Johnny Rivers onstage at the Whisky 
Johnny Rivers performs on Hullabaloo - the set mimics the Whisky

Nights at the Whisky: The Sunset Strip in the Sixties

On a night in 1963, Lou Adler introduced Johnny Rivers to Elmer Valentine, an ex-Chicago vice cop in his mid thirties, who had just opened the Whisky A Go-Go at 8901 Sunset Blvd. Adler had discovered Rivers playing one night at Gazzari’s, noticing a phenomena he’d never seen before - adults dancing to Rock ‘n’ Roll. He thought Rivers’ cleaned up version of authentic Memphis-style country-blues rock ‘n’ roll was a perfect match for Valentine’s new club, which was America's first real “discotheque," modeled after the original Whisky A Go-Go in Paris. (Ironically enough, the Paris club the Rock and Roll Circus, which is thought by many to be the actual location of Jim Morrison's death, is now named the Whisky A Go-Go. Whether or not this is the location of the original Whisky A Go-Go in Paris is unclear; if it is, it’s an interesting synchronicity indeed.)

By the summer of 1964, Johnny Rivers was creating “the” Sunset Strip sound at the Whisky every night. In July, his LP Johnny Rivers at the Whisky A Go-Go became a smash. Add to that the birth of the Go-Go girl when the club’s female disc jockey, who was suspended in a cage above the dancefloor, began dancing to the records she was spinning between sets, and a new pop culture phenomenon was born. The Whisky’s place in history had been assured in less than a year.

Go-go dancers at the Whisky A Go-Go

By the end of 1965 the Byrds, The Turtles and the Lovin’ Spoonful were in residence at the Whisky, and the whole strip was buzzing. Gazzari’s had relocated from La Cienega to Sunset, and the Coffeehouses had been taken over by teens. The newest hot venture was Valentine’s new club "The Trip” and across the street, Ben Franks was becoming “the eaterie." It was here that the band which would later become Love was formed by Arther Lee and Byrds’ roadie Bryan MacLean. By this time, it could take 4 hours to travel the mile and a half from the Beverly Hills city line to Schwab’s on a Friday or Saturday night, but the truly “hip” crowd was out and about every night. The sidewalks teemed with girls in boots and bellbottoms. All the folk groups went electric that summer, and mind-expansion was de rigueur. In February 1966, Ken Kesey staged the first L. A. acid test.

The scene on the Strip was in full swing in the spring, summer and fall of 1966 - the time of the Doors’ residence at the Whisky. They backed-up week-long stints by headliners such as Love, The Byrds, Captain Beefheart, The Lovin’ Spoonful and Motown acts, such as Marvin Gaye.

It was about this time that the scene’s major players were beginning a quiet exodus to Laurel Canyon. Soon a community of musicians developed, sharing music and highs among the neighborhood. Love, Three Dog Night, The Mamas and the Papas, The Mothers of Invention, The Byrds, the Doors of course, The Turtles and many other bands were all represented in homes previously owned by such notables as Natalie Wood and Mary Astor. Also in residence were other music notables, such as Elektra producer Paul Rothchild. Laurel Canyon pioneer Billy James, former A&R man for Columbia Records, who had done his best to add the Doors to that label's roster, was interviewed by Jerry Hopkins for the new in-crowd rag World Countdown News. In the interview, he told Jerry that the only one who had been in residence in the Canyon before him was Love’s Arthur Lee. “It’s all happened within the last year or so,” James was quoted as saying. “If creative artists need to live apart from the community at large, they also have a desire to live among their own kind, and so an artistic community develops.” The Canyon Country Store was the hub of this burgeoning scene. “If there were more mobility in this town,” Billy James said, “the Canyon Store would look like MacDougal Street on a Saturday night.”

Magic was definitely in the air, and synchronicity was at work when the then fresh-from-Canada Neil Young ran into old pals Stephen Stills and Richie Furay in a traffic jam on Sunset Boulevard just as the Byrds were falling apart. From this chance meeting, Buffalo Springfield was born.

The Whisky A Go-Go

The Whisky in one of it's many incarnations

The Strip's heyday wasn’t to last long, however. The weirdness of fame and drugs started to take their toll pretty quickly. Personnel changes and band break-ups were indicative of the gradual disintigration of the scene on the Strip. Smaller clubs were starting to close, as larger ballroom style venues began to take over. Originally built in the Thirties and recently refurbished with a state-of-the-art sound system and a revolving stage, the Kaleidoscope opened in 1968 with a capacity of nearly 1,500, while the new Cheetah club, modeled after it’s New York counterpart, held well over 2,000. After the advent of the Pop Festival, concerts were now being booked at Civic Auditoriums and other larger halls. The scale of rock was changing, and with it, the intimacy of the club scene was dying out. Derek Taylor held a “Farewell to LA” party at Ciro’s in March 1968, and the Strip was never the same. The Scene which started with the Whisky A-Go-Go was gone. Only the Whisky itself and Gazzari’s would remain.

Copyright 2002 by laciefae/

The Fillmore East History