It's 8 p.m. Saturday and the line in front of the Whisky stretches down Sunset and around the corner. A 17-year old girl is anxious for the club to open. She has been waiting with four friends for a half hour and it's cold. Besides, she's eager for the music. Two of her favorite bands - the Runaways and the Quick - are going to play. The girl, Pleasant, could stay in her car until the club opened, but she wants a table near the stage. Seventy-five people are in line in front of her and more are arriving all the time.
There's another line up the street at the Roxy for Bill Cobham and George Duke. But that crowd, older and more conservatively dressed, is after jazz-rock.
The Whisky fans are after a different sound: punk-rock. But it's not just the music that the West Hollywood's club is offering. For the first time in years, there is a trace of a rock scene again in Los Angeles. It's only fitting that it be headquartered at the Whisky.
For much of the '60s and early '70s, Elmer Valentine'sWhisky was the most important rock club in town. It was both an incubation spot for local bands and a showcase for highly touted visiting groups. The Byrds, Doors, Led Zeppelin, Yes, Alice Cooper, Flying Burrito Brothers, Kinks all played there.
As the sounds and sociology of pop shifted to a softer, folk and easy listening emphasis a few years ago, the Whisky's impact waned. No one really mourned the passing of the Whisky when it switched from rock in 1975 to a fare of lightweight musical revues. The teenage rock fans that found the Roxy's atmosphere too sedate migrated to the Starwood or found new outlets such as the Sugar Shack in North Hollywood. The Sugar Shack is a disco for teenagers. You have to show an ID to prove you're under 21. It is even said that they have "going away" parties for regulars who turn 21 and are no longer allowed in.
The reemergence of the Whisky as a rock club began when Valentine noticed the start of a punk rock scene in Los Angeles similar to those who have attracted so much ../media attention in New York (the Ramons, Patti Smith, Blondie) and in London (the Sex Pistols, Eddie and the Hot Rods, the Damned). Since the reopening in late November, the Whisky has stressed local bands, most of which don't even have record contracts yet. Marshall Berle, who works with Valentine in booking acts, said the policy will be expanded soon to include some non-Los Angeles bands, many of which do have record contracts.
The Ramons are scheduled for February and the Sex Pistols are being courted. Without record company promotion for most of the acts, the crowds at the Whisky some nights have been slim. But the audience is building for both the club and the local bands. "I used to go to the Sugar Shack every night and dance," Pleasant said, now seated at a choice table near the stage. "But it got to be the same records in the same order every time. Finally, one night, I asked myself, "What's the point?"
That same night the Whisky reopened and I saw the Quick. I loved them."
"The Roxy's OK, but it's filled with record company people; a bunch of 45 year old guys who try to pick up on you. Besides, they're not that responsive to the music. Everyone there just sits and watches the show. I came from back East and I keep reading about all the things happening in New York and England, but I never have anything to write my friends about what's happening here. Now, I've got something. I can tell them about our bands. I feel like I'm part of something...."
Despite the rebelliousness implied in the tag applied to them, the thing that most of the punk-rock bands have in common is an emphasis on personality rather than pure musicianship and youth.
The Quick's Steve Hufsteter is 19. The Runaways' Cherie Currie is three years younger. Because they have Mercury recording contracts, the Runaways and the Quick have attracted the most attention. But there are a network of bands that play a circuit that also includes the Starwood on Santa Monica Blvd. and the Cabaret on La Cienega. They include the Boyz, Dogs, Motels, Ratz, Shock, Berlin Brats, Pop.
But the fastest moving of the unsigned bands appears to be Van Halen, a heavy metal quartet from Pasadena. The group, which was added to Sparks' New Years Eve show at the Santa Monica Civic after doing well at the Whisky, is built around Jimmy Page-ish guitarist Edward Van Halen and Robert Plant-Jim Dandyish lead singer David Roth.
Rodney Bingenheimer, a veteran of the local rock scene and currently a big booster of punk-rock on his Sunday evening KROQ radio show, first saw Van Halen last summer at Gazzarri's on the Sunset Strip. "They were just doing Top 40 stuff, but I was impressed and asked them if they had any original material," Bingenheimer said as he sat in a rear booth at the Whisky on Saturday. "They told me I should drop by and see their show at the Pasadena Civic. When I got there, they had something like 2000 kids in the place. They had put the show together themselves. Amazing."
"I took Gene Simmons of Kiss to see them and he liked them so much he flew them to New York and cut a demo album on them. I wouldn't be surprised to see them signed and on a big tour soon. They should be playing the Forum as a support act by the end of the year."
The Quick is another example of how fast things can happen. And how quickly they can get bogged down again. The quintet, mostly graduates of Van Nuys High School, had been together just a few weeks when Kim Fowley spotted them. Fowley, son of actor Douglas Fowley, has been as much a part of the rock scene here over the years as the Whisky. Like Bingenheimer, he has been friend and confidant of the stars, but he has also written songs for such bands as Kiss and Blue Oyster Cult. He produced the Quick's excellent first album and talked the Starwood into letting the band make its live debut as headliner over a group (Crack the Sky) that already had an album on the national charts.
The Quick's songs, written by Hufstater, have the wry humor and melodic charm of Sparks. On stage, lead singer Danny Wilde has a slight David Bowie aura about him that adds an extra dimension. Most of the group's themes have a teasingly naughty tinge to them. "No No Girl," for instance, is about a young girl's questionable inclinations;
"Little girl lost who was often ignored/Grew into a teenager frequently bored/Found out the bad things most often feel good/And then tried as many of them as she could."
its own tunes, the band's set Saturday included stylish versions of
such varied material as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Twist
and Shout." The group also played rock 'n' roll. "We show
them that we can. That's the important thing. We're serious about our
The Runaways---Jett, Currie, guitarist Lita Ford, bassist Jackie Fox, drummer Sandy West---were formed in late 1975 by Fowley. Before that, the girls were in as much awe of rock stars as those who now come to see them. Joan Jett used to dress up like her idol, Suzi Quatro. Cheri Currie did David Bowie imitations in her junior high school talent contest. On stage the Runaways play with authority and spirit---more of either than any other all-girl band. Currie, especially, has gained confidence since the groups appearance last summer at the Shrine. But the other Runaways contribute to a fully creditable instrumental sound. The sound is a cross between Suzi Quatro and Chinn-Chapman produced records. But the stance is an original and personable one. The Runaways should be ready for the Santa Monica Civic by mid-spring.
"It makes me feel good that L.A. is finally developing some real rock bands again," Jett says. "All the good groups have seemed to come from New York or England for so long that people got the impression nothing happened out here. All the L.A. bands seemed to consist of these wimpy guys for so long."
Pleasant and her friends--Nancy, Tina, Leah, Greg---are excited by the growth of local bands, but they also seem a bit wary of losing touch with them if the bands get too successful. "It's funny," Pleasant said. "I've got mixed feelings. I want them to get big, but I don't want them to get too big. I guess it's kind of selfish, but it's great now because you can go up to the dressing room and say hello to the Quick and you can see Cherie dancing over at the Sugar Shack. That's part of the excitement. They're not just someone you can see from the back of the Forum every year or two."