Elmer Valentine, CO-Founder of Whisky a Go Go, Dies at 85


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Elmer Valentine, co-founder of the Whisky a Go Go, the legendary live rock showcase on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood that gave birth to the go-go dancer phenomenon of the 1960s, has died. He was 85.

Valentine, who also co-founded the Roxy Theatre in the early '70s, died at his home in Studio City after suffering from various ailments the last four years, said music mogul Lou Adler, his longtime friend and business partner.

The Beatles Played the Whiskey a Go Go Opening Night

Little known trivia on the Fab Four in Hollywood. Here's the back story.
Bob Vogelsang, as a young 21 year old, built the now famous stage at the Whiskey. Told to make it strong enough to hold dancing elephants and being young and his first stage Vogelsang did just that, using massive beams. As it evolved the stage did manage the famed Go-Go Dancers.

VIP Party at the Whiskey a Go Go

The night before the public opening of the Whiskey, Elmer Valentine went all out to throw a great VIP party at the club. Vogelsang was invited having built the stage. His friend told him the band playing that night was some English band, saying “There aren't any good bands in England!" The group was the Fab Four (not Fab just yet), The Beatles. Since most of the VIP's were the likes of Groucho Marks, they seemed ancient to the young band who sat at the table with Vogelsang since they were the same age.

Vogelsang was just into sports, not much up on music, only hearing a few things about the Boys at that ponit. So they hit if off, asking Bob all about sports and how all the “birds" were in Los Angeles. Bob says John Lennon and Paul McCartney did most of the talking. Ringo making sure he built the stage strong enough his kit wouldn't fall through.

The Beatles performed “I Want to Hold Your Hand", “She Loves You" and few other songs they would the next night fly out to New York and play for the first time to America on the Ed Sullivan Show". The rest is history. So it safe to say The Beatles were the opening band for the now legendary Whiskey a Go Go. Long before the Hollywood Bowl.

A former Chicago cop who arrived in Los Angeles in 1960, Elmer Valentine was co-owner of P.J.'s, a successful West Hollywood restaurant-nightclub, when he sold his interest and took a trip to Europe in 1963. While in Paris, he visited a discotheque and was so impressed by the large, enthusiastic crowd of young dancers that he decided to borrow the disco's name and start his own club back home in Los Angeles. After lining up three partners, Valentine launched the Whisky a Go Go in January 1964. The club was an immediate hit, with headliner Johnny Rivers attracting celebrity-studded sold-out audiences.

“For much of the '60s and early '70s, Elmer Valentine's Whisky was the most important rock club in town," former Times pop music critic Robert Hilburn wrote in 1977. “It was an incubation spot for local bands and a showcase for highly touted visiting groups." The Byrds, the Doors, the Kinks, the Who, Them, Love and Buffalo Springfield were among the bands to play there.

“The Whisky was mecca," Ray Manzarek, the keyboardist for the Doors, told The Times in 2003. “It was the place in Los Angeles. It was probably the place in the entire country."

Adler, who first met Valentine in 1964 and produced Rivers' live Whisky a Go Go album, said the Whisky “was a template for what rock clubs would be, not only in Los Angeles but across the United States and around the world."

“Up until that point, rock acts did not have that kind of venue. It drew a lot of celebrities, and the celebrities drew people to come watch the celebrities." Along with drawing such stars as Steve McQueen, Jayne Mansfield and Cary Grant, the Whisky drew national media attention, including from Life magazine and Jack Paar, who did a segment for his weekly comedy-variety program at the club.

Part of the attraction was the mini-skirted go-go girls, a contribution to pop culture that happened by accident.

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