Nestled between the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and the stately manors of Beverly Hills, West Hollywood has long had the reputation of being a wide open town with few rules and fewer still inhibitions. For many years an unincorporated town in the heart of L.A. county, it thrived on the less restrictive edicts of the county and by the 1920's, nightclubs, bars and casinos abounded on the infamous Sunset Strip. Although it's residential population is just shy of 40,000, its weekend and night time population swells to nearly three times this number. Yes, West Hollywood, or WeHo as the residents call it, is a party town!
In the mid-1960s, West Hollywood and the Sunset Strip were ground zero for the musical teen youth culture, with scores of great clubs, music shops, recording studios, boutiques, hipster hangouts, radio stations, and record stores. The hippie movement had injected new life and diversity into the town and young people flocked to the West Hollywood clubs like the Troubadour, Rainbow, and the Whisky A Go Go.
The Whisky A Go Go first opened its doors on January 11, 1964 at the site of an old bank building that had been recently remodeled into a nightclub called the Party. The Whisky, as it is affectionately known, is said to be the first real American discotheque and gave birth to the concept of Go Go dancers in cages. As the story goes, a mini-skirted DJ who had been spinning records in between sets from a suspended cage near the stage, started dancing to the live music. The audience bought into the act and the rest is history. Elmer Valentine, the owner of the new club and a former Chicago policemen, made the Whisky A Go Go an immediate success with the signing of rising star, Johnny Rivers, to a lucrative residency.
"After opening night it was obvious that he [Rivers] would not be returning to record production for a long time. He had become the new age Chubby Checker, and America was dancing. 'Johnny Rivers at the Whisky Au Go Go' turned Hollywood upside down. The "beautiful people" came flooding down from the hills to dance to his infectious boogie beat. His regular followers included Steve McQueen, Ann Margret, Sandra Dee, George Peppard, Rita Hayworth, George Hamilton, Tuesday Weld, Johnny Carson, Shelley Fabares, Richard Chamberlain, Laurence Harvey, Troy Donahue, Lana Turner and Gina Lollabrigida." -- Glenn A. Baker, autobiography of Johnny Rivers
Between Clark and Hilldale-- "here they always play my songs"-- Arthur Lee
Located on the strip between the streets Clark and Hilldale, the Whisky played an important role for Southern California based bands like The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Doors, The Mothers of Invention, and Love with Arthur Lee. It was here in 1966 that the Doors had their very first residency, taking there name from a book by Aldous Huxley titled "Doors to Persception". (The book, signed by all four members of the Doors remains prominently displayed at the club.) The Whisky would often have 2 or 3 acts a night, marquee names as well as the popular local bands. Van Morrison and Them did 2 weeks of shows with the Doors as their opening act. On their last night, "Them and The Doors play together for the last set, including a 25 minute In The Midnight Hour and a 20-minute Gloria." The club was later immortalized in Arthur Lee's song, "Maybe the People Would be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale" off the critically acclaimed album, "Forever Changes".
Many British bands made their first headlining performances in the area at the Whisky, including The Kinks, The Who, Cream, Led Zeppelin and The Rory Gallagher Band. Rory's first tour of the States following the breakup of Taste started at the Whisky A Go Go. He played the the Whisky for 5 successive nights, October 13-17, 1971.
"We played five nights at the Whiskey in LA, two sets a night, and that was good."--Rory Gallagher
Good indeed! The LA Times had this to say about Rory's performance at the Whisky: "Gallagher hits you with it right between the eyes...On songs like 'Sinner Man'(sic), 'Hands Up', 'Laundromat', and 'I fall Apart' he shows a refreshing (and rare) eagerness to move the audience. ...Gallagher, a whiz on lead guitar, plays with fierceness and the good taste to avoid the stock phrase."--Michael Ross, LA Times, October 16, 1971. In the book 'Riding Shotgun', Gerry McAvoy talked about their 5 nights at the famous Whisky A Go Go:
"Then we drove past the Whisky A Go Go where we were booked to play for five consecutive nights and there on the billboards in great big letters it said, 'Tonight: Rory Gallagher plus Little Feat'...That first night, a Wenesday I think, was actually very disappointing. We played three sets to a total of about 20 people. But the following night there were about 70 in the audience. And by the last night, a Sunday, the place was heaving. You couldn't move in there. And it was nearly all word of mouth. -- Gerry McAvoy, 'Riding Shotgun'
To read the Michael Ross review of Rory's first gig at the Whisky taken from the October 16, 1971 edition of the Los Angeles Times click HERE.
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