The Legendary Whisky a Go Go and Rainbow Bar and Grill

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Three generations of the Maglieri Family: Mike (left), Mikeal (center) and Mario (right) Three generations of the Maglieri Family: Mike (left), Mikeal (center) and Mario (right) Photograph by Maria Artos

Since opening in 1964, the world famous Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles has hosted some of the biggest rock stars in history. The Doors, The Byrds, Janis Joplin, Neil Young, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe and Metallica have played on the stage that continues to launch today’s up-and-coming artists. In 1972, Mario Maglieri, along with Whisky co-founder Elmer Valentine, Lou Adler and others, started the Rainbow Bar and Grill down the street from the Whisky. Originally the Villa Nova restaurant where Marilyn Monroe first met Joe DiMaggio on a blind date, the Rainbow opened with a party for Elton John. It went on to become a stomping ground for celebrities such as John Lennon, Keith Moon, Neil Diamond, Robert Plant and even Elvis Presley. John Belushi ate his last meal at the Rainbow, while W. C. Fields punched a hole in a wall, Charles Manson got thrown out and Janis Joplin had her last drink at the Whisky. Mario, who over time became the sole owner of the Whisky, passed on the running of these two legendary Hollywood hangouts to his son Mikeal, and now his grandson Mike. Tokyo Journal ’s Executive Editor Anthony Al-Jamie met with all three generations of the Maglieri family at the Rainbow Bar and Grill.

TJ: Mr. Maglieri, how old were you when you first started and how did you become the owner?
MARIO: [I] started at the Whisky when I was in my early forties… as a manager… and slowly [I] bought out the other managers ‘till I was the sole owner.

TJ: Mikeal, you must have also seen a lot over the years. How long have you been in the business?
MIKEAL: Since I was 16 years old. I was here when Jimi Hendrix [played]. When the Doors started, I was here. They were a house band. Three Dog Night was a house band... Canned Heat. John Lennon was here just before he died. He loved coming here. He was part of the “in” crowd that hung out upstairs in the Vampire’s Lair — him, Ringo, Alice Cooper and Micky Dolenz. There was a whole crew that hung out the first two years. John Belushi was here the night before he died. Rick James was here two nights before he died. There were a lot. If your name started with a J, you were in trouble. Janis Joplin, John Belushi. Jim Croce, Jim Morrison.

TJ: What is your view on rock, drugs and alcohol?
MIKEAL: I told Oliver Stone he got Jim Morrison all wrong — he wasn’t a mystic; he was a party animal, in here every night. I gave Janis Joplin her last drink — four shots of Southern Comfort — and Dad said, “Put the bottle in her trunk.” Next day the headlines said she died of alcohol poisoning. It was actually heroin, but for three days I thought I killed her.
MARIO: I try to tell young people that drugs aren’t the way to go. Like Jim Morrison. I babied that guy day in and day out [at the Whisky]. I used to grab him and go, “Why are you ruining your life?” And he’d just look up at me [and say,] “Oh Mario, I love you.” He went down the tubes like so many guys. It’s sad.

TJ: What are the most amazing experiences you have had at the Whisky?
Way too many!
MIKEAL: There are too many great experiences to list... everything from e Doors to Guns N’ Roses.
MIKE: Van Halen when they did the Dreams video, Guns N’ Roses in the ‘80s when I was a kid. The Police did their reunion. I saw Metallica play for Lemmy from MotoĢˆrhead’s 50th birthday, and they all dressed up like Lemmy. I was 15 years old. at was one of the coolest things ever, being a little metalhead.

TJ: Which rock stars were your first regulars?
MARIO: Led Zeppelin. Every time they were in town, they’d party in the middle booth.

TJ: I understand the Whisky helped break racial barriers in L.A. back in the day.
MIKEAL: We were the first club to integrate. The Temptations, the Four Tops, Smokey Robinson, Martha and the Vandellas played here.

TJ: What has changed the most in the industry over the years?
MARIO: To me everything has been the same. It’s always been rock and roll and always will be rock and roll.
MIKEAL: I’ve watched a lot of music business people come and go, and the music business has declined. But rock fans still pay just as much attention to these clubs and the rock scene of today.
MIKE: Just the ability for bands to progress. With a lack of effort from the record labels, it’s very hard for bands to keep going. I’m sure you can imagine the record business is a messed-up business right now. [ there has been] a huge, huge change — especially for metal and hardcore bands. There’s no room in the mainstream for music like that. On a major label you have a cap of how many records you’re ever really going to sell. You’re not going to sell Bieber [-level] records. So isn’t it better to just take it all in your own hands and work hard and make the money yourself?

TJ: You guys are a family. How do you guys keep it all together?
MIKEAL: Well, we’re together almost every day. ere’s really good communication amongst the three of us. I don’t do anything without telling [Mike] what I’m doing so he knows and vice-versa, and it goes all the way around. My dad is semi-retired and I’m now semi-retiring, but we’re here.

TJ: What’s the di erence between the Rainbow and the Whisky a Go Go?
MIKE: [ The Rainbow] is more of a restaurant/bar. It’s a hangout. We call it the rock and roll dream. You come here, eat at the Rainbow... get drunk... hang out, go to the Whisky, listen to your favorite band, and end your night at the Rainbow.

TJ: What’s the toughest part of the business?
MIKE: Every night is a risk. We’re paying bands. We do advertising and hope to make that money back, so that’s scary. en there’s the whole liability of everything. You’re responsible for everyone in your place. People get drunk. People get stupid. Those are the big worries for us.

TJ: How do you try to minimize the liability?
MIKE: On the show part, it just comes down to knowing what you’re doing, doing the right research, and knowing what’s going to sell and what’s not going to sell. Apart from that, it just comes down to good starting. You want good security guards who know how to calm people down and deal with situations.

TJ: What do you think is the best decision you’ve ever made?
MIKE: Probably my dad’s decision of buying the buildings, the actual property. He did that in the ‘90s. It locked everything into stone.

TJ: Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
MIKE: I guess you could say we probably could have developed the properties a lot more. I would like to have the Whisky Hotel behind the Whisky or something. I think that’s the only thing that could bring us into a whole new level, but it could be a whole waste of money for nothing. I’m also a believer of: “If it ain’t broke, don’t x it.” I’m not trying to reinvent anything or change anything. We’re pretty conservative.

TJ: Has the Whisky changed a lot over the years?
MIKE: Not a lot. Little things. the stage is in the same place. We took the Go Go booths out. We put the Go Go cages back in — not actual cages but... little stands... probably ve or six years ago — for bigger shows and weekend shows. If it’s a deathmetal show then there’s no point in bringing the dancers down. If we have the right crowd it’s really cool. Other than that, we took a staircase out here and there. The booths that were there in the 1960s were taken out for years and we just put those back in probably about 10 or 12 years ago. We are constantly upgrading the lighting system and the whole sound system. No equipment is more than two or three years old.

TJ: How do you find out what the trends are?
MIKE: I’m constantly out there, constantly putting out feelers. I have friends in every genre.

TJ: Have you done any business with Japan? Do you like Japanese culture?
MIKE: We do a lot of licensing deals with Japan on merchandising. I have a Gap deal and a Lucky Brand deal in America but [in Japan] we have these little one-off companies that make their own Zippos, their own motorcycle helmets and put Whisky a Go Go on it. They sell great! There’s a fascina- tion for it out there just for the whole rock culture, I think. When they come here, they love it. Japanese tourists coming into the Rainbow are almost crying looking at some of these pictures they’ve never seen before. We do these Japanese tour groups every three or four months. They have a tour guide. There are a hundred of these young kids. They come to the Rainbow, eat and walk around. And they go to the Whisky, see a show, and it’s awesome! I’m way into Japanese toys and art. I’m obsessed with their culture and they’re obsessed with our culture. I have so many people in Japan that [say], “Send me Whisky posters and I’ll trade you cool stuff from here.” I see their culture first hand. It is in your face.

TJ: Where do you see things going in the future?
MIKE: I don’t really see anything physically changing too much. I definitely see the music changing. What is music going to be like in 20 years? There are no U2s, no Rolling Stones coming out now. Those bands are gonna get old. We rely a lot on ‘80s rock bands... these bands do great but that’s not going to last forever. Are all these young pop kids going to be the Whisky bands in 10 years? Who knows? I’ll transition to anything. I’m all about business. We’ll do dubstep nights. We’ll do electronic nights. We’ll do hip-hop nights. Hip-hop is huge. Why would I not want to do hip-hop? Whatever is hot stuff, I’m going to make it happen. tj

The complete article is available in Issue #277. Click here to order from Amazon.

Written By:

Anthony Al-Jamie

Anthony Al-Jamie lived and worked in Japan for over 20 years. His in-depth understanding of Japanese language and culture has allowed him to carry out interviews with many of the most renowned individuals in Japan. He first began writing for the Tokyo Journal in the 1990s as Education Editor, later he was promoted to Senior Editor, and eventually International Editor and Executive Editor. He currently serves the Tokyo Journal as Editor-in-Chief.


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