For most, the building located at 6907 Lankershim Boulevard means nothing. Situated in North Hollywood, it’s home to a banquet hall, specializing in Persian and Armenian delicacies. To anyone familiar with the history of country music, it means much more, whether they know it or not. From 1952-1995, 6907 Lankershim was home to, as the LA Times once put it, “country music’s most important west coast club”. Anyone who is familiar with Buck Owens or Merle Haggard, Jerry Lee Lewis or Dwight Yoakam, owes much to that piece of real estate, once known as The Palomino Club.
The Bakersfield sound began with a group of musicians in and around Bakersfield, CA. There, they traded drawling fiddles for driving electric guitars, mingling with the familiar sounds of steel guitar. Musicians such as Lefty Frizzel, Buck Owens and Hoyt Axton contributed to the new style, and all of them made regular appearances at The Palomino. It all began in 1952, when Indiana transplants Bill and Tom Thomas and Amos Emery “Pat” Yeigh began renting the rowdy beer bar. The Thomas’ had come to California with the notion of starting a night club. They chose the Palomino because of the low rent. They built it up over the next four years to be the biggest western club in the San Fernando Valley, attracting the biggest stars of both television and radio. Yeigh sold his interest in 1956 and when the building’s owner ran into financial trouble, he sold it cheap to the Thomas brothers.
During the 50s, the only competition the Palomino had to deal with was the Riverside Rancho, a big country music showcase that hosted the biggest stars of the day. When that closed down in 1959, it made all its stars available to The Palomino. Throughout the 60s and 70s, it’s popularity continued to grow. Aside from the regular performers such as Buck Owens and Patsy Cline, and stars that just came to hang out, the club was just another neighborhood dive. Opening at 6am everyday, happy hour ran from 8-10am, and continued to be open throughout the day during soundchecks for the evening performances. Patrons could sit through soundcheck and chat up the bands, often getting off-the-cuff performances for free. The dressing rooms carried an open-door policy and almost everyone was up for having company and signing autographs.
As the 60s bled into the 70s, country music bled into long-haired rock. Gram Parsons brought his Flying Burrito Brothers to The Palomino, and other rock acts followed. The Cow Punk movement of the 80s found its home at The Palomino; Rosie Flores, The Long Ryders and Dwight Yoakam helped usher in a new sound, with strong ties to the old days. Sadly, after 43 years of business, The Palomino Club closed it’s doors in 1995. The deaths of the Thomas brothers and other financial struggles brought an end to the club’s illustrious career.
Though Nashville has always been known as the hub of country music, Bakersfield and clubs such as The Palomino gave the smooth countrypolitan capitol an edge of competition. They were vastly different and yet shared similar roots. The Palomino was as important as Tootsie’s and just as rough around the edges. If not for the small neighborhood clubs, country music wouldn’t be what it is today.