The Troubadour, an iconic West Hollywood music venue, doesn’t need much of an introduction. Since the club opened its doors in 1957, musical superstars have launched their careers and introduced the world to future best-selling records by playing to its intimate crowds.
The club became known for nurturing new talent in the late ’60s and ’70s (it was instrumental in the careers of James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits, among others) and today is a vital stop on the way to musical stardom.
“The Troubadour was where everybody went to hang out and to be noticed. You wanted to make yourself known to the record community at large, you go to the Troubadour, play an open mic night.” recalled Linda Ronstadt in the CNN Film “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice.”
Here are some of the greats who’ve taken the stage at the Troubadour:
The Troubadour was originally conceived as a club for singer-songwriters, or “modern day troubadours” as founder Doug Weston called them. The club’s status as a kingmaker was cemented over years by the talent discovered there.
Playing to an audience of fellow musicians and music executives, artists including Billy Joel, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Linda Rondstadt and Nina Simone made their cases for stardom. One of the first notable singer-songwriters to take the Troubadour stage early in his career was Bob Dylan.
He played an impromptu jam session with a local band at a small, staff-only gig in 1964, according to the Troubadour. Dylan went on to become one of the most influential singers and songwriters of his generation, creating a long list of famous tracks, including “The Times They Are a-Changin'” and “Like a Rolling Stone.”
His performance at the Troubadour became the first in a long line of history-making performances from artists big and small for the next six decades.
James Taylor and Carole King
The Troubadour’s earned its reputation in the ’60s and ’70s for its influential role in the early careers of many popular performers.
For this reason, it became the perfect place for musicians to find like-minded peers and form lifelong relationships.
James Taylor and Carole King, both iconic musicians in their own right, forged a lasting friendship in the wings of the Troubadour’s stage. Taylor debuted at the Troubadour in 1969, a gig that was a big deal to him at that time.
“It had a proper stage and a backstage, and if you did well there people noticed it and the word got out,” he said, reminiscing about the experience. The pair met through a mutual friend and immediately hit it off, with King playing piano for Taylor and later beginning a solo career with his encouragement.
Before King made her own debut at the Troubadour, she ran through her setlist for Taylor, and he heard a song he immediately fell in love with. Taylor later recorded “You’ve Got a Friend” with King’s permission, and it went on to become one of his biggest hits.
They have acknowledged the importance of the Troubadour in their careers and friendship many times. In 2007, they performed an encore of their joint 1970 concert at the Troubadour for the venue’s 50th anniversary. They later took that show on the road bringing their 2010 Troubadour Reunion Tour to arenas around the world.
As the Troubadour gained notoriety, many artists came from overseas and headed straight to the venue to play for their first American crowd. Gordon Lightfoot made his US debut there in 1964, and Lily Allen made hers over 40 years later in 2006.
Perhaps most notably, on six nights in August 1970, Elton John was catapulted into the American consciousness with a series of shows that started his US career. Introduced by Neil Diamond to a crowd of industry giants including Linda Ronstadt, Brian Williams, Stephen Stills, and David Crosby, John made a serious impression and received a stellar review by Los Angeles Times’ critic Robert Hilburn.
In an interview with the Times, John described the performances saying, “the atmosphere during those nights at the Troubadour was electric. Something inside me just took over. I knew this was my big moment and I really went for it.”
An imagining of what the concert must have felt like to those in attendance was recreated in a scene in John’s biopic “Rocketman.” In the scene, John (played by Taron Egerton) lifts the crowd in a moment of transcendence where everything clicked.
Though known for its role in finding music legends, the Troubadour has also been a home to a myriad of comedy greats. Lenny Bruce performed at the club in the early ’60s and his raucous set resulted in his arrest on obscenity charges. His legacy and his contributions to comedy were remembered nearly 30 years later by his family and peers in a tribute event, hosted and televised from the Troubadour.
Bruce became the first of many comedians to perform on that stage. Richard Pryor recorded his debut album there in 1968, and Steve Martin performed at the venue as a relative unknown.
The Troubadour continues to welcome stand-up fans. Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifianakis and Dave Chappelle have all performed sets at the venue. The club’s cult status has also made it the perfect spot to host special events for cult TV shows. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer performed two shows there ahead of the second season of “Broad City” in 2014, and the cast of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” performed their first live rendition of “The Nightman Cometh” in 2009.
Guns N’ Roses
Coming out of its heyday in the 1970s, the Troubadour needed to change its tune to keep up with the country’s changing musical tastes.
Instead of targeting folk singers and songwriters, the club began to feature the glam rock and metal bands that dominated the 1980s. Metallica made its LA debut at the club in August of 1982 and Warrant in 1984.
Future superstars Guns N’ Roses made a name for themselves locally after playing gigs around Los Angeles, including at the fabled Troubadour.
The local buzz got them on the radar of record executive David Geffen, whose label went to see their Troubadour set on June 6, 1986, and signed them soon after to a worldwide deal that made Guns N’ Roses a household name.
The Troubadour continued to keep up with the changing musical landscape through the 1990s and beyond. Pearl Jam played their first show under the name Pearl Jam and Radiohead played their album “OK Computer” for the first time in the US. Korn, System of a Down, Franz Ferdinand and Fiona Apple also all debuted on the Troubadour stage.
In modern times, the club has become the perfect place to host secret concerts or exclusive shows. Coldplay debuted songs off of their new album “X&Y” at a secret show in 2005, and Billie Eilish played an exclusive with SiriusXM and Pandora for fans of her debut album. Harry Styles made his solo US debut in 2017 at the venue with special guest Stevie Nicks in a show that paid homage to the Troubadour’s folk roots.
“At the Troubadour, the percussive piano on ‘Woman’ began like Elton’s ‘Bennie and the Jets.’ The folky glimmer of his ‘Meet Me in the Hallway’ shimmered like Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity,”‘ wrote Rolling Stone in a review of the concert.
The Troubadour’s notoriety has made it an essential stop on the tours of performers big and small, old and new. The coronavirus pandemic forced the club to turn to crowdfunding and public outreach, but it is now back in business, welcoming crowds on Santa Monica Boulevard and adding to its roster of legendary performances.
™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.