McCabe's Guitar Shop Performers Play a Dedication


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Performers have found more than instruments and audiences over the years at McCabe's.

Most Southland music fans know McCabe's Guitar Shop for the innumerable folk, country, blues, jazz and world-music concerts presented over the decades in the tiny back stockroom that can hold about 150 folding chairs when all the instrument cases are shoved out of the way.

But in 1958, Gerald McCabe opened the doors on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica intending to focus on furniture design and restoration. His timing coincided with a booming interest in folk music that spurred millions of Americans to buy acoustic guitars, banjos, mandolins and other non-amplified musical instruments.

Someone brought in a damaged guitar one day and asked if McCabe could fix it -- it was made of wood, after all. McCabe and partner Walter Camp soon began repairing instruments and offering new ones for sale, and the little shop quickly became a hub for musicians living in or passing through Los Angeles, many of whom would perform in the intimate space after hours.

“Walter figured that if you're paying rent on a place 24 hours a day, why close the doors at 5?" said Robert Kimmel, a former member of Linda Ronstadt's Stone Poneys band who was hired in 1969 as McCabe's first official concert director. “He was giving music lessons at night and then started doing concerts on the weekends."

McCabe's is now a Southern California institution. It's been a home to touring musicians and a supportive launchpad for aspiring local ones. It's frequently been more than just a stage, serving as a catalyst for a song, an album, a band, a friendship.

Loudon Wainwright III recorded a live album there, John Hiatt's 1987 breakthrough album, “Bring the Family," grew out of his association with McCabe's, the Ditty Bops practically grew up there and Richard Thompson played his first U.S. solo show there thanks to concert director Nancy Covey, to whom he's now been married for 25 years.

On Thursday, Thompson will participate in a tribute to the music venue scheduled to take place at UCLA's Royce Hall. The lineup includes Jackson Browne, Odetta, David Lindley, Jennifer Warnes, Bonnie “Prince" Billy, the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band, Peter Rowan, Peter Case and the Ditty Bops.

To mark the occasion, Calendar invited several performers to share their stories of the musical community that has grown up at McCabe's.

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