Rock genres collided in 1980s Los Angeles, creating a kaleidoscope of sounds unmatched by any other city for its variety. The terrain of Southern California, by its very diverse nature, spawned likewise diverse talent. The beach communities, the Valley, South Central, the Inland Empire, East L.A.; each had its own flavor, infused in the local music. Together these bands created an indigenous imprimatur, a unique combination of audacity, theatricality, bravado, pitch-perfect harmonies and an uninhibited sense of humor. In addition, with the major record labels headquartered here since the gradual shift in the late-sixties, it became the center of the music industry, and by the end of the 1970s Los Angeles had everything an ambitious rock group could hope for: an abundance of clubs, school dances and rehearsal spaces for playing; and the ubiquitous A&R executives that regularly made the rounds, seeking new talent to sign.
While snobbish music journalists panned heavy metal with snarky reviews, the bands’ devoted fans crammed every venue they played, sending them to the top of the charts and to platinum selling-status. It was a very good decade for the music industry, with more bands being signed in L.A. and more revenue being generated from L.A. bands than in any other place and time since the 1950s.
However, when it came to L.A.’s hugely influential alternative rock scene, surprisingly little coverage of it exists in the Herald Examiner photo archive. According to one staffer, the smaller clubs were simply too dark and crowded and altogether inhospitable to photographers. Then finally in 1988, Lucy Snowe, a freelance photographer, and columnist Gregory Sandow, formerly of the Village Voice, ventured out three nights a week seeking the most unusual, entertaining and buzz-worthy bands in L.A. to review for the weekly alternative music column “Nite Flash”. They withstood the slamming, sweat and blaring amps until the paper folded in 1989.
Meanwhile, the free press did chronicle the local music scene, with papers such as the L.A. Weekly, the L.A. Reader, BAM, Rock City News and Music Connection providing weekly recaps on the nightly gigs around town. Photographer Gary Leonard, a regular contributor to the Weekly and the Reader, helped us fill in the gaps by generously donating images from his club days for the exhibit, including a never-before published portrait of Mötley Crüe from 1983.
While we couldn’t include all of the legendary and influential bands of the period, when we looked at what we found, we were delighted to see that it’s the variety that comes across; the unmistakable stamp of Los Angeles that we present to you here. Welcome to From Pop to The Pit, and everything in between.
From Pop to the Pit: The LAPL Photo Collection celebrates the Los Angeles Music Scene 1978-1989 will be on display in the Central Library History & Genealogy Department from January 8 - July 26, 2015.