Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Chuck E's In Love

Before I started my career in advertising and rocketed to fame, fortune and jetsetting around the world, I toiled many years in the restaurant business.

I washed dishes.

I flipped burgers.

I chased rats out of the ceiling rafters and killed them with a mighty swing of a whisk broom.

I also had the opportunity to work in two of the coolest nightclubs in West Los Angeles.

The divey, dirty, gritty Hop Singh's on Lincoln Blvd.
And the tonier, more upscale At My Place on Wilshire Blvd.

Though separated by only 4.1 miles as the crow flies, they were worlds apart, musically.

Hop Singh's was built for jazz and blues aficionados. The place was tiny, meaning the rent was cheap. The liquor was watered down, meaning the business costs were cheap. And the labor was overworked, meaning the boss was cheap.

And he was. His name was Rudy and he was an old school Jew from the old country. And though he was sweet and funny and treated us all like his kids, I'll never forget watching him pluck swizzlesticks from the drinks that had been bussed back to the kitchen.

"What? I should let these go to waste?"

Besides getting to see great jazz greats like George Benson, Big Joe Turner and Pat Metheny, live on our tiny little stage, I also had the pleasure of hanging out with them in the Green Room. Well, it would have been Green had Cheap Rudy sprung for a paint job.

Mostly, I remember the old black guys.

I remember them in their grimy rented tuxedoes. Smoking cigarettes, telling road stories and drinking Couvoisier. And laughing. Damn, these guys could laugh. When I think back on it, the sound coming from the Green Room was sweeter and more full of life than any random plucking of bass strings and snare taps coming from the stage.

Today, the building that was home to so many legends is the now the service department for Kawasaki Jet Ski Dealership.

Across town, At My Place is now BelCampo, some fancy upscale butcher shop/restaurant where over-indulged westsiders can pay through the nose for kale-fed, hormone free porterhouse steak.

Here too I got to hang with musicians.

Ricki Lee Jones (who was in the news recently and inspired this post) played there. So did Robben Ford, Richard Eliot and the great Billy Vera and the Beaters.

The Beaters were always the most memorable. Not only for the way they would take the show off the stage and parade the audience up and down Wilshire Blvd, but also for they way they would stick around after the show. With the doors closed and the cash registers locked up for the night, the club owner would open up the bar. And we, the staff, the beaters and even the crew of Mexican busboys, would drink.

And not stop drinking until just before the sun would rise.

Now, if I'm awake at 4:30 in the morning, it's to make my fourth trip to the bathroom.

Good times.

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