The Brymers Anthology

 This is a brief story of a how a teen rock-n-roll band was formed in Lemoore, California then proceeded to record several records and travel around the country.  To my surprise, one of the group’s recordings, “Sacrifice” has been a collector’s item for the past 35-40 years.  I and the other Brymers band members had no idea that “Sacrifice” had been popular through out the United States, Europe, New Zealand and Australia.  This newfound information was accidentally discovered on a late September 2006 night while I was surfing the web.  I wondered if The Brymers would show up on any web search.  I typed in The Brymers and began seeing various web pages associating The Brymers with a B-side of one of our recordings called, “Sacrifice.”  I accessed one website in the Netherlands and found that “Sacrifice” was on an Internet radio playlist.  Additional web surfing revealed that “Sacrifice” was on numerous other Internet radio station playlists, in Italy, Japan, Australia, and the U.S. I emailed the owner of one station in the Netherlands and asked about The Brymers.  I received a reply back stating, “I have always been a fan of The Brymers and the song ‘Sacrifice.’”  The owner then referred me to an individual in Chicago whose website specialized in 1960’s bands.  The owner, Mike Dugo, wrote back and stated the same thing and asked if he could do an in-depth interview about The Brymers and all their recordings.     

I was astonished that anyone even knew of The Brymers.  I was then referred to a website that specialized in ‘60’s garage punk music.  For the next two weeks I began receiving e-mails from all over the United Stated, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia inquiring about the band, its recording of “Sacrifice”, and pictures of the group.  One individual from Portland, Oregon wrote, “Are you just finding out about the band’s continued popularity? ‘Sacrifice’ has long been a favorite.”  Another individual from New York wrote, “The Brymers is a well-known 45 to all garage fiends (evidently, everyone refers to the ‘60’s music as garage punk music). I was lucky enough to find a copy years ago as did several other individuals on this forum.”  Hans from Italy wrote: “Hello Dick!  ‘Sacrifice’ has long been a favorite with its wailing harp and syncopated beat. I purchased a copy of it on a compilation CD a few years ago.”  Michael from Australia wrote, “Hello Dick.  Count me and my friends in Sidney as long time Brymers fans.”​ September, 2009.     

late 1962, Mel Simas approached the group and asked if we would like for “Melco Int.” to become our manager.  The group voted yes and our longtime friendship with Mel began.  The surf sound was “in” so a lot of music played was from The Ventures, Dick Dale, etc.
In September 1963, an electric piano player joined the group.  His name was Bobby Cox (from Chowchilla).  During that same time period, Sharon Lee (guitar and vocals) joined the group.  She added the female voice for high harmonies and for some of the girl songs out at the time (i.e., “A Thousand Stars”).  What made it even better was that she was my sister.   To our surprise, we received a letter that stated we had to stop calling ourselves The Challengers as another group in town owned the name.  Therefore, “The de-Fenders” (for Fender amps) was decided upon.  After a period we began learning how to play our various instruments and started playing at local dances.       

In November 1963, The de-Fenders were comprised of:  Mike Wagner, lead guitar and vocals; Ken Valentine, lead guitar, vocals, sax; Robert Virden, bass guitar and vocals, and Dick Lee, drums.  This line-up made two recordings in January 1964: “More,” an instrumental, and “Irritation,” an original tune. “Irritation” was our first attempt at an original song and “More” was taken from a movie, but with a surf sound added. The purpose of the recordings was for demo purposes and to press two tracks.  The group rented a studio in Fresno, California and proceeded.  During the same time period, Mel Simas became our manager.  Mel heard the recordings and agreed to attempt to shop out the tracks to various record companies in Hollywood.  Two days after the session, Mel was in Los Angeles and visited with executives of Dot Records, Liberty Records, Del-Fi Records, and numerous others.  He returned to Lemoore and met with the group with the same message from all labels, “The tracks had no commercial value.”  The group did not rehearse for two weeks and we began to wonder whether The de-Fenders were good enough to play professionally. 

It was during this time period that Mike Wagner left the group due to his draft notice.  Bobby Cox soon followed him.  The de-Fenders now had only three members: Ken Valentine, Bob Virden, and me.  The de-Fenders found a new guitar player/vocalist named Jim Mellick (from Lemoore and later Hanford).  The group was up to four members: Ken Valentine, Robert Virden, Jim Mellick, and me and would remain so for several months.          

We began playing at high schools, parties, and local events. We initially played a lot of local gigs for free and then someone actually paid us.  This first paid gig was probably more of an event for us than our first record.  It was difficult to believe that individuals would actually pay us to play music.  It sort of made it more special because we were all such good friends.  None of us ever took what we were doing seriously.  On the weekends you could find The de-Fenders in my parents garage at 234 Champion Street or around the corner at my aunt and uncle’s garage on Hamlet Street.  To this day, I often wonder why the neighbors never turned us in to the local police for excessive noise.

We began to play all over and also became a recording band for various other vocal groups.  The 1960’s saw an explosion of musical groups. We traveled and backed up many groups and/or artists including Ian Whitcomb, Cannibal and The Headhunters, The Five Satins, The Penguins, Dick and Dee Dee, Roddy Joy, Chuck Berry, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Uniques, The Isley Brothers, Frank J. Wilson, The Coasters, Dick Dale and The Del Tones, The Drifters, The Pyramids, Bobby Freeman, and many others.  One of the coolest things is that we made friends with many groups while touring and many bands that had not yet recorded.  I especially recall Jim Duvall and The Gauchos (Fresno), Jim Waller and The Deltas (Fresno), The Charades Band (Tulare), The Spats (Bakersfield), The Roadrunners (Fresno) and The Stepping Stones (Tulare). The Gauchos were a tremendous group out of Fresno that presented two drummers and great harmonies.  The Deltas were probably my favorite with their style of “Oldies But Goodies.”     
One of my favorite memories occurred while backing up Chuck Berry.  It was late 1964 and we were on a Melco Dance bill with Chuck Berry, The Isley Brothers, and The We Five.  Chuck Berry was the last act to perform.  Fifteen minutes prior to his time slot he still hadn’t appeared.  He finally arrived about five minutes prior to going on.  Remember, that we did not have any time to rehearse any songs.  Bob Virden approached Berry and asked, “Mr. Berry, what songs do you want us to play?”  Berry responded, “What do you mean boy – we are going to do Chuck Berry songs.”  And with that he jumped out on the stage and began playing the intro to “Johnny B. Goode”.  We collectively said, “Oh Shit,” and began following him through the beginning cord progressions.  The night went well…but what an experience.  I heard a recent interview with Bruce Springsteen and he described the same sequence of events with our hero, Chuck Berry. 
In late 1964 The de-Fenders signed with a Los Angeles talent agency named Coast Artists.  It was Coast Artists decision to change the name of the group to The Brymers.   The name is pronounced “Brimmers”.  Coast Artists CEO was an individual named Milton Doltch.  I recall walking into his office with the other members and he was on the telephone with Ed Sullivan.  Needless to say we were quite impressed.  Coast Artists came up with the idea of shaving our heads for promotional purposes.

The talent agency and Diplomacy Records thought the audience would connect our shaven heads with Yul Brynner, the actor.  Diplomacy and Coast Artists thought it would be a great publicity stunt to have our long hair shaved off in public.  We were taken into Hollywood to an upscale salon.  As the heads were being shaved the ordeal was being filmed and photographed by several magazines and television cameras. The result was four kids with baldheads and a band name no one could pronounce.   

Through Melco Interprises we became associated with Al Verrismo (Tulare, California), Bill Silva (Diplomacy Records) and Chuck Sagle (arranger) in the Los Angeles area.  Our repertoire changed from a surf band to a more refined group with good harmonies and excellent arrangements.  Diplomacy Records sent individuals to work with us on presenting a show and not just a concert of songs.  The Ike and Tina Turner Review and James Brown were great influences.  We saw them perform on numerous occasions and knew how an audience responded to a group presenting a “Review” or “Show” verses just music.  Towards the end of The Brymers’ as a group we had several different shows with numerous songs and medleys.   It was drilled into us: “What occurs between songs is as important as the music itself.”  All shows were meticulously choreographed (comedy, words, harmony and the music).  We became very good at entertaining and it separated us apart from other white bands of the time.  While on tour many different groups would ask, “Where did you guys learn that?”  After a time, the group transitioned into a tight four-piece band.  We attempted to copy The Beau Brummels, Beatles, Byrds, Association, and Dave Clark Five.  Looking back, The Brymers sounded like The Yard Birds, The Kinks along with a southern rock flavor similar to The Allman Brothers.

In March 1965, Coast Artists of Hollywood requested that we record a live set.  The result was a live recording (one take) at the Bakersfield Civic Auditorium, Bakersfield, California. Mel Simas, Coast Artists, and Diplomacy Records picked the songs recorded.  Coast Artists wanted a varied playlist that reflected the group’s versatility.  Thus, pop, country, and commercial tunes were included.

In late March 1965, The Brymers entered H and R Studios in Hollywood and recorded “Only By Your Own” (original), “I Should Be Glad”, “Every Moment Of The Day”, and “Hello Little Girl” (a song written by Lennon and McCarthy, but never released in the U.S.).  The group members were:  Ken Valentine, guitar, sax and vocals; Jim Mellick, lead guitar and vocals; Bob Virden, bass guitar and vocal; and Dick Lee, drums.  A few weeks after the session, Ken Valentine left the group and was replaced with Ken Sinner (organ, sax, guitar, vocals, songwriter) from Porterville.  Within three months, Bob Virden left the group and was replaced with a new bass player, Bill Brumley of Visalia.  Both Bill and Kenny were talented and versatile musicians and added a great deal to The Brymers.  It was now 1966 and the group members were:  Jim Mellick, Kenny Sinner, Bill Brumley, and me.     
Some of the wildest times I can ever remember occurred when The Brymers were booked into University Fraternity Parties (i.e. U.C.L.A., University of California at Santa Barbara, San Diego State University, and numerous others).  It was the mid 1960’s and the group was about to get its first initiation into the university scene.  The following analogy is appropriate here – take Animal House and factor it by one thousand.  The theme of the fraternity pledge party was, “who could do the grossest thing on the dance floor?”  By 10:30pm or 11:00pm everyone was trashed, people were running around nude, and many fraternity brothers were lying in the hallways with their girlfriends (naked) trying to perpetuate the species (hummmm). 

Another funny incident occurred during the summer of 1967.  The Brymers were performing a concert for a Bakersfield radio station (KAFY).  It was a great gig and about 1500 kids were present at a venue by the lake on a warm August evening.  Prior to going on, the group members decided to have a few “gin and tonics.”  After 10 or 12, I had lost count.  Now, it was time to go on and perform.  I had a special drum platform, which stood about four feet high.  Little did I know that as we progressed through the show, my drummers’ throne was getting dangerously close to the edge of the platform.  In the middle of performing “Sacrifice,” the drummers’ throne and I went flying off the platform backwards.  There I was – lying flat on my back wondering what had just happened.  After catching my breath, I climbed back on the throne and continued playing.  The big joke was that no one ever missed me! 
In October 1966, the group entered the studio once more and recorded the songs “Sacrifice”, “I Want To Tell You”, and backed up April Silva on a cover of “Under My Thumb”.  Remember, that during 1966 there were minimal studio effects that could be used.  Kenny Sinner came up with the idea of taking a small amp and placing a huge 15” speaker in it.  During the recording of “Sacrifice”, Kenny purposefully overpowered his amp causing smoke and sparks to pour out of the back.  He eventually blew it up which resulted in the distortion sound you hear in “Sacrifice”.  The engineer ran out of the booth - tape running - and yelled, “You #%@*^&$% idiots are going to burn the studio down.”  Kenny responded, “Now that is the sound I was looking for.”  And, that sound is on the recording of “Sacrifice”. It should be noted that Kenny wrote both songs.

Bill Silva and Chuck Sagle both said they thought we had a hit with “I Want To Tell You.”  “Sacrifice” was looked upon as a B-side filler.  Silva said that his label did not have enough clout so they shopped it out to other record companies.  Mercury Records was interested in both tracks, but sent in a songwriter and asked us to lay down new lyrics for the vocal track (“I Want To Tell You”) and rename the song. Since it was the middle of the Vietnam War, Mercury said we needed a protest song or war song.  Therefore, new lyrics were recorded and the name of the song was changed to “Make Love Not War” on the Mercury label.  The lyrics were rather lame but we re-recorded the song. 

We never did get information from our managers or Coast Artists concerning the remake or distribution of “Make Love Not War.” I have no idea if it was ever released.  Diplomacy Records then released “I Want To Tell You” (the original recording) and “Sacrifice.” 
The Brymers became a working band with numerous gigs all over the west coast.  Frequently after gigs in large cities, we would all head to after-hours black clubs.  We probably learned more about entertainment than any record company could teach us.  Many times we would be the only white faces in a black club in the wee hours of the morning.  Racial prejudice was at its peak in the mid-‘60’s but musicians were colorblind.  On numerous occasions, group members would be invited to sit in.  Ken Sinner would be playing his late-‘50’s telecaster, there would be horns, and off we would go on “High Heel Sneakers” or “Stormy Monday Blues.”  We learned a lot about people, music, and the presentation of music. 

In early, 1967, Jim Mellick left the group due to family responsibilities.  Jim was replaced with a new lead guitar player and vocalist named Bobby Hollister from Visalia.  Bobby had great presence, a tremendous voice, and looked a lot like Bobby Darin.  Two of The Brymers’ vocalists sounded just like Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley (The Righteous Brothers).  One of our show tunes was “Turn On Your Love Lights.”  We featured Bobby Hollister (low base voice like Bill Medley) and Bill Brumley (high end of the harmony like Bobby Hatfield).  Both individuals would be stage center and use one mike to sing a verse then toss it about 15 feet to the other to sing a verse.  It was a great presentation to end a show with. 

Another crazy time occurred while the group was booked into a San Francisco venue in 1967.  Bobby Hollister (lead guitar and vocalist) had hooked up with this beautiful young blonde after a concert.  He proceeded back to his hotel with the young lady and both entered his room.  The rest of the group was next door playing poker and having a few beers to unwind.  At one point, we heard Bobby yell and run out of the room.  We instantly went to the door to see what the problem was.  Hollister came running into the room yelling, “It’s a guy! It’s a guy! She has a penis.”  To his surprise, he had hooked up with a transvestite who was a working female impersonator in a North Beach nightclub.  Needless to say, Bobby was always ribbed about the incident and always checked that future women did not have a “package.”  While playing at a large venue in San Francisco (1967) a female fan somehow got on the stage and crawled up behind me.  We were busy playing and I felt a hand between my legs which proceeded to un-zipp my zipper.       

"I Want to Tell You” began to receive a lot of airplay around the country.  As a result, we became more popular.  After we recorded, we transitioned into touring and playing at universities and large concert halls.  Coast Artists booked us numerous times in San Francisco at clubs such as The Condor Club (North Beach), Pierre’s (North Beach), The Purple Onion (North Beach) and The Hilton’s Tiger A Go Go.  We were booked in Los Angeles into clubs such as P.J.’s, The Thunderbird Hotel, The Matrix and the Avalon Ballroom. We played numerous times in Sacramento at The Embers and The Trophy Room. The group traveled through Utah, Oregon, Washington, and California.  We were featured on various TV shows from Los Angles to Utah.  

On the morning of September 2, 1965 and we received a call from Al Verrismo that the group had to be in Hollywood the next day at ABC Studios to audition for the TV show Shindig.  Verrismo and Silva’s other group from the valley, Jim Doval and The Gauchos, had recently made their debut appearance. The Brymers audition consisted of three songs: “Hang on Sloopy,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and “Help.” After about fifteen minutes, the audition was over. Within the hour the group met with Simas, Verrissmo and Silva and were informed that ABC wanted the group to tape an appearance within two weeks.  Within a month the show was cancelled from its time slot.  Needless to say, The Brymers never appeared on Shindig.

While playing at the Gimlet Lounge (Ogden, Utah) a TV show promoter caught our act and asked to speak with me after the show.  The individual’s name was Eugene Jalesnik.  After introductions, Eugene asked if The Brymers would appear on his Saturday Night Live variety show in Salt Lake City.  After contacting our manger it was a go.  The show was called Stairway to the Stars and it featured amateur acts plus one professional act.  We found out that individuals like Connie Francis, Bobby Freeman (“The Swim”), and numerous current recording artists had been featured.  Due to the time period, the group was not allowed to play live, but had to lip-synch the words.  Upon arrival, Eugene mentioned that he was ill and asked if I would emcee and introduce the amateur acts.  I had never done anything like this before, but being a 21 year-old idiot said, “Sure.”  I cannot believe that I made it through 45-minutes of introductions.  The last act of the evening was the feature professional act.  This Saturday night it was The Brymers.  Another announcer introduced us and we went on and lip-synched “I Want to Tell You.”

The endless traveling, eating the same monotonous restaurant food, motel living, and poor money eventually led to the disbandment of The Brymers.    It was early 1968 and The Brymers formally disbanded.  Later that year, I joined another group based in Pismo Beach, California.  Its founder, Merrell Fankhauser, was a creative songwriter with whom I recorded an album.  The group’s name was Fapardokly.  But, that is another story for another time.