Tag Archives: gangsta rap

The Palomino Rides Again

I don’t go in for nostalgia much. The Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, for example, seems a sad place to end up, because it means you and what you created are antiques, dead.

So last night, when I went to the resurrection of The Palomino nightclub (for one night only) in the San Fernando Valley, I was wary.

The Palomino, until its closing in 1995, was part of the roiling, ethnically based music scenes that spawned in Los Angeles in the decades before the Internet and changes in the music industry and club world made such conglomerations rare.

Music is created in a time and a place by people from both and eventually they all pass, and only the records remain, which I figure is good enough.

The excuse for last night was to hold a benefit for a new pop-art museum – Valley Relics. Really, though, it was a chance to remember.

But instead of wallowing in the past, a dozen or more singers showcased the beauty of the music created at The Palomino. True, there were a few too many speeches about how great things were back when. But what I’ll take with me is a raw and simple sweetness, intensity, and longing in the music that I don’t associate with oldies, nostalgia shows.

Three monster backup bands, including one led by guitarist James Intveld, who got his start at The Palomino, were worth paying to see by themselves; his band included the tremendous Marty Rifkin on pedal steel.

Last night, I was finally able to see Rosie Flores, who rocks as hard as anyone. Jim Lauderdale was impeccable and has a voice that, if anything, has improved with age. I first heard him on an anthology album called A Town South of Bakersfield that I found sometime in the early 1990s and was my introduction to LA country.

Most unexpectedly, Gunnar Nelson, of the heartthrob band Nelson, and son of TV-teen-idol-turned-country-act Rick Nelson, showed up to play a Dylan song and two by his late father. He told the story behind his dad’s hit, “Garden Party,” which Rick Nelson wrote after playing a Madison Square Garden oldies show, only now he was playing hippie country music and the crowd hated it. He wrote the song and its chorus (“You can’t please everyone so you gotta please yourself.”) in response. Never knew that story. The song took on a power and poignancy I’d never associated with it until his son played it.

(I’ll admit to not knowing until today that Intveld’s brother, Rick, played in Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band and both were killed when the band’s plane crashed in Texas in 1985.)

A slide show on a wall reminded us that the great days of The Palomino were the 1970s and into the 1980s. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Those were great years for music scenes in L.A., and thus for the clubs where they found their legs.

In the late 1970s, legions of white punks in Hollywood created their own scene, complete with clubs but also halls rented for DIY shows. That was followed in the mid-1980s by black kids from Compton creating beats in their garages on SP 1200 drum machines, birthing gangsta rap. Not long after that, the narcocorrido scene emerged in the newly forged Mexican-immigrant enclaves of South Gate, Bell, Huntington Park, Lynwood southeast of L.A., growing from the music of Chalino Sanchez, who was murdered in 1992.

All of these had in common a lot of young folks who were initially ignored by the recording industry and mainstream radio, and who thus learned to make their own records and promote them on their own, selling them in swap meets and outside shows.

Meanwhile, out on Lankersheim in the then-largely white San Fernando Valley, The Palomino attracted huge stars of country music – Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Tom T. Hall, Marty Robbins, Kris Kristofferson. But the club was also a magnet for young musicians who came to LA from all over to play country music. Some of the best country music in America was created there.

The Palomino offered what all music scenes must have: A venue for young artists and bands to aspire to, a place to hone, to be heard and discovered. Dwight Yoakam was an opening act there. The club was also a hangout for young actors and stuntmen in the film industry.

So last night was a good night. In the end maybe I was affected by some bit of nostalgia. The night made me yearn for the days when I was going to the Hong Kong Café and watching the Germs, the Plugz and the Go-Gos on the same small stage. (I think I once went to The Palomino – can’t remember any more – but I do know that back then a trip to the 818 was, for me, almost like a trip to another country, so it didn’t happen much.)

Today, from what I can see, the era of the L.A. music scene is largely dead. My take is that the Internet has made music so easy to create that the industry has fragmented into a million little pieces and no sufficiently large critical mass of fans, clubs, and media attention can form around a small group of artists doing daring new stuff. Everything’s so diffuse. Listen to KCRW and you rarely hear the same band – they just cascade by.

I’m sure someone will correct me on this. Maybe I’m not paying as much attention as I used to.

But going out to dive clubs where daring music is played doesn’t seem quite the thing it once was. Without the clubs as centers of community where fans can see musicians and musicians can improve – like, in their day, the Hong Kong Café, El Parral, and The Palomino – it’s hard to imagine that kind of musical effervescence repeated.

Which is not to say new stuff won’t come along – it just may not happen in a community the way it once did.

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Filed under California, Culture, Los Angeles, Southern California

LOS ANGELES: Wan Joon Kim — A Compton Rap Legend Passes

Wan Joon Kim died last night, his son, Kirk, tells me.Wan Joon Kim 002

Mr. Kim, originally from North Korea, was one of the first indoor swap meet vendors in Los Angeles, when he signed a lease to rent a stall at the Compton Fashion Center, once a Sears building, that opened as the region’s first large indoor swap meet in 1985.

At stall Z-7 by the building’s main entrance, he and his wife, Boo Ja, sold women’s products for a while, but then switched to records and cassettes.

As these were years when the first rumblings of gangsta rap were emerging from kids working out in Compton garages, in response to the city’s crack and gang violence nightmare, that’s what he stocked.

He spoke almost no English, and didn’t understand the lyrics — he preferred classical music. But like any microcapitalist, he was willing to stock what sold.  Most of the early gangsta rap stars sold their first stuff at his stall, since other record stores refused them. This included records by Eazy E’s Ruthless Records and NWA, and many who’ve since died and others who’ve gone on to other things.

Mr. Kim grew to be loved by customers and rappers alike. He and and his wife were known as Pops and Mama.

I wrote about Mr. Kim last summer. A fascinating fellow straight outta Compton.

NPR’s All Things Considered did an obituary of Mr. Kim that’s worth listening to.

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LOS ANGELES: Wan Joon Kim and gangsta rap in Compton

At long last, a story I worked on months ago, has run.

It’s about Wan Joon Kim, a vendor at an indoor swap meet in Compton, who became an impresario of gangsta rap, a music he didn’t particularly care for nor understand, as it was emerging from the garages of that city.

I got into it while looking for a way to write about indoor swap meets in Los Angeles, which have always intrigued me. I shop at them often and find them fascinating business models for micro-entrepreneurs.

Most, if not all, are owned by Koreans, for whom the indoor swap meet was an important route into the middle class in America.

They provided another view of black-Korean relations than that of the Korean-owned liquor store.

Mr. Kim is pictured here with his wife, Boo Ja, and his son, Kirk, who now runs the stall at Compton Fashion Center.

Hope you like the piece.

 

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Filed under California, Culture, Gangs, Los Angeles, Southern California, Streets