South Central Los Angeles R&B Venues of the ’50s and ’60s

By Domenic Priore and Brian Chidester, Summer 2007

Los Angeles is quite often overlooked as a major center of R&B and Soul during the first rock ’n’ roll era. The Cenral Avenue Jazz and R&B scene from the ’20s through the early ’50s is well documented by the book and companion CD box set Central Avenue Sounds. That fantastic series ends as the Central Avenue scene disperses with the integration of L.A. jazz musicians into the clubs and movie soundtrack work to come in Hollywood. After that, a neighborhood Northwest of the core Central Avenue area would flourish as a new African-American nightlife center. Beginning near the corner of Pico and Western Avenues, then heading South to Santa Barbara Boulevard (now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard), with a right turn (West) to Crenshaw on MLK, a myriad of new clubs would open up and host some of the most brilliant R&B from the period.

An example of why this scene might be glossed over in history so far, is that local hit records by artists such as Richard Berry (“Louie Louie”), the Rivingtons (“Papa Oom Mow Mow”), the Olympics (“Good Lovin’”) and the Vibrations (“My Girl Sloopy”) would be more successfully covered by white garage punk bands from all over the country, such as the Kingsmen (from the Pacific Northwest), the Trashmen (from Minnnesota), the Young Rascals (from New York) and the McCoys (from Ohio). Picture here is Richard Berry.

This phenomenon can be traced to the wilder, ’50s-style R&B still practiced in L.A. during the ’60s, which stemmed all the way back to the Central Avenue era, as opposed to the more unified soul recordings from Detroit or Philadelphia. The above photo is of the Rivingtons.

Los Angeles was more aligned with New Orleans, with Specialty Records (Little Richard) and Imperial Records (Fats Domino) based in L.A., and records like Chris Kennner’s “Land of a Thousand Dances” making their way on that pipeline to places like East L.A., where Cannnibal & the Headhunters would make it a huge hit. Picture here is the Vibrations.

As black musicians became more common in Hollywood, the avant-garde and psychedelic music scene in turn gravitated to spaces in this area of South Central. The overall effect during the ‘60s led to a full-color, Mod L.A. soul scene that produced incredible, unique sounding records. This travelogue is not meant to be definitive documentation of all the artists who broke from here during that time, but will give you a good idea of the kind of action that was going on.

During the early ’60s basketball legend Wilt Chamberlin became a partner in a club housed in this building called the Basin Street West (1304 S. Western Avenue)

The Basin Street West, as pictured on a comedy album recorded at the location

Major jazz acts like Woody Herman would record inside the Basin Street West

The No War Toys Coffeehouse moved to the neighborhood in 1965, and was akin to other liberal outposts in town such as the Fifth Estate and Fred C. Dobbs on Sunset Strip, and Mother Neptunes in the Silver Lake area.

All that remains of No War Toys Coffeehouse is the picket fence, a palm tree, a crumbled sidewalk, some grass and a front entrance parking lot. (2472 W. Washington Boulevard at Arlington)

An early gig for the Doors was a benefit for the No War Toys Coffeehouse

Across the street was an old venue called the Hippodrome, which would be used for a happening. (1853 Arlington at Washington Boulevard)

Ferus Gallery and Pasadena Art Museum director Walter Hopps teamed up with Art Kunkin of the Los Angeles Free Press for this South Central event.

Ted Brinson built a studio in his garage, reputedly with some of the finest equipment in town, plus a fortress of entryway locks.

Some of the records recorded by Ted Brinson included the Wipe Out album by the Impacts (a Del-Fi Records surf group featuring Hawaiian steel guitar) and the original version of “Just Like Me” by the Wilde Knights (later covered by Paul Revere & the Raiders).

The most well-known disc to come out of Ted Brinson’s is “Earth Angel,” a 1955 R&B vocal group smash by the Penguins. The Olympics also made good use of the room for many of their hits between 1958 and 1967.

The driveway from the front of Brinson’s old house led to the studio. Notice size of palm trees in the background. (2190 W. 30th Street)

With decidedly shorter palm trees, here is Ted Brinson’s studio during its prime years.

Comedian supreme Redd Foxx had his club Jazz Go-Go nearby, close to the corner of Western and Adams. Burlesque, and the top names in comedy and jazz showed up to perform all the time.

The building where all these wild times took place is still standing. (1952 W. Adams Boulevard)

Only two blocks West of Jazz Go-Go was another top-notch venue, The Rubaiyat Room, in the lounge of the Watkins Hotel. Tonight, you could see Babs Gonzalez author of I Paid My Dues, Good Times… No Bread: A Story of Jazz, who also recorded Tales of Manhattan for Jaro Records.

The Watkins Hotel as it stands today, with the Rubaiyat front entrance at ???? Adams.

The same frontage back in the day.

A Reprise Records LP from the Rubaiyat Room.

One of the top ’50s locations for R&B was the Oasis, with its Middle Eastern theme.

The Oasis Club building still stands at 3801 S. Western Avenue at 38th Street. This still sits near an old Pacific Electric Railway line, which will soon be redeveloped into part of the new L.A. subway system.

Happenings inside the Oasis Club. (Question, readers; is this L.A. Dodger shortstop Maury Wills dancing?)

The Treniers wail inside the Oasis Club underneath an amoeba-shaped Modern roof.

The desert palm tree motif was cool in soulful, sunny L.A.

The Californian Club remains one of the most legendary R&B venues of the city during this period, along with the 5-4 Ballroom and the Million Dollar Theater downtown. (1759 W. Santa Barbara Boulevard… now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard)

In crowd ’63 at the Californian club included Bob Relf of Bob & Earl (“Harlem Shuffle,” second left), Sam Cooke (“You Send Me,” “A Change is Gonna Come,” fourth left), Bobby Day (“Rockin’ Robin,” fifth left) and Johnny Taylor (“Somewhere To Lay My Head,” “Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day,” far right). All artists had been based in Los Angeles since the 1950s.

The Sunset Strip scene makes it down to the Californian Club in 1967 for a purely inter-racial freak fest every week.

Brenda Holloway (“Every Little Bit Hurts”) was an L.A. gal who was signed to Del-Fi, then Motown Records during the ’60s, and was one of the opening acts for the Beatles at Shea Stadium (along with East L.A. group Cannibal & the Headhunters). Photo courtesy The Chuck Boyd Archive, as seen in the book Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock ’n’ Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood.

The Blossoms, featuring Darlene Love (center), perform on the ABC television show Shindig!, taped at their Prospect Avenue studios in Los Feliz. Darlene Love made great records with Phil Spector including “Today I Met The Boy I’m Going To Marry” and “Christmas Baby Please Come Home,” as well as singing lead on the Crystals’ “He’s A Rebel” and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love”.

Marty’s on the Hill was a top jazz place in L.A. during the ’60s, located at the top of Baldwin Hills on LaBrea. Bossa Nova hitmaker Walter Wanderly (“Summer Samba,” 1966) makes the scene.

The location of Marty’s on the Hill, with it’s front parking lot. A view of L.A.’s South Bay and airport loomed in the distance to the West. (5005 S. La Brea Avenue at Stocker).

The Gerald Wilson Orchestra recorded a live album at Marty’s on the Hill, and from these sessions came the version of “Viva Tirado” that was covered in 1969 for a hit by El Chicano.

Saxophonist Earl Bostic recorded a bunch of LPs for King Records and hit with “Harlem Nocturne” in 1954. He’d moved to L.A. after a stint in Lionel Hampton’s band with Teddy Edwards. Bostic opened his R&B club during the 1950s.

A change in logos took place during the animated ’60s. Earl Bostic passed away in 1965, with his family keeping the business going until 1969, when it was purchased by Jerry ???. Jerry’s father had owned Bop City in San Francisco.

The exterior of what is now Jerry’s Flying Fox at 3724 W. Martin Luther King Boulevard.

The original neon of the Flying Fox

Swervy interior bar and dance floor at Jerry’s Flying Fox (award winning Gumbo served on Fridays)

Dumb Angel editors Domenic Priore and Brian Chidester talk to Jerry underneath the club’s entrance corridor.

Jerry ???? is a real cool guy.

Billy Preston, performing here on Shindig!, was one of the many great artists that was a regular on the L.A. R&B scene during the ’50s and ’60s.

In 1966, a new kind of club opened on Crenshaw Boulevard. Thoroughly absorbing the psychedelic and Playboy Club themes prevalent on Sunset Strip, John Daniels opened Maverick’s Flat. (4225 Crenshaw Boulevard)

An early ad for Maverick’s Flat featuring the Olympics, a “Go-Go Nite,” the play “For My People” and a weeks upcoming engagement by bongo man Willie Bobo.

On opening night of Maverick’s Flat in January of 1966, the Temptations played. When he got a load of the interior, songwriter and producer Norman Whitfiled told Maverick’s owner John Daniels, “Man, what you’ve got here is a psychedelic shack!” The Tempations later recorded a hit single by that name, with the album cover evocative of Maverick’s.

Exterior night shot of Maverick’s Flat today.

The entrance lobby of Maverick’s Flat. Cubist paintings hang behind the ticket booth.

In the Temptations’ song based on the club, they sing “you can have your fortune told, you can learn the meaning of soul”. Here is the fortune teller in the entrance of Maverick’s Flat.

Maverick’s Flat is loaded with fluffy couches, including this one in the funk-tique entrance.

African artwork graces many of the doorknob handles at Maverick’s Flat.

Owner John Daniels adapted Maverick’s Flat from what was once an old Arthur Murray dance studio, as evidenced by a logo which remains on the entryway floor.

The dance floor is braced by an observation table glazed with colored glass artwork.

A space age reclining den is adjacent to the main room.

One of several romantic getaway rooms situated inside Maverick’s Flat.

The colored glass mosaic detail in the getaway room shows a debt to the work of Simon Rodia at the Watts Towers.

The exotic flavor includes an individually decorated ceiling fan.

The main stage of Maverick’s Flat, plus mirrored surroundings.

The cavernous atmosphere of Maverick’s dance floor and stage.

One of the local acts that played Maverick’s Flat was Brenton Wood (here backed by Senor Soul, a Double Shot recording artist). Wood’s hits include “Gimme A Little Sign,” “The Oogum Boogum Song,” “Baby You Got It” and “Me And You”.

Senor Soul evolved out of a band called The Afro-Blues Quintet + 1, who recorded for Mira Records. Even earlier, members had been in the Creators on Dore Records (“Burn,” 1965). The Afro-Blues Quintet + 1 also held down house band dates at Shelly’s Manne-Hole and The Living Room, a lounge upstairs behind Ciro’s Le Disc on Sunset Strip.

A promotional photo for their first LP Senor Soul Plays Funky Favorites. The band would have a further evolution and became War in 1969, backing Eric Burdon at Thee Experience and recording “Spill The Wine” with him. They had their own hits including “The World is Ghetto,” “Cisco Kid,” “Slippin’ Into Darkness” and “Low Rider”.

The psychedelic experience hits South Central in this Maverick’s Flat mural. This is well before the Bitches Brew album by Miles Davis.

A groovy long shot of the Maverick’s Flat exterior with neon ablaze.

Nothing better than being Est. 1966, is there?

New Nightclub photos by Larry Underhill

Just released is David Anderle’s book of art, entitled Better Late Than Never. Of note are 1966 portraits of both Bob Dylan and Brian Wilson during their psychedelic phase. These portraits, as well as a host of other paintings, are inspired by the physically elongated mythological style of Modigilani.

And now, for an out-take teaser from the newly-released book by Domenic Priore, called Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock ’n’ Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood (foreword by Arthur Lee, Jawbone Press, London), available at bookstores and online everywhere.

The Yardbirds Building.

Currently under reconstruction on the Southeast corner of Sunset and Vine is a place I’ve been referring to for a while now as “The Yardbirds Building,” which was formerly highlighted by a club with a swinging Modern motif, “Room At The Top”. The advertisement makes note of this being a cool place to hang out after a performance at Greek Theater or Hollywood Bowl.

Posing in front of Room At The Top’s ground-floor entrance fountain is the Grass Roots, who in 1966 were riding high on the local charts with “Mr. Jones,” a garage punk cover of Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man”. The group also charted that year with “Where Were You When I Needed You”.

Checking out the pool-like effervescence at Room At The Top, The Yadbirds, as far as I’m concerned, seem to own the building. Therefore, it is theirs, philosophically. It would be pretty difficult to imagine anyone cooler levitating this space. Left to right, Keith Relf, Chris Dreja, Jim McCarty, Jeff Beck and Paul Samwell Smith, 1965.

Riot on Sunset Sunset Strip: Rock ’n’ Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood by Domenic Priore
Book Tour, Symposium Series, Film and Radio Events

The Dumb Angel Website invites you to please drop by any of these (mostly free) events that will be circling around the release of Dom’s new book this summer. He’s worked on it for nine years, and as his collaborator on past projects, I’m floored at what he was able to come up with. – Brian Chidester

Friday, July 6, Booksmith, 1644 Haight Street, San Francisco (guest Michael Stuart-Ware from the band Love)

Thursday, July 12, Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Strip, West Hollywood (guest Michael Stuart-Ware from the band Love)

RADIO on Wednesday, July 18, “Quiet City” on Luxuriamusic.com, 6-9 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. A Riot on Sunset Strip set will be featured w/ Domenic at the turntables

Thursday, July 19, Spoonbill & Sugartown Booksellers, Williamsburg (218 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn) guest TBA

Friday, July 27, Bluestockings Radical Books, 172 Allen Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan (1966 Sunset Strip slide show and guest TBA)

RADIO on Sunday, July 29, WFMU “The Gaylord Fields Show,” 3-5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time (wfmu.org)

Tuesday, July 31, Barnes & Noble, Astor Place, Manhattan (between Greenwich Village and East Village, near the corner of Broadway and Lafayette). Special guest Barry Feinstein, photographer of the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” fisheye LP cover and director of 1966 L.A. scene documentary “You Are What You Eat”

Friday, August 10, Secret Cinema @ Philedelphia Society of Free Letts (Latvian Society), 531 N. 7th Street, Philadelphia PA. Screening of “Riot on Sunset Strip” plus 1966 Sunset Strip slide show and DJ/dance after-party. Contact: Jay Schwartz (917) 446-3087 – $7 @ 7 p.m.

RADIO on Saturday, August 11, Luxuriamusic.com special New York City edition of “Riot on Sunset Strip” featuring DJs Phast Phreddie, Domenic Priore and Audrey Moorehead. 9 a.m. Pacific Standard Time.

Sunday, August 12, Academy LPs/CDs, 96 N. 6th Street, Williamsburg (Brooklyn) featuring an in-store performance by the Nashville Ramblers (who appear on the Children of Nuggets box set) performing tunes by the Leaves, the Bobby Fuller Four, the Dovers, the Addrissi Brothers, the Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds etc. Free show starts at 6 p.m. and goes until 8 p.m.

RADIO on Wednesday, August 15, “Quiet City” on Luxuriamusic.com, 6-9 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. A Riot on Sunset Strip set will be featured w/ Domenic at the turntables

Thursday, August 16, McNally-Robinson Booksellers Inc., 52 Prince Street, Nolita, Manhattan. (guest TBA) Seems we’ll be gathering at Lombardi’s Pizza after this one…

Saturday, August 18, East Coast Beach Boys Fan Convention, Southbury, Conneticut, Crowne Plaza Hotel. Beatnik Beach slide show (L.A. coffeehouses and jazz joints of the late ’50s and early ’60s). Noon. (cover charge, please check online)

TENATIVE GUESTS in the New York City book stores include artist Gary Panter (Screamers, Pee Wee’s Playhouse), Jim Pons (main guy in the Leaves, of “Hey Joe” fame), Artie Kornfeld (West Coast/East Coast mid-’60s record producer/songwriter who saw it all and later organized Woodstock) and Laura Kenyon (of Lyme & Cybelle… a duo in which her partner was a very young Warren Zevon).

Saturday, September 8, Vroman’s Book Store, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena (guest TBA) 4-6 p.m.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday, September 14, 15 and 16, Riot on Sunset Strip Weekend at the American Cinematheque, Egyptian Theater, Hollywood Boulevard. Features (so far) include a Friday night show with “Riot on Sunset Strip” and “You Are What You Eat,” Saturday night it’ll be “The Trip” and “Mondo Hollywood” and we’re still setting up Sunday, possible matinees and live music, and possibly, a bazzar in the Egyptian’s entrance corridor.

The story so far… later events at the West Hollywood Book Fair, Sponto Gallery in Venice, and plans are in the works for events in Austin and Seattle. If you’re interested in booking an event, please contact Kevin Becketti (Jawbone Press) at (510) 528-1444 extension 235


JAN & DEAN BOX SET ??

Jan Berry has been dead for more than three years now. We’re getting endless Beach Boys re-issues . . . but where’s the love for Jan & Dean? We need a comprehensive box set of Jan & Dean material including the original mono versions of the singles and album cuts, as well as studio outtakes and backing tracks.

We also need an official release of CARNIVAL OF SOUND (1968) . . . the last great diamond in the rough for Jan & Dean. This is one of the last mysterious unreleased albums from the Psychedelic era. It was a major studio project (recorded at United, Western, and Goldstar) for a major label (Warner Bros.).

Let your voice be heard . . .

Please sign the petition:
http://www.petitiononline.com/jdcd2007/petition.html

Also . . . stay tuned for a cool Jan & Dean interview with Mark Moore . . . on FM radio from the New York City area. We’ll post the details and air date as soon as we get them.

— Dumb Angel

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