“No other street has so consistently shaped the city’s sonic identities, on so many different levels across so many different decades, in the ways that Sunset has,” writes cultural historian Josh Kun.
Over the past few months, Kun has been exploring some of the stories inspired by 12 Sunsets, an archive of Ed Ruscha’s photographs of Sunset Blvd. His stories followed the funk bands and Chicano rock groups, the soul grooves and the ska scene that bounced and jammed along the boulevard. (You can read the whole series here).
We asked you what you wanted to know about Sunset’s musical history on our social media channels and Kun answered them!
When did Sunset Blvd start becoming known for its live music scene?
After Prohibition, nightclubs and supper clubs took off on the Strip in the 1930s and ’40s. The Trocadero, Mocambo, and Ciro’s all established the Strip’s reputation for live music
What’s your favorite little-known story about Sunset Blvd?
I loved learning about Citadel d’Haiti, the Black bohemian gallery and performance space where Fela Kuti played and Soul Train dancers hung out.
Most unexpected musical connections in your research on Sunset?
The joy of this project was proving myself wrong. I started it not expecting to find so many connections and convergences, but every address, every story, contained layers of connection I wasn’t prepared for. The history of the building that housed The Crescendo and The Trip for example, or the story of the ON Klub.
What venue do you wish still existed?
Club FUCK, Citadel d’ Haiti, ON Klub
What’s your top must-see spot?
Too hard to choose! So, I’d do this: drive Sunset from East to West, and then repeat the journey on the 12 Sunsets website, scrolling through years and decades. Such an amazing way to experience L.A. history as a living organism.
Not music related but architecturally, do you have any favorite buildings past or present? (on Sunset)
I’m really fond of the original art moderne style of 6000 W Sunset (once a supermarket and a burlesque house casino), now EastWest Studios. The Paul R. Williams 1936 deco study (originally for Berman Furs) is still at 9169 W Sunset. And then of course there’s the Oscar Niemeyer UFO at 8760 W. Sunset.
What’s a venue/space past or present that you think deserves more recognition?
Sunset’s music history has tended to focus on signature venues (Whisky, Pandora’s Box, Roxy, etc.) so my series tried to focus on some lesser-known stories. The role of venues like Basgo’s Disco and the ON Klub has been underplayed a bit so it was nice to be able to dig into their stories. I’d also love to learn more about The Chanteclair, a supper club co-created by singer Billy Eckstine in the ’40s, as well as a ’70s spot called Mr. C’s, run by Chico Avilez, a rare Sunset venue offering música norteña.
Anything particularly interesting about El Cid’s musical history? It’s a fav venue of mine!
That depends if you consider that it began as The Jail Cafe interesting. A jail-themed restaurant, complete with a watchtower over its Sunset entrance, dining tables in jail cells, and waiters in prison stripes. Insert emoji of choice here.
Did Sunset ever have a Brazilian music moment?
Not a moment but a long history: Brazilian music has been part of Sunset ever since the Mocambo opened on the Strip with a Brazil-themed interior. In the ’40s, Carmen Miranda helped make samba an LA-friendly sound. In the 50s, Laurindo Almeida and Antonio Carlos Jobim brought bossa nova (see my post on that). And later: Sergio Mendes, Paulinho da Costa, Airto Moreira, and more.
What do you think the future of music on Sunset will be? Will it return to its heyday?
In the post-COVID future, I would love to see Sunset return to a grassroots ethos, where community and openness prevail over all else. Its heyday, for all of its greatness, was also full of inequality, so I’d rather see it look forward to new scenes and new ways for strangers to come together through music.