Elmer Valentine: Promoter behind Los Angeles' Whisky a Go Go and Roxy clubs

When the policeman turned club promoter Elmer Valentine visited the Whisky à Gogo, Paul Pacine's Paris discothèque in 1963, he saw mini-skirted girls dancing to records spun by a disc jockey rather than to a live band – and had an epiphany. On his return to Los Angeles, in partnership with Shelly Davis, Theodore Flier and Phil Tanzini, he opened his own Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip in January 1964 and decided to hire a female DJ to generate further interest in his new venture.

Auditions were held, but when the winner pulled out at the last minute after her mother objected, Valentine stuck a cigarette girl, Patty Brockhurst, in the glass booth above the stage. "She had on a slit skirt, and we put her up there," he recalled in 2000. "She's a young girl, so while playing the records, all of a sudden, she starts dancing to 'em. It was a dream. It worked."

Valentine made the most of his accidental contribution to popular culture by quickly adding two more girl dancers and putting all three in fringed dresses and white boots. The trio jigged and gyrated while the young rock'n'roller and headliner Johnny Rivers wowed the crowds.

Producer Lou Adler witnessed the frenzy and decided that a live album would be just the ticket to launch the singer and musician as a bona fide solo star. Though Johnny Rivers at the Whisky a Go Go wasn't as live as it claimed, it certainly caught the imagination of US teenagers who bought it and made Rivers' cover of Chuck Berry's "Memphis" – aka "Memphis Tennessee" – a No 2 single in July 1964. Within a few months, the "Go Go" craze spread throughout the US and beyond and dancing girls became a fixture of TV pop shows.

Inspired by the phenomenon, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles wrote the album Going to a Go-Go and recorded it at Motown the following year. The Whisky a Go Go concept was even turned into a franchise, but the original one on Sunset Strip remained the place to be for the movers and shakers and hangers-on, and the venue to play for successive generations of musicians.

Otis Redding recorded his In Person at the Whisky a Go Go album at the club in April 1966. Love, Buffalo Springfield, The Doors, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Alice Cooper, Spirit, Chicago, Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder all appeared there over the next three years, often securing their recording contracts after playing a particularly stunning set there, though Valentine fired The Doors because of Jim Morrison's obscene, Oedipal monologue in "The End". He also objected to Zappa's liberal use of profanities on stage.

Visiting British artists loved the Whisky, too. Graham Nash of the Hollies first met David Crosby and Stephen Stills there in February 1968, while the following January, Led Zeppelin, who had yet to release their debut album, flipped a coin with Alice Cooper to decide who'd go on last, and won.

In the Seventies, the Whisky welcomed Iggy Pop and the Stooges, the all-girl band the Runaways, local punk groups the Germs and X and hard-rockers Van Halen. The club closed for a couple of years in 1982 but is still going today, albeit as a venue for hire by promoters.

Born in Chicago in 1923, Valentine left school early and hustled a living on the streets of the windy city. He joined the Air Force as a mechanic and was stationed in Britain during the Second World War. After returning to Chicago, he joined the police force and eventually made detective in the vice squad but admitted he was on the take from the Mob. "It was a way of life," he said. "I left Chicago because my wife dumped me, and I was flipped out."

In 1960, he relocated to Hollywood where he opened his first nightclub, PJ's, and booked an unknown Mexican-American singer and guitarist called Trini Lopez who built such a reputation as an entertainer that Frank Sinatra's arranger and producer Don Costa signed him to Sinatra's Reprise Records in 1962. The following year, Lopez's irresistible Latin-flavoured version of the Pete Seeger and Lee Hays composition "If I Had a Hammer" sold over 4m copies around the world, enabling Valentine to capitalise on his club's fame by selling up his interest in PJ's and travelling to Europe to visit the Whisky à Gogo.

Valentine sold his interest in his Whisky a Go Go in the Nineties, but remained involved in the running of his other venues, the Rainbow Bar & Grill and the Roxy Theatre. When his death was announced, all the Sunset Strip clubs dimmed their lights in tribute to the man who had done so much to put the area on the map.

Pierre Perrone



Elmer Valentine, policeman, club owner: born Chicago 16 June 1923; married (marriage dissolved, one daughter); died Los Angeles 3 December 2008.

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst/ Project Manager - Financial Services

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client in the Financial...

Year 5/6 Teacher - Winsford

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Year 5/6 Teachers needed in WinsfordWe...

SENCO

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: SENCO Greater Manchester

Art & Design Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits