Don Irving

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Guitarist Don Irving enjoyed eight months as a member of the Beau Brummels during late 1965 and mid-1966. Born Donald Jay Irving in Pasadena, CA, in 1946, he was the son of a career military man and spent…
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Guitarist Don Irving enjoyed eight months as a member of the Beau Brummels during late 1965 and mid-1966. Born Donald Jay Irving in Pasadena, CA, in 1946, he was the son of a career military man and spent his childhood in Germany. Once he was back living in California, after age nine, Irving managed to cross paths with several future musical notables. His first band, the Showmen, who actually got to record, included Butch Engle -- later of Butch Engle & the Styx -- and he later played alongside Bill Champlin and two other future members of the Sons of Champlin, in the Opposite Six. Irving moved around the orbit of the future Beau Brummels members for years, but his playing was more rooted in R&B (especially as part of the Opposite Six), with some jazz elements as well, though he could do folk-rock with the best of them. Irving played on the demos for several songs written by Sal Valentino, when the latter started to develop his composing skills in 1965.

Meanwhile, the Beau Brummels had scored their first hit early that year, and quickly followed it up, and from the outside they looked and sounded like a self-contained unit, with Ron Elliott writing virtually all of the songs and playing lead guitar, and Valentino handling the lead vocals, supported by bassist Ron Meagher and guitarist/singer Declan Mulligan. But Elliott never planned on going on the road extensively, which became a fact of life after two successive hit singles, and his diabetes made touring a threat to his health. By the fall of 1965, Elliott was no longer able to fulfill live gigs with the band, and his father, who was managing the group and also managing the Styx, was directed to Don Irving by Butch Engle. Irving went east to join the group after auditioning for the elder Elliott, and this temporary gig later became permanent when, in the spring of 1966, the group's label, Autumn Records, was suddenly sold to Warner Bros. Records. Instead of being in the hands of a San Franscisco-based record company, their recording career was now controlled by an L.A.-based label, five hours by car and half a world away psychically, and Ron Elliott decided to move to Los Angeles. He announced that he would no longer go out on the road with the group.

Irving became his presumptive permanent replacement, and they even played together on some local L.A. gigs, where their double-barrel guitar attack reportedly yielded incredible results. He'd already proved sympathetic to Valentino's songwriting on those demo recordings done on the latter's behalf; what's more, though he was a bit too self-critical, Elliott had never regarded himself as a terribly good guitar player, while that was precisely where Irving's proficiency lay. Valentino -- who was a huge fan of Elliott's playing -- later described Irving's guitar work as excellent, and without any health problems to distract him, Irving proved an asset to the band.

Two bits of bad fortune blighted his tenure with the group, however. The first was his recording debut with the band, playing on their ill-fated debut Warner Bros. release, Beau Brummels '66. The band -- best known for its recordings of original songs authored or co-authored by Elliott -- was told to deliver an LP of cover versions of other artists' songs, all chosen because they were owned by Warner Bros.' publishing arm. The results were commercially disastrous -- this, their first Warner Bros. album, distributed by that label's high-powered marketing arm, sold far less well than their two Autumn LPs, which had a far lower profile in the marketplace -- and critically horrendous. The playing, ironically, was just fine, and Irving even worked in some inventive jazz flourishes on Bob Dylan's "One Too Many Mornings," but the band, accustomed to working out their own originals, simply had no enthusiasm for the songs, making for an incredibly frustrating listening experience, the musical equivalent of being all dressed up with no place to go.

For Irving, who'd been recruited in part by way of his work on demos of the group's original songs, this debacle and the diversion from what the band was supposed to be about became a cue to leave. Before he could even act on that notion, however, Irving's induction notice into the armed forces also came through and made the musical issues academic. In any case, his departure resulted in the surviving group members -- three in all, with drummer John Petersen's decision to exit, in lieu of further touring -- to give up the road altogether and concentrate on studio work; ironically, the results would be the best albums in their history, redefining their sound and elevating their importance despite never charting a single after 1965. Irving wasn't part of the first two Beau Brummels reunions, but in 2002 a reactivated Beau Brummels lineup of Valentino, original bassist Ron Meagher, and Irving did perform live and did a concert tour.