[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t was fifty years ago tomorrow when Elmer Valentine opened a nightclub on Sunset Boulevard that has showcased some of the world’s most famous rock, heavy metal and grunge talent. And if that wasn’t a big enough contribution to America’s nightlife scene, it also gave birth to go go dancing.
Whisky a Go Go opened on Jan. 15, 1964, with a live performance by Johnny Rivers accompanied by DJ Rhonda Lane. For fifty years in the same location at 8901 Sunset between Clark and Hilldale, Whisky a Go Go offered a roster of performers who are a Who’s Who of rock music. The Doors, for example, were once the house band. Southern California groups like Alice Cooper, Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds were regular performers. Neil Diamond, Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, and Mötley Crüe performed, and the list goes on.
Whisky A Go Go’s inspiration was a club of the same name in Paris that Valentine visited in 1963, shortly after his wife left him. Valentine, a former Chicago cop, headed to Paris to take a break and, he told Vanity Fair, because he was on the take from the Mob.
Valentine had earlier opened a club called P.J.s. When he returned from Paris, he invested $20,000 of his profits from that venture into the Whisky with partners Shelly David, Theordore Flier and Phil Tanzini. He signed a one-year contract with Rivers. And on opening night he installed short-skirted DJ Rhonda Lane in a glass cage above the stage where she spun between sets, joined by cigarette girl Patty Brockhurst, who danced. Another DJ and dancer, Joanie Labine, came up with the concept for the fringed dress and white boots that became the official go go dancer costume.
Valentine, Lou Adler and Mario Maglieri in 1972 launched he Rainbow Bar & Grill on the Strip and a year later Valentine and Adler founded the Roxy, with Adler eventually taking a stake in the Whisky. His death in 2008 prompted the City of West Hollywood to commemorate him with a sign outside the Whisky calling the area “Elmer Valentine Way.”
“The Whisky was mecca,” said Ray Manzarek, the keyboardist for the Doors, in an interview with the LA Times in 2003. “It was the place in Los Angeles. It was probably the place in the entire country.”
The music industry has evolved, and the Whisky no longer is THE place for an aspiring musician to launch his or her career. But its status as a venue or pushing rock forward is evident in celebrating the 50th anniversary with a sold out performance by the LA-based punk rock band X. Playing are X’s Exene Cervenka, John Doe, guitarist and bass player and guitarist Billy Zoom along with DJ Bonebrake.
The celebration continues throughout the week with Robby Krieger’s Jam Kitchen on Thursday, Buckcherry on Friday, Fear Factory on Saturday and Martha Davis and the Motels on Sunday. Tickets are available online.
And who knows? Johnny Rivers and Jimmy Webb are performing at the Saban Theatre nearby on Wednesday night and just might drop by to reminisce.