Gary James' Interview With Sal Valentino of
The Beau Brummels
In the mid 1960s, The Beau Brummels enjoyed success with a song called "Laugh, Laugh". Their follow-up, "Just A Little" did even better. More records followed, including "You Tell Me Why", "Sad Little Girl" and "Don't Talk To Strangers". It's interesting to note that before the San Francisco Sound and the Bay Area came into vogue, The Beau Brummels, who hailed from San Francisco, were the first Bay Area group to break through nationally.
Original member Sal Valentino talked with us about that time and his group.
Q - Sal, is there a Beau Brummels group today that tours and records?
A - No. Well, not that I know of. That's a tricky question. Sometimes I've found that there are Beau Brummels bands, but I don't know of one out here in the West.
Q - There are not any ex-Beau Brummels members out there with a group?
A - Not at this time, no.
Q - Do you work as a solo act?
A - Yeah, mostly.
Q - Where do you perform these days?
A - These days, mostly California. I try to stay out of bars. Mostly the gigs I'm taking is where I can...playhouses, old theatres, things like that. Here in Sacramento, there's all kinds of those.
Q - What kind of crowd comes out to see your act?
A - I play the Palms in winters, when I released the last record. It holds around 200 and we filled it up. That's about as big as I think I can get these days.
Q - Were the Beau Brummels the first nationally successful act to emerge from San Francisco in the 1960s?
A - Yeah, I guess so, if you don't count Bobby Freeman. Bobby Freeman was a little before us, also produced by Sly (Stone). When I was in my mid-teens, Bobby had this song of his, "Do You Wanna Dance". A lot of people know it now 'cause The Beach Boys have done it. I think The Mamas And Papas did it. But yeah, that's probably true.
Q - But when they talk about the Bay Area sound, they don't talk about your group.
A - No, because we pre-dated all of that San Francisco, "Summer Of Love" business. You know, that's their decision. But that's the way people are.
Q - Did the Beau Brummels gig around San Francisco before you recorded?
A - We started in San Francisco at a place called El Cid. We started on Monday nights, 'cause a couple of the guys were too young to be in there. We moved down to another place in San Mateo, outside of San Francisco...south of San Francisco. We played there for quite a while. The guy who owned that took us to Hollywood and we recorded a demo at Gold Star and then everything changed. Tom Donahue, Bob Mitchell, he took it to Tom Donahue and we ended up making a record for Autumn Records. The first 45 was a hit. The second 45 was a hit.
Q - What happened after "Laugh, Laugh"? How did things change for you?
A - Well, we sort of got swept away with it all. Things were pretty exciting then. The Beatles and the British Invasion. For the next year of two, we did nothing but concerts. We never played a bar again. I can't remember the next time we played a bar.
Q - Do you remember some of the people you performed along side of?
A - Oh, boy. At the Cow Palace we played with a lot of different acts. We played on shows with The Supremes, Roy Orbison, The Byrds, The Lovin' Spoonful, Sonny And Cher, Del Shannon. There were others too. In Alabama we did shows with Billy Joe Royal, Arthur Alexander, Charlie Rich. Sometimes I still go back to do a show. Did a bunch of Murray The K shows at the Brooklyn Fox. Brenda Holloway was on that show, those shows. Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Patti La Belle And The Blue Bells. Even the Lovin' Spoonful came in for a few dates.
Q - Did you ever open for any of the British acts?
A - No, we didn't. Actually the last concert we did in Sacramento, we headlined and I think it was The Yardbirds and Lovin' Spoonful were the under acts.
Q - How was Sly Stone as a producer?
A - He was great to work for. He was only about nineteen or twenty when we worked with him. It was before all of his reputation came to be, that everybody knows him for now. He was great to work with. He was a cheerleader. He could play everything if we needed him to. He was great. He was the guy in San Francisco who knew how to make a record in the studio. There was nobody before him. A lot of people here claimed that they did. I was the first guy in town, besides Bobby Freeman, that had a 45 single and had been on television, lip-synching it here in San Francisco. Sly was great to work with and kind of fascinated with my voice. So, I did a few other projects with him. He was always working on something.
Q - "Don't Talk To Strangers" actually sounds like a Byrds record. I suppose you get that all the time.
A - Well, yeah. Sons Of Champlin actually did it as a demo once too. Not before we did. Tom once suggested to Ron Elliott, the guy who wrote it...it was influenced by another song, "Don't Go To Strangers", an old Blues / Jazz song. I think Jimmy Witherspoon did it. It had that Folky kind of thing in it. It was more Folk than we had been.
Q - The songs that were written in the 60s will last forever, won't they? No one has improved on them.
A - I don't know that anyone has. They may (last forever). The way things went, everybody sort of went to Blues right away and that seems to be the course that everybody's still on. But, I re-did "Laugh, Laugh" on this most recent solo record of mine, because it hadn't been done. I would've thought it would have been done by now. I think it's been done by Nils Lofgren and a female artist. There's also a French band from up in Canada that I heard did it.
Q - You put the Beau Brummels together in what year?
A - Probably about '64. It was just a summer band, sort of.
Q - How long did you think the band would last?
A - We didn't think about anything lasting then. When you're young, you don't think about it that much. I couldn't imagine I'd still be singing "Laugh, Laugh", I'll tell you that.
Q - Had your musical career not materialized, what were you intending to do with your life?
A - Well, Ron Elliott was after a career in music. I wanted to sing. The other guys, I don't think they thought that seriously about it. They all had sort of planned out careers ahead of 'em. But, the success we had changed all of that for a couple of years.
Q - So, what's the game plan for Sal Valentino these days?
A - Well, I thought I was done with all of this. I was mentoring a young guy named Jackie Green. Then the guy that owns the label Jackie is on wanted me to do a record So, as it turns out, in the last five years I've released three solo records. So, I guess I'm sort of thrown back into it, whether I was ready for it or not, which I wasn't. So, I'm trying to make up for that. I'm probably gonna do some more live performing and hopefully make some more records. That's what I wanna do.