Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Trip - 50 Years Ago

The Sea Witch from Dino's
To oversimplify it, the New York jazz scene was the fringe of elite Manhattan society; then came the Beats and three chord rock 'n' roll, reefer and Andy. New York was seedy, uptight, gritty; it had teeth, the kind of place where an idea like the Velvet Underground could flourish. L.A. was something else. If New York was Bohemia, L.A. was trippy folk and the seedlings of Flower Power. The two were like oil and rosewater and on those rare occasions when east went west, it wasn’t pretty. L.A. was paradise and NYC was east of Nod.

Still, the rock scene on L.A.'s Sunset Strip was as vital as that in the east. Rand Spear of the San Fernando Valley band Sounds of Shadows remembers it, if not well (the Strip was like Woodstock; if you remember it, you weren't there). "By the end of '66 we we
Nico in LA, sans Velvets, '67
re playing a circuit of dive bars in the Valley, old school taverns without customers in Panorama City and North Hollywood. We developed a bit of a following. The drummer was 21; he'd get us these gigs and we'd sneak in the back of the Valley Squire; sixty bucks for the four of us, two nights a week. That was gas money, weed, 45s; it was 18 year old freedom.


"Sounds of Shadows dressed alike. Skinny Sansabelt slacks and rust colored Nehru jackets my mother made. Our big breakthrough was at the Sea Witch on the Sunset Strip, just down from Dino's. It was an odd clash of the Rat Pack, what was left, and hippies. We had a demo of a song called 'Leave Me Alone' and a guy with a business card took it and said he'd be in touch, that we had a good look. He said a new club was opening up and he had an idea. Didn't happen. We were either too early, or we weren't any good."


That club was The Trip. In January '64 Elmer Valentine opened the Whiskey A Go-Go at Sunset and Clark St. L.A. was ready to rock and the added innovation of mini-skirted dancers in cages elevated over the audience was an instant sensation, but the Whiskey aimed its sights at a rock audience in its mid-20s, the older hip, and in that way attracted celebs like Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw. The Trip was a younger venue, a wilder one. Formerly The Crescendo jazz club, The Trip, also owned by Valentine, sat in the shadow of the new Playboy Club, almost as if it were in the way. Hugh Hefner lived at the top of the six story structure looking out over L.A., and it was in this penthouse that Playboy After Dark was filmed, a sixties late night TV show that featured Hef, some Bunnies and usually an established rock band like Steppenwolf.  The Trip often benefited from the Playboy Club’s overflow, creating a truly eclectic crowd.


October 4, 1965
The Trip's ideology was typical, at least initially: get people in to dance, or to watch others dance and to buy drinks; nothing out of the ordinary. The Whisky featured Johnny Rivers in '64, and '65, as well as local unknown combos with no following, much less a record deal. The Trip followed the Whisky model when it opened, but quickly evolved, promoting high profile bands on the radio or at least with a fan base (just not the Sounds of Shadows). In 1965, this was distinctly different than the Whisky, yet by early '66 The Whisky took The Trip's approach by booking established bands. It's The Trip, therefore that created the Strip scene, the model that today is the standard for The Whiskey, The Roxy and The Rainbow. The Trip was short lived, but in that time featured The Byrds, Barry McQuire, The Grass Roots, The Butterfield Blues Band and Zappa and the Mothers. There was a matinee in March of 1966 that featured Donovan. I was there. I was five. The only thing I remember was "Try and Catch the Wind." It was enough. In the end it was the Velvets that shut the place down.  Booked for a three week stint under the Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable banner, the event took place for just three nights, May 3rd, 4th and 5th. It was then the LA County Sheriffs shut the doors. No real definitive reasons for the raid are available; New York, it seems, just wasn't welcome in L.A.


Sunset Strip, 1966 - The Largo is now The Roxy