- 8901 Sunset Blvd
- '60's Dance Craze
- Elmer Valentine
- Whisky DOB- January 1964
- Johnny Rivers
The Whisky a Go-Go was the premier night club on the Sunset Strip in the 1960's. The Whisky played an important role in helping to launch many rock bands, especially those based in Los Angeles such as the Byrds and the Doors.
The Whisky opened as a discotheque at the southwest corner of Sunset and Clark on January 11, 1964 by ex-Chicago cop, Elmer Valentine and his partners - lawyer Theodore Flier, former press agent Shelly Davis and Phil Tanzini.
8901 Sunset Boulevard
The little building at the northwest corner of Sunset Boulevard and Clark St. (at San Vicente) started life as a commercial building owned by Republic Bank. Republic Bank first tried to lease the building out.
In June of 1936 - Bank of America filled the space when it opened a branch at 8901 Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood.
From 1936 - 1955 Bank of America operated here.
In 1955 - Bank of America moved to a new modern building at 9021 Sunset - that boasted roof top parking.
In 1957 the site became the new quarters of the Los Angeles Conseratory of Music and Arts. Morris Hutchins Ruger was the director of the school until 1963.
THE PARTY before the Whisky
After the Los Angeles Conservancy moved out, the building was remodeled into a short lived restaurant called the Party managed by Elmer Valentine.
The Party advertised
A wild kind of semi New Orleans almost Louis XIV decor with a touch of Akron here and there makes the Party look more than somewhat posh. A Mardi Gras atmosphere gives it a contagious mood of wing-a-ding ding.Don Randy and His Trio Nightly from 9pm. The food and drinks are extra ordinary. The prices are common place.Come in and gambol awhile.Dinner served from 5 to 9:30.Free Parking on Our lot.
Elmer Valentine had previously managed a popular nightspot on Santa Monica Boulevard at Crescent Heights called P.J.'s. At this this time P.J.'s was the coolest and most rockin' club in town. Many celebrities would hand out at this late late nightclub. Trini Lopez often preformed there. However, PJ.s was not a disco dance club.
Valentine had recently gone to Paris and saw kids in clubs doing a free form type of dance while new rock n roll records were spinning. Dancing was all the rage. There was nothing like this in Los Angeles. Valentine believed the Sunset Strip was ready for a similar new hip youth oriented dance club. He set out to pattern his new club on this idea.
In the early 1960's young people were interested in new dance steps inspired by rock 'n roll.
The Twist dance craze was popularized in 1960 by Chubby Checker.
Other popular dances at the time included; the Frug, the Watusi, The Jerk, the Hitch hike, the Bird, and the Pony.
Elmer Valentine saw the excitement dance clubs generated and he wanted to capitalize on it. He and his partners set out to transformed the little building at 8901 Sunset Boulevard into a first rate discotheque.
Whisky A Go-Go opens!
In early 1964 the Whisky A Go Go opened and it quickly became the hippest place in town.
From the get-go, the Whisky prided itself in being a well run nightclub. The Whisky kept out minors because there was dancing and liquor involved. Valentine abided by all the old laws on the books regarding dancing, minors and liquor laws. However, there was no cover charge to get into this club and no minimum drink required - so it that was attractive to the young set of customers.
Valentine even paid good wages to performers - even the dancing caged girls got $150 a week for four hours of work a night.
He position female D.J.'s above the dance floor in glass enclosed cage- like veranda.
The female D.J.'s wore little white fringe dresses, bare midriff and short white boots.
Thus - the Go-Go girl was born.
photo by Julian Wasser
The little dance floor could accommodate hundreds of couples since this new style of dance required little floor place but a lot of arm, shoulder and hip action. The club's expensive stereo system blasted out the beat.
1964 photo: UCLA photo archives
Johnny River's at the Whisky
Even though the Whisky was advertised as a discotheque (recorded music) it immediately intermixed the record spinning experience with live music performances. Valentine hired a young rockin' boogie singer named Johnny Rivers to a one year contract to play at his new club.
Johnny Rivers had come to California via Louisiana. He would play covers of early rock n' roll at a time when mot much was happening in contemporary music. Remember - in early 1964 the Beatles's hadn't arrived in America yet.
His singing began to draw crowd. Johnny would play three sets a night doing covers of Chuck Berry, Harold Dorman, Willie Dixon and Bobby Darin. In between his sets there would be the girl DJ spinning records from a glass walled cage high above the dance floor.
A few months after Rivers opened, he recorded a live album at the Whisky called Johnny Rivers Live at the Whisky. The album was hugely successful and went to #13 on Billboard.
Rivers help boost the popularity of the Whisky tremendously. At the time, Valentine paid him $1,250 a week. the investment in Rivers more than paid off. Suddenly the whole country heard about the Whisky A Go Go and wanted to be part of the scene.
Together, the Whisky and Rivers brought the discotheque craze to Los Angeles and everyone got caught in it. It was like a party every night. In the Whisky, people found a place where at long last they could dance to rock music in a colorful setting. Suddenly the youth were dancing alongside celebrities on the dance floor. Regulars included Steve McQueen.
Johnny Rivers at the Whisky turned Hollywood upside down. Suddenly all the beautiful people came flooding down from the hills to dance to his rock 'n roll boogie beat. Regulars to the club included; Steve McQueen, Ann Margret, Sandra Dee, Rita Hayworth, George Hamilton, Tuesday Weld, Johnny Carson, and Richard Chamberlain. For much of the '60 Whisky was the most important rock club in town.
In 1966 the Whisky was refurbished. The bandstand and the dancing cage was swung 180 degrees to just along side the front entrance and a new stairway to an upstairs mezzanine.
photo by Paul Wasser
The Whisky continues to be a successful live rock music venue throughout the 1960's. Bands who played here included; the Byrds, Doors, Led Zeppelin, Alic Cooper, the Kinks, Chicago, Stevie Wonder, Cream, Three Dog Night, Linda Ronstadt and Van Morrison.