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Remembrance: A Night at the Whisky with Elvis Costello

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Everybody at Mondays tribute to Elmer Valentine, the co-founder of the Whisky a Go Go who died in December at age 85, had a story about a favorite moment they'd spent in the venerable West Hollywood club.

Mine stems from Elvis Costellos first L.A. appearance at the club, back in November 1977. Id spent five weeks the previous summer traveling through the U.K. during the height of the British punk explosion. The Sex Pistols were touring under a string of assumed names because theyd been banned just about everywhere they turned up.

I caught Generation X, fronted by an impossibly young Billy Idol, at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, which was my introduction to the phenomenon of pogo dancing. One artist everyone was talking about that summer was Costello. I brought back his debut album, My Aim Is True, which had recently been released there.

I was writing for Cash Box magazine at the time, a low-budget music industry trade publication and a competitor of Billboard. I started touting Costellos music before he landed his U.S. record deal with Columbia.

As a result of those early notices, when he did sign with Columbia, I was promised an interview once he got into town. But the day of the Whisky show, label publicists said his management had pulled the plug on all interviews. Fair enough, I thought.

That night, Costello and the Attractions were positively incendiary, and I was prepared to file out with everyone else when it was over. Until I saw L.A. Times pop music critic Robert Hilburn heading up the Whiskys stairs to the dressing room behind Costello and the band. I was brazen enough to conclude that if Hilburn was going to get an interview, so would I.

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