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Members include Ron Elliott, guitar, songwriting; Ron Meagher, bass; Declan Mulligan, guitar (left group, 1965); John Peterson, drums; Sal Valentino, lead vocals.
Despite their relatively short run on the pop scene, the Beau Brummels, a San Francisco-based combo that flew up the charts in the 1960s, have been credited with some notable firsts. They are acknowledged by some as the first true folk-rock group, predating the Byrds. They are credited as the first American band to successfully integrate the British sound. They anticipated the psychedelic themes that would characterize the San Francisco sound. They were the first pop group signed by Warner Bros. And "they were also among the first bands to record country-rock in the late 1960s," according to a RollingStone.com biography.
The Beau Brummels comprised four Bay Area musicians--Ron Elliott, Sal Valentino, Ron Meagher, and John Peterson--and a native of Ireland, Declan Mulligan. Spotted in a San Mateo, California, nightclub in 1964 by disc jockey Tom Donahue, the group signed with Donahue's homegrown label, Autumn Records. Up-and-coming producer/arranger Sly Stewart (later known as Sly Stone of Sly and the Family Stone) took the helm and guided the novice group into its first hit single. "Laugh, Laugh," written by Elliott, is a melancholy, slightly caustic response made from a heartbroken man to the woman who left him. The song is well remembered for its refrain--"Laugh, laugh, I thought I'd die/It seemed so funny to me/Laugh, laugh, you met a guy who taught you how it feels to be/Lonely, oh so lonely." The lyrics turn cautionary at the end as the narrator says, "Don't be so smug or else/You'll find you can't get any boy at all/You'll wind up an old lady sitting on a shelf."
"Laugh, Laugh" peaked at number 15 on the Billboard chart in 1965. The song was a hit with teens who embraced not only its message but also its unmistakably Beatles-like sound, highlighted by such Lennon-McCartney characteristics as ringing guitars, close multipart harmony, and a mournful harmonica counterpoint. In fact, many listeners took the Beau Brummels for a British Invasion group, an image the band did little to counteract. In some publicity photos the band members are shown decked out in suits and ties not unlike those worn by the Fab Four. But, as noted in Rock: An Illustrated History, "behind their shaggy dog haircuts, Lennonesque vocals and self-consciously English name lurked the elegant, ethereal composing style of rhythm guitarist Ron Elliott and a range of expansive musical ideas based on the skillful pop application of twelve-string guitar."
On the heels of "Laugh, Laugh" came a second single, "Just a Little." This song flirted with the top ten list, proving to be a bigger hit than its predecessor as it topped out at number eight in May of 1965. Both numbers were featured on the first Beau Brummels album, Introducing the Beau Brummels (a titular sound-alike for another notable album, Meet the Beatles). Both the debut album and its follow-up, The Beau Brummels: Volume 2, were released by Autumn Records; however, it soon became clear that this small label lacked the resources to publicize the band. In late 1965 Autumn Records went out of business, and the band's contract was sold to Warner Bros. But corporate strategy seemed to get in the way of artistic expression. According to an article at Jambands.com, the band's first Warner release, Beau Brummels '66, featured not a single original song, but rather covers of pop standards like "Louie Louie." The album was not a success. A third single, "Tell Me Why," reached only as high as number 38 on the Billboard chart, precipitating the group's decline.
But prior to 1966 the Beau Brummels remained popular enough to warrant two notable guest appearances. The band, in animated form, played stone-age instruments in an episode of The Flintstones. And in 1965 the Beau Brummels appeared in the movie Village of the Giants, a would-be blending of campy horror and teenage fun from director Bert I. Gordon. The plot has boy genius Ronny Howard inventing "goo," which makes everything grow to giant size. A group of "bad kids," including a young Beau Bridges, steals the goo, using their new 50-foot height to rampage their town. The Beau Brummels perform two songs, "When It Comes to Your Love" and "Woman," in a nightclub scene.
Declan Mulligan, the band's only non-American member, departed the Beau Brummels in 1965. Three subsequent albums for Warner Bros. failed to recapture the band's early appeal. Now down to three members--Elliot, Valentino, and Meagher--they called themselves Triangle and released an album under that name in 1967. In 1968 the band members recorded what Jambands.com called "a landmark album," titled Bradley's Barn, recorded in Nashville. But none of the later efforts proved commercially successful. A 1984 San Francisco Examiner article by Stephanie Salter described what transpired from there: "The Beau Brummels fought, sued each other, declined in popularity, broke up, made an attempt at a comeback in 1975 and eventually went their separate ways."
Subsequent to their parting, the members of the Beau Brummels have kept busy with their individual pursuits. In 1975 the rockers briefly re-formed and released a new Beau Brummels album, which went nowhere. Ron Elliot, the writer behind the band's best-known singles, released a solo album (The Candlestick Maker); later, citing health problems, he retired from the performing scene. Lead singer Sal Valentino joined the band Stoneground, then formed his own group, Valentino. He has performed solo in subsequent years. John Peterson left in 1967 to join Harper's Bazaar, which would later become a one-hit wonder with "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy)." Declan Mulligan spent some time in his native Ireland before moving back to San Francisco and taking up with the group Black Velvets. Some of the band members have regrouped for reunion shows, including an appearance at San Francisco's Bay Pop festival in 2000. The Beau Brummels also released the album Live! that year.
by Susan Salter
Beau Brummels's Career
Group formed in San Francisco, CA, 1964; released debut LP Introducing the Beau Brummels on Autumn Records, 1965; appeared on television shows Shindig and Hullabaloo and in movies Wild Wild Winter and Village of the Giants; disbanded, c. 1968; reunited occasionally, beginning in 1975.
- Selected discography
- Introducing the Beau Brummels Autumn, 1965.
- The Beau Brummels: Volume 2 Autumn, 1965.
- Beau Brummels '66 Warner Bros., 1966.
- Triangle Warner Bros., 1967.
- Best of Beau Brummels Warner Bros., 1967.
- Bradley's Barn Warner Bros., 1968.
- The Beau Brummels Warner Bros., 1975.
- The Best of the Beau Brummels: 1964-1968 , Rhino, 1987.
- Live! Dig, 2000.
- Barnard, Stephen, Rock: An Illustrated History, Orbis, 1986.
- Hardy, Phil, and Dave Laing, editors, Encyclopedia of Rock, Schirmer Books, 1988.
- San Francisco Examiner, November 5, 1984.
- "The Beau Brummels," YesterdayLand, http://www.yesterdayland.com/popopedia/shows/music/mu1126.php (June 3, 2002).
- "Beau Brummels Biography," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/default.asp?oid=1349545 (June 3, 2002).
- "In My Life: Beau Brummels," Jambands.com, http://www.jambands.com/feb01/columnists/gruendad.html (June 3, 2002).
- Introducing the Beau Brummels Website, http://www.beaubrummels.com (June 3, 2002).
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