The Troubadour, Shaping Music History Since 1957
West Hollywood’s career-making venue offers an intimate setting for both big names and emerging acts
The word “troubadour” refers to a poet and musician, singing tales of romance, in 11th through 13th century France. Doug Weston, who founded the Troubadour in 1957 as a venue for folk artists and singer-songwriters, referred to the club’s roster as “modern-day troubadours.”
“The people who play our club are sensitive artists who have something to say about our times,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
The Troubadour was a coffee shop on La Cienega before moving to its current location on Santa Monica Boulevard. It served as a launching pad for a number of folk acts and comedians throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s. Notable past performers include The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young. Elton John was introduced by Neil Diamond here in 1970, marking his first U.S. show, the start of a six-night residency. The 2019 film Rocketman depicts Elton John’s electrifying debut as one that literally lifted the audience off its feet—and that’s how it felt to him at the time.
“My whole life came alive that night, musically, emotionally . . . everything,” John later recalled to the Los Angeles Times. “It was like everything I had been waiting for suddenly happened.”
That same year marked two key meetings in music and comedy history. Musicians Glenn Frey and Don Henley met while attending a show and decided to form what would eventually become The Eagles. The Eagles would later write the song “Sad Cafe,” which appears on their 1979 album The Long Run, about the Troubadour. And though Roxy co-founder Lou Adler would later direct Cheech and Chong’s stoner film Up in Smoke and film a ‘battle of the bands’ sequence at his own club, he discovered the comedy duo at Troubadour’s Monday Hootenanny in 1970. Tom Waits was also signed after a performance at the same weekly open mic.
It wasn’t all mellow folk rock at the Troubadour. In 1962, Lenny Bruce was arrested for saying the word “schmuck” onstage. And in 1974, Harry Nilsson and John Lennon were both booted from the club for drunkenly heckling comedy duo the Smothers Brothers.
In the ‘80s, the venue began featuring new wave and heavy metal acts, including Metallica, Warrant, and Guns N’ Roses. Notably, GNR was signed by David Geffen after a performance at the Troubadour.
The ‘90s and aughts saw performances by even more emerging acts, including Pearl Jam, Korn, Radiohead, System of a Down, Fiona Apple, The Strokes, and Lily Allen.
No Doubt played a series of sold-out shows there in November of 1995 following the release of their Tragic Kingdom album. They were still small enough that, in a review of the show featured in the Los Angeles Times, they were referred to as a “local band.”
Today, the Troubadour still attracts small and large acts of all genres, including big name performers who want to offer intimate or surprise performances to lucky fans. Check the Troubadour’s events calendar online to see who’s playing this week; you might just catch a future star.
Updated from the original article written by Chris Epting.