Doug Weston, Troubadour Founder, Dies
Doug Weston, founder of the storied nightclub Troubadour that helped launch such rock and folk singers as Elton John, Linda Ronstadt and Joan Baez and comedians from the Smothers Brothers to Cheech & Chong, died Sunday. He was 72.
Weston died at Midway Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles, said Troubadour general manager Lance Hubp. Despite suffering a broken hip, Weston had generally been in good health, Hubp said, but had not been in the Troubadour for the last six to eight months.
“He seemed happy in the last few years,” Hubp said, “and in the end, what else can we hope to achieve?”
Hubp, who had worked for Weston as general manager for the last 10 years, said arrangements for any memorial services will be worked out by club co-owner Ed Karayan. Weston had no immediate survivors.
Sunday night’s Valentine’s Day show featuring the band Venice would go on as scheduled, Hubp said, and the Troubadour--known as the Troub to aficionados--will remain open as usual.
Informed of Weston’s death Sunday, Times pop music critic Robert Hilburn commented: “Doug Weston was arguably the godfather of the Southern California singer-songwriter movement in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, someone whose unshakable belief in the inspirational power of music made his club both a showcase and meeting hall for much of the best young talent of a generation.”
Elton John, beginning to make a name in England, played the Troubadour for six nights in August 1970, introduced by Neil Diamond. He came to consider the booking the best move of his career.
“My whole life came alive that night, musically, emotionally . . . everything,” Elton John told The Times last year. “It was like everything I had been waiting for suddenly happened. I was the fan who had become accepted as a musician. It was just amazing. I could tell it was a magical night from the moment I stepped onstage. The audience was wonderful.”
Weston remained proud of the acts and audiences he attracted to that club for more than four decades.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Troubadour was considered the most consistently important showcase of contemporary folk and folk-rock talent in the country. Appearances there could guarantee major record sales for new and emerging artists.
“Look at the list of performers. We like to think of that list as a sort of hall of fame,” Weston told Hilburn in 1970, pointing to a menu page noting club headliners.
Over the years the list of folk, rock and comedy acts at the club was consistently impressive--Lenny Bruce, the Byrds, Judy Collins, Bill Cosby, the Committee, Bo Diddley, Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Gordon Lightfoot, Steve Martin, Roger Miller, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Mort Sahl, Kris Kristofferson and Nina Simone.
“The people who play our club are sensitive artists who have something to say about our times. They are modern-day troubadours,” Weston said.
“We won’t book someone just because he will draw a crowd. We have to believe in him as an artist. We have to believe he has something to say,” Weston told The Times when he first showcased Kristofferson after hearing him sing in San Francisco.
The booking helped both the club, by adding to its reputation as a “discoverer” of new talent, and Kristofferson.
Weston first set up shop in the 1950s in a 65-seat coffeehouse on La Cienega Boulevard. By 1957 he had made enough money to open the 300-seat Troubadour at its current West Hollywood location, 9081 Santa Monica Blvd.
His ability to spot talent and present it within the confines of an efficient business operation were what made him and his club so successful.
But the club owner could turn heads aside from his ability to make or break a singer or band. He was 6 feet 6 inches tall with hair to his shoulders, and known for wearing Ben Franklin-style glasses and avant-garde clothes for others to copy.
Weston occasionally took the stage himself, as he did at a benefit for the Friends of Chile in 1974. His offering? Weston read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” rang a bell while his friend Phil Ochs sang “Bells” and answered questions from the house.
In 1979, during a controversy with his booked rock bands over recording rights, Weston was known to disrobe on stage, which he described as “mooning the audience a couple of times.” On one particularly unusual night, he provided the sole live entertainment, offering a lengthy monologue and reciting poetry while shaving with a cordless electric razor.
The controversy arose when the Makers and other bands accused Weston of recording their live Troubadour performances and then offering to sell them to record labels in Japan and Germany.
“As club owner, I have the right to record anything that goes on in the club,” he said. “It’s my castle and I’m the king.”
As the popularity of the club suffered its downs along with the ups, Weston was accused of forcing acts to pay to play at the Troubadour.
Weston denied the charges, and responded to criticism in 1979 that he paid paltry fees by saying: “I’m not Liberace waltzing to the bank. The Troubadour has been a gold mine that’s been mined by everybody else. Now I want to mine the gold that I’ve planted there.”
He was known as a hardheaded businessman, able to get the most from everybody from the kitchen help to performers. He prided himself on driving a hard bargain.
“You’ve got to be able to minimize your risks,” he would say. “When you’re talking salaries, the burden of proof should rest on the artist’s head.”
Weston’s West Hollywood house was as colorful as his club, starting with the STOP sign on the fence and a warning that admonished: “If you didn’t call ahead, don’t bother coming in.” A sunken tub was the focal point of the living room.
He prided himself on his lineage--his great-great-grandfather was Field Marshal Schwartzenberg, who defeated Napoleon--and kept scrapbooks on family history.
Named for actor Douglas Fairbanks, Weston was born in New York City and spent summers on a 75-acre family retreat in upstate New York. He was a boy soprano in church and high school until his father discouraged his musical leanings.
But when he was 15, his parents had an acrimonious divorce and the wealthy lifestyle ended. Living with his mother, Weston worked his way through night school and took film classes at City College of New York.
After moving to Los Angeles, he earned a degree in comparative literature at Cal State Los Angeles and worked as assistant manager of the Apollo Theater in Hollywood and directed summer stock plays.
Eventually, he went into business for himself, opening the small La Cienega place and beginning to experiment with entertainment. As the Troubadour took off in the early 1960s, Weston became known as the “folk daddy.” History was in the making.
Times staff writers Robert Hilburn and Tony Olivo contributed to this article.