Declan Mulligan, original Beau Brummels member who helped shape the sound of San Francisco, dies at 83


“Laugh, Laugh”, the hit single from Beau Brummels’ band, begins with a dismal harmonica whisper that recurs throughout the brief 1964 ballad.

This harmonica was played by Declan Mulligan, an Irish singer, guitarist, bassist, and original member of a group that was seen as the foundation of what became the sound of San Francisco in the 1960s.

Mulligan lasted less than a year with the Beau Brummels, but that included a second hit single, “Just a Little”, two albums, “Introducing the Beau Brummels” and “The Beau Brummels Vol. 2” and television performances. on “Where the Action is” by Dick Clark, “Shindig!” and “Hulabaloo”. In the highest form of flattery, Mulligan and his companions were portrayed as the Beau Brummelstones in the Flintstones episode “Shinrock a Go Go”

The Brummels quickly faded, but resurfaced in the mid-1970s with Mulligan back in the act. A reunion album, “Beau Brummels”, was released in 1975 with Mulligan playing a larger role on guitar and vocals. Various iterations of the group, with Mulligan leading the way, were regulars at the Abbey Tavern and the Irish Bar on Geary Street.

Mulligan died on November 2 at his home in Petaluma, said his wife, Tanya Mulligan. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease and a series of strokes. He was 83 years old.

“People give credit to groups like the Byrds and Lovin ‘Spoonful for adapting British influence to an American theme,” said Alec Palao, UK reissue producer and archivist living in El Cerrito. “But the Brummels were ahead of everyone else. They were the first American group to respond to the British invasion with innovation rather than imitation.

“Laugh, Laugh” was in the top 20 singles and “Just a Little” was in the top 10. In concert, he was present, adding dance moves and stage movements that heightened the excitement. .

“He brought enthusiasm that you wouldn’t normally find in American rock ‘n’ roll back then,” Palao said. But he had the ambition to be a singer, a path that was not open to him in the Brummels, led by songwriter Ron Elliott and singer Sal Valentino. Mulligan returned to Ireland, but returned to lead a variety of groups he formed – Samuel Pepys, Black Velvet Band, Mulligan Stew and the Californians, who toured England and Ireland.

“Declan was a good, more mature man than us,” said Valentino, who later performed with Mulligan at both the Abbey Tavern and the Shannon Arms, classic Irish bars on the west side of San Francisco. He was still playing until five years ago when he fell and lost the use of his left arm.

During this time he worked full time as a counselor and music teacher for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities at Cedars of Marin, a non-profit organization in Ross (Marin County). Mulligan, known there by his first name John and in the music scene as Dec, started out as a driver for the medical department and then moved on to the Community Connections program, which involves taking clients on field trips.

Every week for nearly 20 years, Mulligan took them to a music studio in Novato where he taught them to play drums and sing while he played guitar or piano – and led the vocals. Favorites included “Yellow Submarine” and “She Loves You” by The Beatles and “Edelweiss” by Sound of Music.

“It was just a big, glorious event with people singing and drumming,” said Susan Francis, community relations instructor at Cedars. “John just made it so wonderful and entertaining for the customers.”

Around the Cedars campus and among neighbors Ross, Mulligan was known for his joke, with a joke and a laugh for everyone. He even wrote songs that he performed for the staff. He retired four years ago and customers are still asking about him. The same goes for the neighbors and customers of Comforts, the cafe in San Anselmo where he stopped on his way to work for a coffee and a half hour chat.

“Everyone loved him,” Francis said. “He was a very, very popular guy.”

John Declan Mulligan was born on April 8, 1938 in Fethard, County Tipperary, and raised in a house built by his grandfather. Known as “Dec” or “Deco” since his childhood, he attended Rockwell Boarding School and University College Dublin. But most of his time was spent watching American westerns and riding ponies pretending he was Will Rogers. After his uncle returned from a trip to the United States with a guitar, he claimed he was Elvis Presley.

Mulligan first emigrated to Toronto, where he became an insurance agent, his father’s career. He then came to San Francisco to work at Fireman’s Fund insurance company in Laurel Heights. He turned to the Irish Dances of the Sunset. At one of these events, he heard Elliott and John Petersen play. It was the start of the Beau Brummels, who first called themselves the Irish Californians even though Mulligan was the only Irishman in the group.

The group made their debut at the Morocco Room on El Camino Real in San Mateo. A demo started circulating on “A Band That Was Tearing Each Other On The Peninsula,” and this demo caught the ear of Tom Donahue, Big Daddy’s disc jockey on KYA Radio. Donahue, who had his own label, Autumn Records, went down with his producer, Sylvester Stewart and the band was signed on the spot, Palao said.

Stewart, who later changed her name to Stone and formed her own group Sly and the Family Stone, produced “Laugh, Laugh” and every track Mulligan performed on. Donahue used his power in the industry to promote the single nationwide. The DJs would hint that this was a new British band.

“If ‘Laugh, Laugh’ hadn’t been released on a small independent label in San Francisco, it would have been a # 1 album,” said Joel Selvin, rock ‘n’ roll writer and former pop music critic for Chronicle. “Dec’s haunting harmonica part gave the song its key musical hook, floating across the track like a stream.”

In 1965, when the Beau Brummels were in their prime and “Laugh, Laugh” and “Just a Little” were on intense radio rotation, Tanya Goodhill was sent to a DJ nightclub in North Beach to interview the group for the. “Washington Eagle,” the school newspaper at George Washington High School in the Richmond District, where she was a junior.

Goodhill was so nervous that his mother came for the interview. The group was rehearsing and only Mulligan bothered to get off the stage and meet them. Goodhill’s mother, Monica, was so charmed that she invited him to dinner.

Nothing happened for another 25 years, after she and Mulligan married and divorced with five children between them. They got married in San Francisco and then moved to Petaluma.

“It was a real love story and it’s been like that ever since,” she said.

While working full time at Cedars, Mulligan became a scratch golfer and continued to write music. A single, “Native Son,” co-written by Tubes’ Mulligan and Veince Welnick, was released as a B-side single by the Brummels in 1983.

The band lives and a remastered eight-CD box set titled “The Beau Brummels – Turn Around: The Complete Recordings 1964-1970” is due out on Friday. It includes songs written and sung by Mulligan that never made it past the demo stage.

“Dec’s importance to the Beau Brummels’ early days is clearly reflected in the recordings that can be heard on this set,” said Palao. “His enthusiasm in the recording studio is there for everyone to hear.”

A GoFundMe campaign was put in place to cover medical costs.

Sam Whiting is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @samwhitingsf


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