Santa Monica was just a small town when, as the story goes (as Bruce Willis said in ‘Sunset’, ‘give or take a lie or two’) a female jazz-blues singer named Harvelle opened up a dry jazz supper club on 4th Street. These days, Harvelle’s is even smaller than when it was opened, but has been home to some big names in the music business over the years. Cevin Clark, owner of Harvelle’s, talked about some of the club’s storied history. Cevin began by saying, “Harvelle’s started out as a dry supper club. It all started in 1931, the address is 1432. And I say quote, unquote, ‘dry’. At some point, we speculate some time in the ’50s, the location split its address in half and Harvelle’s became a more narrow music venue and the other side, which housed the kitchen, became a separate restaurant and that address became 1432A. There’s very little in terms of public record. The building was built in 1928, there are some old pictures of it that I think I’ve seen, of it from the outside, from the street. I’ve never seen any interior shots of the club from that time though. The story I would say of Harvelle is folklore, she was a jazz-blues singer during Prohibition, who was connected to the underworld as was anyone in that kind of place then. The place was bought for her as a jazz supper club. I don’t know how to verify any of that, but you hear a lot of stories!”
The ‘dry’ part being questionable, Cevin talked about liquor in those days. “We were grandfathered in. There’s an unconditional use permit for the place because we were grandfathered in for everything. The liquor license is the oldest liquor license in Santa Monica. I believe there’s an older liquor license in Downtown L.A. I’ve heard, but I can’t imagine it being much older. I think it was probably similar circumstances, you know, Prohibition, the whole thing”. Cevin continued, “Harvelle was a jazz-blues singer, that’s the folklore. She was connected somehow to a guy named Jack Dragneau who was a crime boss during the time and that’s how she came by getting the place. I don’t know how the ABC treated things back then. The ABC has, since Prohibition ended, made sure to keep any sort of criminal element out and they’ve been very careful about where funds come from. You have to go through all sorts of security background checks now to get a liquor license. I imagine all that stuff was worked out later, after 1933, when Prohibition was overturned”.
Not only is the building a landmark in Santa Monica, but Harvelle’s has become a musical landmark too. Cevin said, “Santa Monica developed in the ’20s. The Central Tower Building, which houses Harvelles, is definitely a Santa Monica landmark. When it was built, it was one of the first buildings of its size and scope. It’s practically a whole city block long. At one point, the tower in the Central Tower Building became the penthouse. There were seven floors and then the penthouse at the top. I’ve had people call me and claim that Jim Morrison used to come by the club all the time and I have heard stories about how a lot of those cats used to stop by. Albert King performed at Harvelles, we had Guitar Shorty, Hendrix’ brother-in-law performed one night with Buddy Miles and Keb Mo’. That was an interesting night!”.
Cevin continued, “We’ve had Keb Mo’, his birth name is Kevin Moore, worked at Harvelle’s for two years. Keb Mo’ worked a lot of his songs out here on Sunday nights during his residency. We had Ike Turner perform at Harvelle’s. Ike once showed up to the club with his whole band in his car and asked if he could sit in. He wanted to use the band’s equipment and just play. It was one of the strangest things. Although I had a fairly young band on stage and one performer in particular didn’t want anybody using his brand new kit. I had to explain to him that Ike Turner, ‘The Legend’, wanted to play on your kit and that should be an honor. The simple fact that he didn’t get it meant that he could never perform at Harvelle’s again. There was that, I ended up just shooting the shit with Ike upstairs and eventually Ike performed for me and I put him on the bill and he performed for me twice at that location. Later, I opened up the Redondo club and he was on my schedule to perform just prior to him dying, so he never did play Redondo”.
According to Cevin, one of the really special nights at Harvelle’s was the evening Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers had their 30th Anniversary party there. “There was the time Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers did there 30th Anniversary at Harvelle’s. Stevie Nicks was invited and was on stage all night with them. Bo Diddley showed up as a surprise. Tom Petty’s manager had him come in as a surprise. Petty’s reaction was, ‘He’s my hero!’. Jackson Browne was invited, he thought the event was going to take place the following week, so when he was called up he said ‘oh my goodness’, so he showed up late. It was basically Tom Petty, the Heartbreakers, you know Mike Campbell, the whole band. Bo Diddley got up and did a ‘old man rap’ song which went over really well”.
Petty thought a lot of the old music club. “They basically bought the place out and had all of their friends there. All the studio people got in and a couple of ‘regulars’ got in. Other than that, it was mostly Tom Petty’s exclusive party. It was not your average party! The regulars who were able to sneak in really got a special treat, something for their support and loyalty to the club over the years. It was a pretty masterful night for all that were there; everyone felt really special just by the mere fact tat they were present for such a memorable and significant anniversary. Can’t beat the 30th! We have a live record label called Record Records and we recorded the night for Tom Petty and gave him the multi-track recording of the evening. That was something we just did gratis, it wasn’t part of the deal”, Cevin finished by saying.
Cevin then spoke about a house residency band that’s made good. He said, “There’s a fairly new sensation, Vintage Trouble, who started playing at Harvelle’s. Their first gig as a band was at Harvelle’s. The great thing about this band is that their first gig as a band was at Harvelle’s and we did it on a Thursday, then after that we gave them a Tuesday residency called ‘Trouble Tuesdays’. Doc McGee discovered them there after about thirteen months of doing a residency at Harvelle’s. They went to the UK, performed as the opening act for Brian May, that was their first act there in the UK. Then Bon Jovi, they did Lenny Kravitz, and then they were on the Tonight Show and then every talk show. They performed more on the Tonight Show than any other band performed on that show while Jay Leno was there. Then they opened up for the Who in Madison Square Garden and then opened up for the Rolling Stones at Hyde Park. The cool thing about it, you look at their website, you can go chronologically back to every date for Vintage Trouble, all the way back about four and a half years ago, to their very first date as a band and it’s Harvelle’s. You can see every date they’ve ever done and see all the Harvelle’s Tuesdays”.
Cevin concluded, “Now they’re headlining their own gigs, big gigs and they’re doing really well. The lead singer of that band, his name is Ty Taylor, and he is phenomenal with an Otis Redding vibe. Ty recently did a movie with Martin Scorsese and he sent me a text: I’m learning music for what is the biggest moment of my life. Something I’m filming Monday and Tuesday. It is The deepest of blue, and rhythm and blues. In my room where I practice, I picture myself at Harvelle’s. It’s what I always imagine around me when I want to sail, to feel the deepest’. So Harvelle’s has what every musician says after they walk in, its got that vibe; that feeling that just really inspires them and they feel like they’re in a piece of history. It’s such a small club, but at the same time such a respected room”.
Harvelle’s again hosts one of the top rhythm and blues acts in the country on Saturday, December 27, when Larry “Fuzzy” Knight’s Blowin’ Smoke Rhythm and Blues Band featuring the Fabulous Smokettes is on stage. This 11 piece band showcases the kind of music Harvelle’s is famous for. Tickets are available through Harvelle’s website.