Sunset Boulevard is virtually synonymous with music in Los Angeles, and is mentioned in hundreds of songs by artists — Steely Dan, Tupac Shakur, Donna Summer, Grant Lee Buffalo, to name but a few.
Given the proper guidance, it’s possible to glide westbound along Sunset’s 22 miles from downtown Los Angeles to the beach without once using your blinker and cruise past musical sites that have helped define pop culture, from the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones to punk rock and hip-hop.
Those cruising Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood have likely passed Studio Instrument Rentals at one point or another, but it's easy to miss.
The unassuming complex, located across from the CNN building, is celebrating 50 years of supplying the L.A. music industry with gear, rehearsal space, tour support and pretty much anything sound-related.
The company's first client? Jimi Hendrix, who was transforming the sound of electric guitar when he sought S.I.R.'s Dolph Rempp for help with gear. As part of The Times' package of stories on Sunset Boulevard and music, Rempp in the video below recounts the wah-wah pedal he suggested Hendrix try out.
The avant-pop band Sparks has been making curiously brilliant music for over four decades, and for a lot of that time they’ve done so in proximity to Sunset Boulevard.
Founded by brothers Ron and Russell Mael, who were raised in Pacific Palisades, the band earned early attention for gigs at the Whisky a Go Go, and learned the ropes by watching such bands as the Move, Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Doors and the Beach Boys.
“It was really our education,” said Russell Mael during a recent interview with him and Ron.
Sunset Boulevard’s evolution over the last century from a former cattle trail to a boulevard of melody has influenced American culture in countless ways. Below, a timeline of some of the boulevard’s key musical moments.
1924: Sunset Plaza, the first commercial development on the Sunset Strip, opens.
1926: Early West Hollywood gay club Cafe Gala opens.
Last month, a shudder rumbled through the L.A. music world when news spread that Amoeba Music in Hollywood, the massive pop-culture retailer at the corner of Sunset and Cahuenga boulevards, might be forced to relocate.
The building’s owners, GPI Properties, unveiled plans to construct a 28-story tower on the spot, a move that, if approved, would dramatically reshape an already changing neighborhood.
If Amoeba is forced to move, it won’t be the first time that Sunset Boulevard has lost a major music retailer. But depending on where Amoeba lands, it could mark the first time in more than 75 years that the boulevard won’t be home to a music superstore.
The storied venue the Whisky a Go Go, which has occupied the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Clark Street on and off since 1964, has seen its share of action.
This is the joint, after all, where go-go dancing was born, where Otis Redding brought soul to the Sunset Strip, where the Doors played almost 100 times, where the L.A. punk bands the Germs, X, the Runaways and the Go-Go’s got early career boosts and where Guns N’ Roses and a legion of metalheads fomented a movement.
That history seemed inconsequential on a recent Friday night as a trio of weekend warriors called Third Power Project stood in front of a crowd of a few dozen tourists and fellow travelers.
From his excursions as a Boyle Heights kid to setting up shop in a Sunset Strip office for his labels, festival planning and ownership stakes in famous clubs, Lou Adler watched the rise of the modern music business from various locations along Sunset Boulevard.
If Rodney Bingenheimer is the mayor of the Sunset Strip, then Adler is its musical commander in chief, a man who, along with investors including Elmer Valentine, Mario Maglieri and others, helped transform the Sunset Strip starting in the early 1960s and who built a career doing business across its 22 miles.
Adler, 83, carries a vast trove of information about Sunset. Check out excerpts of a recent conversation about the storied music boulevard.
The Sunset Strip and Hollywood may get all the historical ink, but these days, Echo Park draws more hipster foot traffic.
Located not far from where songwriter Tom Waits once sang an “Emotional Weather Report” of “gusty winds at times around the corner of Sunset and Alvarado,” this mini-hub boasts the versatile Los Globos, indie rock fixture the Silver Lake Lounge and the popular watering hole the Thirsty Crow. The Echo, a few blocks away, remains a vital stop for developing artists.
Los Globos was long a Latin club serving neighborhood residents. Nightclub entrepreneur Steve Edelson bought the place six years ago and brought on his Chicago friend Sire Dhone Johnson, a Jamaican expat, musician and veteran club owner who came up in that city’s house music and reggae scenes.
Despite the occasional noise complaints from some neighborhood residents, Los Globos since has established itself as a shuffle-era venue that showcases a range of genres, including house, dancehall, ska, hip-hop, cumbia, punk and industrial noise, while still regularly scheduling Latin nights. It’s best known as the host of the era-defining monthly house music party A Club Called Rhonda.
Next time you find yourself in a room with established musicians, ask them about their early experiences along Sunset Boulevard. Whether grizzled '70s rockers waxing about the Roxy, former post-punks recalling Club Lingerie or contemporary hitmakers born long after the Strip's heyday recalling studio sessions, chances are they've got stories set on Sunset.
It’s one of the best things when I think of L.A.: Crammed in with a bunch of friends in a tiny Honda Civic cruising down Sunset, you know?
Arrow DeWilde, singer of ascendant L.A. rock band Starcrawler