NIGHT LIFE : The Loudest Job Interviews in Town : No Bozo Jam on Mondays at the Whisky gives newcomers a shot at stardom
“And now from New York . . . Hazel ,” says master of ceremonies Sam Mann at the Whisky on the Sunset Strip as a band mopes on stage, fluffy long hair and stickers from the Brooklyn heavy-metal club L’Amour on their guitar cases.
“Dude, they’ve changed their name to Jewel,” someone shouts up to Mann.
“Oh,” the emcee says into the microphone. “Then I guess this is . . . Jewel .”
The band starts to play in a way that suggests somebody had flicked on a switch. Waist-length hair whips about, pointy shoes kick at the air and leaping musicians plummet from the drum riser.
A bare-chested guitarist, his back arced to meet that of the singer, fingers a cascading swirl of notes, only some of which are in the wrong key. The bass player dashes across the stage at a full run, stopping just before he careens onto the empty dance floor below. Then as suddenly as they start, they stop. There is polite applause.
“Thank you,” the singer says. “We haven’t played out in a while, but we’re ready to get rockin’ now. Rockin’. “
The band begins another two-chord strut, tuneless, but tight and clean and full, and then a full-on, lighters-in-the-air anthem. They think they’re playing the Forum.
These days, when even second- and third-rate bands can go triple platinum, a life in rock ‘n’ roll can seem more like a responsible career decision than like a life of penniless debauchery.
That’s why the Whisky’s No Bozo Jam--a Monday night tradition since 1988--sometimes resembles nothing so much as an extremely loud job interview.
Instead of business suits, the aspirants wear black vests and tights, instead of power ties, gauzy scarfs. They all use the same Whisky-provided amps and drums, which are on the good side of adequate: Marshall stacks for the guitarists and scads of Zildjian cymbals for the drummers.
They all get paid in free Budweiser and Rainbow pizza--and pay two bucks per band member to get into the club. (Compared to the several hundred bucks they’d have to shell out for a pay-to-play weekend gig here, it’s cheap.)
For rock fans, No Bozo Jam offers the chance to see 15 bands every Monday for $3; user-friendly sets of three or four songs each. Every hot new L.A. band swings through here at least once. Chart-toppers Warrant played No Bozo in the band’s early days--so did Bang Tango, Kingdom Come and the Zeros. There’s a chance hard-rock heroes will stop in when they’re in town: Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist Zakk Wylde did a spontaneous 90-minute jam here six months ago that still has Whisky regulars shaking their heads in amazement.
No Bozo also seems tailor-made for record companies’ street scouts, whose job it is to hear everything. Columbia’s West Coast A&R; VP Ron Oberman explains: “There’s good energy in the room, which can be sparse in a showcase. The times I’ve been, there’s generally been something worthwhile--maybe not to sign, but entertaining. And if I hear about something, the Whisky is a good place to go.”
Oberman signed Love/Hate, a hot underground band he hopes will make you forget Guns N’ Roses, after a No Bozo night. Label executives from Warner Bros. chairman Mo Ostin to MCA metal czar Bret Hartman have been through, looking for rock’s next big thing.
The band after Jewel on this night, Dirt Merchants, has the sort of mod-cat look and untuned Stonesy blues sound you associate with sexploitation flicks filmed at the Whisky during the Summer of Love; Rude Awakening, the one after that, goes from a chromatic Black Sabbath guitar moan to the unmistakable chunk -a- chunk -a- chunk -a of speed-metal; Bark in the Dark sounds as if they’ve been listening to too many Night Ranger records.
The surprise isn’t that these bands are a little boring--they are--but that they’re every bit as polished and presentable as most of the hard-rockers you pay $17.50 to see at the Palace. You can see each of them as somebody’s favorite band; exemplary of their type. The club is suddenly packed, more crowded than you’ve ever seen it. And there are still something like 10 job applicants to go.
Upstairs, Stevie, who drums for the Wanted, is eager to tell a reporter about his band.
“Hey, we got a real good slot: 10:45. I’m from Cleveland--you know that Cleveland thing, whew!--so you know I wouldn’t be here if these guys weren’t great. How would I describe our sound? Commercial. Straight-ahead hard rock. . . . Not like Guns N’ Roses, but we’re solid.”
The Wanted play their set: Stevie was right on the money. Master of ceremonies Mann explains the appeal of No Bozo Night to the crowd: “If you’ve never been here before, Monday nights are a very special time here at the Whisky a Go Go. It gets crowded, there’s a lot of bands, you have the opportunity to go home with someone you’ve never met before . . . a great deal for three bucks.”
Cherri, 19, from Hollywood, agrees: “I can’t afford to go to clubs any other night. And usually if you hate a band, they’re done before you can really get mad at them.”
The bands are booked by Vikki MacKenzie, a former Rainbow waitress with a firm set of rules: “If bands go over their time-slots, break equipment on purpose or start fights, they’re not invited back. Our neighbors hate the punk-rock and speed-metal crowds, so none of those bands. Not too much of the real heavy-metal stuff either, though I don’t really censor out the garage-y tapes.
“The bands between 8:30 and 10:20 usually haven’t played out much--no regular here will show up until 10:30--so they’re basically playing to show the staff that they’re willing to work with us. I usually book about 10 weeks ahead. I’m usually able to book between five and six real headliners: They’re the ones with the names on the marquee. And no pyro.”
“Remember,” Mann says from the stage, “you can do anything you want as long as you do what we want.”
Current regular headliners include the Mimes, a horn-driven blues band who are a big draw on the Strip; Imagine World Peace, sort of a lipstick-era GN’R with a tribal-drum inflection; Mecca, droning rockers who sound like they listen to a lot of Killing Joke; Young Gunns, who play a brand of generic KNAC hard rock; Stikkitty, Journey-esque; and Sam Mann & the Apes, the emcee’s band. It wouldn’t be unusual to see all of these on one bill here.
One No Bozo night featured a band--”From New Jersey . . . Belgium “ -- a White Lion-type ensemble whose singer had the crotch ripped out of his jeans as if a large dog had grabbed him the wrong way. “I’d like to dedicate this next song to the band,” he said, “ ‘cause we’ve been together for five years, and we ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
The same night, Clyde, a young, white-noise funk band in the mode of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, demonstrated a No Bozo faux pas: they brought their own smoke machine to the showcase and accidentally filled the entire club with a dense chemical fog.
But the scene tonight is more likely to remind you of “The Idolmaker” than “Spinal Tap.”
Midnight Express, scarfed and ready, would probably be immensely popular if there weren’t already a Faster Pussycat; White Boy Stomp has a tough AC/DC groove and a singer with a great Bon Scott edge, the most appealing band of the night. Friction Addiction is accomplished enough to be totally banal, as if they were afflicted with second-album syndrome before their fame had spread much beyond readers of the Rock City News. Cyanide Kick, dressed head to toe in Lip Service gear, attempts the Motley ingenue thing, and gets nearly up to a Poison level. Lost Angels and Young Gunns and Mecca play.
And during the last couple of sets, Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan sits grinning on the stairs below the dressing room, hoping that somebody will invite him to jam. The show finishes early, McKagan and his friends leap onto the stage and none of the 50 or so musicians in the house will lend him their equipment. Welcome to the jungle, indeed.
It's a date
Get our L.A. Goes Out newsletter, with the week's best events, to help you explore and experience our city.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.