In the late Sixties, into the early Seventies, the “Club Scene in So. Calif. was thriving. World Class venues like “The Whisky au, go, go “The Hullabaloo Club, “The Trip, Pandora’s Box” “Bito Lido’s” “London Fog” and “The Roxy” with its adjacent “Super hang” bar and grill, “The Rainbow Room! If you even thought of playing guitar, you had to drop into The Rainbow room, have a slice of their “World Famous Pizza and hang out with the real world of “Rock Royalty….
However, it’s the club that’s away from the traffic crunch of “The Sunset Strip” that enjoy’s the longevity, legends and infamous notoriety more than any other nightspot in L.A. Or the world…Doug Weston’s Troubadour! You surely know the story. The club opened in the late 50’s as a coffee-house that gradually grew into a folk music venue. But in the Sixties, The Troubadour moved to its current location on Santa Monica Blvd. and immediately became thee venue for the surge of music both locally and internationally that was taking the 60’s by storm.
From “The Laurel Canyon Mafia, James Taylor with Carol King to Elton John, Comedians like Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and A Banjo playing Steve Martin. But! The Troubadour soon became famous for what was happening off the stage as well as on. The troubadour is where Lenny Bruce was thrown off the stage and arrested on “obscenity Charges” for using the word “Schmuck” on stage..There was the night comedian George Carlin was having a very bad night, the crowed was booing, when club owner Doug Weston walked on stage, turned around, bent over, pulled down his pant’s Screamed “Kiss my Ass” and closed the club!….No apologies, or of course refunds. The troubadour was where Elton John made is American debut. Far from a “Household” name, Elton sold out 3 nights and shut down Santa Monica Blvd, with his busses and throngs of die-hard fans. There was the night Steve Martin was unhappy with the sound, or temperature in the room. So Steve put an arrow through his head, invited the FULL house to go outside and join him on Santa Monica Blvd. where he did his entire show! HOWEVER, the most notorious event that ever happened at “The Troub” was the night John Lennon and Harry Nilsson dropped by the club and proceeded to get completely trashed. As the party ensued a very drunk John Lennon tied a woman’s tampon to his head. A very agitated waitress grabbed Lennon by the arm and asked him to leave the club, when Lennon barks “Do you know who I am”? The waitress snapped back with “YES, your some asshole with a Tampax on your head”! YEAH, YEAH, YEAH…Good times at The Troub!
But, perhaps the most interesting twist Doug Weston introduced at his club was “Hoot Nite Monday’s” today you’d call it “Open Mic Nite” Every other club in town was “Dark Monday’s” club speak for “We’re closed Mondays’.
But, Weston opened The Troubadour on Monday nights to anyone who wanted to perform on his stage. If you could sing, play, or tell a good joke. You could get on The Troubadour stage, usually to an audience of a couple dozen patrons at most. However, as it was the only bar in town that was open on Monday night. The large bar that lead to the showroom was teaming with thirsty “Wanna bee’s” and more. Many, killing time till it was their turn to take the stage, but mostly locals and drifters looking for a drink and place to hang and collaborate with either musically or whatever…As word and popularity of what was going on in The Troubadour bar on Monday nights grew, the clientele enjoyed a distinctive up tick. The bar was jammed with the artists “Movers and Shakers of the music industry. On any Monday night, a quick glance around the bar, you’d find Tom Waites sitting at his regular corner stool, nursing a glass of whisky with his “Ole 55 parked in the alley. Linda Ronstadt “The Queen of Hearts” would burst into the bar, on some kind of mission, alway’s nervous, curiously scanning the bar for someone or something.
Grabs a glass of something which she sips through a straw and then she’s gone. Henley was there as was Frey, but not together
The Eagles were still a few years away. First they had to join Ronstadt as HER back up band.The past, present and future of pop music were all drinking and plotting in ” The Sad Cafe”, The Troubadour Bar.
It was Don Henley who nicknamed the club “The Sad Cafe” He and Glen Frey chronicled their times and experiences at the club in their song of the same name, which can be found on their late 70’s album “The Long Run”
But, one summer Monday night something spontaneous and incredible happened!… Our old friends Rob Grill, Joel Larson and Warren Entner from “The Grass Roots,” fresh off a string of huge top 40 hits….”Two Devided by love” “Sooner Or Later” “Heaven Knows” and their double platinum monster “Midnight confessions” took a break from constant touring and opted for some downtime in their homes in West L.A. All mere blocks from “The Sad Cafe”
The three Roots were Monday night regulars in the bar, commandeered a large table in the corner, drinking and singing! Yes…..Singing! But they were singing “Doo Wop” The Sad Cafe, The Grass Roots and Doo Wop provided me with the best Summer and musical night of my life.
One Monday, The Roots were settled in the corner Rob and Joel, finger poppin and Doo whopping their way through the Doo Wop classic “So Fine” I wasn’t invited but at the chorus, I leaned in and added a deep third part. At 22 years old, I was barely 5′ 6″ and was pushing 120 pounds from the low side. But I had been gifted with a “Basso Profundo deep voice that blended perfectly with the Alto Sopranos of The Grass Roots. The Roots heard this sound coming out of this kid and thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen and heard. Monday after Monday, there we were, holding court and performing the best a capella Doo Wop this side of a Brooklyn “Stoop” Soon the bars clientele would join in. Tom Waits shuffled over one night, sat down and tried to growl his way through “Gonna Find Her” but we were too happy for Tom so he moved on…J.D. Souther sat in one night. We were paralyzed! Randy Meisner leaned in a couple of times and it was like the gates of heaven opening…Glen Frey sat down one night….”Fuh getta bout it” One evening Senator Al Franken ( Yes that same Al Franken) sat in. In the early Seventies, Al was a stand up comedian and showed up every Monday to work on his act. He took a break grabbed a drink and joined the chorus.
Forget about his politics The Senator CAN NOT SING…
But it was our final Monday night that was the most fun and poignant. Midway through “Our second set” Rob, Joel and I decided we should go out for chilli dogs! We know you’ve been there. We all got in the car and headed down Santa Monica Blvd. to “Pinks” hot dogs, thee best chilli dog stand in L.A. And only 5 minutes from the Troub. On our way we see a vision! It’s a classic Mid 50’s Candy Apple Red Mercury Cruiser, complete with Fuzzy dice hanging off the rear view mirror and hydraulic jacks bouncing it up and down Santa Monica Blvd. with the radio blasting some Latin music station. But wait here’s the most incredible part, as we pulled along side we saw that the cars owner had air brushed something on the rear side windows ( that was a thing in certain communities in L.A. Back in the day) He had painted each rear window with the words “Midnight Confessions”……Rob and Joel saw the windows of this “SHORT”emblazoned with the title of their last monster hit and they went insane, laughing hysterically, jumping out of the car and hoping on the back of the Mercury. This was a photo-op gift from God and The Roots weren’t going to miss it…
Meanwhile, inside the Merc are four kids, who are clearly out of their neighborhood, out of their league and are at once, terrified, confused and really pissed off!
Four young latino’s barely old enough to drive on a “Joy Ride” through Beverly Hills. When out of the blue a car full of “Long haired white dudes pulls up and in an instant they’re hanging and posing on this beautiful car screaming and singing”Midnight Confessions” snapping off pictures, while the Merc driver is going crazy swearing he is going to kill all of us. But! Before anything serious developed the Merc driver hit the gas and sped off, throwing everyone to the ground and taking Robs new “Ray Bans” along for the rest of the joy ride….As we dust ourselves off it’s agreed that we should head back to the troubadour, have a nightcap, assess any damages and sing a couple tunes!
Back at The troubadour, we settle in…Good news, our table is empty! Bad news, so is the Bar! But for one lone customer. “Linda is at the bar, looking nervous and sipping a drink through a straw. The Roots and I begin a soft, well tuned version of “Bye Bye Love” “Queen Linda looks up and over, and in a moment OMG! Our Queen is moving towards our table. Like a gossamer vision, she drifts up to our table, and as she surveys the faces, a look of disappointment comes over her Angelic face….”Pardon me”, sez The Queen “I thought I heard someone I know”…Whoa?….Who?
With that, Linda Ronstadt turns around and walks away. As the moment unfurls Rob Grill, at first, laments his lost Ray Bans, but then, leans over to me and say’s “Ya know Rick, the only good thing about watching Linda Ronstadt walk away from your table is WATCHING Linda Ronstadt walk away from your table…
A Sad Cafe Indeed…
However, somewhere there is a photograph of a blurry red quarter panel, with distorted images of Ray Bans and Grass Roots with multiple arms and legs in the air and if you look real close you can see the words “Midnight Confessions” stretched across a car window while deep in the background you can see the dim glow of neon guiding you to Doug Weston’s “Sad Cafe”
How about you?….Have you ever been there? Do YOU have a story?
Meanwhile, take a moment to enjoy The Eagles tribute…
“And meet me at midnight baby, inside the sad cafe”…
To hear more about The Sad Cafe and “The corner table”, enjoy this great interview with The Queen herself, Linda Ronstadt