The Palomino, L.A. Country-Music Venue That Hosted Patsy Cline and Gram Parsons, Re-Opens for One Night

Rosie Flores, Jim Lauderdale, Chip Kinman and more relive the club's glory days one last time.

Markus Cuff
Markus Cuff

In Los Angeles, one of the world’s capitals of impermanence, when something is gone, it is usually G-O-N-E.

That may explain why nearly 250 people were more than happy to fork over up to $200 for a ticket to a one-time-only concert event Monday on the site of the Palomino, North Hollywood’s storied country-music club, which closed its doors in May 1995. It was an opportunity unlikely to roll by again.

As one of the show’s headliners, Texas-bred singer-songwriter-guitarist Rosie Flores, marveled at the mic, “I can’t believe I’m standing on this stage!”

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Rosie Flores (Photo: Markus Cuff)

Organized by local country music promoters Rebelle Road, the evening benefited the Valley Relics Museum, a Chatsworth repository of all things 818 founded by screen printer and collector of popular antiquities Tommy Gelinas, who is hoping to move his facility to a larger space.

Two of the Relics Museum’s choicest exhibits were on display in the parking lot of the Palomino’s old Lankershim Boulevard location: the club’s large illuminated sign and legendary cowboy clothier Nudie Cohn’s customized, firearms-bedecked 1975 Pontiac Deville. Before you even walked in the door, you understood that the venue, known affectionately as “the Pal,” was the true star of the show.

Inside the low-slung building — which doubles today as an adult-care facility by day and a banquet hall by night — the organizers attempted to replicate the Pal’s original honky-tonk vibe, as memorialized on film in Clint Eastwood’s redneck comedies “Every Which Way but Loose” and “Any Which Way You Can.”

The bar is long gone (with food service for the evening’s buffet dinner in its place), but the walls were festooned with scraps of the joint’s history: a large portrait of Johnny Cash, a hand-painted poster advertising appearances by Jerry Lee Lewis and Gram Parsons, the neon pony above the bandstand in the corner of the room.

Opened in 1949 by Western swing bandleader Hank Penny, the Palomino played host to a roll of country greats famous enough to be known by their first names only: Patsy, Buck, Merle, Waylon, Willie, Dwight, Emmylou, Lucinda. In later years the club presented a new generation of L.A. roots rockers and alternative country artists, and even a few punk rock bands.

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Gunnar Nelson (right) with James Intveld (left) (Photo: Markus Cuff)

The old glitter drew several notables to the revived club: Janet and Gary Thomas, the children of the Pal’s longtime owner Tommy Thomas; Nudie of Hollywood’s famed tailor Manuel Cuevas (known to most by his first name), whose bespoke finery could be seen on the backs of several attendees; and Gram Parsons’ daughter Polly, who flew in from Austin to attend. A warm class-reunion atmosphere prevailed, with many hugs and back slaps exchanged.

Some of the old Palomino staff was in attendance, recalling their days working, and playing, in the honky-tonk trenches. Bryson Jones, who bartended at the Pal in the ‘90s before fronting the Sweethearts of the Rodeo house band at the Barn Dance-styled monthly event at Molly Malone’s in the Miracle Mile, exclaimed, “Hey, I just ran into an original waitress — one of the ones I didn’t sleep with!”

The waitress in question, Pinky Briley, was proudly decked out in a vintage Palomino T-shirt, and laughed out loud when an old club attraction was mentioned onstage. “That band Boy Howdy — I used to date their guitar player!”

The club’s rougher edges and unpredictable scenes were recalled as well. Country/rockabilly performer and impresario Ronnie Mack, whose monthly talent showcase the Barn Dance called the Palomino home for years, and guitarist Harry Orloff shared a story on stage about a bouncer who was wounded by an arrow shot from a crossbow by an angry patron.

The evening’s music, which stretched to more than four-and-a-half hours with only a short break, divided itself neatly into two acts. The first was hosted by Mack and featured a mix of younger acts and seasoned pros performing one or two classic numbers backed by a crack band of familiar L.A. pickers, most of them Barn Dance regulars: guitarists Orloff and Jeff Ross, keyboardist Skip Edwards, steel player Dave Pearlman, bassist Paul Marshall and drummer Dave Raven.

The repertoire ran for the most part to familiar tunes made famous by old Palomino headliners: Patsy Cline (K.P. Hawthorn’s “I Fall to Pieces,” Liz Brasher’s “Seven Lonely Days”), Linda Ronstadt (Alice Wallace’s “Long Long Time”), the Louvin Brothers (Leslie Stevens and Brian Whelan’s “If I Could Only Win Your Love”), Waylon Jennings (Sam Morrow’s “Waymore’s Blues”). Songwriter Jack Tempchin lifted the house with a pair of immense hits he penned for the Eagles, joined by Jade Jackson on “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and Wallace for “Already Gone.”

Some of the punk-era participants opted out on old-school nostalgia with more barbed performances. Eschewing country altogether, Chip Kinman of original cowpunks Rank & File and Carla Olson of the Textones ripped through a version of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane.” Lone Justice’s guitarist Ryan Hedgecock and bassist Marvin Etzioni, backed by guitarist Willie Aron and drummer Raven, galloped through the ‘80s country-punk group’s “The Grapes of Wrath” and “I See It”; ever the comedian, Etzioni festooned the stage with an electric menorah.

Act two featured a second house band, some of whom did service at the Pal on the club’s Thursday open-mic talent nights: guitarist Bob Gothar and Mike Turner, steel player Marty Rifkin, bassist Lorne Rall and drummer Kip Dabbs. Co-headliner James Intveld, a Palomino regular of the ‘80s and ‘90s, served as de facto host, alternating some of his own tunes with guest shots.

The rotating performers included rockabilly vet Big Sandy, songwriter Jeffrey Steele and Rick Nelson’s son Gunnar (who with his twin brother Matthew fronted the ‘90s pop act bearing the family name). Spinning some stories about his father and singing his country-era hits, Nelson was a surprising highlight of the show; few in the club could have been unmoved when he was joined on guitar by Intveld, whose own brother Rick died in the 1985 plane crash that killed Nelson and his band.

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Jim Lauderdale (Photo: Markus Cuff)

The room filled with more ghosts during the resplendently Nudie-dressed Jim Lauderdale’s set. A Palomino regular of the ‘80s before relocating to Nashville for a lucrative writing and performing career, he conjured up the names of several now-departed musicians — John Ciambotti, Duane Jarvis, Chris Gaffney, Billy Block — with whom he shared the club’s stage. Lauderdale’s mini-set of potent honky-tonk was highlighted by “The King of Broken Hearts,” his song inspired by George Jones and Gram Parsons, which was introduced by a shout-out to Parsons’ daughter in the audience.

Flores — who noted on stage that she lost the Palomino talent show 12 times in a row before winning it seven times in a row — commenced her show-closing set with “Palomino Days,” an original with lyrics that name checked a host of L.A. country legends and neatly summarized the emotional core of the evening: “Those Palomino days, I miss ‘em through and through.”