Word is spreading about the death of one of the iconic (and most oddly named) figures of the Sunset Strip — Filthy McNasty.
McNasty, whose eponymous nightclub was the predecessor to what now is the Viper Room and who also owned F.M. Station in North Hollywood, died of cancer on April 13. His death at the age of 73 was disclosed on his Facebook page on Tuesday and has drawn comments from several dozen friends and co-workers. They include local rockers and James Rogan, a U.S District Court judge in California and a two-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“The news of the passing of my former boss, Filthy McNasty, is devastating to all of us who knew him,” Rogan wrote in his post on McNasty’s Facebook page. “From 1979 to around 1982 I was one of his bartenders at the Strip and North Hollywood clubs. When I learned he died, I felt that a portion of my youth died with him. In my chambers to this day (I serve as a judge of the Superior Court of California) is the massive gavel he and Wolfgang gave me when I first became a judge in 1990. Never to be outdone, it remains the largest gavel I have ever owned. Rest in peace, boss.” (Wolfgang was McNasty’s brother.)
“R.I.P. Filthy McNasty, founder of the great rock club FM Station,” writes Gerry Gittelson, editor at MediaSludge, on Facebook. “Don’t let the name fool you. In an era when most club workers were total pricks, Mr. McNasty was a kind man whom everyone liked. That’s probably why he was among the few to succeed outside the confines of the Sunset Strip.”
Wolfgang and Nasty (who was born as Wilfried Bartsch before the brothers legally changed their names) moved to the United States from Berlin in 1956 according to Leigh Montville, author of “Evel: The High-Flying Life of Evel Knievel: American Showman, Daredevil, and Legend.” They began working in the restaurant business and eventually took over the Melody Lounge, at 8852 Sunset Blvd. near Larrabee, a hangout where Bugsy Siegel and Micky Cohen and other gangsters were said to gamble. Renamed as “Filthy McNasty’s,” the bar became a popular hangout for Evil Knievel and Phyllis Diller, Elvis Presley and Mick Jagger and other celebrities such as Little Richard and John Wayne who appreciated McNasty’s ban on photographers.
“There was action every night of the week,” Montville writes, “with loud bands, transvestite singers, mud wrestling, and a whole lot of Monte Rock III, who was a hairstylist, a signer and mostly a flamboyant talk-show guest with Merv Griffin and Johnny Carson.”
After the bar closed at 2 a.m., patrons would move on to the McNasty brothers’ F.M. Station club in North Hollywood, where they partied until sunrise. Montville reports that McNasty drove a black Cadillac hearse with an orange interior and was know for his own song: “You’re breaking my heart, you tear it apart, so f-ck you.”
F.M. Station also was popular with the rock world. “F.M. Station was the premier live music venue of the San Fernando Valley and was the favorite watering hole for many of the music industry’s shiniest of stars, and was often coveted as their ‘nasty’ little secret,” writes Gerry North on Parousia Buff. “On any given night, you could find the members of Motley Crue, Kiss, Guns and Roses, Great White, Metallica, Motorhead etc. followed around by local hopefuls striving for a grab at the proverbial brass ring known as a record deal.”
The McNasty brothers sold Nasty McNasty’s, and in the 1980s it was rebranded the Central. “During the 1980s you could easily catch a set by Rickie Lee Jones or bump into John Belushi at The Central,” writes Alison Martino, a major chronicler of the Sunset Strip’s history, in Los Angeles Magazine. “In 1981, The Who’s John Entwistle participated in an open jam night there on Tuesdays. Mitch Mitchell (of the Jimi Hendrix Experience), Buddy Miles, Les Dudek, Carlos Castenada, Jr., C.C. DeVille (before he was in Poison) Pearl (Janis Joplin’s back-up singer) and Ray Gange (the Clash’s roadie and star of “Rude Boy”) would sit in or be seen drinking at the bar.”
Central opened in 1993 as the Viper Room, with actor Johnny Depp then a part owner. It was known for a while as the place where Hollywood celebs hung out and infamously as the place where in 1993 actor River Phoenix died of a drug overdose. Today its owners include Harry Morton, son of Hard Rock Cafe co-founder Peter Morton, who is said to want to turn it into a franchise somewhat like the House of Blues.
McNasty closed F.M. Station about 20 years ago after losing his lease. “As the hordes of Hollywood’s hair-band hopefuls packed up their wagons and headed back home, rock and roll proprietor Filthy McNasty knew it was ‘last-call’,” North writes. “With little notice or fanfare, F.M. Station Live in North Hollywood … closed its doors for good in 1997. One of LA’s premiere live music clubs was gone.”