Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Doug Weston's Troubadour

Elton John, beginning to make a name in England, played the Troubadour for six nights in August 1970. He came to consider that gig as the best move in his career. "My whole life came alive that night, musically, emotionally... everything. It was like everything I had been waiting for suddenly happened. I was the fan who had become accepted as a musician." 

In the late 1960s and early 70s, Doug Weston's Troubadour was the most consistently important showcase of contemporary folk and folk-rock talent in the country. "Look at the list of performers," he said. "We like to think of that list as a sort of hall of fame." Weston first set up shop in the 1950s in a 65-seat coffeehouse on La Cienega. By 1957 he had made enough to open the 300-seat Troubadour at its current West Hollywood location, 9081 Santa Monica Blvd. Initially the venue did poetry readings and plays, but in the mid 60s, a very different faction of artists began to frequent the club. Whereas the Whiskey and the clubs on the Strip catered to a teen crowd and a more rambunctious brand of rock, the Troub featured a focused and musical set of singer/songwriters that by 1968 included Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Hoyt Axton, Laura Nero, Judy Collins, Mason Williams, Neil Diamond and the Smothers Brothers, with artists as diverse as Lenny Bruce and Nina Simone. "The people who play our club are sensitive artists who have something to say about our times. They are modern-day troubadours," Weston said.

By 1966, artists like The Association (who were the first "rock" oriented band to play), Judy Collins, Rod McKuen, Odetta, Muddy Waters and John Denver exemplify the diversity of acts on stage at the Troub. The success of the club lay in part with the fearlessness of its owner. Weston booked controversial, even blacklisted acts, such as Lenny Bruce, who was arrested in 1957 for using the obscenity "schmuck" on stage. Even though it was a 1st Amendment infringement, Lenny Bruce was handcuffed and taken away during his act. 
Elton John, August 25, 1970

Weston was particularly fond of the Laurel Canyon set, showcasing acts like The Byrds (who met at the club's Monday open mic night in 1964), Buffalo Springfield (who played their first gig at the Troub in 1966, never having played live before), and James Taylor, as well as Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash. They would all come down from the canyon and hang out. Monday's became known as the Monday Night Hootenanny and Weston would allow whoever to audition on stage. Whoever was often Joni or Neil or David Crosby. A&R people would show up and literally sign artists from right off the stage. By the 70s, that list included Elton, Rickie Lee Jones and Tom Waits (signed on the spot). On November 29, 1970 James Taylor played Carole King's "You've Got a Friend" for the first time (he'd heard Carole sing it - she was his opening act and pianist); just another night at the Troubadour. The headliners and newcomers over the past fifty years read like a rock encyclopedia.

Lennon, Anne Murray, Nilsson, Alice Cooper, Mickey Dolenz
And it wasn't just about the performers on stage. The Eagles' Don Henley and Glenn Frey met at The Troubadour's bar in 1970 (later they'd write a song about the Troub called "Sad Cafe"). Janis Joplin was at the Troubadour the night before she died. In 1974 John Lennon and Harry Nilsson were ejected from the Troub for heckling the Smother's Brothers. As Lennon's story goes, "I got drunk and shouted. It was my first night on Brandy Alexanders; that's brandy and milk, folks. I was with Harry Nilsson, who didn't get as much coverage as me, the bum. He encouraged me. I usually have someone there who says, 'Okay, Lennon. Shut up." He went on to say, "When it's Errol Flynn the showbiz writers say, 'Those were the days when men were men.' When I do it, I'm a bum.'"

Nilsson, Lennon
Despite Doug Weston's death in 1999, the club under new ownership hasn't changed. [About the only thing I can think of is you can't smoke. I remember when Chuck E. Weiss used to hit me up for change for the cigarette machine, but that's about it.]  Since then the Troub has been the catalyst for Fiona Apple (live debut, September 10, 1999), The Killers and Franz Ferdinand (1st L.A. appearance), a return to the small club atmosphere for The Cure, Depeche Mode and Tom Petty, and a vital component in music promotion. When in L.A., see whoever is there; they are the next Elton, James or Rickie Lee.

Tom Waits, August 16, 1975