Today, on this latest edition of Rock & Roll Geography, we take a stroll down to California to check out The Whisky A Go Go, one of LA's most historic landmarks. Still in business today, this venerable club is located along the infamous Sunset Strip at 8901 Sunset Blvd (between the Clark and Hilldale streets).
The story behind the Whisky a Go Go begins in 1947 when a dance club of that name was opened in Paris, France under that name. By the late 50's, the concept of dance clubs or "discotheques" (as they were called then) began to spread to the U.S. In fact, plans were afoot to open a string of Whisky A Go Go discotheques across America. In 1958, one of them opened in Chicago, another in the Georgetown section of Washington D.C. in the early 60's.
The Whisky A Go Go that most rock & roll fans know & love was opened on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles by a group of investors consisting of Elmer Valentine, Phil Tanzini, Shelly Davis, Theodore Flier and Mario Maglieri. Originally true to the European concept of being a club which featured recorded music only, Elmer Valentine, noticing the proliferation of live music on the Sunset Strip, quickly realized that only live music would put his little boite on the map. In short order, the club put on its first act--- Johnny Rivers!
Jayne Mansfield hanging with John Lennon @ The Whiskey circa 1964
Between the sets of live music, club goers were entertained by go-go dancers
who danced in cages suspended from the ceiling
as a female DJ spun the latest sounds!
Joanne Labine, the first female DJ @ The Whisky circa 1965
Bob Gibson, who ran a PR group called The Group that represented such popular bands as The Byrds, The Doors and Buffalo Springfield, said, "If you had to put your finger on an event that was a barometer of the tide turning, it would probably be the Sunset Strip riots." While the 'riots' were immortalized in the 1967 film Riot on Sunset Strip, there was no one particular incident; rather, a summer long simmering tension between longhairs, police and shop owners along the street. "The cops would hassle kids for being underage," claims Rodney Bingenheimer, who now hosts a radio show on KROQ, but was then dubbed by Sal Mineo, the Mayor of the Sunset Strip. "The Sunset Strip was like Las Vegas. People would actually walk from La Cienega to Gazzari's at 2 and 3 in the morning. It was a 24-hour party, but it was all very innocent. It wasn't until later that the scene turned ugly and people started taking a lot of drugs. It was still a mod thing then." The Whisky entered the national spotlight as the youth riots made the news. The club's hip credentials expanded with the appearance of such sixties icons as The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Love, The Doors, Cream, Led Zeppelin and other seminal rock acts of the day. The prevailing sentiment among musicians at the time was "if you're playing LA, you have to play the Whisky."
Capt. Beefheart & The Magic Band
Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention
Otis Redding plays The Whisky
An article in the LA Times (A Special Time In Rock: 1966 On The Sunset Strip by Roy Trakin) describes the emerging music scene in Los Angeles at this time: "Before the Byrds played Ciro's in 1965, the pop music scene in L.A. consisted of people like Johnny Rivers, Trini Lopez and the Walker Brothers playing old-style nightclubs like PJ's (the site of what was later the Starwood rock club at Santa Monica and Crescent Heights) and Sneaky Pete's (now Duke's Coffee Shop). The bohemian folk scene held forth at Doug Weston's Troubador on Santa Monica off Doheny, Ed Pearl's Ash Grove on Melrose (now the Improv) and the Unicorn at Sunset and San Vicente."
When Them played The Whisky Jim Morrison jammed with Van the Man Morrison!
Here’s a list of some of the cool shows that happened at the Whisky A Go Go in 1966:
Paul Butterfield Blues Band/The Leaves
Grass Roots/Hard Times
The Doors (audition)
Johnny Rivers/Buffalo Springfield
Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band/Buffalo Springfield/The Doors
Love/Buffalo Springfield/The Doors
Them / Capt. Beefhert & The Magic Band
Gene Clark and The Group/The Locos/The Doors
The Turtles/First Review/The Doors
Johnny Rivers/Chambers Brothers/The Doors
Chambers Brothers/Hard Times
The Mothers of Invention
Love/Sons of Adam
Love/Buffalo Springfield/Sons of Adam
Sir Douglas Quintet/The Sparrow (one week)
Buffalo Springfield/The Poor
Jefferson Airplane/Peanut Butter Conspiracy
The Turtles/Buffalo Springfield
Here’s a list of some of the cool shows that happened at the Whisky A Go Go in 1967:
Peanut Butter Conspiracy
The Doors/The Byrds
Sam & Dave / Jimi Hendrix Experience
Mitch Ryder Revue
Eric Burdon and The Animals
Peanut Butter Conspiracy
Moby Grape / The Byrds
Hour Glass (later to become The Allman Brothers Band)
Bo Diddley/Jimmy Smith
The Byrds / Steppenwolf
Big Brother and The Holding Company/Sweetwater
Country Joe and The Fish
Here’s a list of some of the cool shows that happened at the Whisky A Go Go in 1968:
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers/ Steppenwolf
Eric Burdon & The Animals/Eire Apparent
Blood, Sweat & Tears
Spirit/Illinois Speed Press
Hour Glass/Word Salad
Albert King/Evergreen Blue Shoes
Canned Heat/Fraternity of Man
Tim Buckley/Illinois Speed Press
Mothers of Invention/Alice Cooper
Siegal Schwall Blues Band
Illinois Speed Press/Initial Shock
Lee Michaels/Illinois Speed Press
Buddy Miles Express
Velvet Underground/Chicago Transit Authority
Three Dog Night/A.B. Skhy
Blood, Sweat & Tears/Spirit
Taj Mahal/Big Mama Mae Thornton
Velvet Underground/Cold Blood
Three Dog Night
Flying Burrito Brothers/Taj Mahal
Terry Reid/Illinois Speed Press
Lee Michaels/Chicago Transit Authority
John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) rocks out @ the Whisky circa 1969
Here’s a list of some of the cool shows that happened at the Whisky A Go Go in 1969:
Led Zeppelin/Alice Cooper/Buddy Miles Express
Tim Hardin/Illinois Speed Press
Lothar and The Hand People/Illinois Speed Press
Delaney & Bonnie & Friends/Illinois Speed Press
Van Morrison/Flying Burrito Brothers
Linda Ronstadt/Alice Cooper
It’s A Beautiful Day/Illinois Speed Press
Slim Harpo/Illinois Speed Press
Flying Burrito Brothers
Hugh Masakela & Big Black/Chicago Transit Authority/Illinois Speed ress
Cat Mother and The All-Night Newsboys/The Flock
Flying Burrito Brothers/The Churls
Sir Douglas Quintet/Flock
Dunn and McCashen
Chuck Berry/Five-Man Electrical Theatre
Humble Pie/King Crimson
Bobby “Blue” Bland/Smokestack Lightning
Grand Funk Railroad
Allman Bros @ The Whisky
By the 1970's, business at The Whisky A Go Go began to slow down. This article on the Cuepoint website by Greg Renoff provides details about Elmer Valentine's decision to change the club's format:
“In early 1975, Hollywood’s Whisky a Go Go was on the rocks. The famed Sunset Strip nightclub, which during its late 60s and early 70s peak had played host to acts ranging from The Byrds and The Doors to Led Zeppelin and the Beach Boys, faced serious financial problems. Record labels, which had used the Whisky as a key platform for promoting their rising rock acts, now turned their attention to securing warm-up slots for their new artists on arena and stadium tours. The economy, too, had gone south, with inflation making it difficult to keep ticket prices down.
Another blow came from the presence of newer and hipper Hollywood clubs, like the Starwood and the Roxy. ‘We can’t get big crowds regularly,’ owner Elmer Valentine told the Los Angeles Times. ‘We are competing with every little rock & roll club and every concert.’ In March, Valentine, a former Chicago cop who’d held an interest in the nightspot since 1964, conceded defeat. He announced that he’d decided to convert what was once the nation’s premiere rock club into a disco, of all things.
After a few lackluster months of business, Valentine dispensed with the trendy dance format and shuttered the club. He’d then begin leasing the Whisky to some enterprising gentlemen from back East who’d offer up cabaret entertainments like sex-themed shows and musical comedies, to little acclaim. On rare occasions, rock promoters put on one-off shows at the Whisky, such as in September 1975 when the pioneering female rock group the Runaways took the stage at the historic venue. But by late 1976, the once-proud Whisky had no relevance when it came to rock, and in fact, seemed destined to go to seed.
Despite the Whisky’s decline, Valentine never gave up hope that he might find a way to return it to its former glories. In the summer of 1976, Valentine rang up former Spirit manager Marshall Berle…In the weeks that followed, Berle and Valentine began hatching an audacious if not improbable plan to bring the Whisky back to life. Instead of booking well-established performers backed by major labels, they’d feature emerging local bands, most of whom lacked record deals, at the club. Unlike the commercially successful acts that had built the Whisky’s reputation, these groups played abrasive music that was generally unsuited for mainstream radio. By the fall, Valentine was all in on this scheme: he’d revive the Whisky by turning the nightspot into the headquarters for Los Angeles’s burgeoning punk and new wave scene.”
This change in the club's format created fresh interest in the Whisky A Go Go. The club has weathered the changes in rock music over the years as it presented punk and new wave bands.
NY Dolls outside the Whisky circa 1973
Alex Harvey Band @ The Whiskey circa 1975
Joan Jett & Rodney Bingenheimer hanging out @ The Whisky circa 1977
Ramones rock The Whisky circa 1977
As new music trends appeared, the Whisky booked the latest hot bands
such as Van Halen and Guns ‘n Roses
Today, the Whisky A Go Go still functions as a venue for live music and by the virtue of its long-standing presence on the LA scene, it has achieved its status as a true rock & roll landmark. On January 17, 2014, the Whisky A Go Go celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Elmer Valentine, the primary force behind The Whisky,passed away in December 2009 at the age of 85. A few hundred friends and fans gathered at The Whiskey to remember Vanlentine's contribution to the rock & roll culture. Besides the folks sharing their memories of Valentine, there was music performed by Johnny Rivers, Stephen Stills, Chris Hillman and John Mayall. The ghost of Jim Morrison was ejected from the party after overturning several tables and chairs.
The Whisky A Go Go has been immortalized in various rock songs many times over, the best case probably being the popular ditty Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark and Hilldale from the album, Forever Changes by the popular Whisky Band, Love which was fronted by the mercurial Arthur Lee.
Live @ The Right Track Inn 1983
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