Whisky A Go Go: The Whisky Opened Today In 1964
By | January 14, 2020
This Los Angeles landmark got its start in Paris
Standing proud on the Sunset Strip is one of the most renowned rock clubs in history, the Whisky a Go Go. Opened in 1964, the club has played host to some of music's most important acts, from The Byrds to The Doors to Mötley Crüe. The club is so deeply entwined with the DNA of popular culture that even artists like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin asked to see the place when they made forays to Los Angeles from across the pond. Though the building hasn't changed, the Whisky has had its hands in every genre throughout the decades, from punk to metal to psychedelic rock. Things may change, but the Whisky stays the same.
Before the Whisky a Go Go became ground zero for the west coast rock scene, it was a thriving discothèque in Paris. Thanks to the picaresque nature of the American version's original owner, Elmer Valentine, it's not entirely clear how he decided to bring a taste of Paris to Los Angeles. Valentine claims that he started his professional career as a detective in Chicago before getting mixed up with the mafia, and after catching heat for extortion (he was never prosecuted), he fled to Paris, where he saw the Whisky a Go Go.
It's unclear if the Los Angeles Whisky has anything to do with the Whisky in Chicago, although there's a good chance that Valentine drew inspiration from multiple dance clubs of the era to put together what he believed to be the ideal Los Angeles nightclub. On January 16, 1964, Elmer Valentine and his three partners (Phil Tanzini, Shelly Davis, and attorney Theodore Flier) opened the doors of the Whisky a Go Go.
The Whisky spawned go-go dancing
When the club first opened in 1964, it wasn't the rock 'n' roll focal point that it would become in a few short years. The first act to make an impression on the stage was Johnny Rivers of "Secret Agent Man" fame. He played three sets a night at the club, but between his shows, the audience danced to records played by a DJ. The initial DJ was a young woman in a slit skirt who danced as she spun records from a glass booth hanging above the dance floor, giving birth to the go-go girl. Valentine later gushed about the serendipitous nature of the DJ to Vanity Fair:
So she's up there playing the records. She's a young girl, so while she's playing 'em, all of a sudden she starts dancing to 'em! It was a dream. It worked.