An Interview with fabulous Sal Valentino of Beau Brummels and Stoneground: I love the life I'm living

"When I hear Louis Armstrong sing "What a wonderful world" I can share that thought with those I love."

Sal Valentino: Peace, Love, Unity & Respect

Sal Valentino (born Salvatore Willard Spampinato) best known as lead singer of The Beau Brummels, subsequently becoming a songwriter as well. The band released a pair of top 20 U.S. hit singles in 1965, "Laugh, Laugh" and "Just a Little." He later fronted another band, Stoneground, which produced three albums in the early 1970s. After reuniting on numerous occasions with the Beau Brummels, Valentino began a solo career, releasing his latest album, Every Now and Then, in 2008.

Valentino grew up in the North Beach section of San Francisco. In 1964, he received an offer to play a regular gig at a local club. "The Stepping Stones" played the Longshoreman's Hall in S.F. The gig led to a more lucrative deal at the Morocco Room. There, the Beau Brummels were discovered by prominent San Francisco deejay Tom Donahue, who quickly signed the band to his label, Autumn Records. Valentino also appeared with the band as The Beau Brummels tones on The Flintstones TV animated sitcom in the season six episode "Shinrock A Go-Go," which originally aired on 1965.

                                                                                                                Photo by Landy Hardy

Although the Beau Brummels' subsequent releases were not as commercially successful as their debut album and its first two singles, the band earned underground credibility with 1967's Triangle and 1968's Bradley's Barn. Critics noted the works as early contributions to the country rock genre. The band, which by 1968 consisted of only Valentino and Elliott, split up, and following a stint recording singles for Warner Bros. Records, Valentino assembled a new band, Stoneground. After the group released three albums in the early 1970s, Valentino left the group in 1973. He participated in numerous Beau Brummels revivals over the next two decades.

After a hiatus from music, Valentino contributed to a 2003 Bob Dylan tribute album, Positively 12th and K, with musician Jackie Greene. In 2006, Valentino released Dreamin' Man, the first solo album of his 45-year career. Another album, Come Out Tonight, followed later that year, and his third solo album, Every Now and Then, was released in 2008.

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in the music & who were your first idols?

I can't say exactly when and where I wanted to sing. I loved listening to the radio hearing the songs that I enjoyed as I was growing up, I enjoyed singing along as I knew more from what I had heard night after night. I fell to sleep with the radio on and after school (5th or 6th grade I guess) I started to really enjoy Country and Western performers the most when I found a station that played Faron Young, Ferlin Huskey, Johnny Horton, Marty Robbins, Rose and Cal Maddox, Sonny James, Skeeter Davis Brenda Lee Merle Travis, Lefty Frizzell, Webb Pierce, Stonewall Jackson, Conway Twitty and more I can't recall at the moment.

   The Everly Brothers now seem to have been most influential to my singing voice. Roy Orbison also at first when I heard oobie doobie and a song called "Uptown" in pent house #3, just my baby and me on Monument. In San Francisco there was always a lot of Chet Atkins, till Duane Eddy and Link Wray then came Elvis and Ricky Nelson and Buddy Holly and Bobby Darin and Brian Hyland, Ray Peterson, Johnny Tilllotson, Woolverton Mountain, Roger the King of the road, actually I found him doing a pretty good Footprints in the snow before I ever heard Bill Monroe. Bobby Bare was actually the singer of the record "All American Boy" a song about how to become a rock and roll star, Parsons was the name given on the 45 single. Johnny Cash came to me when I started to look for the Sun Records Label because of Carl Perkins and Orbison and the rock a-billy stuff. A lot of male vocalists to hear in S.F. and not to many female singers for a while. Johnny Mathis was home grown and Booby Freeman. I guess I wanted most to sing, to make a record, a 45 single that is and I did at around 16 or so.

   In my sophomore year in High school the class moderater christian Brother came to me and said I hear you sing and we want you to sing for the rally that your class is going to do. I said no, he said yes you are and I sang at every football, basketball and baseball rally till I was out of Sacred Heart High School. One for each division, the upper classes first, Junior and seniors and then again for the sophomores and freshmen with a drummer, Joe Vella and a guitar player, Bob Gradik and sometimes an accordion, Joe Brattesani. (Some of these spellings are suspect I'm sure) Once upon a time could spell what I wrote pretty well but somewhere along the way that left me behind. It might have started to fade when spelling of the names I once knew how to spell so well changed. I felt growing up listening to recordings that so many singers were very good. I can't recall one I wasn't moved by. By the way Hank Williams arrived for my ears not until the 60s, mid 60s when I was recording for Warner Brothers Records in Southern California, Hollywood as it was Sal.

                                                                                                                    The Beau Brummels

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

When I saw the episode of the Flintstones that the Beau Brummelstones appeared on the Shinrock TV show, that was the best of moments for me.

How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?

There is none although it hasn't changed. There are more people in a shrunken World of music business and all feel it is easy enough to do and so what was has almost become not what it was. I'm glad that I was a part of what was, and also happy to be not a part of what it is. Once upon a time music was king. Everyone everywhere was moved to the sound of the King's moments and then there became a time of the World when it was full of King and soon the World will see that we are not the only World full of King and then and then maybe we'll ask, what's the matter?, where's the King?

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician and songwriter?

The experiences in my life that make me the musician and the songwriter that I am are those that took place while making the records that I have been  a part of that I’m proud of when I can listen again I find pleasing to have been there done that, that's who I am. I did my best as it was, so it is. It is what love is, something that I did, something that I do, where I've been, where I'm going and hopefully what will be.

Tell me about the beginning of the Stoneground, did you choose the name and where did it start?

I don't know of the beginning of the band Stoneground. I believe it started in Walnut Creek, East of San Francisco, CA. It was a 3 member band when I 1st met Tim Barnes, guitarist and Michael Mau, drummer in San Francisco, CA. I can't recall the bass player. I had been working in Southern California within the recording industry there and had just returned to the Bay Area because Tom "Big Daddy" Donahue wanted to record me as part of his recently formed production arrangement with someone, a tape company I can't recall the name. Tom came to visit me one day and the next day I was preparing to return to Northern California, Marin County at 1st. I went to where John Blakeley was doing pre-production work with this band Stoneground which also turned out to be where I would become engaged with the same kind of pre-production work for what there was at that time of the songs we chose to start with for myself. We were primarily Blakeley, Ron Nagle, and myself. Tim Barnes did some guitar work for at least one of the songs I had written while in Southern California and so that was my 1st encounter with Stonegorund. I don’t recall that Michael Mau did anything for us. Ron Nagle was also an Artist to be for Tom Donahue and we had worked on his material for his 1st album "Bad Rice" there at the residence/studio in the mission district of S.F., CA.

   Sometime after that Tom Donahue became involved with the making of a film with a Frenchman for Warner Brothers of Burbank, Ca. He proceeded to cast the film himself with a variety of types from the bay area. I was to be one of the recording artists along with 3 women vocalists and I believe that stoneground was also to be included. This film would attempt to retrace our fore fathers footsteps from S.F., CA. to eventually New York, N.Y. and then to Europe with more or less 150 people with tie dyed tents with 5 free concerts and well known music artist at the time, namely BB King, the Youngbloods with Jessie Colon Young, Joanie Mitchell, as I can recall and others I can't recall. The Grateful Dead were to be along as the house band. The day or two before departure from San Francisco, Ca. the Dead decided to stay home and then Stoneground became the house band - the original bass player. John Blakeley came up with a friend to be the bass player for the trip. So the night before we left S.F., CA. I picked up Lydia Moreno from where she was at that time drove to Walnut Creek, Ca. with Deirdre Laporte, whom I had been living with for 4 or 5 years where we met Lynne Hughes and a friend of mine from when Deirdre and I had lived near the Haight/Ashbury district on Stanyon Street Annie Sampson and commenced to become the band that signed with Warner Brothers Records of Burbank, CA. before leaving the United States of America for England. We arrived without the bass player we had and welcomed Pete Sears to be our bassist and piano player when we began recording our 1st album the 1st time and he returned with us to Northern California 3 months later. We started to record at Trident Studios in London. Phil Spector was also there with George Harrison doing the My sweet lord album that George got sued for, the song I mean. While in Europe we played in Paris with Paul Anka at the Olympia theatre, in Hyde park in London, George Harrison had taken to Lydia Moreno and was at that event and with Pink Floyd and Mott the Hoople out in Kent, England

As I was saying we recorded at Trident Studios in London and then began recording again in Hollywood, CA. at the Record Plant.

                                                                                                                   The Beau Brummels

Are there any memories from Beau Brummels and Stoneground which you’d like to share with us?

There are plenty of memories like the 1st time we flew off from S.F. Airport. I was sitting by the window and our manager Carl Scott was in the seat next to me. When the stewardess walked our way he stopped her to ask for an extension for his seat belt. I could not believe it He was always around 400 hundred pounds and that was the only way a seat belt was going to go around him. I think I said how you knew that was available. He'd flown I hadn't.

   There was Ron Meagher the Brummels bass player taking peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the road.

   The night the independent promotion man that took us around Nashville while we were there the 1st time took us to the Grand ole Opry and we were introduced to the audience and seeing how much went on back stage with people playing and singing everywhere and the lines around the block of people from everywhere I had not yet been and not a set of drums to be heard all that was used was a high hat and snare with brushes. Johnny Holiday was the promotion man's name. While we were there he told us that if we wanted to sell some records to these people we should do a gospel album. That way people wouldn't even have to hear what our music was like the'd just go in and buy our records on sight unheard. We thought he was kidding us but he wasn't. Many C&W music performing legends did that very thing, Elvis Presley wasn't the 1st or last to do so.

  Like the time we played in Sacramento, CA. for the 2nd time at the Memorial Auditorium. The 1st time we were mobbed but got away without much trouble so the 2nd time we planned an escape. Instead of leaving by the back door of the building as we had the 1st time we would wait at a side door until we would see a car and then would high tail it out of there. Well we waited and when we saw the station wagon pull up we all ran and hit the door we were to leave by but it was locked with a chain. So as the car waited we listened for a solution to this problem we now had and then there appeared a janitor asking if we wanted to leave by that door. Of course the answer was yes and he commenced to find the one key for that door while the escape car waited and the kids began to wonder where we were and then realized that the car double-parked was for us. When the door opened John Peterson, the drummer and I were in the car 1st then came Ron Meagher and Ron Elliott too late. Declan Mulligan put on in rain coat and went un-noticed back to the motel. Carl Scott our 350+ manager was behind the two Rons fortunately and from the station wagon we watched as he waded into about 3 or 400 kids that were trying to take home with them from the two Rons anything that would come free as they pulled at hair and buttons and took the two Brummels in his arms and walked them to the car. It was heroic.

   At an amusement park in Pennsylvania with 70,000 or so music fans on hand we were run through lines of policeman to the stage to perform, in Denver Colorado we opened for Cheech and Chong, we were on a show in Central park with Deon Warwick and the Vagrants who did two of our songs, played in Green Bay, Wisconsin on a show that Melba Montgomery opened we were 2nd bill with the head liner being Duke Ellington and his Orchestra, met Otis Redding at one of Dick Clark's shows did shows with Roy Orbison, the Rightous Brothers at the Cow Palace and Roy Head, and Sonny and Cher and the Byrds and the Lovin Spoonfull, and at the Brooklyn Fow for Murry the K with Marvin Gaye, and Martha and the Vandellas and I raced Stevie Wonder down the back stairs from the top floor after we got locked in the men's room, he won, the Temptations were there also Patti Labelle and the blue bells. I got to see a lot of recording artists I would never have thanks to the success we enjoyed as Beau Brummels.

  Stoneground on the other hand was like night from day. My favorite memory though is of the very 1st time I got on stage with John Blakeley and Annie Sampson and Lydia Moreno and Lynn Hughes and Michael Mau and Tim Barnes. We were so un-prepared I was afraid of what might happen. But when I looked over my shoulder and saw Timmy Huffing and puffing the way he does I left all my worries behind and we were well liked by those in front of us and the 150 or so traveling companions behind and around us. It was such a wonderful moment for me; I could be there right now. It was Placidas, New Mexico USA and it got better from then on.

                                                                                                                               Stoneground

What do you feel is the key to your success as a musician & songwriter?

   Songs. Doing what I've done and wanting to do my best, being prepared, fascinated with experience of what it was like making recordings and learning how to enjoy what it was that I was doing when I was walking up to it. Recording for sales and knowing that 2 must follow one in order to continue what I enjoyed doing, I learned to focus to the greatest degree for me.

   It is what I did. it was my life. I had never wanted to be a Performer, to get up in front people to entertain them but when I started to be in the studios every day or often each week, not always working on something of my own or whatever, I got to listen and watch and learn that there was a creative opportunity there, right down to the bone and back. I was with men and women some that rarely saw the light of day, Producers, Airplane hangar sized rooms, arrangers directing 30+, 40+ sometimes musicians all on the same page working together, that someone had arranged for them to come together and play as pieces of ensemble, an orchestra from 9:AM through 9:PM the studios were crawling and wafting these sometimes beautiful, sometimes usual, never terrible sounds from so many countries and influences for so many ears to enjoy hearing and move to dancing as they had in their youth and the singers and musicians union represented with power to support the members so that the living to be made there was deserving of such masters of their field, within the arts and culture of their place in that world we were living in then.

   If I sound as if I miss that now, excuse me, I don't. Now more than ever I am so glad that I didn't miss my experiences as a recording artist.

How do you get inspiration for your songs & what musicians have influenced you most as a songwriter?

Any way I can is how I try to find or not miss an influencing moment as they fly by. I am what I eat as the saying goes so goes me.

   There are a lot of musicians, composers, sounds, rhythms that can get me excited, crying, happy, empowered. There is a song I've gone back to experiencing again that says something I agree with, there  are in fact many but this one in particular drew a remarkable response I was glad to be a part of,

(Last Verse) So hear these words with faith and passion, for what I say to you is true, and when you find the one you might become, remember part of me is you.

What are you miss most nowadays from the ‘60s?

   What I missed most is what I might have done other than what I did, at least once that is. Merle Haggard has a song on album which includes that "Twinkle twinkle little star---song and "You babe" and "We never touch at all" and "I don’t have any love around" and this song,"30 again". I can't say I've been a Merle admirer for long but I have to admit that I love this record and I do agree with the words of this song. I wish since I was 30 again.

   What I missed most was the excitement and adventure of it all for me in my life. But to be honest I probably batted 5 for 7 as the decades have gone in my life. I didn't have a plan at any time but I kept moving and looking for that enjoyment that was always out there I guess. Catherine, my wife of 18 years now, coined me up a one who has had a charmed life kinda guy. I didn’t know that I was supposed to have a bad time of it, I responded. Follow the path follow the follow the follow the follow the charmed passage road. I learned to love the women as I had not through the 60s. I'm sure that's why I'm still swinging and singing around. I got turned on to a lot of music through the 60s that I would never other-wise heard. All the men I encountered were big in that department Tom Donahue, Bob Mitchell, Abe Kesh, Bobby Dale, Jerry Hoff, Bob Krasnow, Tommy Lipluma, but then there were women also Sue Cox Goodman, Raechel Donahue, Dusty Streets, Gail Moscoso, Michael Ochs, Art Fine, Corb Donahue and more I don’t recall at the moment. I don't do research. Bob McClay also, how can I leave Bob out. Carol Ant at Autumn Records. Deirdre Laporte. I was a very good listener then. I wasn't around for the Summer of love in S.F., CA. I was in Southern California then with Lenny Waronker and Van Dyke Parks, Randy Newman the Everly Brothers and Ted Templemann and the recording industry there as it was when a lot of record makers were coming west for what they wanted in the east but made the smart move away from the past that they were not able to get a good foothold when they wished it.

   All of that has gotten away from me since and I haven't replaced any of it. Now I wander about pretty much on my own not by choice but by evolution of technology that I have not risen to get a hold of......

                                                                                                               The Beau Brummels

Which memory from Medicine Ball Caravan makes you smile?

I always smile before I tell of the non-english speaking French camera crew that got dosed with Osley LSD by the Greatful Dead sound crew who were always ready for that hippie love in sex orgy. A friend I knew from Southern California that is French, a Professor of Computer Science at UCLA said that they finally scored one evening in one of the tents. These guys had not wished to I imagine but as the legend goes whenever working with some bands especially the Dead you must be careful. The LSD they had or whoever it was had would get you high very easily, a drop or two would do.

Do you remember anything interesting from Sylvester Stewart?

  To this day I'm told Sly can remember the Beau Brummels by name from producing our 1st album for Autumn Records in S.F., CA. at Coast Recorders on Bush street. He liked my singing and used me on some of his recording projects which was some of the best fun I have ever had in recording sessions. Sly was loose as a goose, with no fear of what he couldn't do and was always a driving relaxing no pressure kind a guy to do recording with. Before we got around to recording our 2nd album for Autumn Records in S.F., CA. His career was on it's way and we never crossed paths again until we started to re-record the 1st Stoneground album in Hollywood, CA.

   One afternoon I was getting some coffee away from the session recording room and in come what seemed like 20 people and at the head of the pack was Sly. He was in black leather from head to toe and sparkling with jewelry. He wasn't the guy I had known. But when he saw me he transformed from what he entered as and was a friend so glad to me. We talked, he shused his entourage and told them who I was and then went back to the whip cracking guy he had entered as with his party behind him

   That has been what it is whenever we meet since then. Sly was the most influential recording experience I had. He led me to believe that I could do what I loved doing and love doing it still.

                                                                                                                   The Beau Brummels

Of all the people you’ve meeting with, who do you admire the most?

As of now, today Catherine Kopinski Valentino. I don't say that because for some reason I have to, but I have to say that because it is true. I have never before known someone that I have lived with or known as well and be amazed with so often as I have Catherine. As a mother an Artist an educator with such devotion to what is important in the moment. She is the Greatest by far.

   Ray Charles was always right up there, Phil Everly also. Lenny Waronker for his dedication and motivation to make the best records he could, his friendship and generosity, My Father and Mother. I could go on because there are many in my life I've enjoyed getting to know and be influenced in some way.

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

This last 20 years has been very interesting to me. When I came north this time, which I have done before I didn't really have much hope for what I was going to be doing. I worked myself through a lot of songs in case I was going to be working for tips as some sort of singing wandering music guy. I was sick of working at what I had been doing since my Father passed away.

   The change that has taken place for me wasn't even on the map as I was going. I am very pleased with myself and proud to be still around where I am with the people I've met. I love the life I'm living, my wife as a grandmother is totally fun, and she’s so thrilled and happy to be. She makes sounds I didn't know she had in her. I find myself being a part of a wonderful story and with a part that I am not willing to give up. Now I know what being a grandparent is about. Love and kisses and understanding and hope and when I hear Louis Armstrong sing "What a wonderful world" I can share that thought with those I love.

   My life has always kept me interested, I have enjoyed myself. My Father then myself we got to a lot of things in our times together and not together.

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