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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2002/12/23
by Mike Gruenberg

Beau Brummels

In My Life
I have often wondered what will my family, friends and acquaintances remember about me when I am no longer a resident of this earth. I am not being morose and certainly my expectation is that I will be around for many years, but I do think about these things within the context of what legacy will be left behind when the inevitable rears it’s ugly head.
Actors have their films, musicians have their records, athletes have their statistics and we, as private citizens have our pictures and videotapes recounting our past for those who are left in the present. Good, bad or indifferent, our society seemingly mandates that there has to be both a written and pictorial history of all of us.
The word "legacy" as defined in the dictionary is "something handed down from an ancestor or from the past." Columbia Records has created the Legacy Series as the title for their reissued albums from the past. Supposedly, the new mastering technologies will take those old LP’s and make them sound better than ever on compact discs.
To me, legacy is more than just taking some old records and making them over into a CD format. Looking at the title of this column, you would be correct to question why I would take a relatively obscure group with limited commercial success and mention them in the same sentence with the term, legacy. Clearly, there are many more deserving artists whose body of work includes true legacy albums. That is true, but this is column is devoted to the obscure artist which is why I don’t discuss such legacy albums as the Beatles "White Album" or the Eagles "Hotel California" or the Rolling Stones "Exile on Main Street."
The Beau Brummels were formed in 1964 and were signed to a small record company in San Francisco. In 1965, they had two huge hits in "Laugh Laugh" and "Just A Little." At the height of their career, their small record company goes broke and Warner Brothers Records, one of the most powerful record companies in the world, purchases their contract. Unfortunately, this was not a match made in heaven. Warner Brothers completely mismanages the group with ill-advised theme albums, poor selection of songs to be recorded and incorrect selection of producers. By 1968, this five-person group with so much promise was not producing any hits. Consequently, most of the group went on to other projects, leaving the Beau Brummels with only two people. Ron Elliott and Sal Valentino were left to contemplate their fate.
Ron, the lead guitarist for the group learned to play guitar by listening to country music. By learning guitar this way, he was able to play lead and rhythm. It is a unique way to play, but that’s the way he learned it. Both Ron and Sal played British inspired rock’n‘roll and yet they both were products of a country influence. They decided to go back to their roots and create an album that they could make them both proud. Bradley’s Barn in 1968 was considered to be the best recording studio for country music. Sal and Ron drove their car from San Francisco to Nashville so that they could record their original music in this atmosphere. Considering that at the time, amplified music was the norm, this was a bold step. For these two musicians to take the chance of moving rock to a country flavor was quite revolutionary. Furthermore, they recorded the album with a minimum of amplified instruments.
One of the great advantages of recording at Bradley’s Barn was the availability of the best session musicians in Nashville. Guitarists like Jerry Reed, Wayne Moss, Harold Bradley and Billy Sanford were used. Norbert Putnam played bass. David Briggs was on keyboard and Kenny Buttrey was on drums. Most of the songs were recorded live which explains why the album still sounds fresh today. Examine any Nashville album from that time to the present and odds are that you will see one or all of the names listed above as contributing musicians. Warner Brothers assigned Lenny Waronker as producer for this project that was an excellent choice to bring all the pieces together.
An album entitled "Bradley’s Barn" was released in 1968. It was the last album recorded by the Beau Brummels and it didn’t sell very well. So, what was the legacy of the Beau Brummels’ "Bradley’s Barn" record? It didn’t sell and the group broke up which is certainly not a great legacy. Yes, the album didn’t sell, but it helped pave the way for other rock acts to begin to use a country flavor. Bob Dylan’s "Nashville Skyline" and the Byrds "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" come to mind as rockers using country in their repertoire at this time. Yes, the Beau Brummels group broke up but ended their career with a well-crafted, unique and excellent record.
A legacy need not be one that includes fame and wealth. Furthermore, there are some legacies that are negative. However, in this case a true and positive legacy was established. Ron and Sal went back to their roots and created an honest album. Furthermore, they were able to take two musical genres’ and combine them with grace and dignity. The legacy here is that we are the beneficiaries of Ron and Sal’s music. Recently, Collector’s Choice Music reissued the album on CD. You would do yourself a great favor by purchasing this album.

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