The History of the Sunset Strip
While today the area is part of West Hollywood, the infamous Sunset Strip is known the world over for its bawdy, raucous past. The very name invokes images of rock ‘n roll, adventure, and a world where seemingly anything is possible. It is also the center of live music and famous concerts that have helped establish the reputation of the Sunset Strip as the center of music in the greater Los Angeles area.
Bordered by Hollywood on one side and Beverly Hills on the other, the Sunset Strip is a 1.6 mile stretch that encompasses Sunset Boulevard. Sixty years before West Hollywood was incorporated, the Sunset Strip sat just outside the city of Los Angeles. Because it was beyond any law enforcement or zoning laws, it became a mecca of gambling halls, speakeasies, and other nefarious businesses.
The popularity of the area began to grow when Hollywood became a film capital in the late 1910s. By the mid-1920s and through World War II, the area became home to fancy nightclubs such as the Café Trocadero and Players Club. Many stars of the Hollywood era could be found in these locations on most nights. The Trocadero also hosted amateur hour nights where future stars such as Jackie Gleason and Phil Silvers got their start.
By the World War II era, the Sunset Strip began to evolve with more nightclubs and places where the music scene could flourish. The Melody Room, which later became the Viper Room, was the home of jazz with many artists performing there on a weekly basis. Another was Ciro’s, where the Comedy Store now stands, drew in the most famous of Hollywood stars to see the live music entertainment. All this, while the gambling and other illegal activities were in the shadows, but still a strong part of the scene.
The post-World War II era saw a slump in interest along the Sunset Strip. Perhaps due in part to the breakup of the studios and changing attitudes which put the area on the backburner in terms of its status. However, by the early 1960s there was renewed interest with new clubs such as Pandora’s Box in 1962 and the Whisky A Go-Go in 1964, named after a club in Chicago.
As a result, the Sunset Strip was brimming with clubs and many young people who were often out late at night. When combined with the political unrest, outdated curfew laws, and the demolition of Pandora’s Box when the street was realigned led to protests starting in 1966. While not anti-war per say, the protests soon turned to riots which caused considerable upheaval in the area.
During the dark days of the Sunset Strip back in the 1950s, a popular show titled “77 Sunset Strip” became a big hit on TV starting in 1958. It was not long before the area was used in many detective and police shows as a backdrop for crime drama. While such shows did little to put Sunset Strip into a positive light, it did showcase the area and use its name and reputation to help restore interest in this depressed location.
The jazz and big band sounds which dominated the 1920s through the 1940s gave way to another, more youth-inspired movement that signaled the beginning of rock ‘n roll. Along the Sunset Strip, the many popular clubs that were created in the 1960s led to many bands getting their first break. At Gazzari’s for example, The Doors played as a house band through the mid-1960s until going on to bigger things. The same was true for Van Halen which played frequently at Gazzari’s in the early to mid-1970s.
In addition to hard rock, Sunset Strip became a popular place for glam and punk rock, providing a showcase to this form of music that garnered considerable notice, but did not spread far into the heart of the US. However, the harder edge of the music performed did seep into the scene and influenced future acts.
The Roxy Theatre, which opened in 1973, featured popular performers such as Neil Young, but also relative newcomers to the American rock scene, Genesis, which had as its front man Peter Gabriel. However, famous clubs like the Whisky A Go-Go were not to be left out as Blondie, along with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performed at the club.
By the 1980s, the glam movement which was led by The New York Dolls and David Bowie gave way to New Wave and Hair Metal Bands which congregated along the Sunset Strip. One of the most prominent was Jane’s Addiction which dominated the Los Angeles scene for years before becoming famous around the world.
Unfortunately, the rise of hair metal in LA also meant the end of independent bands making it without sponsorship from industry sources. What use to be a place to get discovered transformed into an area where bands had to “pay to play” and so most groups went to other locations. As of today, the music industry still dominates the live music scene along the Sunset Strip, featuring bands and performers already under contract. The place is more to showcase existing performers rather than discovering new acts.
During this time starting in the 1960s, one of the more influential businesses along the Sunset Strip didn’t even have a club or place to perform live music. Known as Studio Instrument Rentals, this unassuming business began by supplying Jimi Hendrix with new gear, so he could change the way his electric guitar sounded. That success led to a revolution in rock music when the sound changed considerably.
Today, the Sunset Strip is now part of Hollywood lore, but its reputation remains as one of the best places to find new artists and performers in concerts and live music events. While the Sunset Strip may have passed its heyday, its reputation is still going strong with the dreams of aspiring artists looking for fame and success along its corridor.
For concerts on the Sunset Strip check out LIVE MUSIC NOW