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Clip: Sal Valentino of the Beau Brummels releases solo album

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  • Carl Z.
    Decades in obscurity, Beau Brummels front man surfaces to remind us what the fuss was
    Message 1 of 5 , Feb 23, 2006
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      <http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/02/22/DDG53HC7SP1.DTL>

      Decades in obscurity, Beau Brummels front man surfaces to remind us
      what the fuss was all about

      Joel Selvin, Chronicle Senior Pop Music Critic

      Wednesday, February 22, 2006

      Sal Valentino was washed up. "No one called in a long time," he says.
      "No one knew where I was."

      There were even reports of his death. "My mother laughs every time she
      hears that," the 63-year-old rock singer says. "I didn't call her,
      either."

      As lead vocalist of the Beau Brummels, San Francisco's answer to the
      British Invasion, he sang the 1965 hit "Laugh Laugh." That record and
      the subsequent "Just a Little" were his high water marks on the
      charts, but the Brummels went on to record cult-classic albums such as
      "Triangle" and "Bradley's Barn," and Valentino's haunting vocals made
      him a famous talent in record industry circles. He sang the scratch
      vocals on the original recording of Randy Newman's self-titled
      premiere album in 1968, although Newman overdubbed his own vocals
      later.

      More than just San Francisco's first rock star, Valentino could
      transform a song with the sound of his voice. That skill is evident on
      his new CD, the first solo album of his 45-year career. Valentino and
      his longtime collaborator John Blakeley struggled for nine years to
      release "Dreamin' Man," a masterpiece shot through with the sort of
      artistic confidence and depth of character that takes a lifetime to
      accumulate.

      "He's like a Van Morrison," says Blakeley, a producer and arranger who
      played with Morrison in the '70s. Valentino's "got a personal musical
      style I've never heard anybody even come close to."

      Blakeley lives in the San Francisco basement record studio where the
      album was recorded. When health problems led to a 1997 heart
      transplant, he rented out the upstairs and moved downstairs when he
      couldn't work. The studio control room window now looks into his
      living room, which is decorated in acoustic tile. The former vocal
      isolation booth now serves as his bedroom.

      "We talked about it before the transplant," says Blakeley, who first
      worked with Valentino in 1969. Blakeley had been contributing to an
      album by singer-songwriter Ron Nagle on which Valentino sang some
      backup vocals. Blakeley and Valentino then found themselves playing
      side by side in a hippie troupe being filmed for a Warner Bros. movie
      called "The Medicine Ball Caravan." Out of that dubious enterprise
      emerged a rock group called Stoneground with which Valentino and
      Blakeley made three albums before splitting to work local clubs in a
      band called Valentino. Blakeley quit that group to play guitar with
      Morrison.

      Valentino moved back and forth between Los Angeles and San Francisco,
      finally resettling in town in the mid-'80s when his father grew ill
      with cancer. Valentino took over his father's job selling Racing Forms
      at Bay Meadows before moving south and taking a job as a parimutuel
      clerk for more than seven years. "I hated that job," he says. "You
      couldn't trust anybody on either side of the window or working
      alongside of you."

      Born Salvatore Spampinato, Valentino grew up a prince of North Beach.
      His father, also raised in the neighborhood, played sandlot ball with
      the DiMaggio boys. Yellowed photos still hang in Gino and Carlo's on
      Green Street of the fighters Sal's father handled in the '50s. He gave
      Sal the Valentino name, in fact, from one of his favorite fighters.

      As a young man he had matinee idol looks, and Valentino has managed to
      age gracefully. He carries himself with the stately elegance of an
      Italian count and still speaks with a soft, musical voice. He never
      had the warrior's zeal necessary to thrive in the music business and
      admits he lacked ambition. His big score after the Brummels was a
      $5,000 finder's fee for bringing Ricki Lee Jones to Warner Bros.
      Records.

      When he met Catherine Kopinski almost 12 years ago, he was splitting
      his time between his mother's place in the Central Valley, staying in
      Reno with some musicians who formed a Beau Brummels tribute band and
      living in a tiny apartment in Sacramento above a restaurant. That's
      where he met the eighth-grade teacher from Detroit with two grown
      sons. They were married within months. Her medical insurance finally
      allowed him to replace his missing front teeth.

      "I love her," he mutters happily to no one in particular, as he
      answers a cell phone call from his wife.

      The material for "Dreamin' Man" goes back years. Valentino tried out
      some of the songs in Blakeley's studio almost 20 years ago. Valentino
      once offered the ebullient "Love Song" to Phil Everly of the Everly
      Brothers. "Phil loved it," Valentino says. "But I never could write a
      lyric for the chorus." On "Dreamin' Man," he simply hums where the
      chorus might go.

      The record was pieced together in between hospital stays as Blakeley
      went through a nightmare recuperation from his transplant operation.
      He developed lymphoma so advanced his neck was swollen like a
      bullfrog. The drugs that cleaned out that cancer also wiped out his
      immune system. Three days after returning home, he turned around and
      went back to the hospital, staying for 58 days. The slightest
      infection could ravage him. He spent months suffering from a biblical
      infestation of warts that left him unable to play guitar. His dressing
      table is still filled with pill bottles.

      Blakeley and Valentino, both climbing back from their respective
      abysses, would meet at Blakeley's Duncan Street Studios, work on the
      songs for a few days and then go back to their struggles, Blakeley
      battling for his health and Valentino, who hadn't been married since
      he was in his 20s, adjusting to married life in Sacramento. "I wasn't
      doing much," he says, "trying to get the lay of the land up there, not
      doing much good, getting used to being married again."

      Valentino first put his toe back in the music scene on a 2003 record
      with 25-year-old Sacramento-based songwriter Jackie Greene,
      "Positively 12th and K," a live Bob Dylan tribute recorded at a
      Sacramento club. "I was part of the gigs before I even knew what a
      mentor was," Valentino says. "I had to ask my wife."

      Greene, a hot young talent set to release his major label debut next
      week, first met Valentino when they were playing open-mike nights at
      Sacramento's Fox and the Goose, Sal's first tentative step back into
      performing in many years. Greene even worked producing a record with
      Valentino that fell to the wayside when his own career caught fire.
      Valentino and Blakeley recorded Greene's "Valley of Woe," and
      Valentino also performs the young songwriter's "Every Now and Then."

      After not having recorded in more than a quarter-century, Valentino
      finds himself releasing two new CDs almost at the same time. On the
      heels of the brilliant "Dreamin' Man" comes an album recorded in
      Texas, "Come Out Tonight" on Fat Pete Records, on which Valentino not
      only cut more songs by Greene but also re-recorded two of the songs
      from "Dreamin' Man," "Catherine I Do" and "Looking for You," a track
      that has a practically mythic guitar sound on "Dreamin' Man."

      "I walked in one day, plugged it in and there it was," says Blakeley,
      who played all the guitar parts on the album. "It was one of those
      days -- now we do all the solos."

      The Brummels thing, of course, never goes away for Valentino. Of all
      the American garage bands to follow in the British footsteps, the
      Brummels maintain a loyal, dedicated following that counts among its
      numbers rock stars such as Tom Petty, Nils Lofgren and Bruce
      Springsteen. A limited edition four-CD box of rare and previously
      unissued Brummels recordings from the group's Warner Bros. years,
      "Magic Hollow," sold out on release last year.

      The group's chart career only lasted 18 months. But Dylan visited the
      band backstage at Hollywood's Whisky A Go-Go and Otis Redding wanted
      to record a song with the group. The Brummels appeared in Hollywood
      teen drive-in fare ("Village of the Giants") and were portrayed in
      cartoon version on "The Flintstones." Chris Hillman of the group's Los
      Angeles counterparts, the Byrds, has says he studied the Brummels.

      After recording a series of singles and two albums for the San
      Francisco label Autumn Records, where the group's records were
      produced by a young Sly Stewart -- later to become Sly Stone -- the
      Brummels moved to Warner Bros. Records, where the band continued to
      make records, although none of them sold. The group was a favorite of
      Warner Bros. president Lenny Waronker, who also commissioned solo
      projects for Brummels songwriter Ron Elliott and vocalist Valentino,
      although Valentino's Warner Bros. solo recordings never progressed far
      beyond a single 45 release, co-produced by Van Dyke Parks with a
      young, unknown Ry Cooder on guitar.

      The group reunited in 1974 for a lackluster album, although the early
      rehearsals and out-of-town tryout at Sacramento's Shire Road Pub were
      promising. A live tape of the Shire Road Pub dates was released in
      2000. Songwriter Elliott's "Singing Cowboy" from the reunion remains
      one of the great unheard songs of the era.

      Blakeley has posted information about "Dreamin' Man" on the Beau
      Brummels' Web site and fills orders on his own (duncanst.com ). The
      pair recently tested the waters with a live performance at a
      coffeehouse in Folsom and Valentino will be making an appearance on
      behalf of the Fat Pete release next month at Austin's South by
      Southwest music festival.

      All this hardly amounts to a major comeback. But from where Valentino
      sits, he is all the way back. He has been missing in action for 25
      years, but "Dreamin' Man" makes everything clear. He is a master of
      his craft, a gifted songwriter and one of the great, unique vocal
      stylists of rock. If Morrison made an album as good, he would be
      blooming on magazine covers and radio station playlists.

      To Valentino, the music he and Blakeley made says everything and
      delivers him from the fate awaiting him before he met his wife.

      "I thought I was going to be living on tips," he says.
    • Wilson, Carl
      ... Anyone know if the Valentino demo versions are extant?! carl w
      Message 2 of 5 , Mar 1, 2006
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        This is much belated, but just noticed:

        > He sang the scratch
        > vocals on the original recording of Randy Newman's self-titled
        > premiere album in 1968, although Newman overdubbed his own vocals
        > later.

        Anyone know if the Valentino demo versions are extant?!

        carl w
      • Susan McTigue
        ... I know who to ask, and I will. Susan
        Message 3 of 5 , Mar 1, 2006
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          Carl wrote:

          > > He sang the scratch
          > > vocals on the original recording of Randy Newman's self-titled
          > > premiere album in 1968, although Newman overdubbed his own vocals
          > > later.
          >
          > Anyone know if the Valentino demo versions are extant?!

          I know who to ask, and I will.

          Susan
        • Susan McTigue
          ... I asked Randy s archivist, and this was his response: The first LP is the sparest of all... there are no demos that I know of that are in the WB vaults -
          Message 4 of 5 , Mar 1, 2006
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            Carl (W) asked:

            > Anyone know if the Valentino demo versions are extant?!

            I asked Randy's archivist, and this was his response:

            The first LP is the sparest of all... there are no demos that I know
            of that are in the WB vaults - the only demos are ones Randy cut at
            home on piano. It's the only album without any outtakes.

            If vocals were wiped, they were wiped (Randy recorded synth for Paul
            Simon's "Hearts and Bones" album that he wiped - Lenny produced it)
            so back then, you would actually "wipe," you know? Not digital
            where you'd just have the files for the hell of it.

            There may be something in the WB vaults, but Randy never got safety
            copies of any outtakes and he CERTAINLY wouldn't remember - if ya
            need Jackie DeShannon demoing Randy, there's plenty of that. But
            nothing FOR the album in '68, no.

            Van Dyke Parks is a good one to ask, too - he may remember, and
            would love to hear a question that isn't about SMiLE already!
            ---
            He's also going to ask Randy's previous archivist to see if he knows
            anything more.

            Randy broke his wrist and had to cancel or postpone a bunch of
            upcoming concerts, btw, but we heard yesterday that a San Luis
            Obispo concert has been rescheduled for April 6, and that the April
            8 Disney Hall concert is still on, so he must be feeling pretty
            confident he won't need surgery when the cast comes off.

            Susan
          • Carl Z.
            Thanks for investigating, Susan! I hope his wrist heals quickly (and completely). Carl Z. ... [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
            Message 5 of 5 , Mar 2, 2006
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              Thanks for investigating, Susan! I hope his wrist heals quickly (and
              completely).

              Carl Z.

              On 3/1/06, Susan McTigue <semctigue@...> wrote:
              >
              > Carl (W) asked:
              >
              >
              > > Anyone know if the Valentino demo versions are extant?!
              >
              > I asked Randy's archivist, and this was his response:
              >
              > The first LP is the sparest of all... there are no demos that I know
              > of that are in the WB vaults - the only demos are ones Randy cut at
              > home on piano. It's the only album without any outtakes.
              >
              > If vocals were wiped, they were wiped (Randy recorded synth for Paul
              > Simon's "Hearts and Bones" album that he wiped - Lenny produced it)
              > so back then, you would actually "wipe," you know? Not digital
              > where you'd just have the files for the hell of it.
              >
              > There may be something in the WB vaults, but Randy never got safety
              > copies of any outtakes and he CERTAINLY wouldn't remember - if ya
              > need Jackie DeShannon demoing Randy, there's plenty of that. But
              > nothing FOR the album in '68, no.
              >
              > Van Dyke Parks is a good one to ask, too - he may remember, and
              > would love to hear a question that isn't about SMiLE already!
              > ---
              > He's also going to ask Randy's previous archivist to see if he knows
              > anything more.
              >
              > Randy broke his wrist and had to cancel or postpone a bunch of
              > upcoming concerts, btw, but we heard yesterday that a San Luis
              > Obispo concert has been rescheduled for April 6, and that the April
              > 8 Disney Hall concert is still on, so he must be feeling pretty
              > confident he won't need surgery when the cast comes off.
              >
              > Susan
              >


              [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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