A CHICANO'S TALE...Meeting Mr. Oldies But Goodies.
Updated: Feb 12
I was nineteen years old, a Hollywood Marine, in 1973.
That means I was stationed at Camp Pendleton and hadn't gone to Nam.
It was a Saturday night and I was on weekend pass looking for fun.
I was staying at my family home in Hacienda Heights, California.
I would be there until Sunday evening then heading back to Pendleton.
Looking for a happening, I drove over to the Salas family home in neighboring La Puente.
They were a friendly and welcoming bunch who always had a party going on in their backyard patio.
Music, dancing, drinking and girls.
The Soul Train dancing line was popular on that patio.
And, if the Salas family weren't having a party, they knew where one was happening.
There wasn't much going on this particular Saturday night. Only a small gathering. I began conversing with Anthony Salas, the oldest of the Salas children, when he asked me if I wanted to go to a night club in Hollywood.
I asked him for the name of the club and he said, "Art Laboe's Oldies but Goodies Nite Club."
I had heard of it but didn't know anybody who'd been there.
It sounded like fun to me and since we were all dressed for clubbing; on impulse, Anthony, his wife Margie and I jumped on the freeway and partied all the way to Hollywood.
We listened on the radio to Art Laboe broadcasting live from his club on the Sunset Strip. When we arrived at the club, we were already buzzed.
Even though we were under age - you had to be 21 years of age in those days - Anthony and Margie had fake ID's and I had my military ID.
During the Vietnam era, the clubs always let service members into the clubs. Service men who had previously fought for our country had a lot to do with the special courtesy given me this night.
When we got inside, the ambiance of the club sound was rock and roll. I looked around the club but saw no trace of Art anywhere. I asked a passing cocktail waitress, "Where's Art?" She pointed to a rod iron spiral staircase that went to the floor above the club. She said that Art broadcast from up there. I asked if we could go upstairs and she said, "Sure."
We began slowly climbing the staircase. When we got to the top if the dimly lit room, there he was, Mr. Oldies But Goodies himself. He was sitting behind a plexiglass booth, wearing a headset and directly behind him were stacks of taped music and albums. His booth was surrounded by cocktail tables in a half-moon arrangement filled with his admiring fans.
We took the table just off to the right, with a good view of him. Art appeared older than the photographs and television pictures I'd seen of him. Nevertheless, it was exciting to see him in person. In his club in Hollywood.
As I previously mentioned, I was buzzed when we entered the club. And people sometimes do things they might not normally do when they are buzzed.
Just then, the cocktail waitress came to take our orders. We ordered three tequila sunrises and without hesitation I asked, "Do you think Mr. Laboe would have a drink with us?"
Anthony and Margie eyes almost popped out of their heads at what they had heard. They had no idea that I was going to ask that question. The cocktail waitress answered politely, "I'll ask him. He sometimes has a drink with guests when he takes his break."
Anthony and Margie were surprised at my daring request. They asked, "Why did you do that?"
"Why not? We're here, he's right there. Let's have some fun. Let's see where it goes."
As we sat and enjoyed the live broadcast in front of us, I observed our cocktail waitress whisper in Art's ear. He said something to her but never looked our way.
A few minutes later, our cocktail waitress came back with our drinks.
She set each of our drinks in front of us and placed a fourth drink in the only empty seat and says, "Art will be with you in a moment, he's taking a break." Anthony blurts out, "Can you believe this!"
On a whim, we were about to meet one of the most popular disc jockey's in America. We just stared at each other in disbelief, we were about to share a tequila sunrise with Art Laboe - for real. At that moment, we heard Art tell his radio audience, "We'll be right back after a short break."
We focused our attention on his booth. We watched as he took off his head-set and walked out of his booth in the direction of our table. As he walked toward our table, I could see he wasn't a tall man as I had imagined. He casually sat down and we immediately thanked him for accepting our invitation. "Oh, my pleasure." He answered generously. Just the way he sounded on the radio.
"What's your names and where are you kids from?
"I'm Anthony Salas and this is my wife, Margie. We are from La Puente."
Art responded, "Right next door to the El Monte Legion Stadium."
"We did a lot of big shows out there in the old days. I'm sure you kids have been there." We all nodded in agreement.
When I gave him my name, he asked, "Eddie are you also from La Puente?"
"No, I'm from Hacienda Heights, right next door."
He continued asking quick questions of us. He found out a lot about us in a quick minute. I felt like he was interviewing us for a job. On reflection, I realized he was doing, his job.
But then, he asked us, "Would you like to ask me anything?"
I didn't hesitate, "Art, do you ever get tired of playing Oldies?" When I asked the question, Margie looked at me with a facial expression, as if she was saying, "You blockhead, why would you ask a man who makes his living playing oldies a question like that?"
Art noticed Margie's expression and chuckled with a smile. "Never," he answered, "There's too many." We all nodded in agreement.
He continued, "Most radio stations play the same top twenty hits over and over all day. You can't do that with Oldies because there's thousands of them." We liked his answer.
Art had been keeping an eye on his assistant inside the booth. When the assistant signaled an index finger at him, he took a sip of his drink and said, "I got to get back on the air, but I want you guys to do me a favor and go on air with me."
Talk about surprises, but we were game. "What would we do?" I asked.
"The same thing we've been doing, just talking." The three of us smiled at each other and nodded, yes. We took a long drink on our tequila sunrises and followed Art to his booth.
We stood in front of him in a half circle. He sat down and put his headset on as his assistant gave him his cue: "Welcome back listening audience. After a short break, we have some visiting guests with us. Anthony and Margie Salas from La Puente and their friend, Eddie Gutierrez, a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton.
He continued our conversation on-the-air, with softball questions and answers. We weren't nervous being on the air...probably because of the alcohol streaming through our bodies. Our radio time had finally come to an end, except for one last surprise of the night.
Art asked, "Before you leave us would you like to make a dedication to someone?" I thought to myself, "Are you kidding me, a live dedication, with Art Laboe. Being broadcast all over the American southwest from the top of his Hollywood night club on Sunset Strip on a Saturday night. I thought you'd never ask!"
Anthony and Margie went first. "I would like to dedicate, Stand By Me, by Ben E. King, to my mother, Esther Salas..." Anthony hesitated, as he cleared his throat.
He was a good hearted guy and close to his mother. He caught us all off guard when he choked up a little. Anthony continued, "...For never giving up on me in those hard times and always standing by me." Ending with one fallen tear drop.
We were all moved by Anthony's heartfelt moment. Art said, "Wow, you couldn't have said it better."
Art looked at me, "And you're dedication, Eddie?"
I would like to dedicate, Groovin' by the Young Rascals, to all the Marines at Camp Pendleton."
Art added, "I'm sure they'll enjoy hearing it.
Stand By Me began playing as we thanked Art for everything.
He, like a true gentleman, responded, "No, I thank you."
We returned to our table to finish our drinks. Still taking in having had the pleasure of meeting Art Laboe in person. We headed back down the spiral staircase to the club floor. You know, we didn't even remain at the club. What could beat the evening we had just had upstairs.
On our drive home, the radio was on, we could hear the voice of the gentleman we had just met. He was busy working his craft. I listened, his voice sounded different now. It was like hearing Art Laboe for the first time.
Editor's Note: Mr. Laboe remains active, playing Oldies But Goodies at the age of 95 on the air every Sunday.