Rock Music History

Visit Rock Music History On Your Hollywood California Vacation!

A starting place when you’re in town would be to stop by the Guitar Center at 7425 W. Sunset Blvd, Hollywood (roughly 7 blocks west of La Brea Blvd.), and check out the Rock Walk. This is the plaza in front of the main entrance, where dozens of your favorite rock stars have set their handprints and other impressions in concrete. The building is not particularly historical but this is a place where rock musicians go for their gear.

Here are a few landmarks with their own significance in rock music history (well, to some people at least)

The Rock Walk

The Whisky A Go-Go

This iconic nightclub and concert venue opened in 1964. Playing there since then has been a who’s who of rock acts. The Doors were an early hit, performing as the informal House Band for months in 1966 before moving on to bigger venues. In the early days they really did have dancers and deejays in suspended cages (well, I’m not sure how many but there was at least one cage). This club is still open at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and San Vicente (8901 Sunset Boulevard). Across the intersection is the London West Hollywood hotel, where you’ll find one of the restaurants created by Hell’s Kitchen celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey.

The Whisky a Go-Go
The Whisky a Go-Go

For What It’s Worth

This song reportedly was written in response to riots at a crummy dive of a nightclub at the intersection of Sunset Blvd. and Crescent Heights Blvd. The Pandora’s Box club had been a beatnik hangout, but had converted to rock’n roll by 1962. The management booked some very popular acts and apparently the site was insufficient to handle the crowds.

By 1966 the police decided to clean up the corner (hippies possibly not depositing all of their trash and roach clips in a proper trash receptacle) by enforcing a strict curfew. Finally the club was shut down and demolished (the street was apparently widened and it’s now a traffic island at the intersection). But the protests suggested in the Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth” were not about the Vietnam War, but about the police cleanup at this little corner of paradise.

Garden of Allah and Joni Mitchell

The Garden of Allah was a group of little cottages owned by a silent movie star, who rented them out to other movie-industry folks. It became quite a party place, and everybody who was anybody, from Errol Flynn to Greta Garbo to Humphrey Bogart to (perhaps) Joni Mitchell (so this story is not just about rock music history). Wild, wild parties according to reports. They razed the place in 1959 to make way for a bank and its parking lot. Joni memorialized the place in her song “Big Yellow Taxi” where she laments, “They take paradise, and put up a parking lot!”

Barney’s Beanery

Jim Morrison of The Doors apparently relieved himself on the bar of this establishment that had its start dishing out chili in 1925. Scenes from the Oliver Stone movie about the group were shot here. Ronald Reagan and many other notables frequented the place before Jim jumped up on the bar. Find this restaurant at 8447 Santa Monica Blvd., at Croft Avenue in West Hollywood. Careful, if you sit at the bar…

Room 32, Alta Cienega Motel

Seems Jim Morrison got around, with a big footprint in Hollywood rock music history. Jimbo lived in room 32 of this simple motel for awhile in 1969. His office and recording studio were across the street (Doors Workshop mentioned on the L.A. Woman album) so it was convenient. The place sold at some point, and the new owners found out about the special place Room 32 holds when a band from Poland came to pay homage to the Lizard King. It’s the Jim Morrison Room, at 1005 N. La Cienega Blvd., at Santa Monica Blvd.

The Doors’ Headquarters is now an Italian Restaurant

Benvenuto Caffe now occupies the space that once served as The Doors Workshop, where they rehearsed and recorded their last album “L.A. Woman” in 1970. The address is 8512 Santa Monica Blvd., at La Cienega. The Elektra Studio (the band’s label) was around the corner at 962 La Cienega Blvd., where the band recorded “Soft Parade” and “Morrison Hotel.”

Sunset Sound

This nondescript building is actually one of the most famous of the Hollywood recording studios, hosting Janis Joplin recording “Pearl,” Led Zeppelin recording “Stairway to Heaven,” Ringo, Prince, Sheryl Crow and may other pillars of rock music history (and in some cases the present as well). There is no sign, having been removed back when the Rodney King riots had the owners worried about looting. It’s located at 6650 Sunset Blvd., but the entrance is around the corner on Cherokee Avenue.

Dead Man’s Curve

This stretch of Sunset Boulevard is just across from the UCLA football practice field. Supposedly the race in the Jan and Dean song took place just west of Groverton Place; past LaBrea and Crescent Heights. The road was straightened out after voice actor Mel Blanc (What’s Up, Doc?) nearly died in a crash, apparently not racing a Jag.

Sunset Blvd near Dead Man's Curve
Sunset Blvd near Dead Man’s Curve

Dennis Wilson Drowning Site

Although he was a strong swimmer and the only true surfer of the Beach Boys, Dennis was done in by drugs, alcohol and sea water. Wilson attended a party on a friend’s boat on December 28, 1983. He must have been very very drunk to want to swim in December, but that’s what he did. He jumped in adjacent to the boat and never made it back up. That boat is long gone and you’d never know this was the spot where we lost an original rock star.

The site is in Basin C at dock C-1100 on Marquesas Way in Marina del Rey. Take Washington Street south onto Via Marina and then east onto Marquesas Way. The dock is clearly marked and visible, but gated.

A Happier Beach Boys Rock Music History Spot

There’s a Foster’s Freeze at 11969 S. Hawthorne Blvd. where the Wilson boys would hang out in the early 1960s. One day they were hangin’ and a pretty girl Brian knew cruised past in a cherry red T-bird. Inspiration struck and the rest is rock history. “Well, she got her daddy’s car and she cruised through the hamburger stand now…” It was a real place.