When I was growing up, I thought the Sunset Strip must be the most glamorous place ever. I watched every episode of “77 Sunset Strip” and later shows like “Shindig” and “Hollywood Palace” that showed all the latest music acts and newest dance steps. I bought all of Johnny Rivers’s “Live at the Whiskey a-go-go” albums and wished I could see him perform at the club and be there for all the excitement.
I read about the Sunset Strip riots and later saw the schlocky movie made about them. I couldn’t wait to get out of my boring hometown, which might get a Dick Clark package show a couple of times a year but that was about it. I wanted to be able to catch current acts nearby any night.
When I finally grew up and moved here in 1971, the Strip did not disappoint. The Whiskey had to be my first stop, where I saw the pioneering all-girl group Fanny and my longtime favorite Little Richard, who was staging a comeback at the time after a religious-inspired hiatus. I quickly discovered the Troubadour, where I saw Linda Ronstadt shortly before she became the top female pop star of the seventies. Soon the burlesque joint Chuck Landis Largo was remodeled into the Roxy, which hosted superstar acts debuting their newest material for the L.A. music press. There was no shortage of great shows to catch just a few minutes away from my crib.
In addition to the clubs, there were restaurants like The Source and the Old World, which were guaranteed to deliver celebrity sightings. The offices of rock royalty Dick Clark and Phil Spector stood on the same block within walking distance of the clubs. Chic boutiques like North Beach Leather and the Pleasure Dome displayed the most fabulous rockstar fashions while the Optique Boutique was the go-to shop for unique eyewear. Tower Records had opened just a few months before I moved here and was a mecca for fans of all genres of music.
The Rainbow Bar and Grill opened in 1972 and its upstairs private room quickly became the preferred hang for local and visiting musicians. Right next door, On the Rox was another exclusive hot spot for actors and rockers to continue drinking after a show at the Roxy downstairs.
Touring acts looking for a place to stay in L.A. had a few choices on the Strip including the Continental Hyatt (also known as the “Riot House”) and the Chateau Marmont, a favorite for celebs who were attempting to stay under the radar of the press and fans.
Alas, this paradise for music fans was too good to last and one by one, the locations that made the Strip legendary disappeared. The clubs took advantage of struggling groups with pay-to-play, which required the acts to sell tickets to their friends in order to get a booking. The restaurants famous for their celebrity clientele closed, as did the trendy shops. The businesses remaining like the Whiskey, Rainbow, and Roxy are family-owned and resisting offers to sell out.
The rest seems to be up for grabs by wealthy real estate developers who are destroying the character of the Strip to build monolithic hotels, condos, and retail space that is likely to be occupied by national chains that can afford the rent.
Maybe I missed seeing the Chocolate Watchband at Pandora’s Box or the Doors at the London Fog but I’m happy to have been able to see so many great shows and meet kindred spirits along the way. I know you can’t stop progress but I’m glad that I got here in time to have fond memories of the Sunset Strip when it was worth visiting, even if you weren’t rich or famous.