By Lee Zimmerman
The Brymers (pronounced “Brimmers”) might have become a mere footnote in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll were it not for their sheer persistence. Granted, Brymers is hardly a name that immediately comes to mind when the roll call of great ‘60s hitmakers is mentioned, but to their credit, they did manage a significant hit in the form of The Standells-sounding “Sacrifice” and, to a lesser extent, a sweet Byrds/Beatles hybrid called “I Want To Tell You,” the flip side of a single recorded for Diplomacy Records.
Indeed, in terms of sound and style alone, they fit nicely on the shelf alongside The Kinks, The Byrds and the Stones, thanks to certain inherent components — fuzz guitar, wailing harmonica, seamless harmonies and a stately Hammond B3. They attracted attention early on in 1964 by shaving their heads as a publicity stunt, a somewhat extreme idea at a time when long hair was all the rage. By 1968, the combination of endless touring and the lack of continued hits convinced them to disband, but nearly 40 years later the group reconvened, recording five albums, including 2013’s The Love From Our Soul, a disc that sounds as if it was borne straight out of the ‘60s. The Brymers’ music has become more visible in recent years, having been part of several successful films (including the biopic Jobs) and occasional network TV shows as well.
Goldmine recently caught up with drummer and Brymers archivist Dick Lee who was only too happy to share the band’s story.
GOLDMINE: For starters, did you have any idea at the time that your song “Sacrifice” would have such a long life and attract such a devout cult following?
DICK LEE: The Brymers were performing in Los Angeles in late 1966, and in October 1966 the group entered Harmony Studios and recorded a number of tracks. The “A” track was an original song written by our keyboard player Kenny Sinner titled “I Want To Tell You.” It’s a great song and features The Brymers’ classic four-piece harmony. During a 20-minute break Kenny wrote the B-side, “Sacrifice.” We needed a big intro to the song, so Kenny took his old amp and put a 15-inch speaker in it. During the intro, Kenny turned his amp up to full volume and his guitar up to maximum volume. He then hit the first two notes. Everything began distorting and sparks were flying everywhere from the amp. The tape was running and caught the distortion. The engineer came running out of the control room yelling, “You f**king idiots are going to burn the studio down.” The intro was later spliced into ‘Sacrifice,” along with the driving fuzz guitar of Jim Mellick. All of us started laughing and Kenny replied, “Now that is the effect I was looking for.” During the same session, the group recorded “Under My Thumb” with Diplomacy Records’ president Bill Silva’s daughter singing lead (April Silva). “I Want To Tell You” started climbing the charts, but we had no idea that it would be “Sacrifice” that would take on a life of its own.
GM: How did you get word that so many people had come to appreciate it all these years later?
DL: We had no idea that “Sacrifice” had achieved the popularity it had for the past 40 years throughout the United States, Europe, New Zealand, Australia and Japan. I discovered that accidentally on a late September 2006 night while I was surfing the web. I wondered if The Brymers would show up on any web search, so I typed in The Brymers and began seeing various web pages associating The Brymers with a “B” side of one of our recordings, “Sacrifice.” I accessed one website in The Netherlands and found that “Sacrifice” was on this internet radio playlist. Additional web surfing revealed that “Sacrifice” was on numerous other internet radio station playlists in Italy, Japan, Australia and the USA. I e-mailed the owner of one station in the Netherlands and 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 web site specializes in ‘60s 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. Then a disc jockey from the Sacramento area contacted me and said, “Where have you guys been? We thought you were a black group from the Bay Area.”
After that, the owner of a ‘60’s Rock ‘n’ Roll magazine out of San Diego contacted me and mentioned that he had a national magazine and loved The Brymers music and wished to also do an in-depth article on the band, including its beginnings, travels and recordings. Here again, I was astonished that anyone even knew of The Brymers. He referred me to another site and I mentioned that I was the drummer for The Brymers. For the next two weeks I began receiving e-mails from all over the United States, 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’ ‘Sacrifice’ is a well known 45 to all garage fiends. I was lucky enough to find a copy years ago.” A fan 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.” Robert from Australia, wrote, ‘The Brymers’ “Sacrifice” has always been a favorite of mine and my friends in Sydney.”
Consequently, the Brymers reunited with all its original members and began writing original tracks with that ‘60s sound. The group owns its own studio in central California where we record an album per year. (A few) years ago, one of the tracks, “Fit Me In,” charted in Europe.
GM: What do you consider the band’s greatest successes while you were together? Was there any hint that you might be able to achieve the same heights as your contemporaries at the time?
DL: After the “I Want To Tell You” and “Sacrifice” recording session in 1966, our manager Mel Simas, Bill Silva, owner of Diplomacy Records, and Chuck Segal, the label’s A&R man, thought we had a hit. We began to perform at bigger venues and the cool clubs on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. The group filmed a segment for the ‘60s TV show Shindig but we later found out that the show had been canceled before our segment was to air. In early 1967, Mercury Records wanted to buy both songs, but wanted us to re-record “I Want To Tell You” with lyrics that reflected the Vietnam War. So, we re-entered the studio, used the same melody, and re-recorded with new lyrics that we wrote. The song titled was changed to “Make Love Not War.” Note that it was now 1967 and “The Summer of Love.”
We loved performing in large venues with some of the great rock ‘n’ roll bands and solo entertainers (Chuck Berry, Paul Revere & the Raiders, The Animals, Cannibal & the Headhunters, The Coasters, The Isley Brothers, etc.).The Brymers were a working band. We were booked into teen clubs and young adult clubs where we performed five nights a week for four to five hours. We also did concerts on the weekends. Needless to say, we became a very tight band. We would always perform all of our original material in front of these audiences and look for their response. We were so tight that once we got into the studio, we were able to record without having to do a lot of takes
GM: Did you guys write your own material, aside from your covers?
DL: The Brymers recorded a number of covers in the ‘60s at the request of Diplomacy Records and our booking agent out of Hollywood. But almost all of our material was original. I happened to have all of our masters of material that was not released.
GM: Tell us about your early origins and your influences at the time.
DL: The group was formed in high school by myself (drums), Mike Wagner (guitar) and Kenny Valentine (guitar). The Brymers started out as a surf band called The Challengers in 1963. We later morphed into “The de-Fenders” in 1964 and recorded a number of surf songs. One of our guitar players left the group and joined another band in town. The drummer for that group happened to be Steve Perry, later of Journey.
The Ventures influenced our surf music. As we transitioned into a band with good harmonies, groups such as The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, Chuck Berry, James Brown and Ike and Tina Turner heavily influenced our sound. We wanted to be able to put on a show like many of the black groups, so the label sent individuals to work with us to develop our professional show.
Diplomacy Records signed the group in 1965 and changed our name to The Brymers. The label packaged us as a boy band even though we had a female singer, Jeannie Sanders. They wanted a name that people might associate with the actor Yul Brynner. All of us got a great kick out of the idea. At first, a lot of people kept asking, “What is a Brimmer?” Once, after a recording session in L.A., the label booked The Brymers into an exclusive hair salon in Hollywood. The stylists proceeded to shave our heads. There were teen magazine reporters, photographers and TV cameras there to capture the moment. Personally, we all thought it looked crazy, but we loved to play music so we did it. It took six to eight months for our hair to fully grow out again. At first, we were reluctant to have our heads shaved, but being young idiots we just laughed and said, “As long as someone else is paying for it.”
GM: So why did you guys break up?
DL: We had been on the road for a number of years and many of the band members were getting married and having families, so we decided to call it quits.
GM: What had each of the members done on their own up to your reformation in 2007?
DL: I began playing with Merrell Fankhauser in a band called Fapardokly in 1968 and we recorded an album called Fapardokly. Kenny Sinner went on to perform with numerous groups and artists including Emmylou Harris and Merle Haggard. Guitarist Jim Mellick started his own band called The Emeralds and performed throughout the California area. Bassist Bill Brumley also started his own group and performed throughout Colorado.
GM: What gave you the idea to reform?
DL: A number of booking agents and labels began contacting me in 2007 and asking if we would ever consider performing again and recording. As a result, all the original members met up in 2007 and I asked them if they were interested. Everyone said yes and the rest is history.
GM: Do you find fans who still remember you from back in the day, or has it been a matter of having to start again from scratch? How has the reaction to your comeback been overall?
DL: I am continuously amazed that individuals still want to hear The Brymers music. I receive requests from DJs all over the word for interviews. In the past four or five years, a number of movies and TV shows have featured our songs in their soundtracks. Most recently, the Jobs movie featured two of our tracks — “Sacrifice” and our cover of “House of the Rising Sun.”
GM: Once you guys got back together, did it all seem to flow like it did in the old days?
DL: When The Brymers returned to the studio, the main goal was to find one outfitted with tube pre-amps so we could get that same old ‘60s sound. Now we have our own studio and it contains the tube pre-amps that we need to get the analog fat sound like the ‘60s.
GM: How do you view The Brymers’ legacy? To many, they were a footnote in ‘60s music history. Do you see it that way, or feel like they were something more?
DL: I don’t believe that any of the band members view the group with the word “legacy” in mind. We are a group of best friends who happen to be musicians and who traveled around a lot in the ‘60s. We have a music catalog with over 130 recorded tracks, song placements in movies and TV, and we continue to perform. We only care about two things — one, friendship and two, creating music. Hopefully someone might say, “Hey, that doesn’t sound too bad.”
GM: Do you see groups that you might have influenced along the way? If so, who? Which artists or bands are you interested in these days?
DL: A number of articles have mentioned that a certain group’s driving fuzz guitar and wailing harp are reminiscent of The Brymers sound on “Sacrifice.” It’s quite a very compliment and very cool.
GM: So is the band a full time occupation at this point? Do you have other jobs?
DL: Some of the band members have day jobs, but for most the music is full-time. I spend a lot of my time on the business side when we’re not performing. I went back to school many years ago and got my master’s and doctorate.
GM: Where do you play when you go out on tour? What’s the reception like?
DL: The Brymers travel all over. Recently, we performed in a concert hall in California where we last played in 1967. Hopefully, the individuals who show up will not have their oxygen tanks and walkers. Seriously though, it seems like a new generation has latched on to the sounds of the ‘60s. And, often individuals will come up and say that they saw us perform in 1967.
A funny incident occurred after a concert about a year ago. My adult son was present and had never seen The Brymers perform. After the concert, a number of individuals were asking all of us to sign albums and CDs. While doing so, I was talking with my son. Then one young lady walked up and gave me a black marking pen and asked if I would sign her breast. I said sure, so she proceeded to expose everything. I forgot my son was standing there. I then looked at him and he was every color of red you could imagine. At one point I thought I saw his head do a 360 like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.