The first time I entered the Troubadour was in 1969. I had been on the road with a group of musicians from Memphis and Muscle Shoals that nobody ever heard of, including Wayne Perkins, Marlin Greene, his wife Jeanie Greene and Benda Paterson. The group was dubbed The Alabama State Troupers and we had just finished barnstorming the Bay Area.
The biggest highlight was meeting the legendary Tom Donahue who had created free form radio at KSAN in San Francisco. I had a stolen airline ticket and a stolen Camaro that Ken Shaffer from Douglass Records had obtained for me.
John Stewart and Buffy Ford were on stage in the concert room to a sparse crowd. In the back bar was Bonnie Raitt, Gary George, Allan Rinde, Gary Stromberg and a few others I had met. I set up a Monday meeting with Rinde who was working A&R for Columbia and another with Dino over at Shelter.
Publicist Bob Gibson, dressed to the nines in a white suit, white shoes, a black shirt and accompanied by two beautiful black women showed up and proceeded to lay out lines of cocaine on a back table. In a far corner, Chris Van Ness from the L A Free Press stood alone, glaring at the party.
In the morning, hung over and still stoned, I vowed to return to Los Angeles but I was working for a music publisher and was an editor back in New York. I also had my trophy wife and was producing a slew of records.
Nine months later, I returned to Los Angeles, and came back to the Troubadour. I was no longer working for a music publisher, two bands had fired me, and I was no longer the music editor of a major men’s magazine. I was living at the Gilbert Hotel, a flea bag on Wilcox Avenue in downtown Hollywood, selling promotional records to music stores at two bucks a hit, but this was before the Internet, so as far as anybody knew, I was still king of the hill.
Los Angeles was a new start, and I was immediately on the A list of every publicist in town. I learned how to survive on the free tabs and the buffet lines at the press parties. I was living with a Jack Mormon from Las Vegas and she would pick up temp typing jobs; it didn’t take long before I picked up a job as a sound mixer for a smaller label in Hollywood.
We got around by thumbing rides along Sunset Boulevard, and I took a bus back to Las Vegas to pick up an old Mercury with a busted radiator. That car died in Palmdale, and then there was a sixty-two Olds with a blown head gasket. We finally settled on an old Impala station wagon that chugged, but it was reliable, and we had transportation from the Gilbert to the Troubadour.
Monday night at the Troubadour was talent night, and the flies would crowd on to the wall. People I knew from the past like Don Henley and Richard Bowden from the Stone Ponies, Norman Greenbaum who had written Spirit In The Sky. Bruce Johnson from The Beach Boys, Gene Clark and Chris Hillman from The Byrds, Becky Hobbs from Oklahoma. Lots of others. Some knew me from my writing days in New York, others knew me as a sound engineer. I was immediately accepted, no questions asked.
The Troubadour was a sort of sanctuary. There was Gazarri/s and The Whiskey up on Sunset with all of the groupies and wanna be rock stars. There was the Ash Grove for the acoustic folkies down on Melrose, but the serious business happened at The Troubadour.
Doug Westin owned the club and he ran it like a fiefdom. Every record label wanted to showcase an act at the Troubadour, and Doug was already out of control. He was usually coked out of his mind and had the fetish for young studs he would keep at his bungalow in West Hollywood.
Ultimately, a group led by Elmer Valentine renovated a former Strip Club on Sunset down the street from the Whiskey into the plush Roxy, with the Rainbow Bar next door. There was a sort of conspiracy to get rid of Westin and his monopoly on talent, and ultimately, The Troubadour fell on hard times.
Yet, for four years, it was my home away from home. On Monday nights I would religiously show up, sipping my beer at the end of the bar. On Tuesday I was always on the guest list for whoever was playing, and if I wasn’t, I could sneak in from the back bar to the men’s room and then disappear up into the upper balcony and watch the show.
The regular crowd kept on shifting. Tom Waits, Chuck E Weiss, Hudson Marquez, Ricki Lee Jones became regulars. The cocaine evolved into Quaaludes. Tim Hardin began hanging around. Tuesday shows were in direct competition with the Roxy, but Monday was still the night for the new talent and showcases, and Sunday was the night to bid an act adios.
You never knew who would show up at The Troubadour. Or what would happen. Annie Potts once threw a wine bottle through the window at me. Phil Oches stared at me in a corner one Monday evening, saying little and puffing on a cigarette, The next week, he would commit suicide by drowning in a bath tub in Rockaway Queens.
The Roxy, Starwood and Whiskey were where the rockers would go. The Troubadour was our private little club. In a quiet corner Irv Azoff put Glenn Frey and Don Henley together to form The Eagles. Asylum Records was created on doilies and paper napkins at the back bar of The Troubadour.
The rednecks from Topanga would storm in on Monday nights, looking to beat the crap out of all of the Beach hippies from Manhattan, Hermosa, Torrance and points South. Lowell George and Paul Barerre had put together Little Feat and the Beach Boys and Byrds were the sworn enemies of the Topanga Cowboys Monday nights would usually end with mini riots on Santa Monica Boulevard, between The Troubadour and the Hughes Market across the street. The karate school next door would usually wind up with a smashed front window.
Westwood One Radio was created in the back bar of The Troubadour. Film deals were developed in drunken stupors that were fine tuned at Virgi’s coffee shop in Beachwood Canyon the next morning, or in the Wonderland ghetto the next evening.
I found new lovers and abandoned old ones in the back bar of The Troubadour. I got fired and hired from record labels. An escaped murderer from McAllister, Oklahoma assaulted me and knocked out my front teeth. I was bleeding and people kept on telling me to call the police or at least EMS. Flora Purin, who had just been released from Terminal Island, mothered me and in that broken Brazilian/ English accent told me “No Police”. The escaped felon was busted several days later. I am still missing those teeth.
I got pissed off at Chris Van Ness one evening and kicked in the doors of his Honda. I shot some asshole Cuban from New Orleans in the butt, and was prone on carrying a loaded 45 and 38 to settle arguments by placing the weapons on the table.
A performance by Roger Miller was usurped as a whole slew of us including Bob Dylan, , Robbie Robertson, Scarlet Rivera and David Blue among others stormed the stage for the roving Night of the Hurricane to raise money for Rubin Carter. Miller was pissed off and probably drunk., He screamed out for his tour drummer to “get off the stage with that Jew Communist Bastard (Dylan)”. Somebody screamed out a “fuck you” to Miller and the crowd applauded.
The back bar regulars could be crude. One evening, Linda Ronstadt, who was a bruised and battered woman walked in; she had gained some weight and was about to move back to Arizona, A group began laughing “Miss Piggy” at Linda and she ran out of the bar in tears. One of the hecklers was Gary B. White. Had it not been for Linda cutting Gary’s song, Long Long Time, he might still the maintenance man at Polish National Hall in Greenwich Village, instead of living in a house in San Marino.
The Troubadour had a cast of characters including Kim Fowley, a mad hustler who was always putting together projects. Gaunt and near seven feet tall, with bleached blonde hair, he had been kicked out of West Point and the Beach Boys, but he was always hustling a new deal like the all girl Runaways and the Hollywood Stars.
Van Dyke Parks was a musical genius from Malibu who had a cigarette pack filled with butts. Jackson Browne was always in a corner, concentrating on poetic conjunction. He rarely spoke. Occasionally muttered and then would quietly leave. There was a small crowd around Jackson, other non-intrusive musicians who stayed apart.
Of course there was Waits and Weiss. They were loud and smoked unfiltered Camels. Waits might have come from San Diego but everything about him seemed to be a New Orleans attitude.
There was a small motel across Doheney from the Hughes Market, directly diagonal form The Troub. A lot of musicians would hunker down there for a night, or stay at The Tropicana further East on Santa Monica. In fact, several of them, including Waits were semi-permanent residents of The Tropicana,
There was a waitress there with dyed black hair from rural Kentucky. Every week she would take her daughter to the talent contest at The Palomino in North Hollywood, and every week, she would ask the hip songwriters at Duke’s, The Tropicana restaurant, if they had a song for the mother/ daughter duo.
Naomi and Wynona Judd made it to Nashville, Chuck E Weiss might have laughed at the hillbillies, but they’ve got ranches down in Franklin Tennessee, along with platinum records and Chuck is still playing a stripper bar on the Sunset Strip. Oh Yeah, the other daughter, Ashley might well be the next senator from Kentucky.
In the late seventies disco came in, and live music seemed to disappear. Elmer, Lou Adler and others kept The Roxy going, with what few acts were able to tour. Headbanger music and a new era was taking over at The Starwood, and the kind of musician that would go to the Troubadour was on the wane.
A drunken Alex Harvey cold cocked me one evening, knocking me down the back stairs, He has been apologizing for the past thirty odd years..
One of the last shows at The Troubadour was Ronnie Barron. The Hollywood Stars opened. Dr. John and Rick Vito joined Ronnie on stage. A few weeks later, a final kind of farewell with people like Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne, David Blue . It looked like Nashville was happening and songwriters were still able to make publishing deals. There were still record labels along Music Row. It was not the same world. Beyond that, there was a new order taking place and people were getting sober, The bars were being replaced with alcoholics anonymous meetings.
New Wave was coming and with that new clubs like The 88 in West Los Angeles and Madam Wong’s in Chinatown. A group of Iranians pulled the plug on Westin and took over The Troubadour. Now it was headbangers and hard rock acts like White Animal and Guns and Roses. Peroxide blondes with shirts open to the naval, pretending to be Black Sabbath.
The music was over. I moved back to Texas; Austin was happening with film and a new scene. I began writing screenplays and would hop the red eye to Burbank, pitch and then come back to my double wide in rural Oak Hill.
Eventually, I wound up in Nashville, but not doing music. I began coming up with concepts for documentaries and would pitch them. Around the time of Garth and Shania, Nashville music began to suck and I stopped listening. Brooks and Dunn and the new dance steps just were not my idea of what was creative…so I did what was the next best thing, I wrote.
The last time I stuck my head in the Troubadour was around 2002, ten years ago. It seemed depressing to look down the back bar, so I moved on.
I’ve heard that there are new owners and it is back to showcasing good music again, but it would never be the same.
Maybe because we all got sober, clear headed and decided that there was a world beyond Sunday and Monday at The Troubadour. Somebody mentioned that The Bluebird in Nashville was like The Troubadour in its hey-day. But then I realized that person was from New Jersey and had never been in The Troubadour.
There was the joy when one of us got a deal, got the hit record, and then the period of mourning when the deal would go South. The Troubadour was special, because we were a bunch of characters who would never be welcomed anywhere else, but we all found a home at the far edge of Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood..
There was Steve Martin with the arrow, the Smothers Brothers, Doug Dillard and Harry B Stanton clustered around. The best line about the Troubadour was probably made by Kris Kristofferson to Stanton in Cisco Pike. Stanton asks Kris how Donnie Fritts (another regular) was doing, and Kris remarks “he’s driving a cab in Hollywood.”
Long live the memory.
JAMES MATHERS – White chalk on black paper 8 x 10″
This is a pirate ship drawn by James Mathers while we were designing the DUDE Sock line here at VAC.