These days, the Sunset Strip is awash in billboards, high-end shopping boutiques and swanky nightclubs. But from the 1960s to the 1980s, it was the place for rock n’ roll legends to do their rock n’ roll legendary things.
From drugs in bathrooms (and outside of bathrooms) to foam parties in hotels to protests, the Strip defined music, debauchery and rock n’ roll for three decades. Here are some of the wildest stories to come from that time.
The Whiskey a Go Go is one of the most iconic venues on the Sunset Strip, and it comes by the reputation honestly; between May and August of 1966, the house band was none other than The Doors themselves. But on their last night performing at the club, lead singer Jim Morrison almost missed the entire show.
According to the venue’s history, Morrison was holed up in the Tropicana Motel high on acid and half naked as his bandmates began the show. They left halfway through to find him, then hauled him to the Whiskey and onto the stage. He proceeded to improvise his way through their final song: “The End.”
Just three months after The Doors stopped playing the Whiskey a Go Go, a protest broke out on Sunset Strip.
It all went down outside the popular nightclub and coffee shop Pandora’s Box on November 12, 1966, after a 10:00 p.m. curfew had been set on the Strip to try to eliminate the number of high, stoned and sometimes partially naked young people who liked to congregate there.
After a lengthy build-up of tension between said young people and law enforcement, a large group of protesters showed up carrying signs that insisted the curfew be lifted. May Wines singer Tommy McLaughlin told LA Weekly:
Fliers had been distributed, radio stations were informed, and ‘the word’ was out on the street. And the one thousand came: frat party boys, Marines on leave, pre-hippies and stoned high schoolers, plus cameos by Peter Fonda, Sonny and Cher and even Gilligan, Bob Denver.
Sadly, the protest only resulted in the closing down of Pandora’s Box. But at least the kids had a good night.
When Tom Petty arrived in Los Angeles from Florida with his lovable band of stoner friends, the first thing they did was drive up and down the Strip shopping their tape. The area was home to dozens of record labels, and they wanted in. Petty is quoted in author Paul Zollo’s 2005 book Conversations With Tom Petty describing those days:
"… we would just go in the front door of every one with a tape and say, 'Hi, we just got here from Florida, can we play you this tape?'"
The Continental Hyatt House – colloquially dubbed the Riot House – was home to a boatload of debauchery in the 1970s, and may have even been the original testing ground for the long and proud legacy of rock stars destroying hotel rooms. None tested this endeavor quite as thoroughly as Led Zeppelin, who used to rent out the entire top floor of the hotel and proceed with all manner of depravity including a rumor that drummer John Bonham once drove a motorcycle through the hallways.
Guitarist Big Jim Sullivan told KCRW about visiting the band at the hotel. When the elevator doors opened on the top floor, he says, he saw almost a foot of foam on the floor, and then, “as I looked out this naked girl came sliding past…and then another one and then, followed by John Paul Jones and John Bonham."