibu." At that time, Melcher was producing singer Jimmy Boyd's music for A&M Records. After initial tracks were recorded, the Manson murders took place, prompting Melcher to go into seclusion, and the session was never completed. When Manson was arrested, it was widely reported that he had sent his followers to the house to kill Melcher and Bergen. Manson family member Susan Atkins, who admitted her part in the murders, stated to police and before a grand jury that the house was chosen as the scene for the murders "to instill fear into Terry Melcher because Terry had given us his word on a few things and never came through with them". In this aim, the Manson Family was successful. Melcher took to employing a bodyguard and told Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi that his fear was so great, he had been undergoing psychiatric treatment. Melcher was the most frightened of the witnesses at the trial, even though Bugliosi assured him that "Manson knew you were no longer living (on Cielo Drive)".
Melcher again acted as producer for The Byrds on Ballad of Easy Rider
, their eighth album, released in November 1969 (see
1969 in music). The album peaked at No. 36 on the Billboard charts. At the time it was met with mixed reviews but is today regarded as one of the band's stronger albums from the latter half of their career.In the early 1970s, Melcher was the producer of The Byrds' 10th album Byrdmaniax
, but the results were not well received; one critic referred to the album as "Melcher's Folly". During this time, he also dabbled in real estate and served as the executive producer on his mother's CBS series, The Doris Day Show
. He later recorded two solo albums, Terry Melcher
and Royal Flush
. In 1985, Terry co-produced the cable show, Doris Day's Best Friends
, and worked as the director and vice president of the Doris Day Animal Foundation. He and his mother, to whom he remained close throughout his life, also co-owned the Cypress Inn, a small hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.In 1988, Melcher earned a Golden Globe nomination for co-writing the song "Kokomo" with John Phillips, Scott McKenzie and Mike Love. Recorded by The Beach Boys, the song was featured in the 1988 Tom Cruise film Cocktail
, and hit No. 1 (the band's career fourth overall) on the Billboard Hot 100. The single was certified gold for U.S. sales of more than a million copies. Melcher also produced the band's 1992 studio record, Summer in Paradise
, which was the first record produced digitally on Pro Tools.
On November 19, 2004, Terry Melcher died at his home of melanoma, after a long illness. He was 62 and was survived by his wife, Terese, his son, Ryan Melcher, and his mother, Doris Day.