L.A. Story: The Musical
If it gappened with a beat, it happened here by TIM GREARSON
Rock stars, Jazzers, Pachucos...they may have grown up somewhere else quaint, like Sandusky, Ohio, or Canada, but they made their mark here—lived, created and died here. Music is as much a part of the L.A. legacy as film and television. From the bebop rapture of the old Cotton Club in Culver City to the head-banging kicks of the Whiskey a Go-Go—neighborhoods have changed, but the memories will last forever.
On October 24, Walter Henry Rothwell conducts the first performance of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Trinity Auditorium downtown.
Bing Crosby is discovered (along with his singing partner Al Rinker) by acclaimed bandleader Paul Whiteman while performing at the Metropolitan Theatre on 6th and Hill streets.
Lifelong New Yorker Irving Berlin moves temporarily to the Roosevelt Hotel to supervise the filming of the musical Puttin' on the Ritz, the first film to feature his signature title song.
Louis Armstrong starts a rather regular engagement as the featured performer at the Cotton Club at Washington and National in Culver City.
At the age of 14, soon-to-be-famous Charles Mingus is encouraged by a classmate at Jordan High School in Watts to drop the cello and take up the bass because, according to the friend, jazz is more accepting of black performers than classical music is.
The Oklahoma and Woody Show debuts on July 19 on AM station KFVD (located near Wilshire and Western), starring a 25-year-old Woody Guthrie and his cousin Jack singing cowboy songs.
Singer-songwriter Lalo Guerrero, the so-called Father of Chicano Music, moves from Tucson, Arizona, in his early twenties to start performing at the La Bamba nightclub, located downtown at Macy and Spring.
The Hollywood Palladium opens in the fall with a performance by Frank Sinatra and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.
In the Alpine barrio near downtown Los Angeles, the Zoot Suit Riots occur June 3–10, after an altercation between American sailors and Mexican-American teenagers dressed in zoot suits. On June 4, 200 sailors commandeer taxis to find and attack Mexican Americans in downtown and East L.A.
André Previn and Richard M. Sherman graduate from Beverly Hills and play a piano-and-flute duet at the graduation ceremony.
Miles Davis is arrested at the Los Angeles airport in September for narcotics possession.
Leonard Bernstein composes his only film score for the Oscar-winning On the Waterfront and is allowed to attend the final dubbing session at Columbia Pictures on Gower with director Elia Kazan, a rare honor for a film composer.
On April 6, the tower atop the Capitol Records Building begins blinking H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D in Morse code.
Jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman records his first album, Something Else!!!! , in February and March at his label Contemporary Record's studio, an office in a small building located on Melrose Place.
Ritchie Valens (who's only 17) goes to Gold Star Recording Studios at 6252 Santa Monica Boulevard to record his classic songs "Come On, Let's Go," "Donna" and "La Bamba." He dies in a plane crash in February of the following year.
On April 14 and 19, Ella Fitzgerald records Ella Fitzgerald Sings Songs from "Let No Man Write My Epitaph" at United Western Recorders at 6000–6050 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. The album bombs but is later hailed as one of her greatest. (United Western Recorders is later renamed Ocean Way Recording.)
Nati (or Natividad) Cano becomes the director of one of the city's most popular mariachi groups, which plays at the Million Dollar Theater at 307 South Broadway. He changes the band's name to Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano and helps to elevate its status, eventually landing performances in concert halls around the country.
The UCLA Folk Festival has its debut. Held annually for three years, the festival brings together Son House, Pete Seeger, John Fahey, Bill Monroe, Lightnin' Hopkins and other blues and folk legends.
Sam Cooke is shot dead on December 11 at the Hacienda Motel at 9137 South Figueroa. He is 33. Bertha Franklin, the hotel's manager, claims she shot Cooke in self-defense, after he became violent with her.
In the winter, Ray Charles opens his RPM Recording Studio at 2107 West Washington Boulevard (RPM stands for "Recording, Production and Management"). Charles classics like "Let's Go Get Stoned," "Look What They've Done to My Song, Ma" and "America the Beautiful" are recorded here.
In December, the Los Angeles Philharmonic moves to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center.
Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark start writing songs together in the Folk Den, the bar at the Troubadour. They go on to form the Byrds.
Arthur Lee meets Bryan MacLean in the parking lot of Ben Frank's on the Sunset Strip in the summer. Soon after, they form the band that will become known as Love. (Ben Frank's is now Mel's Drive-In.)
Love plays Bido Lito's at 1607 North Ivar, attracting the interest of managers and establishing the small club as one of the city's coolest underground spots.
Jim Morrison reads his poetry to Ray Manzarek on Venice Beach in July. They decide to start a band called the Doors.
Brian Wilson comes up with the opening line for "California Girls," after taking LSD for the first time and hanging out in the bedroom of his Hollywood apartment.
Otis Redding performs at the Whisky a Go-Go in April. According to legend, Bob Dylan, who is in the audience, offers his song "Just Like a Woman" to Redding to record, but the soul singer declines, saying there are "too many words" in the song.
The Beatles plays Dodger Stadium on August 28. It's the band's next-to-last show ever—the final appearance is in San Francisco the following night.
The Doors begins a lengthy stint as the house band at the Whisky a Go-Go on May 23.
Parody songwriter "Weird Al" Yankovic takes his first accordion lesson in Lynwood on October 22, a day before he turns seven.
George Harrison writes "Blue Jay Way" on August 1 while waiting for an associate on Blue Jay Way, a street in the Hollywood Hills above the Sunset Strip.
James Brown records his Civil Rights anthem "Say It Loud—I'm Black, and I'm Proud" at Vox Studios in Van Nuys.
Van Morrison performs his seminal album Astral Weeks in its entirety at the Hollywood Bowl throughout November. The concerts are released as a live album the following year.
Graham Nash writes "Our House," about the Laurel Canyon home where Joni Mitchell and he live on Lookout Mountain.
Neil Young records After the Gold Rush in the basement of his Topanga Canyon home on Skyline Trail.
Janis Joplin dies from a heroin overdose in room 105 at the Landmark Hotel (now the Highland Gardens Hotel) at 7047 Franklin Avenue. She is only 27.
Don Henley and Glenn Frey meet at the Troubadour. They become part of Linda Ronstadt's backing band and later form the Eagles.
Aretha Franklin, hungry to make a gospel album, records Amazing Grace over two days in January at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts. It becomes one of the bestselling gospel albums of all time.
In October, music impresario Rodney Bingenheimer and Tom Ayers open the E Club nearby Chateau Marmont on the Sunset Strip. The club is later moved down the Strip and renamed Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco, which is where Joan Jett meets her future bandmates in the Runaways.
Robert Plant is banned from the Riot House (also known as the Continental Hyatt House and later remodeled, renovated and rechristened Andaz West Hollywood). The unofficial reason is that Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham drove his motorcycle down the hotel's hallways.
Wanting to capture the humor and showmanship of his live performances on record, Tom Waits plays in front of an audience at Record Plant Studios (3rd Street and Cahuenga) on July 30 and 31, which forms the basis for Nighthawks at the Diner, an album that's hailed as a triumph of Waits' spoken-word poetry and jazz-like musical stylings.
The Germs records "Sexboy" live at the Roxy. Released as the B-side to the single "Forming," this track becomes the first Los Angeles punk single.
Punk club the Masque, located on Cherokee in Hollywood, is closed temporarily by the LAPD. Bands like X and the Germs play there, and the Go-Gos uses it to rehearse. The Masque is closed for good in 1979.
The first Playboy Jazz Festival is held at the Hollywood Bowl on June 15 and 16.
Los Lobos gets a huge break and is one of the opening acts for Public Image Ltd. at its May 4 show at the Olympic Auditorium. Los Lobos plays an acoustic set and is booed by the audience.
The punk band X goes to the now-gone Golden Sound Studios in Hollywood in January to record Los Angeles, an album about the city's sleazy underside, racism and financial inequality.
Talking Heads performs at the Pantages for three nights in December, which becomes the basis for the acclaimed concert documentary Stop Making Sense.
Marvin Gaye sings his famous rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the Forum during the NBA All-Star Game on February 13.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers plays its first gig at the Rhythm Lounge on Melrose.
On January 27, Michael Jackson tapes a Pepsi commercial at the Shrine Auditorium. A faulty pyrotechnic ignites Jackson's hair, forcing him to be rushed to the hospital for serious burns.
Guns N' Roses plays their first gig at the Orphanage in North Hollywood in January.
Members of Guns N' Roses live in a one-room apartment on Sunset dubbed the Hell House. The place has no kitchen or bathroom.
Matt Dike and Mike Ross form Delicious Vinyl records, a label specializing in commercial hip-hop, in Dike's Hollywood apartment on Santa Monica Boulevard. Its first signing, Tone-Loc, soon nets the burgeoning label a No. 1 album.
Mötley Crüe regularly visits the Tropicana, a strip club that features women who wrestle in baby oil and mud. The band writes the 1987 anthem "Girls, Girls, Girls" in honor of the place.
Depeche Mode plays the Rose Bowl on June 18 to a crowd of more than 80,000. The concert forms the basis for the band's 101 concert album and documentary.
Metallica begins recording The Black Album at North Hollywood's One on One Studios in October. The album launches the group into the mainstream, selling 15 million copies in the U.S.
Stone Temple Pilots plays its first concert, under the name Mighty Joe Young, in August, when the band opens for Henry Rollins at the Whisky a Go-Go.
Ice-T announces at a July 24 press conference at the Burbank offices of Warner Bros. that he's pulling the controversial song "Cop Killer" off his album Body Count because of complaints from police organizations and actor Charlton Heston.
River Phoenix collapses outside the Viper Room on October 31, dying soon after. He is 23.
KXLU and KCRW are the first radio stations to play Beck's "Loser" in March.
Trent Reznor rents the Beverly Hills house at 10066 Cielo Drive—where the Manson Family murdered actress Sharon Tate—to record Nine Inch Nails' breakthrough album, The Downward Spiral.
Eazy-E, the founding member of N.W.A., dies from complications from AIDS on March 26 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He is 31.
The Notorious B.I.G. is murdered on March 9 outside the Peterson Automotive Museum.
Bob Dylan plays a five-night residency at the El Rey in December to celebrate the release of his comeback album, Time Out of Mind.
Babe's & Ricky's Inn, the last of the famous blues clubs from Central Avenue, reopens in August in Leimert Park.
Britney Spears films the "… Baby One More Time" video on August 7 and 8 at Venice High School.
George Michael is arrested for lewd conduct on April 7, when he solicits sex in the public bathroom at Will Rogers Memorial Park. Soon after, he comes out as a gay man.
To help launch the new Staples Center, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band give their first concert performance on October 17.
Rage Against the Machine plays outside Staples in August during the Democratic National Convention, to an audience of approximately 8,000. A riot follows the 40-minute performance, leading to half a dozen arrests.
Faith Hill causes the forced renovation of the El Rey's ceiling in September, when, while filming an NBC special, heavy lights prove too bulky for the wooden ceiling supports to hold. The total renovations, which include refinishing the carpeting, are estimated at $250,000.
Elliott Smith takes his own life on October 21. Beck and Rilo Kiley head a memorial concert in tribute to Smith on November 3 at the Henry Fonda.
Steve Jones, former guitarist for the Sex Pistols, debuts his Indie 103.1 radio show, Jonesy's Jukebox, on February 10 at the station's headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard.
Britney Spears gets her head shaved at Esther's Hair Salon in Tarzana on February 16.
Paul McCartney causes total pandemonium (and huge lines that snake far down the street) when he plays at Amoeba Records in Hollywood on June 27.
Prince plays a residency at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in June. In honor of his recently released album, 3121, fans get to choose between paying $3,121 for two seats or $312.10 for one standing-room-only ticket.
Beck helps launch Club Nokia with its first show on November 9. Jenny Lewis is the opening act.
Aimee Mann headlines the reopening of Largo at the Coronet on June 2.
E of the Eels writes "Sad Foot Sign" in honor of the rotating sign above the Sunset Foot Clinic in Silver Lake. One side of the sign shows a happy foot; the other shows a sad foot. E believes that the side of the sign he sees in the morning dictates his mood that day. Beck expresses a similar sentiment about the sign's odd powers.
After Elliott Smith's death, the wall he stood in front of for the cover of Figure 8 at 4334 West Sunset Boulevard becomes a memorial to him, full of messages from fans.