Gene Simmons and Other Artists Share Memories of Hollywood's House of Blues, Shutting Its Doors (for Now)
Artists and former employees share memories of the Sunset Strip club, which will close Aug. 3 after a 21-year run (until it reopens at a new location).
Kevin Morrow, former booker -- "On opening night, the doors were an hour late. [Co-owner/actor] Dan Aykroyd was out front, dressed in a police outfit, directing traffic, waiting for Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg and all these guys to show up. I had to sit in the dressing room with [headliner] John Fogerty and try to tread water. John knew we were running behind and said, ‘What do you want to talk about?’ So we talked baseball for an hour."
Anjali Raval, longtime publicist -- "One time this young manager came in, he was a friend of our booker’s, and he [proposed], ‘Hey, I’ve got these two really young acts. We’ll do two nights in a row and flip-flop them.’ I remember walking through the venue during soundcheck and stopping in my tracks: This incredibly talented kid was wailing on his guitar and singing, and then the young girl came on. It was John Mayer and Norah Jones."
Gene Simmons, Kiss -- "To witness Joe Strummer up close at the House of Blues was to see an artist committed to his songs. It wasn’t just a testament to Joe Strummer but also to the club that made it possible."
Mike Starr, Steel Panther -- (Starr played more than 250 shows during the band’s five-year Monday-night residency, and will close the club on Aug. 3.) "One night two girls got onstage and got completely naked. We suggested they [have sex] and it happened. While that was going on, Dane Cook sang Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ with us."
Morrow -- "When I booked Johnny Cash to play, we were talking when June Carter Cash came walking in. We exchanged pleasantries, she kicked her shoes off and ran out the door. Cash looked at me and said, ‘That’s the one who’s trouble. I’m nothing compared to June.’ About 10 minutes later, in came two security guards with June: Legally, you’re not allowed to go barefoot in a restaurant. I looked at them and said, ‘I don’t care if she’s got shoes on or not, this is June Carter Cash, that’s Johnny Cash; they’re running the house tonight.’ June ran out the door like nothing happened. Cash looked at me and said, so deadpan, ‘I told you she was the troublemaker.’ "
Morrow -- "Tupac Shakur and I became friendly because [House of Blues] was doing all the hip-hop shows and he would constantly come down. We had a five-night run with The Fugees, and one night a bunch of Bloods [gang members] showed up, and it became a very tense situation between them and the police. Out of nowhere, here comes Tupac: ‘Hey, Kevin, can I go to the show?’ I told him the police were getting agitated, the Bloods were not leaving and actually kicked the door a couple of times — it’s a tough scene. He walks down and screams, ‘Listen, you motherf—ers better get your asses out of here or our homeboy isn’t going to be able to do any more hip-hop shows.’ They all turned around and left. Eventually Tupac played his last show at House of Blues."
Mike Ness, Social Distortion -- (The band has played the venue 50 times.) "It’s very dependable, almost like a Starbucks. The sound is good, it’s clean, and people are able to relax and have a good time. It’s not just a trendy hipster bar — its primary focus was music."
Raval -- "The Cambridge [Mass.] House of Blues opened first, and the New Orleans one had the influence of the South. But the Sunset Strip [is] the mecca of the music industry. That’s one of the most magical things about that venue."
This article first appeared in the Aug. 8 issue of Billboard.