Alice Cooper. The Doors. No Doubt. KISS. AC/DC. Led Zepplin. Van Halen.
The West Hollywood nightclub Whisky a Go Go on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood has been the launching pad for a truly impressive collection of bands including the above list and many more. In 2006, the venue itself was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Let’s look back at the club’s storied history.
The original Whisky a Go Go was founded in 1948 in Paris, followed by the flagship U.S. Whisky a Go Go in 1958 in Chicago, Illinois.
The West Hollywood Whisky a Go Go was opened on the Sunset Strip in 1964 and was billed as a discotheque, which meant that it would only play recorded music. However, the club soon began combining a live band led by Johnny Rivers with a female DJ (Rhonda Lane) who spun records between the band’s sets. The DJ worked from a cage that was suspended to the right of the stage where the band performed.
“Go Go” Dancing
The West Hollywood Whisky a Go Go is credited for the invention of “Go Go dancing.” This began when the female DJ recruited two other women to join her in the suspended DJ booth to dance while she spun records. One of the women, Joanna Labean, designed the “official” go-go girl costume of fringed dress and white boots.
This period began the rock and roll scene in Los Angeles and became ever more popular as time went on. Johnny Rivers made a career with records recorded “Live at the Whisky.”
Launching Pad of the 1960s
The Whisky became a launching pad for many musical careers throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Bands such as The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Smokestack Lightnin’, and Love were all regulars at the Whisky, and The Doors were the house band for nearly a year. (They were actually fired when the “Oedipal Section” of their record “The End” got them fired). Frank Zappa got a record contract solely based on his band’s performance at the Whisky.
The Punk Scene of the 1970s
The mid-1970s were hard financial times for the club. Much of the industry money that had promoted artists shifted to touring groups. Competing venues like the Roxy and the Starwood drew customers away. In 1976, the Whisky closed its doors briefly. Before too long, however, an audacious plan to lure punk rock in had Blondie, The Quick, Venus and the Razorblades, The Germs and Bobby Pyn on the stage keeping the legend alive.
Hair Metal and the 1980s
The Whisky continued to book up and coming acts in the 1980s, despite some hard financial times for the club. Many of these bands would turn out to be the biggest acts in the world. While the venue hosted such great new bands as the all-female groups The Bangles and The Go-Gos, it is perhaps most famous for launching the careers of the decade’s great hair bands. LA bands and rock mega-group Metallica got their start opening for bands at the Whisky, Ratt was playing dive bars before the Whisky gave them a chance and the outrageous Motley Crue actually lived right around the corner from the Whisky in a roach-infested apartment/party pad.
The 1990s and Grunge Rock
During the 1990s, the Whisky hosted a long-running series of Seattle-based musicians and bands as they worked their way up. The list of bands making their way to the Whisky included Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Melvins, Fitz of Depression, 7 Year Bitch, System of a Down and Oasis. In 1992, Hole recorded several tracks at the Whisky that appear on their EP Ask for It.
The 2000s and Live Streaming
Opening the new century, the Whisky a Go Go launched an official Roku channel on the connected TV platform that connected a global audience with the performances that continue there.
Now the Whisky keeps going strong and looks good to stay relevant, providing music and a place for new bands to get exposure well into the new century. We owe the place the whole concept of “go-go” dancing. What might they come up with next? We will have to wait and see.