|SUNSET STRIP AS MEMORY LANE:
A Local Reminisces About the 60s Strip
By S.L. Duff
During the course of banging out club data, issue 'pon issue, I have had the opportunity to come in contact with some pretty interesting characters. Among my favorites is Coconut Teaszer booker Len Fagan. Oftentimes, when I call him to get news about the Teaszer, or he calls me with something he's genuinely excited about (y'see, Len is one of the few bookers to go out of his way to make my job a little easier), we end up shootin' the proverbial shit about this and that. Local bands, the club scene, music in general---all come into our conversation. After rapping with him for a few months, I discovered that Len is no Johnny-come-lately to the L.A. club scene; in fact, his experiences on the ever-changing circuit date back to the sixties, when Fagan was a rabid rock fan and an inspiring drummer who logged time in several locally prominent bands. I found his memory for details, names, and incidents to be impeccable, and in most cases better than my recollection of last week. Len also remembers the geographical layout of the late sixties/early seventies club scene, so I asked him what he thought of hopping in a vehicle "cruisin' Sunset" with yours truly, my trusty Panasonic interview recorder, and the Club Data staff driver, letting his recollections roll onto tape as we drove by the old haunts. He loved the idea, and we finally got around to taking the ride on July 16th. The following are some of the highlights of our trip, and though a lot of Len's recollections lie on the cutting floor due to space limitations, this should nonetheless give you some idea of the excitement of those times.
This right here (the Aquarius Theater) was originally the Hullabaloo Club. The hip thing about it was, you could be 15-and-a-half and get in. They'd have everything from lame bands like the Lollipop Shop right up through the Doors. I remember Love used to play here, then they'd play another concert in the Valley the same night. After the Hullabaloo, it changed to the Aquarius Theater. New owners took it over and it became a much hipper place; their posters were round instead of square. When it was the Hullabaloo, on weekends after hours from 1:00 am until sunrise, they'd have new bands get up. You wouldn't get paid, but they'd have a marathon of bands get up, and it was a big deal to get on that show. The Allman Brothers played there when they were the Hourglass. (We pull up in front of the current Gaslight.) This, for me, is where it all started. The first place I ever came to myself---and I was living in the Valley at the time---was right here to see Love. It was the summer of '65. I couldn't even get in the club---I used to sit here (on the sidewalk) and listen. Love would play the whole night, and it was completely packed. A few years later, the Iron Butterfly moved in and slept in this room (pointing upstairs over the entrance). They moved up here from San Diego, auditioned, and the club loved 'em and let 'em live in the room upstairs. They played here for months and would pack this place. It was called Bido Lido's back then. I saw the Seeds here, when the first album came out, before "Pushin' Too Hard" was a hit. The Doors played here, so did Spirit. ......I could go on and on. Look how tiny it is! A band's gig here would usually be for a week straight, and if you were incredible, they'd hold you over.
I was in a group called the Rainmakers; we had a week-long gig here, and after the second or third night, our guitar player got sick and couldn't do it. I had met Vincent Furnier outside the club here, and he was a real nice guy. At the last minute, I called up Vince, and his band the Nazz filled in for us. (Furnier and the Nazz would both later change their names to Alice Cooper.) The big break for them was, they met the booker of the Cheetah Club down in Venice, who fell in love with them, and that's where they took up residency, and then they met (manager) Shep Gordon. Bido Lido's went out of business around the end of '67, early '68.
The club we're coming to now was called the Brave New World. Bido Lido's and Brave New World were the smaller East Hollywood clubs where the bands would kinda start out. We would usually park at one of the clubs, and on any given night, walk between one and the next. The Brave New World was owned by a guy named Alan as I remember. Alan was also in the ......I don't know how to say it.....the "X-rated girl" industry. He had something to do with naked women----remember, I'm young at the time! The club was a members only club, so to speak---that's how they got around some kind of licensing trip. If they knew you weren't a cop, they'd let you in. This is where Love first played---probably late '64---right up there at 1644 and 1642 Cherokee. The Stones were in town recording at RCA, and they went here to check out a group called the Bees---that was a big night. The Mothers played here before they were called the Mothers of Invention; if I remember, they spelled the name "Muthers." Instead of a marquee, they had a flag on a flagpole with the band's name.
We're now in front of the Lingerie, which I first remember being the Red Velvet. They had a lot of black and soul groups. The Knickerbockers were the band that came out of here. This was a place that had your short-haired people, your lamer crowd.
Down there, at Santa Monica and Highland, was a club that not many people are goin' to remember; it was in a big old warehouse. It was a gay club, mainly for lesbians, and a lot of the bigger bands would take gigs here, right next to the Bekins warehouse. The gig would start around 11 or 12 at night, and we'd take those gigs, 'cause they paid well. The Knack (a sixties teenybop band signed to a singles deal with---surprise---Capitol) and the Sons of Adam, who were a monster band, used to play there. Don't even remember the name of the place.
They finally shut them down and they moved into the Valley on Ventura Boulevard. I remember our bass player coming back into the club freaked out because he took what he thought was a girl out to his car and found out it was a guy---we were kids at the time.
Here, at 7563 Sunset, was Ooh Poo Pah Do's, which had live music; that was in '72. And then Rodney (Bingenheimer) took it over and made it a disco, with English beer and English records. That was '73 or '74, and it was big for a couple of years.
Here, between Stanley and Curson, was a big club called The Experience. They had food here and ice-cream. This club was famous as a jam hangout---musicians who were in town playing bigger concerts elsewhere would come here after their shows or on the nights they were off to jam. I've been hoping to make the Teaszer conducive to impromptu jams, but it seems musicians today just aren't into jamming. A shame. Hendrix jammed here all the time. There were always famous celebrities in the audience. There was a big picture of Hendrix (on the exterior front wall of the club), and his mouth was the front door---you'd walk in through his mouth!
The big summer for The Experience was '69; it was probably here for a year-and-a-half, two years, maybe. I remember jamming here with some of the Quicksilver Messenger Service. The Blues Magoos played here on their way down; Alice Cooper played here on their way up---got booed off the stage.
(Sitting in the parking lot of the Teaszer at Crescent Heights.) The hippies hangout was right around here---it started from here down to Gazzarris. Pandora's Box was right where that middle island was (in the middle of the intersection of Crescent Heights and Sunset). That wasn't a real prestigious place to play. It was right on the beginning of the Strip, it was a purple building, and it was right there in the middle---a pretty weird location. You could be underage and still get in there. To be honest with you, I didn't hang out there at all---I may have been in that club once. There was something about it that, in my mind, wasn't hip.
We're at the Comedy Store now, which was first called Ciro's. The Byrds used to play here---this is where they really took off. Bob Dylan came in here after hearing about the Byrds playing his material electrically and gave his endorsement to them, which was a big boost to them making it. Before that, Ciro's was a big hangout for Bogie and all that in the Forties. They later changed the name from Ciro's to It's Boss. Ciro's was over 21; at It's Boss, you could be fifteen-and-a-half. Ciro's was definitely a big, big prestige club. It was open at least to '73 '74, but it was mainly a force in the late Sixties. (As a cop pulls up to give out parking tickets, we quietly pull away.)
Speaking of cops, back in '64, '65, '66, when we used to drive down the street or the Strip, I used to smoke non-filter cigarettes. You had to be careful to have the brand on your mouthside; the cops were so lame that if they caught you with a cigarette with no filter and no name on it, they assumes you were smoking pot. This was when acid was still legal, by the way.
Right over here, at 8516, there was a tiny club called the Sea Witch. The capacity in that club was maybe 60 people. The thing about the Sea Witch that was neat was it was designed all out of raw wood and was supposed to look like a ship. That was another place on the Strip to play---always crowded. That was about '64 to '67. There's the Playboy Building. On the far end of the Playboy Building there used to be a marquee, and that was a club called the Trip. I remember driving by and seeing on the marquee---I'll never forget this---"Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable with the Velvet Underground and Nico"---on the goddamn marquee. Now what the fuck is that, right? I had no idea.
The white banana album had just come out, and the Velvet Underground moved into town, played there for at least a week or so, and rented a big castle up here in the hills, and they were very, very strange people. What was I, 18 at the time? To me it was scary. The Lovin' Spoonful played at the Trip when they were at their biggest. The Byrds used to play at the Trip. That was '65 through '67, I think, when the Trip was at its biggest. Over 21 club. The Central used to be Filthy McNasty's, where it was kind of a lame trip. It was here as far back as I can remember.
We are now at Clark and Sunset, the world-famous friggin' Whisky A-Go-Go. This is it. When I first came here, the building was red, and there were little awnings up there all over the windows, and it looked like a French discotheque. Mario used to stand there, forever---always a fixture. The first time I was in the Whisky, I was hanging out right here; it was raining. It was either Moby Grape or Janis Joplin---somebody like that was playing inside---and I didn't have the money, and I was huddled here listening. And Mario was over there and he yelled at me, "What's the matter, don't you have any money?" I go no. He goes "Get inside." That was Mario for ya. Great guy. People say Bill Gazzari was the godfather of rock, but I think Mario was the godfather. He watched us all grow up here. I remember nights I'd come here, he'd grab me and say, "You look like shit. What are you on? You haven't eaten in a week!" Drag me over to the bar and say, "Give him a hamburger ---and you sit down and eat it!" The best. Nobody does that---who does that anymore?
Where Duke's is now was a little club called the London Fog. The Doors played here; wasn't open very long. It quickly became an upscale bar called Sneaky Pete's.
Here (at 8923 Sunset) was the Galaxy. They had a flat marquee and an upstairs infamous for sexual promiscuity. A lot of good bands played here. Here, in between Clark and Hilldale, people were openly selling grass and acid. Love, on the Forever Changes album, have a song called, "Between Clark and Hilldale." This one block was the throbbing heart of it all. When I first started coming into town, there was a Gazzarris here, and another one down on La Cienega that wasn't quite as hip. This place always had the Gazzarris girls, the dancing trip.
The Roxy they opened around '72, '73, and the Rainbow opened around that same time. The Rainbow was supposed to be a place for the business people in the industry to come and take meetings. Because the musicians knew the industry people were going to be here, the musicians would hang out, and because the musicians were here, the groupies would come, and because the groupies were here, the wanna-be musicians would come. It just became a scene and it's never stopped.....As we left the Strip, Len talked about the Fifth Estate and the Stratford on Sunset, as well as the Beach House and the Cheetah, both out on the Venice Pier. We drove past the Troubadour, an old venue called the Factory, and finally the Starwood, which was PJ's in the Sixties and is now yet another mini-mall. "Everything that you see bands do now, has been done before," Len told me. "Back then, someone would come along with something original. But it really was a different scene back then. You could always find a jam session at a club or some band's communal house---24 hours a day." Ya shoulda been there.
Copyright 2002 by S.L. Duff/Waiting-forthe-Sun.net - (Originally published 1988 - Music Connection)