We’re exploring the musical legacy of Sunset Boulevard. Discover more from 12 Sunsets: Exploring Ed Ruscha’s Archive.

Building with a marquee in the front that says Whisky a Go Go, Smoke, Ohio Lakeside Express; the building is at the corner of the street and across the street are large apartment buildings

Whisky a Go Go, 1974, Ed Ruscha. Negative film reel: 9500 Sunset headed east (Image 0185). Part of the Streets of Los Angeles Archive, The Getty Research Institute. © Ed Ruscha

In 1972, the ten members of the Dayton, Ohio funk band, Ohio Lakeside Express, piled into a U-Haul van and headed straight for Sunset Boulevard.

Westward migration was in the air. Motown (the nation’s top Black music label) had already pulled up its Detroit roots and Soul Train (the nation’s top Black music and dance TV series) had already left Chicago—both ended up with new Sunset addresses. Earth, Wind, & Fire came to town, as did The Gap Band, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder. Add the newcomers to flourishing homegrown scenes in Watts and Crenshaw, and you had a city in the midst of a Black music renaissance. Black artists experimented with creative, genre-blurring approaches to R&B, jazz, and funk; Black-owned indie labels competed with established majors; and Black entrepreneurs, managers, and producers hustled to the top of industry hierarchies.

On their first night in town, Ohio Lakeside Express (who would change their name to Lakeside) talked their way into a gig at Citadel d’Haiti, a Black bohemian gallery and performance space opened on Sunset by the South L.A. born actor Bernie Hamilton. Citadel promised “low down trifling soul food, righteous soul music, shameless soul dancing and dynamite soul catching, inspirational soul relaxation” and of course, “free soul parking.” In 1969, Nigerian musical legend Fela Kuti played the club six nights a week for five months, immersing himself in Black Power, and inventing the Afrobeat sound that would become his global signature.

Parking lot surrounded by chain link fence with sign that says Grant Parking, Monthly Storage, Check our rates. There are palm trees next to the lot and apartment buildings on the other side of the street

Original site of Citadel d’ Haiti (6666 Sunset Boulevard), 1974, Ed Ruscha. Negative film reel: Wilcox headed west (Image 0088). Part of the Streets of Los Angeles Archive, The Getty Research Institute. © Ed Ruscha

“They had a late-night open club,” Lakeside founder and vocalist Mark Wood Jr. told me. “A lot of the Soul Train dancers and all of the Lockers were there, and they told us if we got our gear and got back by 1:00 am we could play. It was a very hip spot and here we were, wearing floppy hats from Ohio.”

They ditched the hats and soon became fixtures on the Crenshaw club scene, packing venues like Maverick’s Flat and The Total Experience. Lakeside was back on Sunset in 1974, this time booked at the Strip’s most legendary nightclub, the Whisky a Go Go, alongside Compton funk band, Smoke. The Whisky had hosted Black artists before (Otis Redding, Hugh Masekela, Jimi Hendrix, to name a few) but a double bill pulled from local Black music scenes was a first in the club’s history.

“The Whisky was one of those places we dreamed about,” Wood said. “We loved playing Crenshaw but we also wanted a wider audience for ourselves. To have our name on the marquee at the Whisky was just a thrilling moment.”

Lakeside went on to play clubs all over Hollywood and in 1977 released their self-titled debut album. Soon after, they made their first appearance on Soul Train, where the dancefloor was ruled by Black teenagers from L.A. high schools like Locke, Crenshaw, and Dorsey.

Building with four rows of windows above a ground level with glass doors and a brick exterior, labeled with a sign that says Channel 52, Metro Transit Advertising, and a billboard on the roof that says Dodgers 73

Studio of the Soul Train television show, 1973, Ed Ruscha. Negative film reel: Edgemont headed west (Image 158). Part of the Streets of Los Angeles Archive, The Getty Research Institute. © Ed Ruscha

The band even signed to a new label connected to the show, S.O.L.A.R., or Sound of Los Angeles Records. It was helmed by Soul Train talent booker Dick Griffey who turned it into the premiere Black music label of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Lakeside joined a roster that included fellow L.A. groups like former Soul Train dancers Shalamar and the Watts-raised The Whispers. Together they crafted new electrified hybrids of funk, disco, and R&B. Lakeside dubbed it “California funk.”

You can hear the L.A. influence on “It’s All The Way Live.” After two minutes of a tight bass-slapped and guitar-cinched soul groove, the song opens up into a congas and timbales breakdown inspired by the city’s Chicano and Latin American music scenes. It’s also there on their biggest hit, “Fantastic Voyage.” The sunshine-soaked classic promised a pleasure cruise to “the land of funk,” which was the band’s nickname for their native Dayton. But by 1980, that honorific also belonged to their new home, where funk’s fantastic voyage—all of its slick urban “stank,” all of its “sliding, gliding, and slippity-sliding”—would forever remain a defining sound of Los Angeles.

Further Listening

Lakeside: Fantastic Voyage

Smoke: What Goes Around Comes Around

Fela Kuti: My Lady Frustration