Courtesy photo.

NOT FADE AWAY

I’ve gotten quite a few inquiries about that lately and have told people it looks good for McCabe’s still being here next year. The torch is being passed. But I was happy to get confirmation today from Kora Peterson, who books the live shows there.

“Despite having to field so many concerned emails and phone calls about us closing, the outpouring of concern was so lovely,” she said. “I got emails telling me how important McCabe’s is to people and to their families, sharing memories of concerts they went to, guitars they bought, lessons they took here, and begging us to do a last run of T-shirts. It was very touching.”

They are taking this time while business is slow to improve the website, she said, “link our list of past performers to videos that Wayne [sound man for 36 years] has on his YouTube channel,” and make sure that they are accessible to the public, even if it’s remotely. “We are open for curbside and hoping to open to the public next week.” They are also wiring the place for online concert broadcasts.

IT STARTED OUT

As Gerald McCabe’s furniture design and restoration shop, opening in 1958 in a small space close to the current location, but when someone brought in a damaged guitar he said sure, I can fix that, and he and partner Walter Camp began to repair, then build instruments. They invented the 12-string guitar there. A few years later a young teen named Bob Riskin, who wanted to be a luthier (someone who makes stringed instruments), started sweeping up and before long became a partner, and he ran McCabe’s for 50 years with his wife Espie.

Now in their 70s, they anticipated retiring soon but the coronavirus moved the calendar up, and they have now turned the operation over to their daughter Nora McGraw and her husband Walt. Reopening is not assured, they said, but they are moving ahead to achieve that. They heard nothing about the first but got the second government loan they applied for, but that’s running out and they need to increase their out-the-door sale of instruments to pay the bills, said Nora.

“There has been so much confusion about us closing,” booker Peterson told me. “This is a big step in McCabe’s having a future. With me taking over concerts in 2018 and Walt and Nora taking over the store this year, it’s a huge move towards guaranteeing that not only will the current generation be able to keep enjoying McCabe’s, but also that there is a new generation who will be able to enjoy everything that is wonderful about McCabe’s.”

The early shop had so many good local musicians hanging out, that as soon as they started specializing in instruments, they started offering lessons. They had their first concert, on two days notice, because Elizabeth Cotton had a show at UCLA fall through and didn’t have enough dough-re-mi to get home.

THE SECOND CONCERT

Also happened unexpectedly, when Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s transmission fell apart and he likewise needed some quick cash. (McCabe’s, the musicians’ ATM.) Arlo Guthrie turned up, brought a few bottles of wine, they played atop the workbenches in the front and a good time was reportedly had by all. Wish I had been there. But I did see Ramblin’ Jack hanging out at McCabe’s half a century later, at a Kinky Friedman concert. Now that’s living history. My daughter in her mid-20s recognized him on her own and got a photo. Now that’s great parenting.

Once they decided they should do more shows — “sells instruments and is more fun than advertising,” Riskin chuckled — they built a stage and Linda Ronstadt helped paint it. One of her Stone Poneys bandmates, Bobby Kimmel, became the first booker for McCabe’s concerts. (Peterson is only the sixth.) They’re going into their sixth decade of presenting concerts, and how it all came about is a fascinating, convoluted, kind of magical story of personalities and circumstances, the right people at the right place and time (and knowing it). You can hear the 50-year tale on their website, in the form of a three-hour doc that KCRW did a couple years ago.

I’ve got a few of my own McCabe’s stories which will have to wait, and maybe I can coax a few out of Peterson, sound man Wayne, and the Riskins before they slip into that pandemic-caused premature retirement. Have you got any good ones you want to send me?

NICOLE RECOMMENDS:

BLACK EXCELLENCE — If I were to take all the black and black-influenced artists out of my music collection, I can guarantee it would be near empty. And very boring. With that in mind, I would like to highlight a few albums I’ve been listening to that I think you, dear reader, might enjoy, too. You like Jazz? Cosmic Jazz? Check out “Black Space Tapes” (2019) by Jamael Dean (grandson of Donald Dean, esteemed jazz drummer known for playing with Les McCann, Eddie Harris and others — Jamael has himself collaborated with Kamasi Washington and Thundercat). I’ve seen him live several times and enjoyed every moment of it. You like Blues? My dad recently gifted me with about 30 albums from his record collection, which I have been devouring. So many gems, but this week I’d like to highlight “The Super Super Blues Band” (1968), featuring Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley. Three titans, all riffing off each other, and having an audibly good time. Lastly, Leaving Records, an enthusiastically egalitarian Los Angeles record label, has created a page on their website dedicated to highlighting releases by black artists signed to their label; they specialize in genre-bending ambient, experimental, minimal and magical. Sit back and float away: https://buymusic.club/list/leaving_records-all-black-genre

Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 2,000 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com