Playing the Whiskey Redux
(Sorry for the soft focus. I was trying to beat a meter maid back to my idling car and couldn’t get any closer)
Went back t0 Hollywood, my home (believe it or not) town to attend the 57th (?) anniversary of my jr. high school YMCA club, the Banshees-Saracens, and decided to take a little trip down memory lane to see the corner where I thought the Whiskey Go Go would no longer be. (On the chance you don’t know what that is, it’s the famous club my band, Evergreen Blueshoes, headlined at 45 years ago. Also, people like Jimi Hendrix, the Byrds, Janice Joplin, Jerry Garcia, Linda Ronstadt, BB King, et a few others. I’d have to look it up to be sure). But, lawdy me, there it was, same corner, same name in neon scrip above the same dilapidated marquis, same creeps hanging out in front of it, same weather on the Sunset Strip, etc., as in 1968. Is LA a great city, or what?
I honestly don’t remember if we played the Whiskey four or five times. I remember we opened for Procul Harem, Albert King, Canned Heat and Spectrum 2000, a band we soon replaced as headliner for about a week. It seems there was one more, but I was usually wasted on something or other in those days, and memory is not serving at the moment. I do remember a moment, though, from one of those times that has never left my personal archive of the mind, and reminds me to this day: don’t wish too hard, because you’ll get your wish.
(CAN WE CALL WHAT FOLLOWS HERE “NOTES” OR AN OUTLINE OR SOMETHING? PLEASE? IT JUST AIN’T REALLY WRITTEN YET. THANKS.)
I was on a break between sets, and I’d slipped out for a moment to go to the liquor store across the street for a half-pint of blackberry brandy. Shut up, it was Rock n’ Roll in the ‘Sixties. I dodged a hippie-hunting driver, and as I turned around to give him the finger, my eye caught the marquis over the entrance of the club, which was a bank long before it was the Whiskey A Go Go, and it still sort of looked like one, if you subtracted the marquis from facade. In fact, I used to bank there when I went to West Hollywood Elementary School, from 1948 to 1953. I’m just saying. Anyway, the effort of turning my head quickly caused me to see purple spots in front of eyes for a few seconds, the visual component of these blazing headaches I was getting from a bad spinal tap (no, not Spinyl Tap) I’d recently gotten for a false alarm over what they thought was dropfoot. Don’t ask. I’m just trying to give some texture to the story.
This was two days after my father had a heart attack, which I was there to witness, and though he was out of ICU, he was not out of danger, and I’d been spending most of my non-performing time at the hospital with him and the rest of my tiny family.
My girl friend, Jane, a budding ethnographic film-maker and the love of my life, had had a miscarriage on an expedtion in Tepatlaxco (sp?), Mexico. I thought at the time that I wanted the baby. Talk about bad personal management. We later bought a house together. After a short while she left me for a film sound editor from UCLA. But that’s a different post.
Back to my moment of light in the crosswalk at Clark and Sunset. Looking up at the marquis, now, it finally hit me square between the eyes that my band, Evergreen Blueshoes, the club’s headline act that night, was no longer Evergreen Blueshoes. It had been changed by club owner Elmer Valentine (read: Valentino) to “Topanga Canyon,” because that’s where we’d gotten our reputation as up-and-comers in the LA underground, and Elmer was “really groovin’ on the Underground, man. I mean, really trippin’, man. Real far out.” The Canyon was a fairly well-known venue, a spawning ground for local Rock bands, including Canned Heat, our benefactors. I vaguely remember the conversation as going something like this:
Valentine: “What the fuck is Evergreen Blueshoes. I never heard that before.”
Us: “It’s our name, mister Valentine. Kim Fowley gave it to us.”
Valentine: “I don’t care if Kim Novak gave it to you, it’s stoopid, ok?”
Us: “If you say so.”
Valentine: “I do. From now on yer Topanga Canyon. That way we’ll get all the hippie chicks that take their tops off when they dance, right?”
Us: “Yup, all of ’em.”
Valentine: “I’m also replacing you for Spectrum 2ooo. They’re fucked up. Too straight, or something. I like my bands to be high. Have a nice day.” (or something like that).
So, when I looked for the real name of my band, maybe to tell my friends about, there it wasn’t.
But then again, that may not have mattered at all, since my partner, Skip Batten, later bass player with the Byrds was on a weird ego trip and refusing to rehearse with the rest of us. There were several reasons for this, he said, including that he wanted to replace the drummer, Chet McCracken (who later joined the Dooby Bros.), and the rest of us didn’t want him to. (For the record, Skip’s tantrum, which sank the band, by the way, was more about his frustration at not “being creative,” his term, not the rest of the band’s, when that’s what (he insisted) he wanted to be. But that, too, is a post for another time.
Finally, our album deal had stalled, it looked like it wasn’t going to happen at all, and in 1968 you were in oblivion til you had an album out, whether you were playing a hot club or not.
So I guess that’s about it, for that moment. But as I turned back to cross the street to Art’s Liquor and Snax, I wished I were almost anyplace else, doing almost anything else in the world, than there doing that. And I couldn’t help flashing back, on that warm June evening, to the nights I would drive up and down the Strip, passing the Whiskey and fantasizing about just what it would be like to play electric guitar in a Rock n’ Roll band at the Whiskey A Go Go on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. I would have bet the farm during one of those drive-bys that I could sooner land on the moon than realize that fantasy. Like I say, be careful…
Not read back, yet. 6/10, 10:30 pm.