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The Beau Brummels — Turn Around - The Complete Recordings 1964-1970
(Now Sounds QCRNOWBX58, 1970/2021, 8CD)

by Peter Thelen, Published 2022-04-23

Turn Around - The Complete Recordings 1964-1970 Cover art

Like any eleven year old kid of the 60s, I lived my life with a handheld transistor radio glued to my ear, listening to all the music radio had to offer. On the menu in 1965 were Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys, Four Tops, Supremes, all of the British invasion music too, but one day I heard a song that was really different, like I hadn’t heard before, the announcer said it was “You Tell Me Why” by the Beau Brummels. I heard the song a second time that week but never again after that. Eventually a couple weeks later I made my way to Gilette’s Records in Riverside, they told me that it had fallen off the charts, but they still had some copies, so it was there and then that I bought my very first 45, that would eventually lead to a lifelong addiction to records, CDs, and music in general.

The San Francisco based four-piece had already had a couple hits earlier in ‘65 which seemed like standard pop music informed by the British sounds of the day, but the single I took home that day signaled something new, ‘folk rock’ as it came to be known, and within weeks The Byrds, Vejtables, Lovin’ Spoonful, We Five, and other bands mining a similar sound all came to my attention, and were added promptly to my new record collection. The eight-disc box at hand collects all five of the Brummels’ albums from 1965-68, each packed to the limit with bonus tracks, plus two discs of demo tracks from two different periods (including some from as late as 1970), and an eighth disc of the band’s singles over that seven year journey, the two big hits and all the singles that followed that never reached so high on the charts but are equally worthy. Many of the cuts in the set are previously unreleased, some others were released briefly on compilations, but this set collects everything.

The band began as a quintet of singer Sal Valentino, guitarist and main composer Ron Elliot, drummer John Peterson, bassist Ron Meagher, and rhythm guitarist/harmonica man Declan Mulligan for their debut album Introducing the Beau Brummels, produced by the up and coming Sylvester Stewart (Sly Stone). By the second album, Volume 2, Mulligan had departed, leaving the band as a quartet. These first two albums are uniformly excellent and show a bounty of promise for their future, but then, as sometimes happens, their label (Autumn Records) went bankrupt, and the band’s contract transferred to Warner Brothers, which would normally be a positive development — going from a small label to a larger, better known record company — but in this case it was disastrous. The suits at WB decided that the Brummels should record a full album of cover songs, when they had one of the best songwriters of the day (Elliot) in the band. But the band dutifully recorded twelve cover tunes of the day which were released as Beau Brummels 66. By this time the band added second guitarist Don Irving, and they offered their interpretations of a couple Beatles tunes, one Stones, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound,” Dylan’s ”Mr. Tambourine Man,” the Mamas & Papas “Monday Monday,” and half a dozen others, all done respectfully with their own new arrangements.

Warner’s foolish guidance almost ended the band, so they ended up giving the Brummels more freedom on their next album, but by that time Don Irving had been drafted, and drummer Peterson left to join the soft pop group Harpers Bizarre, who ended up having a huge hit with Paul Simon’s “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy),” thus leaving the Brummels to go on as the trio of Velentino, Elliot, and Meagher. By this time the band was adding elements of country and Americana to their previously established folk-rock sound, all fronted by Valentino’s unique voice. Going into their next album, 1967’s Triangle, that new sound was on full display, with nine Elliot originals — some collaborations with Valentino, others collaborating with San Francisco songwriter Robert Durand — plus Merle Travis’ “Nine Pound Hammer” and Randy Newman’s “Old Kentucky Home.” Sadly, before the recording was even finished, Meagher was wearing Uncle Sam’s uniform as well, leaving the group down to the core duo of Elliot and Valentino; but undeterred, they continued to write new material, the best of which would appear on their next album. Producer Lenny Waronker, given the direction the band was going, decided to send the Brummels to Nashville to record their final album of the 60s, Bradley’s Barn, titled after the studio where they recorded, also availing them to all the top shelf session players in town, when needed. The album is both stunning, powerful, and mystical, and probably the Brummels’ best effort to date, but ultimately it barely scraped the bottom of the charts. The Beau Brummels were finished (at least until their 1974 reunion, which resulted in a live album and a new studio album, not part of this set), and by this point Elliot and Valentino were already planning their future endeavors.

The first disc of demos, The Autumn Demo Session 16 April 1965, features 32 songs, mostly from that single marathon session at Coast Recorders in San Francisco, though there are a few demos recorded at Gold Star studios in Los Angeles in 1964. Many of the songs on this disc were previously released on four different rarities compilations, but I don’t believe any of those are still in print as of this writing. Eight are previously unissued. All reflect the band’s early sound as might have been heard on the first two albums. Sal and Ron is the title of the second full disc of demos, these are culled from throughout the band’s career from late 1965 and 1967, and feature some great songwriting by both Elliot and Valentino, 32 tracks in all, ten of those previously unissued. The final disc in this set is The Singles: As and Bs, mostly mono versions of their LP counterparts issued on twelve singles beginning with “Laugh Laugh” at the end of 1964 and ending with “Cherokee Girl” in ‘69. The last four songs on the disc are Sal Valentino singles from late ‘69 and ‘70, post Brummels, pre-Stoneground (his next band). Thanks must go to Alec Palao for compiling this set and carefully researching every song on it in the massive 88 page booklet, featuring citations from all of the band members, producers, and more; a job well done.

Filed under: Archives, 2021 releases, 1970 recordings

Related artist(s): The Beau Brummels

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