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April 8, 2023

The First Real American Discothèque: Inside Legendary Whisky a Go-Go From the 1960s

The world famous Whisky a Go-Go (informally nicknamed the Whisky) is considered the first rock ‘n’ roll venue on the Sunset Strip to take chances by booking new and sometimes notorious artists during the 1960s, they gave future superstars a stage to develop their signature sounds. Johnny Rivers was the first to play live music at the Whisky in 1964. Two years later, the Doors became the house band after Arthur Lee, front man of local L.A. band, LOVE (who were already headlining the joint) encouraged Elektra Records owner Jac Holzman to sign them. “Up-and-coming” artists like Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Janis Joplin, and The Byrds played there too, their names placed in large letters on the marquee at the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Clark.

The Whisky has been called the first real American discothèque. It first opened January 11, 1964, in an old bank building that had been remodeled into a short-lived club called the Party by a former Chicago policeman, Elmer Valentine. The Whisky a Go-Go opened with a live band led by Johnny Rivers and a short-skirted female DJ spinning records between sets from a suspended cage at the right of the stage. When the girl DJ danced during Rivers’ set, the audience thought it was part of the act and the concept of go-go dancers in cages was born. Rivers rode the Whisky-born “go-go” craze to national fame with records recorded partly “live at the Whisky.” The Miracles recorded the song “Going to a Go-Go” in 1966 (which was covered in 1982 by The Rolling Stones), and Whisky a Go-Go franchises sprang up all over the country.

In 1966, the Whisky was one of the centers of the Sunset Strip police riots. The club was harassed repeatedly by the City of Los Angeles, which once ordered that the name be changed; claiming “whisky” was a bad influence.

The Whisky went on to become one of the most famous clubs in the world. In 1969 Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper performed at the venue on the same bill. Other historic acts included Buffalo Springfield, Van Morrison and Them, Muddy Waters, the Kinks, the Standells, Iron Butterfly, Cream, Janis Joplin, Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix, the Seeds, the Turtles, Neil Diamond, the Young Rascals, Otis Redding, The Four Tops, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin, the Runways, and Frank Zappa. In fact The Mother’s of Invention got their record contact based on that performance at the Whisky.




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