CLICK BELOW FOR A 1970 VIDEO ON THE SUNSET STRIP
CLICK BELOW FOR SUNSET STRIP IN 1964 VIDEO
If you were going to drive into the city from Woodland Hills it meant you were “going over the hill”. Whether it be Hollywood or Westwood or even San Diego – it was “over the hill”. And you never went “over the hill” unless you had a real purpose. You’d think we were living on the Ponderosa and had to pack saddlebacks to ride into town for vittles.
But there was a new attraction that the kids were buzzing about. The Sunset Strip. In the 40s and 50s this stretch of Sunset Blvd. between Beverly Hills and Hollywood was nightclub row. Sinatra played there. Sammy played there. Dino even had his own club. These hot spots featured dance floors and palm trees and exotic names like the Macambo, the Trocadero, Casa Manana, and Ciro’s. I was never actually in one of these nightclubs but there were several Looney Tunes that spoofed them so I had a pretty good idea of what went on there thanks to Bugs Bunny.
Now the clubs were starting to cater to young people. Whisky A Go Go led the charge. Some say it was because of the location, others say popular singer Johnny Rivers was the big draw but I contend it was the hot girls in mini skirts dancing in suspended cages that attracted the crowds. Rock groups would stagger down from Laurel Canyon to perform. The Byrds, the Doors (in matching suits), the Seeds, Buffalo Springfield, Love, and even the great Captain Beefheart performed in clubs like Gazzari’s, London Fog, and Pandora’s Box. They weren’t content to just do cover versions of popular songs or pale imitations of current styles. No sir. They examined their roots, experimented, challenged themselves to become artists in the true sense of the word. Their music was new and exciting and groundbreaking. God, the women these assholes must’ve gotten.
There were also a few clubs that catered to teenagers. They didn’t serve alcohol so you didn’t have to be 21. The downside was forfeiting the lucrative bar income. The upside was there were ten million teenagers under the age of 21. And club owners could still charge two bucks for a Coke. The Trip and It’s Boss were the two top teen clubs.
My 17 year old cousin Craig was visiting from Louisville. So for two weeks I had a chauffeur. One night we cruised down the Sunset Strip. We must’ve looked like the Clampett family gawking at all the activity. We were lucky and found a parking space only a mile up the hill from the strip, so we headed down to “check out the scene”. Who’s hipper than a fifteen year-old who still draws comics and a kid from Kentucky?
People were just hanging out, standing around, and many of them were smoking. I didn’t know what but the smell was weird and unlike anything I had experienced. You never forget your first second-hand smoke reefer.
The clubs were so crowded with such long lines that we decided to just bag it. Too much of a hassle. I’d just wait until the Looney Tunes cartoon.
Pandora’s Box was a teen club the size of an outhouse perched on a triangular traffic island on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights. Crowds became too large and were snarling traffic at that large intersection. So cops tried to enforce a 10 p.m. curfew (good luck) and later just close the club. This resulted in a protest rally – a mob of mostly clean-cut teenagers and twentysomethings wearing pullover sweaters and miniskirts. Police broke it up, a riot resulted, and observer Stephen Stills wrote the song “For What It’s Worth” about the incident. A month later Sonny & Cher performed at Pandora’s Box but not without dire consequences. They were kicked off a Rose Parade float. It’s amazing Sonny Bono ever got elected to public office with that stain on his record.
I was not part of that riot. But I did buy the record.