The Legend of Johnny Thompson
I can distinctly remember crying in anguish one day in the summer of 1971. I was upset because my parents forced me to wait in the car with my four other siblings while my lucky brother Danniel got to gowith Dad to into the music store to get some bass strings. It just didn't seem fair! Danniel was already groovy enough to have a musicial instrument; a bass. , I felt that my parents still should of let me walk in there with the two of them, who cared if I didn't play an instrument, does campfire tunes with the Girlscouts count for anything?. After all, this wasn't just any music store, it was Johnny Thompson Music.
For a young girl at the age of eleven, it probably should not have mattered that much, but I felt completely deprived, devestated and dismissed. What made that day so mememorable was the waiting. In fact, that they were in there for almost a whole twenty minutes, an eternity in my eyes. My gawd, what were they doing in there?, why couldnt I see anything through the window? who could they be chatting with? what in the world are they experiencing that I wasn't? Ya see, at that time I was passionate and slightly paralized by the awesomeness of live music. I knew that I loved it, but did not realize yet to what extent.
I remember during those years, hanging out side the door of my brothers make shift "reherasal studio" in our back yard. It was a tiny converted room which used to be the home where my father was born in 1936. It was located San Gabriel, CA, just a few miles for the famous Johnny Thompson Music in Monterey Park. I used too sneakingly stand outside that room for hours grabbing glimpes of my brothers band practices. I snooped in on thier conversations about instruments, amps, what gear Richie Blackmore uses, and how thery were gonna save their money for the hotest gear at Johnny Thompson Music.
This was also the time when I began to teter with the idea of having a musician boyfriend in a band, wearing groovy clothes and being the envy of my friends. Alot of the guys who hung out at my house took lessions atJohnny Thompson Music with teachers like, the iconic Danny Diaz. I had heard so many great things about the store, it was a legend in my mind that even Walt Disney could not compete with. Thes is where local musicians liked to hang out, play gear they couldn't afford, look for celebrities and just be cool. There were many rumors floating around about several celebrity sitings at the store. I wanted so badly to be part of the underground musicians crowd and it felt like the only way to acheive that was to say you been there, many times. The mention of Johnny Thompson was like an underground secrect that only groovy cats knew of, we new it was a music store when most thought it was a goofy teacher at school or something like that. I could probably write a book about the store with out ever having step foot into it prior to the 1980's. There is a gigantic list of talent who grew up with this music store and I am greatful that it still exists in 2011! But to give you an idea of the historical value, you have to do three things.
1. Take a look at the great images which are provided (see below).
2. Take a look at the list of clientle who shopped there. (see below)
3. Go to there site (link posted below) and listen to 27 incredible sound bites that Johnny recorde as store ads on reel to reel, they are a historical and amazing piece of San Gabriel Valley Music History! You can hear the youthful voice Dr. John singing ad lib or hear the voices of Richie Blackmore, Mick Taylor, Robert Plant and more!
1.Johnny Thompson in late 1960's at first location at 1200 South Garfield Avenue in Monterey Park.
2. Johnny Thompson in 1962 at second location at 112 North Garfield Avenue in Monterey Park. Johnny Thompson still owns the same phone number ATLANTIC (280-8783).
Its refreshing to know that Johnny Thompsons still refers to itself as the "Original home to the Underground Musician"
Johnny Thompson Music store
List of Clientele
America, Sheila E. ,Jeff Beck, Black Oak Arkansas, The Blazers, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Michael Bloomfield, Willie Bobo, Bread , David Gates), Brenton Wood B and (Bobby D. Dixon), Buddy Miles Express, Buffalo Springfield (Dewey Martin), The Byrds (Roger McGuinn), Canned Heat, Cannibal and the Headhunters, Charles Lloyd Jazz Quintet, Chicago (Peter Cetera), Cold Blood, Cold Duck
Albert Collins, Country Joe and the Fish, Credence Clearwater Revival, Deep Purple (Nick Simper, Ritchie Blackmore), Delaney, Bonnie and Friends, Delgado Brothers, Doctor Hook and the Medicine Show, Doctor John and the Night Tripper, Earth, Wind & Fire, Edgar Winter and the White Trash
El Chicano, El Los Trigres del Norte, El Tri, Elton John, Elvis Presley, Jose Feliciano, The Four Tops, Iron Butterfly, Jimi Hendrix Experience (Noel Redding), John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, Albert King, Led Zeppelin (Robert Plant & John Paul Jones), David Lindley, Kenny Loggins, Los Bukis, Los Freddies, Los LobosMalo, Michael McDonald (Doobie Brothers, Soto), Jimmy Messina (Buffalo Springfield, Loggins & Messina), Buddy Miles, New Riders of the Purple Sage Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Oingo Boingo (Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez) Redbone, Bobby Robles Linda Ronstadt,, Leon Russell, Pancho Sanchez, Carlos Santana Seals and Croft, Bob Seger, Sly and the Family Stone Steppenwolf, Steven Stills, Taj Mahal, Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers), The Temptations, Ten Years After, The Midniters Three Dog Night, Tower of Power, The Turtles, War
members of Led Zeppelin at Johnny Thompson Store, Johnny in background
Remembering the EL Monte Legion Stadium
What does Roller Derby, Boxing, Armed Forces, Olympics and Rock & Roll all have in Common? Well it’s an easy answer if you’re from the San Gabriel Valley prior to the 1980’s because we had all that and more, under one roof! That iconic roof belonged to the El Monte Legion. Stadium (EMLS). The Stadium was built to host the boxing events for the 1932 Olympics but soon after was a hot spot for local culture, ground breaking sporting events, and an enormous launching pad for legendary Music History.
San Gabriel Valley has deep musical roots but nothing can claim more local fame then the El Monte Legion Stadium. It existed for decades and was supported by the local working class community who made the SGV home. It was “a place of our own” which locals took pride in because it competed with lavish Downtown and Hollywood venues of its decade.
Now some of you may recall stories of Famous Boxing events, Armed Forces events or Roller-Derby races, but the musical landmarks are probably more mind blowing than you can imagine. There is so much musically that occurred at this great venue it’s hard to pick and choose most notable music achievements but here are some highlights.
Cliffe Stone: Hometown Jamboree televised from El Monte Legion Stadium
Cliffe Stone was a big country recording artist and songwriter in the 1940’s. A decade later he was a well established radio and television host with a successful variety show called Hometown Jamboree. The shows were held at the EMLS for 5 years and broadcasted in Los Angeles on KXLA & KCOP television every Saturday night. Acts like Tennessee Ernie Ford, Eddy Arnold, Johnny Cash, Liberace and Elvis performed on Hometown Jamboree. This brought more attention to the venue and legitimized its future potential for the city of El Monte.
Johnny Otis The 1950’s
Legendary Johnny Otis hosted his rock & roll shows at the EMLS during the 1950’s drawing up to 2000 patrons regularly. Otis discovered and produced Etta James first hit. He also produced Big Momma Thorntons hit Hound Dog which was eventually was covered by mega star Elvis Presley. He was instrumental in recruiting, supporting and blending R&B music with the Black and Chicano community. In the mid 1950’s Otis signed Little Julian and the Tigers, a doo-wop group that made an impact on the Chicano Culture and paved way for others like Richie Valens.
Art Laboe: Enter the 1960’s
Iconic Disc Jockey Art Laboe was hired by Johnny Otis to emcee their live shows. He was already respected in the Chicano community during the mid 1950’s with his classic “dedications”, his love for R&B and his emerging low-rider car club audiences. Although he appeared and hosted many dances in southern California, it was the EMLS that was his headquarters.. Art Laboe was a catalyst in introducing unknown local acts and giving them exposure with bigger stars. Acts like Rosie & The Originals, The Armenta Bros. and The Penguins were billed with Jackie Wilson and others. Decisions like this really pulled in the local market and gave opportunity to local barrio music hopefuls like Cannibal & the Head Hunters, The Romancers, The Premiers, The Ambertones, The Salas Brothers, Thee Midnighters, and many more. Getting booked at the EMLS meant massive exposure, radio play, and a chance at the top of the charts.
A young kid approaches Cleve Duncan, (the founding member of the doo wop group The Penguins) and suggests recording a song called “Memories of El Monte”. The young man was Frank Zappa and the song (which did get recorded) paid homage to the Southern California Doo Wop acts who sang hits like Earth Angel, Nite Owl and In the Still of the Night The song became track 1 on Art Laboe’s “Memories of El Monte” album which he successfully released on his own label in 1994 and continues to sell today. The album cover features a crowd shot of patrons from the EMLS.
Fast-forward to1969 when Frank Zappa writes a track titled “Dog Breath, In the Year of the Plague” a zany interpretation of doo wop sounds, lyrics, instrumentation and lyrical content that stemmed from the music from coming from the 1950’s who performed at the EMLS. He makes reference to the EMLS and the Chicano culture.
MEET THE BEATLES : Perform at the El Monte Legion Stadium?
Only three live Beatles performances were scheduled when they arrived historically to America in February of 1964, two concerts at Carnage Hall and a single show in Washington DC. The Washington DC show was recorded by CBS. The live footage was edited and included live music from other combined acts to pose as openers for the film. The footage was billed as, “The Beatles: Direct from their first American Concert” The concert aired on closed circuit television in just seven selected Venues throughout the US on March14-15 1964.The EMLS is the only Southern California Venue to broadcast this event. Considering that this is was filmed in Black & White, there were no simulcast capabilities, and it was the BEATLES in concert on American turf, this was an epic event for the EMLS!
Who performed at the El Monte Legion Stadium?
Just about every major act in Rock & Roll, R&B and Chicano Rock played the EMLS in the height of their career:
Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Salas Brothers, Country Joe & the Fish, Fats Domino, Tina Turner, Richie Valens, Thee Midnighters, The Jaguars, The Atlantics, The Escorts, Stevie Wonder, Grateful Dead, Max Uballez & the Romancers, Jackie Wilson and more.
There is still so much to be written about this amazing venue and stories to be told, like the one about the musician who lived in legion hall after closing time, but I’ll save that for later. I encourage all readers to write your memories and stories on my forum. Let’s celebrate our rich music culture here in the San Gabriel Valley!