When people think of Hollywood, they think of searchlights rocking back and forth, glittering movie stars, and flash bulbs popping on a red carpet. But just on the other side of the Hollywood sign is North Hollywood, and the further out you go, it turns heavily industrial, and you begin to feel a long way from glitzy Hollywood, as the road is dotted with a multitude of auto body shops, liquor stores, and supply warehouses. In between the auto body shops of Lankershim is a building that borderline looks abandoned, with little on the outside to tell you what exactly it is, except a lone sign reading “Le Monge Banquet Hall.” But back in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and even into the 80s, this place was the famous Palomino, known as “The Opry of the West” and the likes of the Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Buck Owens, Rick Nelson, Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and my favorite, Gram Parsons, all performed on its stage.
While the Palomino closed its doors in 1995, it was never been forgotten. Aware of its importance, I was pleased to see the sign on display at the Valley Relics Museum when we visited in March of last year. Then earlier this year Valley Relics announced it was moving to a new and larger location, but in need of some assistance with the expensive moving costs, so they decided to have a fundraiser at the former Palomino, with artists who performed there in its heyday and artists paying tribute to those who are no longer with us, along with a barbecue buffet. Seeing this as quite possibly my only chance to set foot inside one of Gram’s old haunts, and have a glimpse as to what it was once like, Patrick and I purchased tickets to attend.
For the event Valley Relics hauled out the original Palomino sign and one of famous cowboy tailor Nudie Cohn’s tricked out cars.
Among the performers were Gunnar Nelson, Rick Nelson’s son, who paid tribute to his father, as he had performed at the Palomino many times, as well as Jeffery Steele, and Palomino staples Rosie Flores, James Intveld, and Jim Lauderdale.
Also in attendance were many people who had fond memories of, or connections to, the Palomino, including Manuel, who worked under Nudie and crafted the famed Flying Burrito Brothers Nudie suits. I am such a fan of his talent I worked up the courage to ask for a picture.
Like I totally geeked out. This is the man who personally embroidered Gram’s suit, as Nudie’s lead embroiderer, Rose Clements, refused to do it due to the naked women on the lapels and drugs scattered about.
Jamie Nudie, the granddaughter of Nudie Cohn, infamous groupie Pamela Des Barres, and Gram Parsons’ daughter, Polly Parsons also attended, but I couldn’t muster up the courage to talk to any of them. And, yes, I am kicking myself for it.
And now we have arrived at the history portion of today’s post and why this place means so much to so many people…
In the 1940s and 50s, this area of Hollywood is where the cowboys and stunt men who lent their services to the westerns called home. Back in the 1940s they knocked back cold ones at the Mulekick Club, but it had shuttered its doors. Then in 1949 Hank Penny, a country western radio talent, drove by the now abandoned Mulekick, he peered in the windows and there “he saw an abandoned wreck of broken glass, battered stools and tables set ghost-like around a filthy bandstand. The North Hollywood club ‘looked like death warmed over,'” he recounted in a 1980 interview for the Los Angeles Times. Aware of country music’s popularity, he saw a void in the San Fernando Valley. “Country music was getting big in Southern California and there were clubs all over the city…except in the Valley,” he noted in the same interview. Penny and his business partner, Amand Gautier, bought the old Mulekick and began to overhaul it, opening it under name of The Palomino. Penny recalled trying to rename the club, “Amand and I bounced all these names around, but nothing seemed to grab either one of us. I dropped into a men’s shop to get myself a shirt. I opened the package, and it was like something out of a cheapie musical. The logo read Palomino Sport Shirt. I said to Amand, ‘I’ve got the name of the club.’” There is a legend though that it was named that when a cowboy rode his palomino to it and hitched it up outside.
Shortly after opening the Pal (as it became known to performers and regulars) was a hit, and Penny also had his very own (although shortly lived) TV show, and he found running the club and his new TV career too much, and sold it to brothers Tommy and Bill Thomas in 1952.
Under the Thomas brothers the Pal offered a happy hour in the morning, catering to night shift workers, in addition to dishing up breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and at the door stood a massive 300 pound bouncer named Tiny. Soon bigger names were gracing the stage and the place regularly sold out.
When piano legend Jerry Lee Lewis took to the Palomino stage for the first time, it ended rather abruptly. According to Tommy, “The first time Jerry Lee Lewis played here a few people were complaining because he was playing real loud. I didn’t know much about him then, so I went up and asked ‘Hey Jerry, do you think you could keep it down a little?’ He got up, kicked the piano bench over and then pushed the piano off the stage. I went back to those people and said ‘What’d you tell me to say that for? Now you’ve got him mad.'” But Lewis replaced the piano and made regular appearances on the Palomino stage.
The Pal really came into its own in the late 1960s when people began to blend country and rock together, which is when Gram Parsons stepped through the Pal’s doors for the first time. Gram and his friend Bob Buchanan (of the New Christy Minstrels) would go to the open-mic talent nights that happened each week. Gram said he wanted to “go to the honky-tonks and win the talent contests and show them that a guy with long hair could be accepted.” Apparently it took two years for him to finally win, “for two years I was beaten by some yodeling grandmothers an the same guy, who sang ‘El Paso’ every week.”
The rough and tumble regulars at the Pal though were not a fan of Gram’s look, “The first couple times I played the Palomino I nearly got killed. There I was in my satin bell-bottoms, and the people couldn’t believe it. I got up onstage and sang, and when I got off a guy said to me, ‘I want you to meet my three brothers. We were gonna kick your ass, but you can sing real good, so we’ll buy you a beer instead.'” But soon Gram and his latest band, The Flying Burrito Brothers, were playing the Palomino regularly. And their blend of rock and country brought in the likes of The Rolling Stones, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin as attendees. Apparently one night “Marlon Brando and Janis Joplin were there. According to Parsons, Janis kept saying, ‘Can you believe it? That’s Marlon Brando!'”
Regularly artists would show up at the Pal just to hang out and see other musicians. JayDee Maness, the pedal-steel player for the Palomino Riders reflected “You could have Waylon Jennings playing and Willie Nelson would show up. If they were in town, that’s where they went, to the Pal, just to hang, and the hang was the best part of the whole deal. Musicians came in, many of them every single night they weren’t working.” Maness had also worked with Gram on The International Submarine Band’s album Safe at Home and The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
By the 1970s female country singers such as Linda Rondstadt and Emmylou Harris, both of which had toured with Gram, had come into their own and made breakthroughs at the Palomino. Gram would return to see Rondstadt perform, sometimes drunkenly getting up on stage with her. And after the hit of Urban Cowboy, the Palomino got cleaned up as country music and fashion took America by storm. It also was featured in the Clint Eastwood movies Every Which By But Loose and Any Which Way You Can, as well Hooper starring Burt Reynolds. In the same decade the Palomino lost co-owner, Bill. Tommy’s wife, Sherry, took Bill’s place as new co-owner.
Image Source: Screencap from Every Which Way But Loose
By the mid-1980s, after the Urban Cowboy era ended, the Pal began to welcome non-country acts, such as Elton John, Elvis Costello, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Canned Heat. Then Tommy died in 1985 and Sherry took total control. In 1988 Ronnie Mack began to host a weekly Barn Dance that really kept the place going in the last seven years.
In a last ditch effort, the Palomino ushered in punk music, and Green Day performed in 1992. But by 1995 the hobbling horse couldn’t go on and shuttered, and returned to its dilapidated state that Hank Penny found it in so many years ago, that is until until La Monge took over.
I am ecstatic Valley Relics brought the Palomino back to life, even for just one night! But honestly, I think this should be like their yearly fundraiser event, because people were overjoyed to relive their days spent there, for I was thrilled to just be able to have a taste of what it was once like.
Valley Relics opens at its new location November 3rd. Sadly I won’t be attending the opening, as it is Dapper Day, but I cannot wait to visit the new location! Learn more by visiting their website.