Gary: “This is a group that was eventually credited for the start of the “San Francisco Sound” but most people thought (myself included) that they were British. The British Invasion was in full swing they sounded and looked British, but hailed from San Francisco. I was never a huge fan, but I did enjoy Laugh, Laugh.
Formed in San Francisco, California, USA in 1964, the Beau Brummels provided a vital impetus to the city’s emergent rock circuit. Vocalist Sal Valentino (Sal Spampinato, 8 September 1942, San Francisco, California, USA) had previously led his own group, Sal Valentino And The Valentines, which issued ‘I Wanna Twist’/‘Lisa Marie’ in 1962. Ron Elliott (b. 21 October 1943, Healdsburg, California, USA; guitar/vocals), Ron Meagher (b. 2 October 1941, Oakland, California, USA; bass/vocals) and John Petersen (b. 8 January 1942, Rudyard, Michigan, USA, d. 11 November 2007, USA; drums), formerly of the Sparklers, joined him in a new act, taking the name Beau Brummels in deference to their love of British beat music. Playing a staple diet of current hits and material by the Beatles and Searchers, the quartet enjoyed a committed following within the city’s Irish community prior to adding Declan Mulligan (b. 4 April 1938, County Tipperary, Eire; guitar/vocals) to the line-up. Local entrepreneurs Tom Donahue and Bob Mitchell saw their obvious topicality and signed the band to their fledgling Autumn Records label. ‘Laugh Laugh’, the Beau Brummels’ debut single, broached the US Top 20 in 1964, while its follow-up, ‘Just A Little’, reached number 8 early the following year. Both songs, which were original compositions, bore an obvious debt to UK mentors, but later, more adventurous releases, including ‘You Tell Me Why’ and ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’, emphasized an American heritage, presaging the ‘West Coast’ sound.
The band’s first two albums offered elements of folk, country and R&B. Producer Sylvester Stewart, later known as Sly Stone, sculpted a clear, resonant sound that outstripped that of many contemporaries. Elliott emerged as a distinctive songwriter, while Valentino’s deep, tremulous delivery provided an unmistakable lead. Mulligan’s premature departure in March 1965 did little to undermine this progress. Autumn Records was wound up in 1966 and the band’s contract was sold to Warner Brothers Records. A new member, Don Irving, was featured on their next collection, ’66, but this sorry affair was a marked disappointment, comprising throwaway readings of current hits. The release undermined the quartet’s credibility.
Irving then left, and, as the band now eschewed live appearances, Petersen opted for another local attraction, the Tikis, who later became Harpers Bizarre. The remaining trio completed the exquisite Triangle, one of the era’s most cultured and delicate albums, but the loss of Meagher in September 1967 reduced the band to the central duo of Elliott and Valentino. The former undertook several ‘outside’ projects, producing and/or writing singles for Butch Engle And The Styx, before donating songs and/or arranging skills on albums by Randy Newman, the Everly Brothers and the aforementioned Harpers Bizarre. In 1968 the Beau Brummels duo completed Bradley’s Barn, an early and brave excursion into country rock, before embarking on separate careers. Valentino issued three solo singles before founding Stoneground. Elliott completed the gorgeous The Candlestickmaker, formed the disappointing Pan and then undertook occasional session work, including a cameo on Little Feat’s Sailin’ Shoes.
The original Beau Brummels regrouped in 1974 but Meagher was an early casualty. He was replaced by Dan Levitt, formerly of Pan and Levitt And McClure. The Beau Brummels was an engaging collection, but progress halted in 1975 when Petersen opted to assist in a Harpers Bizarre reunion. Peter Tepp provided a temporary replacement, but the project was latterly abandoned. Since then the Beau Brummels have enjoyed several short-lived resurrections, but conflicting interests, coupled with Elliott’s ill health, have denied them a long-term future. Numerous archive recordings, many previously unreleased, have nonetheless kept the band’s name and music alive. John Petersen died of a heart attack on November 11, 2007.