Tales of Rock: Remembering the Glam-Rock Bars of the Sunset Strip in the 1980s

What’s next for the place Vince Neil called a “cesspool of depravity?”

Welcome back to Tales of Rock, a look back at the great drinking scenes of yesteryear. Today, we visits Los Angeles in the 1980s to recount the nascent glam-rock scene that was then cropping up along the Sunset Strip.

In the early months of 1981, Vince Neil, Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx moved into a filthy, white apartment complex on 1124 North Clark Street. The two-bedroom was financed by their manager. In apartment #205, they wrote songs for their then-unknown band Mötley Crue, but they mostly drank and did drugs with an always-crowded house of people. Groupies would arrive in shifts, like hockey lines subbing in and out. Every night, the trio would leave their hovel and walk down the sloped block to what was becoming one of the greatest bar scenes in American history.

“We’d get drunk, do crazy amounts of cocaine and walk the circuit in stiletto heels, stumbling all over the place,” claimed Neil in The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band. “The Sunset Strip was a cesspool of depravity.”

Running through the city of West Hollywood between Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, this 1.5-mile stretch of Sunset Boulevard had always been a fairly wild area, due it being unincorporated (until 1984) and not under the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Police Department. Loosely overseen by the County Sheriff’s Department, no one really monitored what was going on — thus, it became a hotbed of liquor, drugs, nightlife and shenanigans.

In the 1920s the Sunset Strip had hosted speakeasies and underground casinos; the 1930s through ’50s would see glamorous restaurants and nightclubs spring up to be frequented by movie-industry hot shots; by the 1960s, hippies and the counterculture were slowly working their way there as clubs like Whisky a Go Go (1964), Pandora’s Box (1966) and the Roxy Theater (1973) sprung up and bands like The Doors dominated the scene; the 1970s saw more new wave and punk acts like The Stooges and New York Dolls.

It was the 1980s, however, when the so-called “Sunset Strip” might have reached its apex as, according to Rolling Stone, “big-haired dudes and the girls who loved them turned the boulevard into their own personal playground.”

The big-haired dudes of Mötley Crue would actually make their debut right off the Strip, as an opening act at Starwood on Santa Monica Boulevard on April 24th of 1981. Even if that early set included a cover of The Beatles’ catchy pop hit Paperback Writer, the raucous rockers quickly started setting a template for how to behave on the Sunset Strip. Especially as their shows moved to the Whisky a Go Go, just about 200 feet from their crash pad.

“Did I tell you about the time I tied a girl up in the Whisky bathroom with Mick’s guitar cable, and then went to get a bump of blow from Tommy?” Sixx told LA Weekly in 2011. “I forgot she was in there! I think Vince found her and everything was [fine]. Ah, to be in Mötley Crüe in 1981 in Los Angeles.”

Ah, to be anyone who visited the Sunset Strip in the early 1980s when, on any given night, the bars and clubs might feature sets from perhaps 75 to 100 emerging and already-made-it bands like Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, The Misfits, Motörhead and even Metallica, who first opened for Saxon at the Whisky a Go Go in August of 1982.

“I think of all the late nights and early mornings, probably the craziest year of my life in L.A.,” Lars Ulrich told Mick Wall for his book Enter Night: A Biography of Metallica. “Living everything that you can imagine when you’re twenty-six years old in L.A. and your dick is fucking six feet long.”

The favored haunt of many rockers was The Rainbow Bar & Grill, just across the street from the Whisky, at the corner of Crescent Heights Boulevard. (“[T]he reason is simple: the clam chowder,” Sixx once told LA Weekly.) It opened in 1972 by hosting a party for Elton John, but by the 1980s had become the after-hours hangout for various hair bands and their hangers-on.

“The place was set up like a circle, with the coolest rockers and richest deviants sitting at the center tables,” explained Lee to Curbed in 2019. “Guys had to be twenty-one to come into the club, but girls could be eighteen. The guys would sit at their regular spots and the girls would walk around the ring until they were called over to someone’s empty chair.”

After everybody was kicked out of the Rainbow, they’d spew into the parking lot to score drugs and girls, before heading back to 1124 North Clark. More and more bands started joining the party, but the Strip also had bars like The Comedy Store, where you might be able to see Robin Williams or Sam Kinison doing stand-up on any given night — it was wild even there, where “half-naked women draped over fat, out-of-shape funny men, booze and drugs flowing freely,” as Corey Feldman wrote in his memoirCoreyography. There were also gentlemen’s clubs like Seventh Veil and The Body Shop, both of which would eventually be name-checked in Mötley Crue’s Girls, Girls, Girls while providing some of the girls, girls, girls for the music video.

Further up the block, at Santa Monica Boulevard just east of Doheny Drive, was the Troubadour. Lenny Bruce had been arrested there on obscenity charges in 1962, and it was the place where Steve Martin was discovered. By the 1980s, however, it was all hair bands all the time. A Slash-less Guns ‘n’ Roses would play their first ever show there (where they were discovered by a David Geffen A&R rep at the club). Poison, too, would get their start at the Troubadour.

“When we finally pulled onto the Strip it was, ‘Holy shit!’” Bret Michaels recalled to Rolling Stone. He and his bandmates had driven in from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, in March of 1983. By then the billboards lining the Strip were going for $4,000-$6,000 a month in rent; pure vanity for the now-famous musicians who had actually made it at the clubs below. “We’re driving past the Rainbow, Gazzarri’s, the Roxy, the Whisky, and there’s gotta be, like, 100,000 people walking around. And they all look like they’re in a band. For a bunch of small-town guys, that’s a lot to take in.”

A block away from the Rainbow was Gazzarri’s. A sensation when it opened, the club was well past its heyday by the mid-1970s. Then Van Halen became its house band from 1974 to 1977 and put it back on the map. That ushered in a 1980s scene with bands like Quiet Riot, Warrant and Stryper, many of whom would eventually be honored with giant hand-painted murals on the outside wall of the club.

From the front steps of Gazzarri’s, 300 feet of Strip sidewalk led to a parking lot between the Rainbow and the Roxy Theatre. Aspiring bands would congregate there, passing out handmade show flyers, hustling for gigs, buying drugs, and getting into amorous hijinks.

“I saw so many people fucking on the lawns behind Gazzarri’s that I actually got bored of watching and started to throw empty beer cans at them,” Ratt frontman Stephen Pearcy wrote in his autobiography Sex, Drugs, Ratt & Roll: My Life in Rock.

It wasn’t all inconsequential fun, however. On March 4, 1982, Harry Dean Stanton and Robert De Niro coaxed a disheveled John Belushi out for a night of bar-hopping on the Strip, starting at On the Rox, the lounge above the Roxy. At the Rainbow he ordered not clam chowder, but lentil soup, before returning to bungalow No. 3 at the Chateau Marmont and overdosing on a speedball. As Shawn Levy noted in his book about the luxury hotel, The Castle on Sunset: “It stood slightly apart from the commotion around it — compact, old-world, elegant, just off to the side of the circus, much as it sat just off Sunset Boulevard itself. After Belushi, that changed.”

By 1984 the Strip was finally getting some legitimacy, especially when, according to Visit West Hollywood, “a coalition of gay men, Russian Jews and the elderly” successfully held a vote to incorporate the area as the new City of West Hollywood. Now under the watch of a city council run predominantly by an often persecuted, openly gay majority, the area was bound to stay a bit wild, but it would never be quite the same.

“The era of glam metal would be the last gasp of lawlessness on the Sunset Strip,” writes Hadley Meares on Curbed. Every band, fan and groupie started looking the same, and a few other things were about to spell its end. The arrival of grunge was one, with Nirvana rocking The Roxy as early as August of 1991. The growing corporatization was another, as high-priced hotels and condos sprung up, as well as theme-like chain bars like The House of Blues, “the toxic fruit of an alliance between Hard Rock Café co-founder Isaac Tigrett and the insufferably unfunny Dan Aykroyd,” according to LA Weekly. And if neither Belushi’s death nor Nikki Sixx’s near-brush with it in Slash’s room in 1987 didn’t slow down the party, River Phoenix’s 1993 overdose at the just-opened Viper Room would.

By 2005, a sanitized stage production called Rock of Ages (followed by a 2012 film of the same name, starring Tom Cruise as “Stacee Jaxx”) — with its storyline centered around the Sunset Strip in 1987 — was all that was left to honor the era. The Strip has now gone “From Louche to Luxury” as the Wall Street Journal write in 2018. “To make way for the new vision of Sunset, some of the most iconic symbols of its past are being demolished.”

Gazzarri’s closed in 1993, but the Whisky, Roxy, Rainbow and Troubadour still stand, though you’ll rarely see a major act appear there these days. Even the strip clubs are apparently no fun anymore; LAist by 2008 was calling Seventh Veil “The Least Exciting Strip Club in Hollywood,” with Jessica P. Ogilvie writing “The club had seemingly remained firmly, unapologetically and possibly even aggressively in the 80’s.”

Today, the Strip that was once described as a “cheerfully depraved Aqua Net playground” instead has over one million square feet of luxury hotels like 1 West Hollywood and condos like AKA West Hollywood, where single-family homes go for around $2.5 million. It has private clubs like Soho House and the Gwyneth Paltrow-backed The Arts Club (which replaced a Hustler Store they bought for $18.3 million); there’s an Armani store, a Fred Segal and a Warby Parker; you can even get an “Originally from ‘’Dorchestah’” burger at Wahlburger’s.

“What the fuck happened?” wrote MÖRAT in a 2015 article “Farewell to the Sunset Strip” on Metal Hammer. He notes that the biggest band playing there these days is Steel Panther.

“Doubtless you’ll see some great bands from time to time, but rarely any truly great shows, rarely a band at their peak, playing the kind of shows that keep you buzzing for weeks afterwards.”

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

My new book, Angel with a Broken Wing is now for sale on Amazon!

 

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Listen to the Phicklephilly podcast LIVE on Spotify!

Instagram: @phicklephilly    Facebook: phicklephilly    Twitter: @phicklephilly

California Dreamin’ – 1982 to 1984 – Who Do I Look Like?

We just finished a gig at The Troubadour. I put my guitar in it’s case and locked it in the back room behind the stage. The band sort of spread out through the club as if they needed to go network, but we were all there for the obvious. Sex, drugs, booze and Rock and Roll.

I run into this gorgeous blonde. Like a baby Farrah Fawcett.

“I like that song you played about the bombshell. Who’s that about?”

“Farrah. I wrote it when I was sixteen. I love Farrah.”

The earliest warning sign should have been her next opening line. Jabbing me with her finger, she pointed at her own face and said: “Who do I look like?” I had no idea. The answer she was looking for apparently, was Heather Locklear.

A few hours later and we’re walking back to her place. It’s beginning to spit with rain.

Things started fine. Pretty much like most tipsy post show hook ups back then. As things began to escalate, she made an excuse to go to the bathroom. It took a few minutes to decide on the appropriate level of nakedness to be in on her return but after 10 minutes I thought I should probably check if she’s Okay.

When I got to the bathroom, the door was locked. The light, on. I knocked: no answer. I returned to the bedroom, put some clothes back on. Looked out the window. The rain was now torrential. Home was 20 minutes away. Do I call a taxi? Faced with an impossible situation, I took an incredibly ungentlemanly decision.

“Hope you’re okay. Unlock the door and I’ll get you some water.” I wrote it on a piece of paper found on the girl’s desk, slipped it under the bathroom door and waited a few minutes. When the door stayed locked, I went to her room, got into bed and fell asleep.

A few hours later I’m awakened by the door opening. It’s her. I make a move to get up but she pins me down with a surprising level of strength, strips completely and the most excruciating 20 minutes of my life began. To this day I’ve never met anyone else who has a “don’t touch me with your hands or mouth below my waist” policy. It was bizarre and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. It was just a bronco cowgirl ride to the finish.

When it was over, I got up to leave but she grabbed my arm and said no. She pulled me back into bed, only to roll over and go back to sleep within minutes. Awkwardly, I lay there a bit longer, trying to figure out whether it was worth staying. Eventually I tried to leave again. This time she said no but I ignored her. Besides, it had stopped raining now.

As an act of goodwill I wrote my phone number on a pad on her desk. She asked what I was doing and then laughed when I told her.

Two weeks later, my band is back at the Troubadour. I’m out back having a smoke out back chatting to some friends when over my shoulder I hear it again.

“Who do I look like?”

Poor guy.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

Buy Phicklephilly THE BOOK now available on Amazon!

Listen to the Phicklephilly podcast LIVE on Spotify!

Instagram: @phicklephilly    Facebook: phicklephilly    Twitter: @phicklephilly

California Dreamin’ – 1982 to 1984 – Karen – Old Western Style – Part 1

It all began when I walked into the Rainbow Bar & Grille on Sunset Strip to watch TV and grab a drink. (We couldn’t afford a TV back in those days.) I heard Lemmy from Motorhead drinks here so I figured I’d stop in. Every time I went there I was always hoping to see him there, sitting at the end of the bar drinking whiskey and playing the poker machine.

I had just come from working in the studio nailing down some tracks for a demo my band and I were working on. I wasn’t happy with the production and knew I had to clean up my lyrics.

I walked in to this bar and I saw one of the most beautiful women I had ever had the fortune to lay my eyes on; she was a tall, slender blonde sitting at one of the often empty tables laughing and smiling with her friends. During the day?

Naturally, from the moment I sat down I couldn’t stop looking in her direction. My eyes kept wondering, and my mind kept telling me that I should get up and introduce myself to her. As I watched the game I continued to muster up the courage to go talk to her. I’m 19 and even though I’m in a band, I suck.

Still no Lemmy.

After 4 innings of the baseball game on TV, I finally mustered up the courage to talk to her. Then, as I turned to get up from my seat I noticed that she was absent and her friends had also gone. My heart immediately sank to the depths of my stomach. I had missed my chance, and I probably would never see this woman again.

Then the most amazing thing happened.

As I returned my gaze, and saddened heart to the television behind the bar, I felt the sensation of soft hands on my face, and then immediately thereafter the softer lips. My eyes had closed at the touch of her hands to my face, so I couldn’t see her, but somehow I just knew it was her. I went with it, and kissed her as passionately as a man could kiss a woman he had never spoken to, and to my delight when I opened my eyes it indeed was her. I couldn’t believe this was happening! I’m blinking my eyes, my mind trying to process this impossible moment.

“What’s your name, dear?”

“Karen.” she whispered.

“You’re the guy with the black guitar in that band that played at the Troubadour last friday night, Right?”

“Umm… yea. I’m Chaz.”

After the kiss, I asked the young lady if she’d like a drink. She declined the offer to my amazement, and to paraphrase her response, she didn’t want me to buy drinks because she wanted me to know that what happened later was a result of her choice, and not because I bought her drinks.

“Okay…. Okay.”

We sat at the bar talking for a while. By the time we decided to leave the bar we had indulged in a several shots of whiskey, and a few hours of banter.

I had walked to the bar that day, so we decided to head to her house in her car. By this point, we were both pretty intoxicated so being the chivalrous man I am I offered to drive. (Idiot)

I was driving down Sunset when I saw the ominous glow of red and blue lights approaching from the rear. Was my time with this woman going to be cut to a short end by the officers in that car? I quickly decided that I was going to beat this case right here and right now. I pulled the car over to a gradual stop, rolled my window down about half an inch, and waited for the police officer to approach.

He came to the window and asked for my license and registration. This smoking hot baby fumbled through her glove compartment and retrieved the registration. She then handed it to me, and I offered it and my license through the crack in the window

“Here you go officer.”

He left to do what cops do, and it was then that I noticed that the girl had a glass of beer between her legs. I quickly instructed her to drink the entire beer and put the glass under her seat. (I didn’t even realize she had a drink in her hand when we left the bar!)

When the officer returned he told me that he suspected I was drinking, and asked me to get out of the vehicle. I did as commanded, and soon I was a competitor in several olympic events that nobody ever wants to participate in.

After the competition had ended, and I ended up winning the gold in the foot lift and count, the closed eyed nose touch, and the night light follow the officer told me that I was free to go. I don’t think I had ever been happier! Well except for about two hours before when that girl sitting in the passenger seat of the car I had been driving first laid hands on me.

But, before I got back in the car, the officer asked me to do a breathalyzer test without consequence to determine if I should get back in the car. I was skeptical, but I did the test. I blew a .09, and the officer was amazed, but he let us leave on foot after we locked the car up.

We began walking and once we had made it around the corner we broke up into hysterical laugh and started running towards her home.

To be continued in a couple of hours…

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

Buy Phicklephilly THE BOOK now available on Amazon!

Listen to the Phicklephilly podcast LIVE on Spotify!

Instagram: @phicklephilly    Facebook: phicklephilly    Twitter: @phicklephilly

California Dreamin’ – 1982 to 1984 – Side Piece

One evening I was just hanging in my front yard in Santa Monica when I noticed a girl pull up and park. She sat there for a few minutes too long and looked quite frazzled. I was half-tempted to go see if she was alright, but sat back and let her be until she got out of her car and approached my front gate.

In disarray, she was trying to meet up with someone nearby but couldn’t remember the exact address and asked if she could use the phone inside my place. (Years before the first cell phone!)

Now normally I wouldn’t let just anyone into my house without knowing them, but let’s just say she was without a doubt attractive, not to mention had a pretty revealing top on, and I figured what’s the worst that could happen? So I let her in and we both engaged in conversation on my couch. She makes her phone call and whoever was on the other end says they’ll have to call her right back. I give her my number and she relays it to the party on the other end of the line.

She seemed alright, but I kept getting the vibe she had something more she wanted to say, which is when she eventually let me in on the fact that she was sorta seeing someone. She went on, ‘Yeah, but he’s kinda famous, and it’s not suppose to be known that we’re hanging out because he sorta has a girlfriend.’ I said alright and wasn’t even going to press who it was, but she finally revealed that the “kinda famous person” was lo and behold Rob Lowe and that she was reluctant to meet up with him at this party she was headed to.

The phone rang and she answered it. She abruptly grabbed her things, and awkwardly stood there. I must have been making inappropriate eye contact at one point or another, because she then went ahead and goes, ‘You could touch ‘em if you want, for letting me use your  phone and all… ’ Yep, she was talking about her boobs. However, I got the feeling she was crazy, plus they clearly were fake, so I sent her on her way.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

Instagram: @phicklephilly             Facebook: phicklephilly       twitter: @phicklephilly

 

Tales of Rock – The Rainbow Bar & Grill

I’ve got some interesting tales coming up in this series that occur here at the Rainbow, so I thought I’d supply you all with some background.

The Rainbow Bar and Grill is a bar and restaurant on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, CaliforniaUnited States, adjacent to the border of Beverly Hills, California. Its address is 9015 Sunset Boulevard.

The bottom level of the building is the restaurant, The Rainbow Bar and Grill. Upstairs is an exclusive club called “Over the Rainbow”, which consists of a full bar, a dance floor, and a DJ booth. The restaurant is next to The Roxy Theatre and The Key Club.

The restaurant was founded in early 1972 by Elmer ValentineLou AdlerMario Maglieri and others,[1][2] opening on April 16, 1972, with a party for Elton John.[3] At the time, the word “rainbow” signified peace and freedom. It quickly became known as a hangout for celebrities of all types.[4] John Belushi ate his last meal[5](lentil soup) at table No. 16[citation needed]. For many years, the owner was Mario Maglieri.[4]

Before becoming the Rainbow, the restaurant was the Villa Nova restaurant, which was originally owned by film director Vincente Minnelli, at the time married to Judy GarlandJoe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe met at the restaurant on a blind date in 1952.[6]

The Rainbow became known as a hangout for rock musicians and their groupies. Notable regulars at the Rainbow in this period include Keith MoonAlice CooperMicky DolenzHarry NilssonJohn LennonRingo Starr, and Neil Diamond.[5] Elvis Presley was known to have occasionally visited the Rainbow[citation needed]. The group of musicians calling themselves the Hollywood Vampires made the Rainbow their home away from home in the mid-1970s. In the last two decades of his life, Motörhead frontman Lemmy was a daily fixture at the Rainbow whenever the band was not on tour, and often played a video poker machine at the end of the bar table.[7]

Los Angeles songwriter Warren Zevon referenced the scene at the Rainbow in the last verse of his 1976 song “Poor Poor Pitiful Me“.

The musical group Rainbow was named after this club.[8]

The track “Rainbow Bar & Grill” from the Cheech & Chong album Let’s Make a New Dope Deal takes place in the bar and restaurant.

Producer Kim Fowley used to hang out at the Rainbow, especially in 1975, when he formed the all-girl group The Runaways. Actress and musician Cheryl Smithwas given her pseudonym Rainbeaux Smith early in her career as a result of her frequenting the Rainbow; she briefly replaced Sandy West as drummer of The Runaways at the end of that band’s existence.[citation needed]

As musical trends on the Strip changed towards heavy metal in the 1980s, the Rainbow followed suit. Members of Mötley Crüe,[9] Poison, and Guns N’ Roses frequented the bar.[10] It was mentioned in a number of songs, such as “Sunset and Babylon” by W.A.S.P., “Vampire” by L.A. Guns and “Peach Kelli Pop” by Redd Kross, and featured in the videos of “November Rain“, “Estranged” and “Don’t Cry” by Guns N’ Roses and also, although briefly, “Rock Out” by Motörhead.

Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers noted in his book Scar Tissue that he often sat with his father, Blackie Dammett, at the club along with various members of bands such as Led Zeppelin. Often the waitresses and bartenders were groupies as well as those who frequented the establishment. In Pamela Des Barres‘ book Let’s Spend the Night Together, the author commented that as a barfly in the early 1980s she met a number of celebrities including Billy Idol.[11]

In June of 2016, the Rainbow started having live music every Wednesday night from 10pm until closing. Various musicians would host the live jam every week. Local acts, as well as different well known musicians would show up to perform random classic rock cover songs every week. During this time, there were many jam band gatherings being established on Sunset Boulevard around the area. Viper Roomand The Whisky a Go Go also joined the Rainbow by allowing musicians to host jams on various week nights as well.

On January 18, 2017 the Rainbow was inducted into the Hall of Heavy Metal History (created by Pat Gesualdo and Joe Dell) for introducing the world to new Heavy Metal acts. [12]

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

Instagram: @phicklephilly    Facebook: phicklephilly

Tales of Rock – Lori Maddox – Part 2

MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES/GETTY IMAGES
COURTESY OF LORI MATTIX

 

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

Instagram: @phicklephilly Facebook: phicklephilly

Tales of Rock – Lori Maddox – Part 1

“I LOST MY VIRGINITY TO DAVID BOWIE”

IN THE EARLY 1970S, the Sunset Strip was a magnet for rock stars: Bowie, Zeppelin, Iggy Pop, Mott the Hoople, The Who. They all hung out in the VIP rooms of louche LA nightclubs like E Club, the Rainbow, and Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco. And with them, of course, came groupies. Scantily clad 14- and 15-year-olds like Sable Starr and Lynn “Queenie” Koenigsaecker sipped cherry cola, dropped pills, and evolved into pubescent dream girls for the platform-shoed rockers who could get anything and anyone they desired. 

MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES/GETTY IMAGES
MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES/GETTY IMAGES

 

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

Instagram: @phicklephilly                            Facebook: phicklephilly