Having finished the first Big Daddy album in late 1982, and looking for a home base nightclub in the Los Angeles area, a fairly new spot came to mind in Santa Monica… At My Place.
I had been there a few times since it opened in 1981 and was intrigued by its unique format: featured musical acts with opening comedians. Billy (Vera) & The Beaters were tearing up a storm on weekends to sold-out audiences; once I saw their show, I immediately knew why.
Billy was a great performer and was backed by an amazing horn band with four saxophones! The closest thing I could compare it to was seeing Fats Domino in Las Vegas…”Fats” also traveled with a large – all saxophone – horn section.
Seeing The Beaters, as they were called by locals, at the club with its great sound system & stage lighting, and comfortable seating arrangement, was very exciting. The club was also set up strictly as a showroom – NO DANCE FLOOR – which played well with our vision of an ideal performance space for Big Daddy.
One day in early 1983, I stopped by At My Place in the late afternoon during that evening’s sound check. Closed to the public at that hour, I snuck in through the back door…there was club booker and manager Matt Kramer, who I had heard about from his days promoting shows at The Troubadour in Hollywood and The Fox Venice Theatre. He was sitting at his computer checking the schedule. I don’t think that I had ever seen a home computer in action before then! The combination dressing room / booking office was hardly fancy, but going through the doors from there to the stage was exciting, as the showroom was so nicely laid out in terms of patron sightlines and comfort. At the time, I had no way of knowing that we would go through those doors about 100 times on our way to the stage over the next ten years.
Matt asked who I was there to see and I quickly said, “who ever books the shows here…is that you?” Being new to promoting the band, I fumbled into a sales pitch about Big Daddy and our soon-to-be released album on Rhino Records. Matt, who by that time had heard it all before, asked the one question that every local booker asks and that most bands fear: “How many people do you think that you can bring in here during a weeknight?” (Weekends were off limits as they were reserved for the bigger names of the day such as Vonda Shepard later a regular on Ally McBeal, Carl Anderson, who played Judas Iscariot in the Broadway and film versions of Jesus Christ Superstar, the then up and coming “Smooth Jazz” sax man Richard Elliott and of course, Billy (Vera) & The Beaters.)
Naturally, the next question of a club’s booker is “how much of a cover charge do you think that your crowd would pay to see you?” Well, we had just started out with our 50’s Mash-Up concept and had only done a few gigs at one local bar in Playa Del Rey (Stern’s On The Hill) where there was no cover to get in!
It was clear that the next step in our career was to get lots of family & friends who were ready, willing and able to pay a cover charge to see us perform. Testing the waters by talking to a number of them, we calculated that we could probably get at least 75 people in the club (which held about 185) with a cover charge of around $8.00. This was a hopeful estimate and we were by no means confident that we could really pull it off, but having an eight-piece band really helped spread the word.
Matt was not overly impressed with our numbers. He said that he might give us one shot at some time in the future but made no guarantees. So we waited and waited. As the album was released in early 1983 and started making some noise in the local press, we got copies of the articles over to Matt. Our persistence paid off; finally Matt was willing to give us a shot! It was clear from my phone conversations with him that if we did not exceed our 75 person draw, we’d likely never get another chance to play there again.
So now the real work began! We got on the phone with family and friends and started compiling a mailing list to send out postcards reminding people of our upcoming show. At My Place did not sell tickets in advance for weekday shows, at that time, so we had to hope that enough interest in the show would get an audience there that night…It was a huge gamble that we would not know the result of until the very night of the show!
Needless to say, we were thrilled when over 100 loyal supporters showed up. As momentum grew from there to a once-a-month Wednesday night spot, Big Daddy became a regular fixture at the club and we could not have been happier being able to hone our craft and develop our show on the At My Place stage in front of our loyal fans.
It was an amazing experience to give mini-concerts right there in our own backyard (as most of us lived very close to the club). Almost all of our shows sold out. We would be greeted with an ovation every time we hit the stage and multiple encores became the norm.
Over the years, we had some very famous visitors at our shows including legendary singer/songwriter Hank Ballard (who wrote “The Twist” and had a number of other great top ten R & B hits in the 1950’s). Hank sat in on a few numbers (see accompanying photo below from that evening in 1988). Performing with a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer was a true honor!
There were also some great opening comedians for our shows, including Robert Wuhl (Good Morning Vietnam, Bull Durham), Michael Winslow (Sgt. Larvelle “Motor Mouth” Jones in all seven “Police Academy” movies) and Writer/Director/Comedian Robert Townsend. Our old pal David Gee, who could do an uncanny impersonation of Jack Nicholson, would often stick around after his opening routine and introduce us in character as “Jack.”
Founding member Marty Kaniger even got married during one of our shows there in July of 1991 and the minister for the ceremonies was none other than club booker Matt Kramer. Marty and his bride Vicki along with the entire wedding party were the featured act during a “special” second set of the evening.
But like all good things, this one came to an end when Matt left in 1992 along with his vision and passion for the club. The room reopened shortly thereafter as Nightwinds, a predominately Jazz club. We played there a few times (see our live version of “Baby Got Back” from 1993/ finally released on “Cruisin’ Through The Rhino Years” in 2014) but Nightwinds closed after only about a year.
The room was then remodeled and opened as American Pie, splitting up the space into a large bar and small stage for occasional music. Unfortunately, the place was never the same and Big Daddy, along with all of the other regular acts that called this club home, did not like the new set-up. What had made the club great had “left the building” and we all chose to take our audiences elsewhere. Still the memories remain of what had once been an amazing place to perform.
Lightnin’ Bob, July of 2014
HANK BALLARD AT OUR “AT MY PLACE” SHOW IN 1988.