In the unpredictable world of rock & roll, there are has-beens and wanna-be’s, but what about the should-have-beens? The Brymers had the punky spunk and snappy pop hooks of the best British Invasion groups of the ’60s; however, mainstream success eluded them. Over the past couple of decades, their lost Summer of Love nuggets “Sacrifice” and “I Want to Tell You” became sought-after cult items. Since young acts such as the Strokes and the Hives made garage rock a hip alternative to much of today’s processed cheese, the Brymers are finally starting to get recognition a la their Pacific Northwest counterparts the Sonics. They even decided to reunite, and original drummer Dick Lee discusses how it all transpired.
Kit Burns: The Brymers could’ve been as big as the Kinks in the ’60s but somehow didn’t quite reach that highest ladder. What happened? Did the group receive interest from the major labels back then?
Dick Lee: The Brymers band was signed by Diplomacy Records and a Los Angeles entertainment agency called “Coast Artists.” I will never forget walking into the CEO of Coast Artists and hearing them talking about packaging, promoting, and selling the Brymers. At one point during the conversation, the CEO excused himself and took a telephone call from Ed Sullivan. Needless to say, as young 18-year-olds we were amazed. The Brymers’ first recordings were in 1963 in a small studio in Fresno, California. The group rented a studio and along with five cases of beer, recorded two surf songs. We had no idea what we were doing, but had a great time. The songs were “Irritation” and “More of More.” In 1965, the Brymers began recording in Hollywood, California at Harmony Studios. The group recorded “Only by Your Own,” “I Should Be Glad,” “Hello Little Girl,” and “Every Moment of the Day.” In early 1966, we re-entered the studio and recorded a song written by our keyboard player Kenny Sinner (“I Want To Tell You”). The track featured four-piece harmonies and sounded like the Byrds or Buffalo Springfield. The A&R man in the studio thought we might have captured a hit. The problem was we need a B-side so the group went to lunch, and over a few beers and hamburgers, Kenny Sinner wrote out a song on a napkin called “Sacrifice.” All of us laughed because the lyrics did not make sense, but it was uptempo and featured fuzz and harmonica. During the same session, the group recorded “Under My Thumb” for Diplomacy Records’ 16-year-old daughter to sing. Her name was April Silva. About three weeks later, we learned that Mercury Records wanted to purchased “I Want To Tell You,” but asked that we write new lyrics to reflect the political climate against the Vietnam War. Kenny Sinner wrote new lyrics and re-named the song “Make Love Not War.” We then recorded it on the Mercury label. The group could never get a straight answer about the progress of the releases from Diplomacy Records. As a working, touring rock group we continued to play around the country.
Fourteen months ago, I was surfing the web and accidentally found a garage punk site called GaragePunk.Com. I entered a forum and asked if anyone had ever heard of a 1960s California group called the Brymers. I immediately began getting e-mails from all over the U.S., Europe, and Australia stating that they had heard of the group and the song “Sacrifice.” Until that night I had no idea that anyone had ever heard of the Brymers or “Sacrifice.” I also began receiving calls from different record companies asking if I had any other Brymers recordings. As a pack rat, I had kept the masters, old 1960s dance posters, and about 300 photos in the attic. I also found a seven spiral notebooks which were journal entries I kept of all our touring and funny stories that occurred over a five year period. Needless to say, much of it is X-rated and rather embarrassing. But, did we ever have a great time!
Burns: How did the Brymers form?
Lee: The Brymers was formed in 1962 and originally called the Challengers. We had three guitar players and practiced excessively in my parents’ garage in Lemoore, California. The group started out as a surf band (that was the music of the day) and gradually transitioned into a good vocal rock band. After three months the group changed its name again. The band’s new name was the De-Fenders (from the Fender amps). The group began playing locally for high schools, teen dances, etc. One of our close friends became a local DJ for station KCOK and a dance promoter. His name was Mel Simas and his promotion business was called Melco Interprises. He asked if he could be our manager; in exchange, he would bring in top rock acts from around the country, and we would back them up in concerts and in recording sessions. He would also feature the de-Fenders in large venues with well-known rock groups. This started our experience of playing with some of the best-known rock acts of the day. In 1965, Simas became associated with Bill Silva (president of Diplomacy Records). This started our recording career, but little did we know that Diplomacy did not have the distribution and contacts to really push our recordings. A few months later, Diplomacy and Coast Artists had the De-Fenders come to Hollywood at an upscale saloon for a publicity op. Little did we know that we would be getting all of our long hair cut off in front of TV cameras and teen magazine photographers. The record company announced that the group’s new name was the Brymers (sounds like Brimmers). Diplomacy’s rationale was that the bald heads, the Brymers name would be associated with the actor Yul Brynner. Needless to say that this did not occur. The Brymers taped a segment for a TV show called Shindig! in 1966, but the show was cancelled prior to the Brymers appearance. The group continued touring around the country as a working band.
Burns: That garage-rock sound that the Brymers helped to pioneer is now the lifeblood of so many new young acts. Did you ever think it would come back around?
Lee: As mentioned before, prior to 14 months ago I never new that anyone had ever heard of the Brymers or the B-side “Sacrifice.” I am still amazed that individuals are interested in the ’60s sound with the loud fuzz, wailing harmonica, and Hammond B3. A funny story occurred around the recording of “Sacrifice” in 1966. We were in Harmony Studios, Los Angeles, and trying to figure out how to come up with an into to this crazy fuzz-driven song that was written in 15 minutes on a napkin. Sinner said, “Hey, I’ve got to go to a pawn shop – will be back in the studio in one hour.” He ran out of the studio, and we had no idea of where he was going. When he returned, he had this 17″ speaker. He then proceeded to take his small amp apart and installed this huge 17″ speaker (3/4 of it was hanging out of the back). Sinner then turned his amp volume and 52 telecaster volume up as high as it would go. He asked the engineer to roll the tape, and Sinner picked his amp up about three feet, then dropped it on the floor; the result was the intro to “Sacrifice.” As we were laying down the track, sparks began coming out of the amp and more distortion on the fuzz began to occur. We all thought it sounded very cool, then the amp caught on fire. The engineer ran out of the control booth and began yelling, “You fucking idiots are going to burn down the studio.” Sinner replied, “Now, that’s the sound I was looking for on ‘Sacrifice.’”
Burns: What are some of your favorite rock experiences of being in San Francisco back in the day?
Lee: The Brymers played in San Francisco a lot during 1965, 1966, and 1967 (the Summer of Love). We had some great times and played on some great venues and met many musician friends of the day. The Blues Project, Jefferson Airplane, and Creedence Clearwater Revival were only a few. It is difficult to describe the time to individuals who were not there. The war protesting against Vietnam was at its height, free food was being distributed by a lot of people in the city, and “Make Love Not War” was the anthem of the time. Drugs were prevalent and provided to us; everyone was high, we were playing great concerts with some cool musicians, and we were screwing our asses off. Needless to say, we embraced the anthem “Make Love Not War.” One funny experience in 1967 occurred after a concert with multiple groups on the venue. We all returned to our hotel room with many groupies and stripped naked and began a screwing marathon. About 5 a.m. Bobby Hollister (lead guitar and vocals) for the Brymers entered the room and introduced us all to this beautiful blonde he had met after the concert. He then went to the adjoining hotel room and everything was quiet. Soon, we heard “Oh shit, oh shit, fuck me” and a scream. Hollister ran from the room into our room totally nude and was yelling, “She’s a guy, she’s a guy and has a dick.” Little did he know that he had hooked up with a female impersonator from a club in North Beach. As good friends would do, we never let him forget that experience. The experience of being in a rock band during the 1960s is difficult to articulate. It was one of the greatest memories of my life. I think one of the coolest things revolves around local bands who started playing music at the same time and then nabbed a few hits. For example, a group who frequently opened for us was called the Sullies; its drummer later became the lead singer for Journey. The lead singer for the Implicits later joined a San Jose group called The Doobie Brothers, and the list goes on. The Brymers officially disbanded in late 1968. I then joined a group from a California surfing community called Pismo Beach. Its leader, Merrell Fankhauser, wrote “Wipe Out” in 1962. With Fankhauser, we recorded an album called Fapardokly. But this is another story for another time.