“Live in the moment,” they say. “Practice mindfulness,” the GIFs encourage. “Be here now,” they intone. Well, fuck them. Like Jethro Tull, I’m Living in the Past. Because, dammit, “back in the day” was just better. Well, maybe not; but 20 (and more) years hence, it sure looks that way.
I’m talking about L.A.’s live music bar and club venues. Between my halcyon days of 1981 (in high school — Uni in West L.A., whose alumni include Kim Fowley and Tone Loc) and 2006 (when I moved to Brooklyn, yo), I went out a lot. A LOT. And chronicled much of it in my BAM magazine column of the ’90s, “Raw Power.” (R.I.P.) Sometimes I’d hit three clubs a night, four to five nights a week, to see, write about and interview bands. For many years. And I drank. (Still do). Let us not speak of the driving. SO, the memories, while rose-colored, may sometimes be fuzzy.
As this highly subjective list proves, change IS the only constant. I’ve left out many clubs (I just didn’t go to Cathay De Grande or Al’s that much), possibly misremembered even more, but that’s what the comments section is for, right? So here’s much ado about the beloved, sometimes beleaguered, live music clubs of yore that I mourn — in no particular order. Yes, misty water-colored memories of the way we were/I was — which was … a perm, vintage dresses, late nights at Ben Frank’s, cowboy boots with buckles … and clothes smelling like cigarettes all the time, even though I didn’t smoke.
1. The Palomino
I recently interviewed Dwight Yoakam and Lucinda Williams, and the way we waxed nostalgic for this North Hollywood country-plus-a-lot-more venue, you’d think we owned the damn place. I don’t remember my first time, and I didn’t go a lot, But … it was one of the only bars where a guy would buy a lady a drink. Because: cowboy courtesy. More important, it was the epicenter of an important L.A. scene — the home of all things country-ish in our “town south of Bakersfield” from 1949 to 1995, surely the longest life of any club on this list. Los Angeles magazine wrote an oral history about it, KCET called it “Grand Ole Opry West,” and I called it a good time with great music. The vibe was raucous, down-home, inclusive and cool and, if I recall, there was food and an outdoor back patio. It also seemed like the parking lot was dirt? From Mel Tillis (whom I saw in Vegas, not at the Pal) to The Textones to Peter Criss, to Meat Puppets to frequent guest Jerry Lee Lewis, it was a twangy, sometimes punky oasis of awesomeness, and I SO wish it was still operating. (The building still stands … so don’t sell your Nudie suits quite yet!)
2. Club Lingerie
One of my many homes away from home, the small door on Sunset Boulevard saw a ton of talent pass through its portals; I still count as friends people who worked there, including sometime doorman (and brilliant artist) Van Arno. And let’s not forget Johnny Indovina of Human Drama. And the late, great booker Brendan Muller (also of the Masque, where I was too young/not cool enough to go), whose book, We Got the Neutron Bomb, I still need to read. And can I say: Junkyard, Little Caesar and Dirty Dogs? More times than I can count. How about Life Sex & Death, with smelly Stanley playing piano across from the stage? The A&R weasel-fest (as we used to call them) when Candlebox played there during the last gasp of grunge? (I believe I wrote then that they shouldn’t get signed but they would — they did.) I believe I also saw there over my likely hundreds of times in front of the stage: Chili Peppers (or was it Jane’s? Or both?), The Dictators, the wonderful Greta, Broken Glass, Love Razors … and your band, too.
3. The Starwood
Unfortunately I think I only went to the Starwood about four times. WTF was wrong with me? It was all-ages, and my friends were going to see Snow, Virgin, London — all the Mötley-associated bands. And The Germs and The Runaways played there! But all I can say is see above: too young, not cool enough. And it closed in my high school era of 1981 (due in part to underage drinking, dontcha know!). The Starwood has assumed legendary status in my mind for several reasons beyond the obvious. As I wrote [shameless plug alert] in Louder Than Hell, LOTS of people (from band manager/A&R person Vicky Hamilton, who waitressed there when she moved to L.A., to Don Dokken and Steven Adler) had decadent and/or horror stories about the club. Here’s an odd aside: I used to go to Hollywood Boulevard club/bar Seven Seas and decided to write a story about Eddie Nash — the money launderer/drug dealer behind Seven Seas, the Starwood and the Wonderland Murders — for one of USC journalism classes. I’m sure my professor was (probably rightfully) concerned. Last time I drove by Santa Monica Boulevard and Crescent Heights and could bear to look, the Starwood location was a mini-mall. They pave paradise and put in a ... well, you know. (Of course, the Lava Lounge on La Brea was IN a mini-mall — what to do then?!)
This recurring theme of my “not cool enough” life also applies to Raji’s … though I did go there dozens of times. That said, judging by the recollections on the 1,500-person-strong FB group, Raji’s Nightclub a Hollywood Memorial, not enough times. (Certainly not enough for the late, legendary booker Dobbs to know me, nor Top Jimmy....) And was there a Whirlwind (or Fishtails?) pinball machine upstairs? Moving on, fave shows I saw there: the band I Love You (criminally underrated) and Live (yes, “I Alone”). Of course, Haunted Garage, The Hangmen, and I’m sure Tex and the Horseheads and, likely, Motorcycle Boy and Mentors. (El Duce was one of my first-ever interviews, when he worked at the Ivar Theatre). And maybe The Little Kings, as well as Kyuss, though I think the first time I saw the future Queens was at, um, that club behind the Ivar Theatre? (The Gaslight? Saw The Fuzztones there, for sure.) When I finally moved walking distance to Raji’s, both my place and the club were badly shaken in the 1994 Northridge quake. My apartment survived; Raji’s didn’t.
5. Madame Wong’s West
Formidable (at best!) club owner Esther Wong’s Chinatown location was far hipper than its Westside counterpart — I remember Kim Fowley doing a flailing, insane version of “Gloria” in that punk palace — but in my teens and early 20s, I lived about two miles from West (yes, at home). New wave and power pop was the main name of the game at Wong’s West’s two-story, two-stage club, a venue where I had special-occasion dinners as a little girl when it was the Fox & Hounds. Who didn’t I see there? I saw: Screaming Jay Hawkins, Ronnie Montrose, 20/20, Candy (bassist/now big-time band manager Jonathan Daniel was a booker) and the awesome cover band Trash. (Did I see GNRs Duff play with them, or was that a GNR show? The decades/nights, they blend.) Not to mention Nu-Kats, Naughy Sweeties, and about a million and a half more. Again, to this day, I’m still friends with people who worked there, these 30-something years later. (Hi, Rolly!)
6. Music Machine
If there’s any doubt by now, let me clear it up: YES, I had a fake ID. I began my journalism career at about 18, and was going to clubs at 16, so my by-mail “Arizona ID” got me into clubs. Then at one point I decided to alter my own California license, and voila, was busted at the Music Machine, when they shined a flashlight through my Exacto-knifed birthdate! Still... It was a Westside/near-home venue (yes, I had a curfew when I started going out) and I saw there: Spinal Tap, GG Allin, Bitch and one of my fave raves, Chequered Past. Yes, Steve Jones propositioned my friend in the alley next to the club. She said no. (Hi, Donna!) Oh yeah, saw a pre–record deal Guns N’ Roses there at least once, and The Plugz, I do believe, and so on, and so on…
The club’s Park Plaza location across from MacArthur Park was not so much booked as curated by forceful impresario Dayle Gloria. For years, every Monday was a late and liquored-up evening for L.A. music fans, thanks (or no thanks) to Scream. It even spawned an album: The 1987 Geffen Records Scream: The Compilation, which showcased Jane's Addiction,The Hangmen, Tender Fury and Kommunity FK. Other personal faves, including The Sea Hags, Nymphs and 45 Grave, graced the large, impressive stage/room. I saw Guns N’ Roses at the Park Plaza venue … but was it at the RIP magazine party there in 1989 a few days before they opened for the Stones at the Coliseum, or was it during a regular Scream night? Or both?
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8. Coconut Teaszer
If not the most respected (nor most respectable) venue, the Teaszer nonetheless had legendary club booker Len Fagan, who championed a lot of female singers, including the great Bekka Bramlett; a classic location, big hair and tons of fun. Yes, I went to the glitter/glam nights where all the bands who hadn’t given up on their Poison dreams would gorge on free hot dogs on the patio. Saw Rock City Angels, Flies on Fire, Electric Angels, Bottom 12 (how’d they fit on that stage?!), Sugartooth, The Zeros, Lynyrd Skynhead (feat. guitarist Zakk Wylde), The Mimes … and a TON more. The L.A. Times said of the venue, “Possibly one of the most unpleasant rooms in L.A. for live music,” saying it “seems to exist predominantly through bands who rely on the kindness of friends as they entice buddies … with generous guest lists.” Maybe, but Black Cactus Stampede was one of the finest L.A. bands to grace the Teaszer stage, and when you get to see Axl Rose and West Arkeen (R.I.P.) onstage as/with The Drunk Fux — 1988, I believe — there was absolutely no better place to be. (Anyone remember when the original Teaszer bar was kitty-corner to its final location, back when Schwab’s drugstore was where the Crunch Gym and Starbucks is now? Didn’t think so.)
Honorable mention: Cathouse, Anti-Club; Florentine Gardens (did I see Mookie Blaylock — soon to become Pearl Jam — there?); White Trash au Go-Go, the Shamrock (now Cheetahs strip club!) … and the beat goes on.