Like its populace, L.A.’s music scene comes from all over the USA and elsewhere, and if you dig a bit, you’ll find that most of the various strands we’re hearing today, from rock and hip-hop to R&B to jazz and country, share intriguing intermusical roots. Pop music in L.A. dates from the heady days following World War II, when an influx of music-crazy, recently discharged veterans migrated here and found hospitable stomping grounds for new ways of hearing and playing the sounds they heard in their heads. At first there were few places to perform, and there was virtually no recording industry, at least not for these restless musical gamblers. But by dint of a lot of hustling (and the potential big bucks to be made), a club scene slowly emerged, radio took notice, and the mainstream enjoyed a wellspring of jazz/blues/pop cross-fertilization (possible only in a relatively unhindered place like L.A.) that argued persuasively that, in music anyway, anything was possible. And to make those possibilities come to pass, musicians who hoped to survive had to know how to play it all.
Incredibly, a lot of these seasoned vets are still around, still playing, and they’re your neighbors, with amazing stories to tell — like this one from longtime sax player, scenester, producer, club owner and promoter Jimmie Maddin, who for over 50 years has kept an active hand in a crazy spectrum of popular music styles that swings from bebop and avant-garde jazz to blues, raunchy R&B, kitschy novelty tunes, surf music, psychedelic garage rock, country & western and mariachi. Along the way he’s befriended some very colorful people, and had a few hit tunes (“Jeannie, Jeannie, Jeannie,” “Mashin’ Grapes,” “We Love the Dodgers,” and the very first rock & roll hit to come out of L.A., 1951’s “Boogie Boo”). A salty bon vivant originally from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Jimmie, now 71, lives in Silver Lake, drives a very long, copper-toned Caddy and likes to wear shades with his zoot suit. In this conversation, he fills us in on his solid-gold life in the fickle trenches of the music biz back in the day.
You came to L.A. in 1947. Why here?
There were three places you could go — Chicago, New York and here, where they had good music schools. And my brother was out here, and he was a band leader, so I naturally came here because I knew people.
What was your brother’s name?
Jack. I used to travel with him when I was a kid. He had a “territorial band,” they called them in the Middle West; he worked around Detroit a lot. The group was called the Detroiters. And he got unlucky — his number was picked out of the fish bowl and he was drafted. But then he got into the Army and he worked with some famous guys like Bud Freeman, tenor man from Chicago, up in the Aleutian Islands. And then when I came through on the way overseas, I liked L.A. — you know, it’s a nice place, a beautiful place to come to.
You’d already begun studying music back in Wisconsin, right? ç
I started when I was 8 years old, singing at parties around Sheboygan. And then I started listening to Count Basie when I was about 10 or 12, and Jimmy Rushing and the Count Basie Band with Lester Young. I used to hitchhike up to Chicago, 110 miles away, to stand in the hallway and listen to Woody Herman’s “Apple Honey” band. I played the clarinet and saxophone in the high school band. And then when I traveled with my brother’s band, summers, I met a lot of jazz musicians.
During the war, at the Sheboygan Theater they used to have, like, Chico Marx’s band and all these different swing commercial groups, and I’d spend the whole week there listening to my favorite bands, then I’d run backstage and meet all the guys. And that’s when I met Duke Ellington, back around 1942.
By the time you got out here, did you have a decent set of playing chops?
I didn’t feel like I played that good, but I fibbed enough to get jobs. But two weeks after I got here, I started at the Westlake School of Music on Sixth and Alvarado. And I’d bump into so many different great musicians, you know — Britt Woodman, trombone player with Ellington; and Marty Paich, and Art Pepper, Bill Holman.
There was a very famous teacher who had a school on Maple and Jefferson, his name was Lloyd Reese, and Lloyd was a trumpet and saxophone player, and he played with the Art Tatum Trio, with Lionel Hampton on drums. Les Hite — he had a famous band at the Cotton Club in Culver City, it was the best band on the West Coast — he was teaching at Lloyd’s school. Well, I was interviewing teachers I wanted to study with, and this is what Lloyd said he could do for me: He says, What I can do is teach you to make a living at music. When you get done studying with me, you’ll be able to go out and play a gig.
Then I met Eric Dolphy. He was still in high school, he was a little younger. We studied with Lloyd Reese together. With Lloyd, we had a five-piece sax session on Saturday, and Eric was in it. Lloyd taught us how to play harmony, and how to play arrangements and different ways of doing things. I used to put Eric up; he lived with his mother, and I had a car.
He was living down near Watts, right?
Yeah, most of the black population lived out that way. So I lived down in Echo Park at Sunset, and I’d go by and pick him up and take him to Lloyd’s on Saturday.
What was he like? Quiet and sensitive?
No, but he was when it came to music. He used to practice for 15 hours a day. This is when he was maybe 16 years old. If you wanna play the horn, you gotta put time into it. If you don’t do it, you can’t play it, and Eric was the epitome of it. Then we’d go to these jam sessions at different black churches, and we’d listen to guys like Sonny Criss, Teddy Edwards, and they would all be playing at these outdoor church socials. We’d go down on Sundays to the Downbeat Club on Central Avenue, to the Last Word, Jack’s Basket . . .
What year are we talking?
1951, ’50, ’49. And there I am down there, and Charlie Parker came to town, so I got to meet Charlie Parker. You know Ernie Andrews, the singer? He was there. Cab Calloway, too. They came here to work at these different clubs, and hung out on Central, or at the Watkins Hotel on Western and Adams, where Johnny Hodges stayed. It was a very famous black hotel — the hotels were segregated then. There were very few white people around there.
So Central Avenue was happening, but what about Hollywood?
There were just a few clubs in Hollywood. Around ’47, ’48, ’49, there were places you could work in the outlying areas, one or two clubs out in South Gate, one or two in Glendale, a couple in Hollywood. So you had to be a helluva entertainer or musician to get a gig. I worked at a bowling alley called the Emerald Cove out in Studio City, one of the first bowling alleys to have entertainment in the L.A. area. I had Marty Paich on piano; Marty was Mel Tormé’s musical conductor, did all those octet things.
At the time, did you have the opportunity to play recording sessions?
Yeah, I did that starting in 1949. I worked with a guy named Steve Riggio at Western and Hollywood Boulevard. We had a house that we rented. We wanted to record, and there weren’t many studios around — everything was just in its infancy, there was just Capitol Records and a few big companies. But for the little guys, there weren’t these little studios. So we bought a Magnacorder and stuck it in the room — monaural, one track, a quarter-inch. And what we did, we were gonna do “Record Your Song.” So we had this place on Hollywood Boulevard, and we started recording. And lo and behold, you know who comes and rents from us? Gerry Mulligan, and he was the first to stay. He lived upstairs — we rented the whole building, and then we subleased the rooms to musicians.
Can you describe a typical day back then? Would you do sessions during the day, gig at night?
Here’s a typical day: I’d get up in the morning, and the first thing I’d do, I’d shove the saxophone into my mouth and practice.
Where were you working?
I was working some black clubs — they had white owners but they had a black clientele — like with Mabel Scott at a place out there on Slauson, the Melody Room; now it’s called Memory Lane. Benny Carter was a good friend of Lloyd Reese’s, and they used to come in to hear my band. So around ’50, I said, I want to do some record dates. I’d already been doing some — I did one with Randy Idris, he wrote the “Woody Woodpecker” song, remember that? [Laughs.] Yeah, he recorded that tune in his basement, with an echo chamber.
So this was 1950, I was still in college, and I had a gig in Pasadena at Walsh’s Grill, and I had a half-hour radio show on KWKW. Everything was hectic; I was working seven days a week, 20 hours a day. And I was hanging out at Benny Carter’s house. I said, Benny, I wanna do a record deal, I got some ideas for songs. So he put me in touch with the guy that he wrote songs with, Paul Vandervoort, and then we did a couple of dates. We did a thing called “Boogie Boo,” this was about ’50-’51. I used Harry “Sweets” Edison, Red Callender on bass, “Bumps” Myers on tenor saxophone . . .
Meanwhile, you’re a young, ambitious player, and you’re practicing, practicing.
Every day I’m doing six to eight hours a day, and learning new material.
In 1953 you opened your first club. Where’d you get the dough?
There was this guy named Larry in Pasadena who was the No. 1 book for Mickey Cohen. I became good friends with him, and I worked in his restaurant for a year, and I did good business. And then Larry gave me this radio show. And he said, Jimmie, if you ever wanna buy a club, do anything at all, you call me and I’ll give you the money to get started.
Well, I had already saved a few bucks, and then I got this job in Hollywood at a club called the Sanbah Room, that was where Hollywood and Sunset meet, a nice little club. So then I call Larry, I said, I found a club that I like and I’d like to buy it, so I have a place to hang my hat. He came and looked at it, and then we talked to the owner, who wanted to get rid of it, ’cause the guy running it was stealing him blind or something, so that’s how I got in the club business.
How did the word get around on a new club back then?
Same as today: If you have the thing that people want, they’ll find you.
Did you do any advertising?
Yeah, I had ads in the Daily News, and another thing was that I got doing these arthritis telethons with Jack Rourke —
Yeah, he used to do TV game shows.
Yeah, Fred MacMurray’s brother, his half-brother. Jack put me on the telethon and I became an associate producer — I used to help ’em book their acts. That got me exposure on television, and I took off like a shot. And then Larry Finley had a show starting on KTLA, it must have been around ’53 or ’54, and he said, You wanna be the band on my TV show on Channel 5? So I was on The Larry Finley Show every night for an hour, the biggest show on nighttime television. He had everybody on it — Sammy Davis, anybody who played at Ciro’s, the Mocambo or Trocadero. And Dick Grove — you’ve heard of the Grove School of Music — he was the piano player. I worked there five nights a week, from 11 to 12:30.
The Sanbah Room must have been quite a
Ornette Coleman played the Sanbah in 1959, with Don Cherry. He didn’t do too well, ’cause it was too weird for most people. Billie Holiday used to come in there when she was in town. She hung out till morning after her other gigs. Nat and Cannonball Adderley played — Cannonball was a huge influence on Eric Dolphy. I had a buncha doo-wop groups — the Coasters, the Drifters, the Fifth Dimension before they had that name, and I backed them all. And if you got there by 9:30, 10 at night, you wouldn’t get a seat.
How many people could you fit in that room?
About 80, maybe 75.
Did you get harassed by the LAPD?
On what grounds? Smoking reefer?
No, we’re not talking about that stuff — it went on, it does today, you can’t stop that. Here’s how they’d harass and intimidate: If they see you’re drawing people, if you have a good entertainer, then you have packed houses. And that creates a “police problem,” they call it. But I got friendly with the Police Department. If you’re gonna fight ’em, they’re gonna win every time. ç
How long did the Sanbah last?
I was there eight years. I sold it in 1962. I bought this other club, with a bigger room, 150-200 people; it was called the Sundown, and then we changed the name to the Summit. That was on Wilcox and Sunset, where the Lingerie is now. I had the stage to the right in the far corner, and then I had one big space. I became partners with Tommy Bee, he was the biggest jazz disc jockey of the day, and we started Monday-night jam sessions at the Summit. A lot of groups played, like Coltrane’s — very nice guy. And Thelonious Monk — real nice guy. Monk said, Jimmie, I don’t like to go out too much, so he didn’t leave the club for two days; he slept on the couch in my office. Yusef Lateef played there; Sam Cooke sang there; Louis Prima and Sam Butera used to drop in. And Lenny Bruce, Don Rickles, Steve Allen, Steve McQueen — everybody.
You’re saying that John Coltrane played at your club?
I’m pretty sure his first appearance in Southern California was with me, in 1959. At the time, there weren’t any big jazz clubs in L.A., and Tommy and I thought, Well, we’ll hire a few guys from the Miles Davis band, who were working in San Francisco. We’d fly ’em in for Monday nights at the Summit.
Do you remember what Coltrane was into the night he played there? Was he breaking free?
Yeah, he was starting to break free. He’d get up, start the band and then play for two hours. The band would take breaks, and he’d just keep playing. [Laughs.] It was revolutionary. He was trying to develop a new thing, break away from Parker, take it up to another level.
Miles came in to see us, and he’s sitting at the bar. I had met him before, but he didn’t even remember me. Then he calls me over and he says, Jimmie, you know who I am: Miles Davis. He says, I’m not gonna pay this tab — he ran up a tab for about $80. I said, Whatta you talkin’ about? He says, Well, you’re using my saxophone player, John Coltrane. And I’m not gonna pay.
What would you have done?
I probably would’ve let it go.
But I’m a businessman. Coltrane’s costing me $500 for the night, and I’m struggling to get every buck I can just to pay him. I said, Wait a minute, Miles, if I bring you in and I’m paying you, like — you get around five grand a week — Miles, if you come in here and you play, and if I let everybody come in and scam their tabs, how am I gonna pay ya? You tell me. I said, I’ve got a disc jockey here that gets part of the dough, I’ve got the rent, I’ve got four musicians that I have to pay.
So, not a confrontation, just bullshitting back and forth. I said, Look, you know something, Miles, if you don’t wanna pay, I don’t give a fuck. [Laughs.] What are we gonna do, argue about a few bucks, with Miles Davis?
Did he pay or not?
He paid it. And he gave the bartender a $20 tip.
Okay, to what extent was the Mafia involved in the scene?
It was against the law for them to own clubs. If you had a mob influence, they wouldn’t issue you a license.
Anyone try to muscle in on you?
Nah. There were all these guys from the Detroit mob out here. One of them later set me up in a club where I played to a totally empty room for six weeks. It was just a front.
Mickey Cohen was a wonderful guy. He used to come into the Summit every night to see me, and he’d spend a thousand bucks a night. He’d come in alone, and he’d sit there and he’d buy everybody ç drinks. At quarter to 2 he’d say, Make an announcement, Jimmie, everybody’s invited to the Round Up [near the Strip] if anybody wants to have breakfast.
Mickey had an employee named Johnny Stompanato —
He was at the club a lot. He came in the night he got killed.
Do you remember what kind of vibe he had?
Really good-looking guy. Handsome sonofabitch, very calm, cool. And I knew Jack Whalen, he was The Enforcer. He was the toughest guy. But to meet these guys, you wouldn’t know it. They just looked like regular guys.
Did Johnny Stomp ever come in with Lana Turner?
No, but her daughter worked for us later on. And all of Errol Flynn’s ex-wives came in. Harrison Carroll was there every night, he was a big writer for the Examiner; all the big writers — Hedda Hopper, Army Archerd, Dorothy Manners, Sid Skolsky of the Hollywood Citizen News. Big headlines.
So I was working the club, and I had my own TV show, half hour a night on Channel 13, five nights a week. Then I started making records. I signed a recording contract with Dot Records. I made it on my own — “Tongue Tied” — and my manager at the time brought it to Dot, and they took it and released it. Then I formed the record division at American International Pictures. We had an office on the Strip, right next to Sam Arkoff’s office. I came up with the idea of making records to put into movies for soundtracks, and it worked.
What were some of the films you did?
One that I was a featured star in was The Ghost of Drag Strip Hollow. I actually sang in the picture.
We’re moving into the ’60s now. You were working as a promoter then as well as a club owner, right?
I was mainly a musician. At the time, I was producing records ’cause I just knew the business and I could put ’em together quick. I had a recording studio that I controlled as general manager; I could tape bands at the studio, and I could put groups together and record ’em. And then I came up with an idea. I said, you know something, if I could get the Deauville club right by the Santa Monica Pier and put a surf festival on, and get 50 surf bands, it would be the biggest event that ever happened. And I did it. It was 1963. Dick Dale played there. And we stopped traffic from downtown L.A. all the way to Malibu.
Meanwhile, music is changing again. The influence of jazz and R&B is waning a bit, and garage-rock is coming on strong. You produced the first Seeds album. Did you dig them musically, or was it more like a paycheck?
First of all, I liked Sky Saxon. His real name is Dick Marsh, and he’s from Salt Lake City. He came to me at AIP, and he’d written a song called “The Plan.” Real nice kid — clean-cut, sang in that kinda babyish voice. I liked his song, so I put it in the movie Diary of a High School Bride. I was more interested in guys that could perform and sing and play. Did I like them musically? If they did a good job at anything they did, I had an open mind.
Did Sky have a band at that point?
He had a group from Detroit that he worked with, and they had long hair. And I promoted ’em — I had a club called the Mardi Gras over on Wilshire Boulevard at the Park Wilshire Hotel.
The Seeds’ big hit was “Pushin’ Too Hard” —
Right, Sky wrote that in the front seat of my car. We taped the album at Western Recorders Studio. It took a long time to get the good take on that song; I finally had to bring in some of my other musicians. On most of the album tracks, they played, but I added to it. You know, I wanted to have it solid — it’s gotta sound good musically or it won’t sell.
Meanwhile, I was still touring, with the Coasters and a few others. And I worked with Bobby Fuller. He used to come in and sing with me, and I’d encourage and help him. You ever hear of Kim Fowley? He’s a strange guy. He lived upstairs at my club. I had an apartment up there, and he needed a place to stay. “Alley Oop,” he made that tune.
This is getting way too eclectic, Jimmie.
Big Jay McNeeley and I played clubs together, and I made records with the Johnny Otis Band, too. Johnny and I became good friends, he got me in with Jackie Kelso, all those guys.
Next thing you’ll be telling me you also played country & western —
I was on the Spade Cooley show on KTLA. Then I worked with Tex Williams, he did “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke That Cigarette.” I got to know Gene Autry. Homer Escamilla, he was a big writer, he wrote a tune that I recorded. And the other guy I worked with was Dusty Walker. He worked at KTLA, he had his own show. He was on every night for a half hour.
Jimmie, you’re a versatile musician, no doubt about it. But I’ll bet you’ve still got a jones for jazz.
Yeah. I’m a jazz guy.
When you pick up your sax, are you still making new discoveries?
Every day. You know, Benny Carter is 92, and I talk to him all the time. And you know what I found out? You have to reinvent yourself all the time if you want to stay in the music business. You can’t stand still. So now I’m promoting music festivals, and I’m working with a mariachi group. I’m picking up on what’s happening.
Jimmie Maddin jams at the Capri Lounge, 1134 N. Pacific Ave. in Glendale, every Saturday, 9 p.m.–2 a.m.; (818) 956-8738. Jimmie also plays at Highland Grounds, 742 N. Highland Ave., every second Thursday of the month; (323) 466-1507. For latest news and schedule, check out Jimmie’s Web page at https://members. aol.com/caprijazz.