Legendary Whisky a Go Go Owner Dies

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Mario Maglieri, who helped foster the careers of countless classic rock acts as the owner and co-founder of famed Los Angeles clubs the Whisky a Go Go and the nearby Rainbow Bar and Grill, died today (May 4), at age 93. The news precipitated scores of tributes from fans of the venues on the Rainbow’s Facebook page. Maglieri’s acclaim earned the nickname King of the Sunset Strip. No cause of death was revealed. Maglieri also owned LA’s Roxy Theatre.

The Whisky a Go Go on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood began life as a spin off of The Whisky-a-Go-Go in Chicago, which opened in 1958 as the first real American discothèque, taking its name from the very first discothèque nightclub, the Whisky à Go-Go, established in Paris in 1947. The Los Angeles Whisky is an entirely different animal, definitely a live band rock club, quite possibly the longest running one in the U.S.

The Whisky a Go Go opened with a live band led by Johnny Rivers and DJ Rhonda Lane, spinning records between sets from a suspended cage at the right of the stage. It also popularized the fad of go go dancing.

What a great cover!

But what it is best known for is popularizing successive generations of classic rock bands and the scenes they were a part of. The first act to break out of the Whisky was Rivers with his Live at the Whisky albums. In the 1960s the club played a pivotal role in the careers of such Southern California acts as the ByrdsBuffalo Springfield, Love, The Doors, The Turtles and Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. It also hosted acts like Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, Van Morrison’s Belfast, Ireland rock quartet Them and soul singer Otis Redding‘s revue, whose live album is a critics’ favorite.

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Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company performed at the Whisky regularly. On the venue’s website, Maglieri describes one night sitting at a booth with Joplin:

“She was a great entertainer, but a raunchy chick. And she had that raspy voice. Well, she was at the Whisky one night. I was sitting next to Janis, don’t know what the hell we were talking about. The waitress came up to the table. Janis says to her ‘Gimme a drink’. So the girl brought over a Southern Comfort on the rocks. And what do you think Janis said? ‘I want the whole fuckin’ bottle!’ That was Janis. I truly loved her musically and as a person. She was just a great chick, you know what I mean?”

Mötorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister was a Rainbow regular for decades.

During the late 1970s the Whisky was a haven for punk and new wave. In the 1980s it was part of the Sunset Strip “hair metal” scene of bands like Van Halen and Mötley Crüe. During the grunge years it was where such Seattle acts as Soundgarden, Mudhoney and The Melvins would play in Los Angeles.

It continues to host live music today in a variety of styles and modes, still going strong after more than 50 years. As recently as December 2016, the Bangles played three shows there.

[Editor: We’ve seen various dates of the club’s opening date, ranging from January 11 to January 15 to January 16.]

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