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Artist Proile: Bob Virden - The Brymers

DREW NASH • TIMES-NEWS Former member of 'The Brymers', Bob Virden laughs with his wife (not shown) after recounting a story Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, at their home near Jerome.

JEROME • Bob Virden wouldn’t strike you as an ex-member of a ’60s garage band.

Instead of framed posters, band photos or other memorabilia of his old life on the road, his Jerome home has a Christmas tree and all his grandchildren’s stockings hanging on the wall behind it.

Everything Virden has from his three years with The Brymers is stored away in a plastic tub.

But his lead vocal on the band’s “House of the Rising Sun” cover recently was featured, along with The Brymers’ “Sacrifice,” on the soundtrack of the movie “Jobs” about Apple founder Steve Jobs.

“That was really a feather in my hat,” Virden said. “It’s quite an honor to be in that movie.”

When he walked away from the group more than 40 years ago, he left the music industry for good. He traded southern California to live on the edge of the Snake River Canyon with his wife, Linda.

On Dec 27, Virden took all his band mementoes out of storage to reminisce.

••••

Virden, now 70, grew up in Lemoore, Calif., a town no bigger than Gooding.

He started playing bass guitar and singing with The Brymers in 1963, the year he married his childhood friend and high school sweetheart. In 2013, they celebrated their 50th anniversary.

“Back then, a concert was a teen dance. Admission was $1.95 per person,” Virden recalled. “Our band was the garage band of the ’60s. That’s where we practiced. It eventually became an obsession in Europe, Australia and Japan.”

Initially called The Challengers, then the de-Fenders, the band became The Brymers after they signed with the Coast Artists talent agency in late 1964. The group recorded more than 30 songs and traveled throughout the U.S.

“We started getting a taste for the big time, and our eyes started getting big,” Virden said.

The talent agents decided Virden and fellow musicians Ken Valentine, Dick Lee and Jim Mellick should shave their heads for promotional purposes, to remind audiences of popular actor Yul Brynner.

They were taken to an upscale salon in Hollywood and filmed and photographed, Virden said.

“The result was four kids with bald heads and a band name no one could pronounce,” Lee wrote on the band’s website, www.thebrymers.com. It’s pronounced “brimmers.”

During the 1960s, The Brymers backed many groups and artists, including Dick and Dee Dee, Roddy Joy, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Isley Brothers, The Coasters, Dick Dale and The Del Tones and The Drifters.

“When you are on the road, it’s not what it’s made out to be — unless you are at the top of the heap,” Virden said.

“There was no booze and no drugs. We stuck to that. Drugs weren’t that rampant. That’s one of my proudest accomplishments was a band that did not do drugs or booze.”

One of the biggest stars the band joined onstage was Chuck Berry.

“Chuck Berry is one of a kind. We didn’t even rehearse. It was get on the stage and play,” Virden said.

He said he also met former Journey frontman Steve Perry, then with a group called “The Sullies” that opened for the Brymers.

“What a nice young guy. We used to go to Perry’s grandma’s house and jam. He was just an everyday guy. He had talent. I saw a lot of musicians make it big, but not a lot of them had talent.”

••••

Virden left the group in 1966 because he didn’t want to be away from his wife. Bill Brumley replaced him.

Ken Valentine left, too, and was replaced by Ken Sinner.

Over the years, seven people have played in the band, which always had four members.

Mike Wagner was drafted when playing for the group, then the de-Fenders. Fellow band member Bobby Cox left around the same time.

“I haven’t played an instrument since I quit the band,” Virden said. “I sold all my equipment. When I got out, I got out.”

“Oh, I was happy,” wife Linda said, thinking: “Now we can have a family.”

They have two children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“It took a lot of pressure off of her. She made more money than I did. I wanted something secure so I could be able to provide for my family,” Virden said.

He went into the dairy industry and semi-retired last year from Glanbia. He now works as a part-time consultant with a purchasing group.

In 2006, The Brymers reunited, and the concert in California sold out.

“There were probably 1,000 people, and when we came on stage, people went nuts. It would make the hair stand up on your neck. That was a lot of fun,” Virden said.

The band — including Virden — has made five CDs and now is recording a sixth, expected to be out in late 2014. While doing some online research in 2006, Lee discovered that The Brymers and the song “Sacrifice” had been popular in Europe, New Zealand and Australia.

He said Lee, the drummer, helped facilitate the reunion concert, recent recordings and getting songs on the “Jobs” soundtrack. The song “Sacrifice” also will be in the movie “Bronx Bull,” a prequel to “Raging Bull” set to release soon.

Virden and Lee, who lives in Eugene, Ore., have remained close since their days in The Brymers. They went to the same high school and often talk on the phone.

As for Virden’s time with the Brymers? “It was an experience I wouldn’t want to trade.”

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