Los Angeles: A rock ‘n’ roll guide

Where to see music

Hollywood Palladium 

Creative Commons / Hollywood Palladium

The Hollywood Palladium is a storied music theatre that has hosted an immense number of bands and artists from an array of different genres since its grand opening  in 1940 with a show by Frank Sinatra.

Los Angeles Times newspaper publisher Norman Chandler was the man who funded the construction of the Palladium, and ever since then it has been an integral part of the LA music scene.

Located at 6215 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, the Art Deco style theatre, which was designed by esteemed architect Gordon B. Kaufman, boasts an 11,200 square foot dance floor with the capacity of hosting up to 4,000 people.

During the early days Big Band and swing acts were regularly booked, then more rock and roll acts began playing there in the 1960s and 1970s. One famous event held at the Palladium was Pop Expo ’69, with the Jimi Hendrix Experience and MC5 wowing audiences with their eye-opening performances.

The venue closed for a much needed, multi-million pound renovation in the noughties, reopening in October 2008 when rap star Jay-Z came to town. Since then it has been under the control of the Live Nation company. A great place to experience live music in LA.

Location: 6215 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90028

Website: www.livenation.com/venues/14586/hollywood-palladium

The Troubadour

Creative Commons / Gary Minnaert

The legendary Troubadour on Santa Monica Boulevard is one of LA’s most loved music venues, and has made an indelible impact on rock ‘n’ roll and popular culture history.

The club was founded by Doug Weston and opened in 1957. One of the first instances of note was the arrest of comedian Lenny Bruce on obscenity charges after a controversial gig at the club in September of that year.

Musically, the Troubadour played a key role in presenting the burgeoning folk movement to the LA public, with the likes of Bob Dylan and Tim Buckley playing the venue in the 1960s. Weston and the Troubadour were also largely responsible for  promoting singer-songwriters from outside the United States, with Elton John and Van Morrison playing acclaimed shows which helped build them an audience in the US.

The venue also played a significant role in the rise of the Southern California “soft rock” movement of the early 1970s, with the likes of The Eagles, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Buffalo Springfield and Linda Ronstadt getting major career boosts through playing the venue regularly. Tom Waits was another who was welcomed through the doors of The Troubadour at the beginning of his now legendary career, being discovered by manager Herb Cohen performing at an amateur night at the club.

Several live albums have been recorded here too, with Tim Buckley and Miles Davis just two artists to make use of the Troubadour’s great acoustics and live atmosphere for such records. In 1974, John Lennon and his friend Harry Nilsson were notably ejected from the club for drunken and rowdy behaviour, which included the heckling of house band the Smothers Brothers.

The venue hosted punk and glam metal in the 1980s, and in the 1990s everyone from Pavement to Radiohead performed here. It continues to be an attractive venue for punters and bands alike today, and should be high on the list of any music fan coming to LA.

Location: 9081 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, California 90069

Website: www.troubadour.com

Whisky A Go-Go

Creative Commons / Tim McGarry

Though now a pale shadow of what it was in its late 1960s and early 1970s heyday, the Whisky A Go-Go on Sunset Boulevard is nonetheless a club that has more than earned its rock ‘n’ roll stripes.

“The Whisky” – as it is widely known – took its name and inspiration from a Parisian nightclub discovered by American sailors in the late 1940s. The Sunset Strip’s Whisky (there would soon be a chain of them across the United States as they became widely popular) was founded by Elmer Valentine, Mario Maglieri, Phil Tanzini, Shelly Davis, and attorney Theodore Flier, and opened its doors on January 16, 1964. Soon afterwards The Doors themselves would become the house band, before Jim Morrison’s bizarre, doom laden poetry had them kicked unceremoniously out of the joint.

The Whisky is famous for pioneering and popularising the use of go-go dancers in suspended cages, and in its heyday the likes of Led Zeppelin, Love, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Who, Frank Zappa and Janis Joplin all played here regularly. It has also been immortalised in song, with the likes of Mötley Crüe (‘Down at the Whisky’), The Miracles (‘Going to a Go-Go’) and Love (‘Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale’) paying tribute to the pioneering club on the Strip.

The late 1970s and early 1980s saw the Whisky emerge as a go to club for the punk and new wave phenomenons that hit LA and elsewhere. The likes of Talking Heads, Blondie, Ramones and local heroes Black Flag all turned up to play in this era. Recent times have been less distinguished in terms of bands and performances (lots of forgettable punk and rock acts), but The Whisky still boasts one of the best sound systems in LA and remains a stalwart of the city’s thriving music scene.

Location: 8901 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, California 90069

Website: www.whiskyagogo.com

The Roxy Theatre 

Creative Commons / Gary Minnaert

The famous Roxy on the Sunset Strip was actually reformed from a strip bar named The Largo by canny businessmen Elmer Valentine and former record company owner Lou Adler.

Booking Neil Young for its inaugural night in 1973, it rapidly became a key venue in the local music scene.

Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 performances here have become legendary, and the Roxy played a big part in the rise of artists such as Guns N’ Roses, Pearl Jam and Jane’s Addiction, and pictures of them adorn the walls to serve as a reminder to fans.

Like many clubs, The Roxy has also served as a home for other forms of entertainment, including stage productions, comedy shows, and performance art.

The Roxy boasts a large open dance floor and is widely regarded to boast the best acoustics in LA. The upstairs club “On The Rox”, which overlooks Sunset Boulevard, quickly became a favourite haunt for partying rockstars and actors, including John Lennon and Keith Moon of The Who. Most famously, wild spirited actor John Belushi partied at The Roxy shortly before his fatal overdose in 1982.

The Roxy is without doubt a great place to seek out live music or party the night away in LA.

Location: 9009 West Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, California 90069

Website: www.theroxy.com

El Rey Theatre

Creative Commons / Kristin Dos Santos

An original art deco theatre in the heart of the Miracle Mile, the stunning El Rey Theatre was converted into a live music venue in 1994 after over half a century as a movie theatre (and a brief dalliance as a dance club).

The venue was built in 1936 and designed by Clifford A Balch. The El Rey – translated from Spanish as “The King” – is a registered Historic-Cultural Monument in Los Angeles, and boasts sweeping staircases, an art deco lobby, VIP balcony lounge and a grand ballroom equipped with a full stage and great acoustics too.

The standing room only and capacity of less than a 1,000 people mean it is a great place to catch up and coming acts on the rise or smaller indie bands in an intimate setting with a great sound system.

Expect to see indie favourites like Foals, Youth Lagoon and Purity Ring tread the boards here.

Location: 5515 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90036

Website: www.theelrey.com

The SatelliteCreative Commons / Frankie

The Satellite – particularly in its previous incarnation Spaceland before 2011 – has been a key player in the Los Angeles indie rock scene since the early 1990s. The venue, in the trendy Silver Lake neighbourhood of the city, played a significant role in the rise of local musician Beck Hansen, now world famous and known simply by his first name.

The taste-making alternative rock club has also hosted then indie hopefuls like Elliott Smith, Pavement, Modest Mouse and Neutral Milk Hotel on its stage, with all doing their level best to impress the discerning audience here in years gone by. And legends of yesteryear who have fallen out of the limelight somewhat have been invited to tread the boards here, including the late, great Arthur Lee of Love.

In the decades since opening the club has managed to establish itself as something of a staple of the Silver Lake nightlife scene, and boasts cheap drinks, a lively clientèle and even a photobooth for which to document a boozy night out there.

Without doubt, a great venue to catch an up and coming band trying to perfect their act and graduate to bigger venues.

Location: 1717 Silver Lake Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90026

Website: www.thesatellitela.com

The Orpheum TheatreCreative Commons / Arturo Sotillo

The Orpheum Theatre is world renowned and certainly one of  LA’s premier cultural venues, hosting everything from vaudeville to theatrical productions, weddings and private parties and yes- rock and roll shows.

Situated downtown on 842 Broadway, it first opened its doors close to 100 years ago, way back on 15 February 15 1926.

The storied venue has hosted some of the most venerable names in show business – from a young Judy Garland to jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington.

The 1960s were the decade when rock ‘n’ roll arrived at the Orpheum, with the likes of Little Richard, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder wowing the LA punters.

In more recent years, television (including popular singing show American idol), film and music videos and award shows have been filmed here, adding another chapter to the theater’s history.

Today, the Orpheum continues to be a multi-purpose venue, with artists such as Primus and No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani playing the venue.

Location: 842 South Broadway, Los Angeles, California, United States 90014

Website: www.laorpheum.com

Hollywood Bowl

Creative Commons / patrickwoodward

The legendary Hollywood Bowl amphitheatre in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles is the largest of its kind in the United States, with a seating capacity of nearly 18,000 people. It officially opened way back in 1922 and has been a mainstay of the LA music and entertainment scene ever since.

It’s distinctive band shell, coupled with its impressive acoustics and picture postcard setting against the backdrop of the Hollywood Hills, have made it a significant musical landmark. Though probably best known as a home of classical music, The Bowl has welcomed rock ‘n’ roll ever since a Dick Clark show in 1958, when Bobby Darin and The Blossoms played there, amongst others.

However, it really took off as a rock venue when The Beatles rolled into town, making their Bowl début on 23 August 1964 with a performance which caused an absolute frenzy among the female fans present, making it hard to hear the music clearly. The Liverpool band returned in 1965 for two more shows on August 29th and 30th, 1965.

Since the mid 1960s major rock and folk bands and artists such as The Rolling Stones, Simon & Garfunkel, The Beach Boys have all graced the stage at the Bowl, as well as countless others.

The Bowl is currently owned by the County of Los Angeles and is the home of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the summer residence of the LA Philharmonic. It hosts numerous rock concerts and the Playboy Jazz Festival each year.  The iconic Bowl has also featured in a wide range of films, such is its cultural importance.

Location: 2301 North Highland Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90068

Website: www.hollywoodbowl.com

Staples CenterCreative Commons / Tony Hisgett

The Staples Center is effectively Los Angeles’ answer to New York City’s Madison Square Garden. A humongous multi-purpose sports and entertainment centre, it is where the biggest rock and pop acts roll in on their massive world tours.

Expect giants such as The Rolling Stones, U2 and Depeche Mode to play the AEG owned arena, which first opened its doors in 1999 when Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band rolled into town. It boasts a large capacity of around 20,000 seats for concerts and events.

The Staples Center is home to four major professional LA sports franchises, with Basketball’s Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, Sparks (womens) and Ice Hockey’s Los Angeles Kings all calling it their abode.

It has hosted many Grammy Award ceremonies and even political conventions, with the Democratic Party utilising  the venue during Al Gore’s ill-fated campaign for the presidency in 2000. Politically charged rap-metal band Rage Against The Machine famously played a free show nearby in protest at the two-party system.

Location: 1111 S. Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, California 90015

Website: www.staplescenter.com

Amoeba Music, HollywoodCreative Commons-John Zacherle

As well as being the largest (and surely one of the best) independent record stores in the world, Amoeba Music in Hollywood is also a brilliant live music venue.

The largest of the three stores carrying the Amoeba brand (the others being in Berkeley and San Francisco),  Amoeba Hollywood first opened its doors on Sunset Boulevard in November 2001 and since then it has hosted live performances from bands and artists as diverse as The Flaming Lips, Elvis Costello, Black Flag, Los Lobos, P.J. Harvey, The Melvins, Belle & Sebastian, Queens of the Stone Age and The Raconteurs.

The best thing about the live performances here is surely that they are all for free, so drop in and catch and up and coming or touring band after flicking through the frankly ridiculous stacks of CD and Vinyl in store here.

Location: 6400 Sunset Boulevard. Los Angeles, California 90028

Website: www.amoeba.com


Places of rock ‘n’ roll interest

Capitol Records Building

Creative Commons / Alissa Walker

A eye catching landmark of the Los Angeles skyline, the Capitol Records Building on Vine Street  has played a highly significant role in rock ‘n’ roll history.

The attractive 13 storey tower was built in 1956, and constructed to resemble a stack of vinyl records topped by a stylus.

Besides offices, the inside of the building boasts a world class recording studio (the aptly named Capitol Studios) which has been used by many iconic artists ranging from Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and The Beach Boys.

And Capitol Records itself was the label which promoted and produced the records of such popular acts as The Beach Boys, The Band, The Beatles and Pink Floyd to worldwide audiences. The  black and white graphic image of the building  which appears on albums became iconic in itself, as did the phrase, “From the Sound Capitol of the World.”

Rock ‘n’ roll fans will be interested to know that it is outside the tower where the Hollywood Walk of Fame star of John Lennon lays. There is also a mural of jazz artists like Nat ‘King’ Cole and Billie Holiday.

An odd fact about the building is that the blinking light atop the tower spells out the word “Hollywood” in Morse code, and it has been doing so since the building’s opening. In 1992 it read “Capitol 50” in honour of the label’s 50th anniversary, before reverting back to spelling “Hollywood”.

50 years on from its opening, the Capitol Records Building was designated as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. Well worth a visit if you are travelling to LA.

Location: 1750 Vine Street, Los Angeles, California 90028

Website: www.capitolrecords.com

Beverly Hills Hotel

Major fans of Californian soft-rockers The Eagles will know only too well that this glamorous hotel was the one which featured on the front cover of the band’s most famous and acclaimed album, 1976’s Hotel California. It is thought to have inspired the lyrics of the song of the same name, and singer Don Henley’s interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles.

Eagles fans from all over the world travel to LA to snap the famous exterior on their cameras and pose for photos, even if the hotel’s room rates are too much for the average Joe.

The hotel itself celebrated its centenary in 2012, and was duly named as the City of Beverly Hills’ first Historic Landmark to mark the celebration. For much of its existence it has been host to bona fide Hollywood stars such as Marlene Dietrich, Faye Dunaway and Marilyn Monroe.

The Beatles were also known to have stayed there, and even had swimming lessons in the luxurious pool.

Location: 9641 Sunset Boulevard Beverly Hills, California 90210

Website: www.beverlyhillshotel.com

Andaz West Hollywood

Formely known as ‘Riot House’

Creative Commons / Minneart

Another hotel which has become virtually synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll excess, the Andaz West Hollywood was once nicknamed ‘Riot House’  (to rhyme with its former name of Hyatt House) after a host of rockers including The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Who made it the place to party on the strip in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Legend has it  that Led Zeppelin John Bonham drummer even drove a Harley Davidson motorcycle up a down the corridors of the hotel (which was copied in the movie Rock Star featuring Bonham’s son), and the then Hyatt was the place where the old rock ‘n’ roll adage of throwing TVs out of the window and trashing hotel rooms was truly etched into public conciousness. Worse still, Keith Richards bared his backside to onlookers from the Room 1015 balcony when staying there in the 1970s.

The hotel is a much more serene place these days, particularly since its most recent renovation in 2009, but is still a good place to stay if you want easy access to the Strip and to imagine just what went on in those hotel rooms when the Zep or Stones were in town.

Location: 8401 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, California 90069

Website: www.westhollywood.andaz.hyatt.com

The Rainbow Bar & Grill

Creative Commons / Chris R McFarland

The Rainbow is a renowned bar and restaurant on the Sunset Strip which made its way into rock ‘n’ roll folklore.

The restaurant and its top floor club (known as ‘Over The Rainbow’) were opened in 1972 by the same people responsible for The Roxy Theatre and Key Club adjacent to it: Lou Adler and Elmer Valentine.

The joint quickly became a favourite haunt of rockstars and actors alike, regulars at the Rainbow in the 1970s and 1980s including John Lennon, Keith Moon, Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin and members of hair metal favourites Mötley Crüe and Guns ‘N Roses (the latter whom featured the establishment in several music videos).

The late actor and comedian John Belushi famously had his last meal at the Grill, before succumbing to a deadly “speedball” of heroin and cocaine at the Chateau Marmont hotel in 1982.

As well as bands, the Rainbow was filled with keen groupies such as the notorious madam Pamela Des Barres, who worked as a waitress there at one point in the 1980s. A young Anthony Kiedis even made his way into the joint with his free-spirited father, sowing the seeds for a career in rock ‘n’ roll for the impressionable young boy.

The bar has also found its way into song, with sardonic songwriter Warren Zevon referencing the Rainbow in the last verse of his 1976 song ‘Poor Poor Pitiful Me.’ It has also been namedropped in songs by W.A.S.P. and L.A. Guns.

The Rainbow Bar & Grill is still going strong today and is certainly a key stop off point for a rock ‘n’ roll pilgrim in LA. And the food ain’t bad either.

Location: 9015 West Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, California 90069

Website: www.rainbowbarandgrill.com

Alta Cienga Motel

Former ‘home’ of Jim Morrison 1968-70

Creative Commons / Schuschke

This otherwise nondescript motel in West Hollywood became a rock pilgrim site due to it being the residence of the Lizard King himself for two years from 1968 to 1970. Morrison set up camp in Room 32, as confirmed in the book on his life, No One Here Gets Out Alive.

The room became a dedicated site for Morrison, and it is possible to go inside the room to view various pictures and memorabilia, and even inscribe a tribute to the late rock legend on the wall, as many fans from the world have done.

The motel also took its place in celluloid history after being filmed for the Oliver Stone movie about The Doors frontman (though this was shorn out of the theatrical cut but maintained on the ‘deleted scenes’ of the DVD).

Location: 1005 North La Cienega Boulevard, West Hollywood, California 90069

Sunset Sound Studio

Sunset Sound has recorded legendary bands like Led Zeppelin

For over half a century Sunset Sound studio has been churning out classic records from some of the best known artists on the globe. The studio on the strip, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012, has recorded everyone from The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Ryan Adams, Morrissey and M83.

The five room studio – whose building was originally an automotive repair garage – was founded by entrepreneur Tutti Camarata, and moved from recording scores for Disney films to capturing the sounds of some of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands.

 Sunset Sound boasts high quality equipment in its custom setting, with an enviable array of customized consoles, discrete component equipment, and vintage microphones.

Back In 1982 the owners opened a two room sister facility simply called Sound Factory, which has been similarly successful with the likes of Tom Waits, Los Lobos and Counting Crows recording there in times gone by.

Location: 6650 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, California, United States 90028

Website: www.sunsetsound.com


Album covers

The “Figure 8″ Wall

(Elliott Smith Figure 8, 2000)

Creative Commons

Sadly, just over three years later from the release of  Smith’s fifth studio album, it would become the most prominent tribute site to the Nebraska born singer, following his tragic death in October 2003.

Though Smith has considerable links with the Portland music scene and resided there and in New York for many years before upping sticks to LA, the “Figure 8″ Wall became the undisputed site of pilgrimage for fans of his music, and those wishing to leave tributes and mourn their lost hero.

It is estimated that thousands have visited in the years since the singer’s death, leaving floral and written tributes, inscribing his lyrics on the wall, and taking photographic mementos recreating the album cover.

Unfortunately the wall has been the victim of gangs tagging it with graffiti as well as the written tributes, and has been repainted several times in attempt to restore it to its former glory.

Location: 4334 West Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90029

Google Map

Featured image courtesy of Nserrano


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