101 Years of Music in Venice
On July 4, Venice California celebrates its Centennial-plus-one anniversary, and why do we care? Well, for starters, this seaside community has been home and host to an astonishing number of musicians over the years.
Among those who lived in Venice for various lengths of time are Fiona Apple, Tim Buckley, Eric Clapton, Sam Taylor, John Trudell, Rickie Lee Jones, Teena Marie, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon, Lee Underwood, Mike Watt, jazz guitarist Peter White, and the notoriously out-of-control Beach Boy, Dennis Wilson.
David Crosby once shared a Venice Beach house with David Freiberg (of Quicksilver Messenger Service) and Paul Kantner (of Jefferson Airplane), and said of that time, "... we never wanted for food nor smoke, nor a guitar to play on... We had a Volkswagen bus, in the classic manner. And we spent most of our time doin' exactly as we pleased."
Other residents include Perry Farrell (of Jane's Addiction and Porno for Pyros); John Fahey (aka Blind Joe Death), who mentored many musicians in his time; techno-genius Steve Roach; and Jesse Ed Davis, whose overdose death took place in a local coin laundry. Some members of both the Eagles and Pink Floyd lived in Venice at one time or another. So did hip-hop artist Skatemaster Tate, as well as Barry Hansen, better known as legendary radio disc jockey Dr. Demento. And let's not forget Henry Rollins, who saw his roommate fatally shot, or fellow Black Flag member Chuck Dukowski, a longtime resident and currently a strong voice in the confused arena of local politics.
Of course Venice is and always has been the home of many lesser-known musicians, as well as a place they come to from other parts of Los Angeles and the world. The oceanfront stretch of boardwalk (actually concrete) has heard the voices and instruments of thousands of street musicians and buskers. For some, it's part of a regular circuit they travel throughout the year, catching the best seasons on each continent. And while it may not still be possible for a starlet to be discovered at a Los Angeles soda fountain, a surprising number of musicians have been talent-spotted when playing the entertainment industry's open air Open Mic venue. It's one of those urban myths that sometimes turn out true: you do your thing at Venice Beach and wind up with a record contract or a part in a movie - meanwhile incidentally providing the best free entertainment in the hemisphere for the hundreds of thousands of tourists that show up every weekend.
Huey Lewis has played the boardwalk. So has the ska/reggae guy who used to go by the name of Venice Shoreline Chris, until the street gang with a similar name warned him to cease and desist. So have Victoria Williams, Yanni, David Young, Jimmy Spheeris, and probably the most widely-known boardwalk alumnus, Ted Hawkins. The Venice Beach Drum Circle, which has been in continuous existence since the Sixties, is a whole world unto itself, with its own website and a vociferous core group of adherents who raise hell when the percussionists' occupation of the beach is threatened.
Quite a few bands originated in Venice, among them the Bonedaddys, Soccermom, the Butthole Surfers, Suicidal Tendencies, the Zoo People, and the Red Elvises. The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo later shortened their name, and the group's "ayatollah" Danny Elfman has written numerous film scores.
Alice Cooper, back when they were the Nazz and known as the Worst Band in the World, were the house band at the Cheetah, a now-demolished club with three stages in the old Aragon Ballroom.
Fans of ultra-corny nostalgia will recall Lawrence Welk's champagne music, and more particularly the Lennon Sisters quartet, who were regulars on his TV show. Very close relatives of those wholesome sisters later formed the group Venice, which spends a lot of time on the road and has a devoted following, as well the title of best undiscovered band in LA bestowed by an important music magazine.
Tom Waits and Kurt Cobain are only two of many musicians who found the quirky town to be their preferred hangout spot when in Los Angeles, and thousands of music makers representing all genres and success levels have recorded in the myriad studios of Venice. And it's here that Michael Ochs maintains his world-renowned archive of millions of photos from the rock era and his collection of thousands of recordings.
By far the most famous musician associated with Venice is Jim Morrison, who was a UCLA film student. When graduation time rolled around, instead of receiving a diploma, the future Lizard King was slacking at the beach smoking dope, which is where he met Ray Manzarek and they conceived the Doors. Morrison lived in the canal district, and also in a building on the boardwalk where the band practiced on the roof. One of his songs, "My Eyes Have Seen You," is about all the TV antennas visible from that roof. Morrison is said to have had his first psychedelic experience in Venice where, so say the old-timers, you could get acid at the head shop. He wrote "Hello, I Love You" about a black woman he saw at Venice beach, and a song called "Soul Kitchen" is about Olivia's, a local ribs and cornbread place. "Cars Hiss By My Window" was also written during a brief period of intense creativity in the beach environment.
If a genie emerged from a bottle and granted me the magic ability to meet one Venice musician, living or dead, my choice wouldn't be Jim Morrison. It would be Bruce Langhorne, the guitarist who did not allow his career be thwarted by the partial amputation of three fingers. Paradoxical as it may seem, Langhorne, who is black, wrote the soundtrack for the cult Western, The Hired Hand. It not only employs exotic instrumentation and wildly original concepts, it was recorded it on a two-track tape machine in a garage.
Back in the day when flower children roamed the earth, Langhorne worked with such luminaries as Joan Baez, Richie Havens, Gordon Lightfoot, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Eric Anderson, and Richard and Mimi Farina, and on classic projects like Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home. Bob Dylan said that Bruce Langhorne was the inspiration for "Mr. Tambourine Man." There are no credentials more impressive. Currently, Langhorne teaches drum circle workshops.
Of course there are many more hundreds of musicians who are or have been involved in the impressive Venice, California music scene. With any luck at all, its music will be the last thing Venice will lose.
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