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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent