Seasoned dance and concert promoters from Miami, Chicago and San Francisco——the last being the Fillmore's Bill Graham——have entered the sagging Los Angeles night club scene in recent weeks, creating a healthier rock prognosis than has existed in nearly a year.
There are clubs still in trouble and the recent past is scarred with ugly police and legal harassment, but to the surprise of most observers, generally the picture looks promising.
Graham is handling all the booking for Scenic Sounds, concert promoters who recently left the Shrine Exposition Hall in downtown Los Angeles for the Rose Palace in Pasadena; the owner-operators of the Kinetic Playground in Chicago hope to reopen the old Cheetah on the Venice beach by June; and Marshall Brevitz, original operator of Miami's Thee Image (site of the Doors' last controversial concert), has reopened a defunct Sunset Strip club, calling it Thee Experience.
Scenic Sounds was reorganized in early March, after months of squabbling between promoter-partners, with everyone but Tom Nieto, the president, pulling out. This included the Doors, who had provided the original financial support, and Bill Siddons, the Doors' manager. About the same time, police cracked down in the Shrine, arresting about 50 youngsters on curfew violations, another dozen, including Charles Lloyd and James Cotton, on dope charges. The drug charges were dropped, but Scenic Sounds was denied a permit to continue holding dances in the hall.
It was as Scenic Sounds moved to Pasadena that Graham arrived. "Just say I'm helping them," Graham said. "I'm helping Tommy (Nieto) do the booking. He'd had some troubles with the agencies there and so I'm doing all the booking for him. I don't think he's gotten a fair shake of late. I think I can do more than he can now. Later hopefully he can take the whole thing back again."
Graham says he is not receiving anything in return for this advice and services. "I am not involved in the financial picture in any way," he said. "I am not getting paid. Absolutely not." Graham also denied he had any interest in expanding his ballroom empire beyond its present San Francisco-New York environs. He admitted looking at a roller rink in nearby Culver City recently, claimed he had done that for a friend. (Culver City fathers express a definite lack of interest in young people, rock and roll, and the mixture of the two.)
"There will be no Fillmore South," Graham said.
Although the audience has gotten less "hip" since making the move to Pasadena, the concerts have been quite successful. Up to 10,000 a two-day weekend have trooped to the airplane hanger-like garage where the Rose Bowl parade floats are made——despite a 12:30 Pasadena curfew and prices which recently jumped to $4.50 at the door.
Acts set to appear at the Rose Palace in May and June include the Collectors, John Mayall, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Julie Driscoll, Credence Clearwater Revival and the Who. The city, presently claiming 10% of the gross as rent, starts building Rose Bowl floats in the place again in November.
Chicago's Kinetic Playground, on the other hand, has no one booked . . . and according to a spokesman for Aaron Russo, president of the Playground corporation, the ballroom may not be reopened at all.
It is explained that so many individuals and firms have owned, leased and/or operated the former Cheetah (prior to that, the old Aragon Ballroom), and the adjacent Pacific Ocean Park (an amusement park) has gone bankrupt so often, there is some real question as to who actually owns the property and might serve as a legal landlord.
Equally important in deciding whether or not the Kinetic Playground comes to L.A. are the neighbors—several hundred of whom signed a petition to rid the shabby section of Venice of the Cheetah nearly a year ago. Since then, there has been increased police harassment of young people on the Venice beach and promenade, while neighbors have only reinforced their apparent hatred of youth and rock.
All of which is holding up Russo's getting a necessary entertainment license. Originally, the 7500-capacity club was to open in May. Now Russo is hoping for June.
Meanwhile, back on the Sunset Strip . . . Marshall Brevitz is quietly running Thee Experience. He came to L.A. after serving seven weeks as the original operator of Miami's Thee Image and three more weeks running a larger club called The Real Thing, leaving Florida after his license had been canceled. He says it took him five months to collect backing for Thee Experience, opening the small (capacity about 300) club in middle March.
Food prices in the club are high, but everything else seems about right. The tab at the door is $2 during the week, $3 weekends——half price after 12:30, and all-day Sunday jam sessions have included the Grateful Dead, Steve Miller, Eric Burdon and members of Steppenwolf, Black Pearl and Iron Butterfly. The modest light show, by Athanor Visual Team, is also one of the best in town.
Brevitz says the club's policy is "if you have the bread, please pay because the club needs it desperately——if not, be my guest." Scheduled acts have included Slim Harpo, Chicago Transit Authority, Blues Image and Alice Cooper.
In other sectors of the sprawling Los Angeles basin, there have been other motions toward reinstating the rock performance scene. Dick Clark recently took over a Studio City club that had previously been the Cinnamon Cinder, then the Magic Mushroom——calling it the V.I.S. Club and booking all country acts. Another San Fernando Valley club, Mr. Benjamin's, has been the place for new acts——such as C. K. Strong, South Wind and the Flying Burrito Brothers. And the Free Press has announced a series of monthly free concerts on the Venice beach, running from April through August.
Los Angeles had long been a city that had only sporadically ever supported a scene after dark——the city being too spread out to make night-clubbing convenient; "Los Angeles is a city that wouldn't get out of bed to watch Moses wrestle a bear" is a cliche-joke rooted in reality.
Los Angeles also had been grouped, concerted and night clubbed to death in recent years, and after seeing the biggest, brightest names at least three times, not many were willing to drive between 10 and 50 miles to fight for a parking place to see the same act another time.
It was also felt that the groups, through their booking agencies, were pricing themselves out of the market, as one club or concert hall started bidding against the others.
Besides the then-faltering Scenic Sounds, there were only four clubs that seemed to provide any constancy——the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, the Troubadour, the Ash Grove and the Whisky. All others had collapsed or been hassled to death and even the Whisky had been forced by the city's guardians of morality to post a No Dancing sign.