The Beau Brummels a British Band? Not Bloody Likely

The Beau Brummels appeared to be part of the British Invasion; their namesake was real, a 19th century English dandy known for his fashionable style of dress.

In truth, the band—Sal Valentino (lead vocals), Ron Elliott (lead guitar and writer), Ron Meagher (bass), Declan Mulligan (rhythm guitar), and John Petersen (drums)—formed in San Francisco. With their 1965 single, “Laugh, Laugh,” they became the first post-Beatle group from the Bay Area to score a national hit.

The Beau Brummels were discovered by San Francisco DJs Tom “Big Daddy” Donahue and Bob “The Mighty Mitch” Mitchell, who were looking for talent for their new label, Autumn Records. SF Weekly explains that the Brummels fit the bill—and the suits.

“Donahue and Mitchell found exactly what they were looking for: a polished, professional-sounding group with great songwriting that, if marketed properly, would allow these DJs to cash in on Beatlemania. And that’s exactly what they proceeded to do, with a speed and efficiency typical of shrewd business types who know that cash cows need to be milked as quickly and thoroughly as possible . . .

“By January 1965, Donahue and Mitchell had dressed the Brummels in matching, faux-Beatles suits and were spreading rumors that the group was indeed from the United Kingdom. Shortly thereafter, the Elliott-penned “Laugh, Laugh,” the first American single to really nail the folk-rock aesthetic, climbed to №15 on Billboard.”

Despite the marketing hype, “Laugh, Laugh” had a truly unique sound thanks to Sal Valentino’s melancholy vocals and Ron Elliott’s innovative score.

Another element in the record’s success was Autumn’s producer, 22-year-old Sylvester Stewart, who would later be known as Sly Stone. Valentino told Classic Bands, “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.”

The talent that Stewart would bring to Sly and the Family Stone was apparent to Valentino, who told Goldmine, “He had a lot to do with making our music relatable and anticipating how our records would sound on the radio, particularly on the bottom, rhythm end. Sly was very motivated to make a lot of money, and he was awfully talented.”

Stewart also produced the Beau Brummels’ second release, “Just A Little,” a Top 10 hit. But by April 1966, Autumn Records folded due to financial problems, and the group’s contract was acquired by Warner Records. It spelled the end of chart success for the Beau Brummels.

The Beau Brummels broke up and reformed a number of times over the years. The band is credited as the first of the wave of successful Bay Area bands, including Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, and Big Brother & the Holding Company.

Author, Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever (late 2021) & Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York’s Past FB @fillmoreeastnyc @ghostsignsnyc

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