It seems there is a lot of reminiscing these days about the Troubadour in Los Angeles and its place in the history of 60’s folk music. Even a PBS Special. I thought that I’d add a little color to the history that I’ve never heard mentioned.
Dickie Davis can verify every word.
When Paul and I first arrived in L.A. in 1961, The Troubadour was anything but a mecca. …more like a yucca. As a matter of fact, it was on the verge of collapse. The Ash Grove was the ‘Big Orange of Folk’ at the time and the ‘strip’ (Sunset Blvd from Laurel Canyon to Doheny) was peppered with a folk coffee house here and there. A club on Fairfax (The Garrett), and a few others. That was it. No one had heard of Bob Dylan yet. Dickie Davis was four months away from coming to L.A., running the lights and lauching Monday night hoots at the Troub.
It was the dark ages.
People were flocking to The Renaissance to listen to Les McCann play jazz and Lenny Bruce talk dirty. Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg were the waning gods of the day and folk music had the clubbing crowd scratching their heads wondering why they should go to a joint that didn’t serve martinis. Red Foxx was telling dirty jokes in his club on La Cienega Boulevard. Folk clubs, if you could call them that, were mostly coffee houses with loud espresso machines, no booze, and a collection of people who felt more comfortable with poetry and chess than they did with loud music.
Paul and I hit town in the early spring of 1961 in a ‘49 Chevy with our pal Bob Hippard and my dog Dink, a sweet diminutive German Shepherd. We had just finished our third appearance in Boulder, Colorado where we were truly stars. Our last show was a concert at the University to a sell-out crowd and the buzz had followed us to California, or at least we hoped it had. We were Columbia Recording artists after all, and word had spread about us from our spawning ground, Greenwich Village, which was still the absolute center of the folk music universe in 1961.
Our Greenwich Village reputation had gotten us to Boulder and Denver, and followed us to Los Angeles. I think we were among the first wave of folkies to leave The Big Apple and head for the coast.
In Los Angeles, we soon found out that we were the quintessential folk music misfits. Too polished for The Ash Grove which catered to the authenticity of the ethnic crowd, too smooth for the coffee house scene, not enough fancy chords in our music to qualify us for the jazz clubs (although for our first six months in L.A., our bassist was the legendary Charlie Haden – but that’s another story).
On a friend’s advice, we phoned Doug Weston, owner of The Troubadour. Doug met us on a street corner in Hollywood one misty June-gloom evening, and promptly deflated our dreams of opening at The Troubadour. He told us that he was considering turning it into a jazz club or just plain shutting it down. Business had been slowly sinking and the evening he met us, he was on his way to see his sister to see if she had enough cash to lend him to keep the doors open for a while longer.
“Of course, if we stay open, and if I decide that I'm going with folk music and not jazz, I would use you – but – I don’t think I could pay you much”
This was a logical question for us to ask, since both of us had read a magazine article once about negotiating. I think we found the magazine on the subway.
Doug told us that he would let us know after he talked to his sister and decided the fate of his failing club.
“Where are you staying?” he asked.
“With friends”, we answered.
“I’ll call you”, he said.
Two or three weeks later Doug called and announced that indeed he would like to feature Art and Paul at the Troubadour - immediately.
“….I still can’t pay you”
We were so damned excited, we didn’t even hear the last part of the sentence…
We showed up for work the next Friday night and sang our hearts out for Doug, Bob Borella (his bartender – read that as Barista) and a handful of the Art and Paul faithful who had heard about the opening through the L.A. grapevine. It was mid-June 1961.
At the end of the first week, we had built a little momentum and since Doug still couldn’t pay us more than a few bucks each, we made a deal. (Did I mention that we had read a magazine article about negotiating?)
And so, for the first three weeks of our engagement, Paul, Dink, and I slept in the upstairs dressing rooms of The Troubadour (Dink and I got the room to the left of the corridor that now leads to the lighting booth, and Paul got the one straight ahead), and Bob Borella made sandwiches for us. Room and board. What could be better? Dink came to regard The Troubadour as her permanent home. In the years that followed, when she would wander off from time to time, somehow, she always ended up at The Troubadour – once even after she wandered off from the rear door of The Ice House in Pasadena – that trip took her four days.
And the people started coming. And coming. Doug kept us for another week, another, and another. He obviously hadn’t read the same magazine we had or he would have realized that he had been taken. He was even shamed into paying us. Either that or some building or fire inspector found out that we were living there.
By the end of July, business was so good, we moved into The Tropicana Motel down the block at the corner of La Cienega and took our meals in real coffee shops. Stardom and fame were sweet.
Art and Paul played The Troubadour fourteen consecutive weeks in the summer of 1961, starting in June and ending in September. I dare anyone else to make that claim. By the time we left, the folk music scene in Los Angeles had erupted and a flood of performers from all over the country were filling the clubs seven nights a week. Joe and Eddie, Bud and Travis, Steve Martin, The Smothers Brothers. Randy Boone was running Monday Night hoots to sell-out crowds, Dickie Davis ran the light board, and every folk act you could mention eventually showed up at the Troubadour. The rest is history.
And so children, that is how Art and Paul with their clever business acumen saved the Troubadour and how it became the magical shining light of the Los Angeles folk music scene, and paved the way for those who followed – Linda Ronstadt, Roger Miller, Jackson Browne, James Taylor and Carole King.
Those guys had it easy.
Art and Paul in 1961
That's me making an A7 chord look hard.