McCabe’s first concert director plays homecoming show Sunday

Members of I hear Voices!, from left, Kathy Harris, Bobby Kimmel, Bobby Ronstadt and Suzy Horton Rondstadt.
(Randy Lewis / Los Angeles Times)

This post has been updated. See note below for details.

Sunday night’s performance by Tucson, Ariz.-based pop-folk vocal quartet I Hear Voices! at McCabe’s in Santa Monica is more than just another gig for guitarist, songwriter and singer Bobby Kimmel, the group’s nominal leader.

Kimmel played a crucial role in getting live music started at the venerated folk club more than 40 years ago. At that time, Kimmel was a member of the Stone Poneys, the L.A. country-rock group that was the springboard to stardom for its lead singer, Linda Ronstadt.

“Here I was, at the peak of my career, with a hit record (‘Different Drum’) and we were out touring the country, and it was miserable,” Kimmel, 72, said with a laugh as he sat in the living room of Ronstadt’s cousin, Bobby Ronstadt, with his wife, Suzy Horton Ronstadt (who is the subject of a Calendar profile running on Saturday), and singer Kathy Harris, the other members of I Hear Voices!

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“I thought, ‘If this is what touring is like, you can have it,’” he said of battling inhospitable venues with poor sound systems, bad sightlines and generally ill-equipped for the needs of touring musicians.

When Linda Ronstadt launched her solo career, Kimmel decided he’d like to open his own club and provide musicians with better facilities than he’d encountered. That’s when he was approached by Walter Camp, co-owner of the business -- which at that time was strictly a musical instrument vendor and repair shop -- about the prospect of holding live performances there.

“The timing was perfect,” said Kimmel, who pitched in on the actual construction to expand the operation to accommodate concerts — he put his name in tiles on the floor of the men’s bathroom while hastily preparing it to open.

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He was McCabe’s original concert director, a post he held from 1969 to 1975. One of the first acts he booked was Longbranch Pennywhistle, which included future Eagles singer and songwriter Glenn Frey and L.A. country-rock stalwart J.D. Souther.

“I can’t wait to show these guys the place,” Kimmel said of his bandmates in the group that formed 18 months ago, and has recorded a self-produced album, for which Kimmel wrote half of the 12 songs. “I’ve been in bands all my life, but I honestly feel everything’s been leading up to this.”

Updated July 20 at 12:53 p.m.: An earlier version of this post listed Bobby Kimmel’s age as 74. He is 72.


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