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A Distinction of Note for a Musical Landmark

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Saturday nights were party nights at Maverick’s Flat, and when the Ike and Tina Turner Revue got in the groove and Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen kicked back in the shadows, there was no other place to be on a hot Los Angeles night.

It was the late 1960s, and the Crenshaw-area club epitomized the hip, sophisticated camaraderie that blossomed during the civil rights era.

The draw was the music--groundbreaking acts on their way up, such as Earth, Wind and Fire, the Commodores and Parliament-Funkadelic, and established stars like the Temptations, the Four Tops and the Supremes.

These days the pace has slowed and the music is infrequent, but the memories of that era still resonate.

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Maverick’s Flat was recently named a historic cultural monument by the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission in recognition of the role it played in the city’s pioneering black music scene. The club has joined the likes of such city landmarks as the Hollywood sign, Griffith Observatory and Farmers Market.

During its heyday, it was called the West Coast version of New York’s famed Apollo Theater, only there were no amateur acts here.

The dimly lighted, cavern-like room at 4225 Crenshaw Blvd. is now used mainly for private functions.

It was once an Arthur Murray dance studio and still retains the graceful outline of a couple arm-in-arm etched into the tiled floor of its entry hall. But the silent space echoes with a footfall that is decidedly rhythmic, stirred over the decades by musicians such as David “T-Bone” Walker, Rufus, Billy Preston, the Whispers and the Fifth Dimension.

Many of these groups got their start at Maverick’s before going on to international fame. The club and its owner, John Daniels, also exported to Europe and Asia many of the top musical touring acts of the 1970s and ‘80s. In that day the club was also the hangout of the hottest dancers in town, many of whom ended up on television’s “Soul Train,” one of the early mass disseminators of black pop culture.

Those who worked in the club and partied there say Maverick’s can claim a hand in more than a few of the musical innovations that have come to dominate American pop culture.

The Commodores appeared there before Lionel Ritchie became their lead singer and a breakout star; groups like Earth, Wind and Fire and Parliament-Funkadelic tested out the kinds of elaborate, costumed, high-energy stage shows that would become the entertainment gold standard.

Maverick’s also mirrored the city’s changing social landscape: from the 1960s era of black pride and power, to the funky 1970s of platforms and afros, to the slick 1980s, when stage shows took a back seat to recordings and the club stopped its steady Thursday-through-Sunday performances.

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Throughout those decades, Maverick’s was a community resource that welcomed all races and tolerated no fools. It operated like a membership club where people strutted their best threads and stayed open till 4 a.m. because it officially served no liquor (more about that later).

Presiding over it all was Daniels, a multifaceted showman in the Sol Hurok tradition. He worked as a sheriff’s deputy after graduating from college, saved a few thousand dollars and quit at 21 to create his own fashion magazine.

One day in 1965, while living across the street, he noticed a “For Lease” sign on the two-story building and decided it would make a good office for his burgeoning magazine venture.

Once inside he realized it would make a great club. He envisioned a black Playboy Mansion, with comfortable pillows and good-looking boys and girls dancing to the beat.

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An early backer was his friend Jim Brown, the football star, who provided celebrity cachet as well as investment funds.

The place opened with the Temptations. Daniels became a producer of stage shows, with groups like the Love Machine and the 7 Souls visiting 80 countries. He met the Soviet ambassador in Japan and was invited to visit Moscow at a time when few Americans had been there. He opened a Paris office that operated for years as one of Europe’s biggest importers of black musical groups.

In the 1980s, the grind of running a club began to take its toll and led Daniels to redirect his energies. Maverick’s is now a popular spot for private functions and college parties and occasionally hosts comedy nights and special music shows.

Daniels and others associated with Maverick’s talk about a family spirit that lingers today. To hear them is to be transported back in time.

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Daniels, sitting in his upstairs office surrounded by photos and posters of the club’s history, said: “The historical designation is a good feeling. It’s a fit and proper postmark to what went on here throughout the years.”

Recalling the beginning years, he said: “I knew nothing about running a club, but I knew what I liked. In the early days, we had no bar, but we’d mix drinks in the water cooler, buy whatever Thrifty had on sale and had really a very pleasantly spiked punch we called a Zambezi. Nobody had to pay; they’d just walk over to the cooler with a paper cup. We were operating more as a private club, but some of the bars complained, and we quit. We then came to be known as the place that served ice-cold Coca-Cola.

“Everyone came by,” he said. “It was the kind of high-energy scene that was relaxed enough to attract the Hollywood elite. It was word of mouth. Muhammad Ali would come in and work as the disc jockey, doing his rhymes. Jon Peters would come in. The Rolling Stones, the Mamas and the Papas. Marlon Brando came in and was almost put out because he wasn’t wearing any shoes.

“Steve McQueen would drop by during the day and just stand outside by the parking meters, smoking,” Daniels said. “Then he’d come back by that night. They loved it, because nobody bothered them. They were treated the same as everyone else. Sonny Liston was considered one of the baddest guys in the world, but he would come in, get a Coke, sit on the back steps and just watch the kids dance.

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“We created a history here that transcended just the Crenshaw community.”

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Tony Lytle, 56, was one of the original members of the 7 Souls, a multiracial R&B; stage band that got its start at Maverick’s, and he later managed Daniels’ Paris office.

Now living in London, Lytle is in charge of international television sales for a British motion picture production company. He talked about those days in a telephone conversation:

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“Maverick’s during that time was one of those unique events, in a unique place with a unique bunch of people who came together. When Hollywood closed down at 2 a.m., everyone wanted someplace to go. The Crusaders, Richard Pryor, Aretha Franklin, Willie Bobo, so many entertainers would appear elsewhere but liked to stop here after hours.

“We performed with most of those people. I suppose we were a sort of house band, but we’d go to Vegas and open for the Righteous Brothers and Wilson Pickett,” he said. “Maverick’s was star-studded, but if you couldn’t get a table, you sat on the floor. I remember John saying to Diana Ross, ‘Sorry, there are no tables. You’ll have to sit on the pillows.’ And she did--happily.

“I remember getting a speeding ticket once on the Pacific Coast Highway,” he said. “I had been on the road, and when I came back, the ticket had gone to warrant. At the police station, a stern man sitting behind a desk gave me my lecture. Just as I was about to leave, he turned to me and said, ‘By the way, I caught your band last week at Maverick’s.’ ”

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Renee Gentry traveled the world as a teenager and young woman with the Love Machine. She later worked as a model and is one of the top award show trophy presenters--those poised, elegant women with the big smiles who usher the stars on and off stage. Recently, the Love Machine regrouped, and it is now working on a new recording.

“John basically held auditions for girls in the community,” Gentry said. “He’d have different combinations and found out who got along. When we started rehearsing, he had choreographers, voice coaches and producers working with us.

“The rehearsals were intense. We’d be there all night until we got it right and then have to go to school that morning,” she said. “My parents were OK with it, because it was right down the street in the community where we lived. Once they met him it was fine, and it became like another family.

“After a year we finally went out on the road,” she said. “We played 150 countries, touring with Tom Jones, [French pop star] Johnny Halliday, Manu Dibango and Julio Iglesias--and it was the best college education a girl could ever want.”

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Twins Aileen and Madeline Randolph were teenagers when they first went to Maverick’s in the 1970s. Madeline, 44, said it was one of the few after-hours spots their parents--their father, the late Jim Randolph, was station manager at radio station KGFJ--felt comfortable letting them attend.

“The Crenshaw area was so important at the time. Politicians, doctors, lawyers lived in the area, and everyone grew up there and knew John,” Madeline Randolph said.

“He let us in for free and gave us a lifetime membership,” she said. “To get into Maverick’s for free was like getting into the White House. My mother would call and talk to John and ask, ‘Are the kids OK?’ ”

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“It was a place where everyone could cross lines and feel comfortable,” she said. “Everyone seemed to relate to things going on in society then. We knew some of the people were famous, but a lot of them were just getting off the ground. We just knew they were talented and the music was really good.”


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