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The Beau Brummels

Often credited as early architects of the San Francisco sound, the Beau Brummels found success right out of the gate with their 1964 debut single, "Laugh, Laugh." With its autumnal folk-pop jangle and moody melodic hooks, the song bore enough resemblance to the burgeoning British Invasion that many fans mistook these young Americans for Brits. Defined by the partnership of singer Sal Valentino and guitarist/singer Ron Elliott, the influential group went on to notch a small clutch of mid-'60s hits including "Just a Little" and "You Tell Me Why," while anticipating both the folk-rock and country-rock genres ahead of better-known bands like the Byrds. By the late '60s, the Brummels' mainstream popularity had all but died, and yet they went on to release their two best albums in 1967's enchanting Triangle and its 1968 follow-up, the eclectic, countrified Bradley's Barn. A pair of reunion albums were made in 1975 and 2013, but they failed to match the exceptional quality of the group's original 1960s run. Friends since childhood, Valentino and Elliott formed the band in early 1964, bringing on board rhythm guitarist Declan Mulligan, bassist Ron Meagher, and drummer John Petersen to help them play a series of club residencies around the Bay Area. Spotted by local DJ Tom Donahue at San Mateo's Morocco Room, the Brummels were quickly signed to Donahue's small San Francisco-based label, Autumn Records. Produced by Sylvester Stewart (later known as Sly Stone), the band's debut, "Laugh, Laugh," immediately put the Brummels on the map, rising all the way to number 15 on the pop chart. Their follow-up single, "Just a Little," performed even better and became their highest-charting hit at number eight. Both were featured on their 1965 debut LP, Introducing the Beau Brummels. Dominated by Elliott's strong original material, the group's ringing guitars and multi-part harmonies made the Top 40 just one more time on "You Tell Me Why" from their second album, The Beau Brummels, Vol. 2. By this time, Mulligan had been let go, and with Elliott's diabetes preventing him from touring, Don Irving was brought in as his live replacement. Compounding the band's woes, Autumn just couldn't muster enough promotional muscle, and in 1966 the label was, along with its roster, sold to Warner Bros. In spite of having a number of excellent new originals already recorded, Warners made the questionable move of forcing the band to record an entire album of Top 40 covers called Beau Brummels '66. Perhaps predictably, it was a critical and commercial disappointment, and soon Petersen left to join Harpers Bizarre and Irving entered the armed forces. Regrouping as a trio, the Brummels rebounded with the critically acclaimed 1967 album Triangle. Produced by Lenny Waronker and featuring a guest spot from Van Dyke Parks, it was their most unique and experimental record to date. While not a significant commercial success, it nonetheless cracked the Billboard 200. With Meagher also drafted into military service, the Brummels had slimmed down to the core duo of Valentino and Elliott, who headed to Nashville to record their final Warner Bros. release. Venturing into country-rock a year or so before it became trendy, the Brummels issued the eclectic Bradley's Barn in October 1968, then promptly disbanded. Valentino formed a new band called Stoneground and Elliott worked with Van Dyke Parks, Randy Newman, and the Everly Brothers, among others. The Beau Brummels re-formed in 1975 for a somewhat lackluster reunion album before going their separate ways again. A tour date from this era was eventually released in 2000 under the title Live! Over the years, a handful of touring iterations hit the road, and in 2013 Elliott teamed up with producer Lou Dorren to record a new Brummels album. Released by the small Bay Sound label, Continuum featured contributions from Sal Valentino, Ron Meagher, and Declan Mulligan. Though John Petersen died in 2008, Elliott and Dorren had discovered an unused drum track he'd recorded, and it was used as the basis for one of the album's songs. The Brummels have been the subject of numerous compilations, and in 2021, British label Cherry Red issued a massive eight-disc box set that included the band's entire 1960s output. Declan Mulligan died on November 2, 2021, at the age of 83.
© Timothy Monger & Richie Unterberger /TiVo


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