Meeting Art Laboe, L.A.’s pioneering rock ‘n roll deejay

Music · Visual arts

We enjoyed meeting the amazing Los Angeles radio legend, Art Laboe, Wednesday night at the Grammy Museum downtown. Laboe’s a pioneer in many ways — issuing the first-ever record compilations and coining the expression “Oldies But Goodies.”

The deejay is very much alive and kicking; though in his eighties, he was in great shape cruising the opening of a new show, “Trouble in Paradise: Music in Los Angeles 1945-1975.” Co-curated by the USC professor and cultural anthropologist, Josh Kun, and Tori Millimaki, the show addresses a huge sprawl of musical genres — surf rock, jazz, R&B, Laurel Canyon folk rock, the Sunset Strip rock scene and the East L.A. Chicano sound — what a broad swathe! Installed in three large areas of the Museum’s fourth floor, it recycles fun memorabilia (we like the album covers lent by night club expert Domenic Priore) covering a 30-year window that coincides with the time frame of the Pacific Standard Time regional arts festival.

The stuff on Laboe was a high point for this non-native Angeleno, particularly the show’s inclusion of the glorious multiracial dance-party photo above.

[Both big photos are clickable.]

Still a ball of fire and surrounded an entourage of attractive women, the legendary deejay chatted with us prior to trotting off for his nightly syndicated radio program [airs on Hot 92.3, 7 to midnight M-F and Sunday 6 to midnight.]

From approximately 1955 to 1959, Laboe hosted teenage dance parties at the El Monte Legion Stadium, where so much rock history occurred. [I knew of it as a lyric from “Dog Breath,” Frank Zappa’s paean to his southern California teenage years.]

Laboe explained, “Teens weren’t allowed to go to public dances unless they [the dances] were sanctioned by the School board. That was in the city of L.A. That’s why we went to a different city, where L.A. had no jurisdiction. Saturday nights we were in El Monte, then we went to Huntington Beach, Southgate, Long Beach and Beverly Hills. And Anaheim.

“But always El Monte. We had 2,000 to 3,000 kids.”

“We had live music. Chuck Berry, Jackie Wilson, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bo Diddly played our shows.

When I mentioned to Laboe that he looks pretty happy in the photo, he retorted without missing a beat: “Three thousand kids and I had a piece of the action. Of course I was happy.”

He then described his afternoon KPOP broadcasts. “We did it from the drive-in [restaurants]. The kids would get out of school. Hamburgers. Cokes. We started at three pm and we’d go around till six.

“I would walk around [the parking lot]. I ‘d put these kids on the air. Dedications. It was the Scrivner’s drive-ins . I was the roving disc jockey. I roved different drive-ins. First there were five. Then there were 12.”

Another fantastic photo, below, in which Laboe interviews teen crooner, Ricky Nelson, amidst a gaggle of girl fans.

drive-in photo courtesy atomicspendor website
el monte, ricky nelson photos courtesy art laboe

Trouble in Paradise: Music in Los Angeles 1945-1975 | The Grammy Museum | thru June 3

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