The club became known in the late 60s and 70s for promoting new talent (it was instrumental in the careers of James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits, among others) and is now an important stop on the path to becoming a musical star.
The troubadour was originally conceived as a club for singer-songwriters or “modern troubadours”. as founder Doug Weston called them. The club’s status as kingmaker was consolidated over the years by the talents discovered there.
Artists like Billy Joel, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Linda Rondstadt and Nina Simone played in front of an audience of fellow musicians and music managers, making their case for fame. One of the first notable singer-songwriters to step onto the troubadour stage early in his career was Bob Dylan.
In 1964 he played an impromptu jam session with a local band at a small gig for staff only, they said troubadour. Dylan became one of the most influential singers and songwriters of his generation and created a long list of famous tracks including “The Times They Are a-Changin ‘” and “Like a Rolling Stone”.
His appearance in the troubadour was the first in a long series of historic appearances by artists big and small for the next six decades.
James Taylor and Carole King
The Troubadour’s built a reputation for its influential role in the early careers of many popular artists in the 1960s and 1970s.
Because of this, it became the perfect place for musicians to meet like-minded people and build lifelong relationships.
James Taylor and Carole King, both iconic musicians for themselves, forged a lasting friendship behind the scenes of the troubadour stage. Taylor made his debut with the troubadour in 1969, a gig that meant a lot to him at the time.
“It had a real stage and a backstage, and if you did well there, people noticed and the word got around,” he said, remembering the experience. The couple met through a mutual friend and hit it off immediately, with King playing piano for Taylor and later, with his encouragement, embarking on a solo career.
Before King made her own debut with the Troubadour, she went through her setlist for Taylor and he heard a song that he instantly fell in love with. Taylor later recorded “You’ve Got a Friend” with King’s permission, and it became one of his greatest hits.
They have recognized the importance of the troubadour to their careers and friendship many times. In 2007 they gave an encore of their joint concert from 1970 in the Troubadour for the 50th anniversary of the venue. They later took this show to the streets and took their 2010 Troubadour Reunion Tour to arenas around the world.
When the troubadour became known, many overseas performers came and set off straight away to play in front of their first American audience. It was there that Gordon Lightfoot made his US debut in 1964 and Lily Allen made her debut over 40 years later in 2006.
Perhaps most notably, Elton John was catapulted into American consciousness on six nights in August 1970 with a series of shows that began his US career. Introduced by Neil Diamond to a group of industry giants including Linda Ronstadt, Brian Williams, Stephen Stills and David Crosby, John made a serious impression and received excellent reviews from Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hilburn.
In an interview with the TimesDescribing the performances, John said, “The atmosphere during those nights at the Troubadour was electrifying. Something inside of me just took control. An idea of what the concert must have felt like for those present was recreated in a scene in John’s biopic.rocket Man. “In the scene, John (played by Taron Egerton) lifts the crowd in a moment of transcendence where everything clicked.
Although the troubadour is known for its role in finding musical legends, it has also been home to a wide variety of comedy greats. Lenny Bruce performed at the club in the early 1960s and his noisy set resulted in his arrest for profanity. His legacy and contributions to comedy were remembered almost 30 years later by his family and colleagues in a tribute event hosted by the troubadour and televised.
Bruce was the first of many comedians to appear on this stage. Richard Pryor recorded his debut album there in 1968 and Steve Martin appeared there as relatively unknown.
The troubadour continues to welcome stand-up fans. Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifianakis and Dave Chappelle all played the sets on location. The club’s cult status also makes it the perfect place to host special events for cult TV shows. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer played two shows there prior to the second season of Broad City in 2014, and the cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia played their first live version of The Nightman Cometh in 2009.
Guns N ‘Roses
After its heyday in the 1970s, the troubadour had to change its tune to keep up with the country’s changing musical tastes.
Instead of targeting folk singers and songwriters, the club began showcasing the glam rock and metal bands that dominated the 1980s. Metallica made its LA club debut in August 1982 and Warrant in 1984.
Future superstars Guns N ‘Roses made a name for themselves after playing on site Gigs in Los Angeles, even with the legendary troubadour.
The local craze put her on the radar of record manager David Geffen, whose label visited their troubadour set on June 6, 1986, and shortly thereafter signed her to a worldwide deal that made Guns N ‘Roses a household name.
The troubadour kept pace with the changing musical landscape through the 1990s and beyond. Pearl Jam played their first show under the name Pearl Jam and Radiohead played their album “OK Computer” for the first time in the US. Korn, System of a Down, Franz Ferdinand and Fiona Apple also all made their debut on the troubadour stage.
In modern times the club has become the perfect place to host secret concerts or exclusive shows. Coldplay debuted on a secret show in 2005 with songs from their new album “X&Y”, and Billie Eilish played exclusively with SiriusXM and Pandora for fans of their debut album. Harry Styles made his solo US debut at the venue in 2017 with special guest Stevie Nicks in a show that celebrated the troubadour’s folk roots.
“In the Troubadour, the percussive piano began on ‘Woman’ like Elton’s ‘Bennie and the Jets’. The folky shimmer of his’ Meet Me in the Hallway ‘shimmered like Bowie’s’ Space Oddity,’ ‘Rolling Stone wrote in a Review of the concert.
The fame of the troubadour has made him an indispensable stop on the tours of big and small artists, old and new artists. The coronavirus pandemic forced the club to turn to crowdfunding and outreach, but it’s now back in business, greeting the crowds on Santa Monica Boulevard and adding to its list of iconic performances.