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It's not a Country Club : A multipurpose Reseda nightspot is hankering to bring back the glory days when it was known for attracting top rock, pop and jazz acts.

December 03, 1987|RIP RENSE | Rip Rense is a Sherman Oaks free-lance writer.

It has little to do with country music and it's not a club, but the Country Club in Reseda endures with a curious mix of big-time boxing, small-time bands, Persian pop stars and a regular Wednesday night devoted to fans of the Grateful Dead.

Rumors that management plans to add bingo to the list of attractions are not true:

"You can play that across the street at the Sherman Square Roller Rink," said a bouncer at the place.

Indeed, the dense little neighborhood on Sherman Way just east of Reseda Boulevard does offer bingo--as well as various other attractions that make up a neat little microcosm of San Fernando Valley culture.

There's the old Reseda Theater, its marquee bulging with the names of Latino films, an auto-parts place, a Filipino restaurant, a coffee shop featuring "breggfast," the Reseda Indoor Swap Meet, a quasi-poetry house called Bebop Records and the hulking, 7-year-old Country Club, which on one recent day boasted little known heavy-metal bands with gentle names like "Erotikill."

"A title that has 'club' in it creates a sort of stigma," said club operations manager Scott Hurowitz.

"The Palace isn't considered a club," he said, referring to a Hollywood night spot. "Yet some people think of us as a club scene. Then, some people realize that we're a thousand-seat concert venue. This place is really not much smaller than the Palace, but since it says Country Club , there's a mix-up sometimes involving country music, club--and I get a lot of calls during the day asking, 'Do you have a golf course and swimming pool?' "

Hurowitz, 37, was brought in last February to correct that.

"We're rebounding now," he said, sitting in an upstairs office, his walls decorated with everything from an autographed photo of boxer Floyd Patterson to posters of metal groups like Motorhead and a map of Reseda.

"When the music industry thinks of New York, they think of the Ritz. When they think of L.A., I want them to start thinking of the Country Club," he said flatly.

To be sure, the Club is making a bid to return to its former days of glory--from 1980 until 1982, when it was managed by Wolf and Rissmiller Concerts and boasted such performers as Culture Club, Tina Turner, Chuck Mangione, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Jerry Garcia, Roxy Music, Manhattan Transfer, Huey Lewis, U-2, Earth, Wind and Fire, Linda Ronstadt, Elvis Costello, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Lee Lewis, Herbie Hancock.

The bid is a serious one. Under Hurowitz, the Club has already begun reducing heavy-metal and "hard-core" bands from its roster and has gone from "four-walling"--hiring local talent just to pay the rent--to Mick Jagger and Prince.

Jagger used the Club to shoot his new video, "Throwaway," on advice from music industry executives who heard from Hurowitz that the room had been remodeled. The same is basically true of Prince, who wanted a neat, private venue for the Sept. 18 post-MTV Awards concert. Hurowitz, a former drummer and concert promoter from Omaha, was floored.

"From the time I looked outside and saw how many people were lined up trying to get in that night--and then I saw Yes, Huey Lewis, Chaka Khan, Whoopie Goldberg, Bette Midler, the Cars--you name it--I knew there was cause for hope."

It was a spectacular turn of events in the Club's oddball history. Opened by the late entrepreneur Chuck Landis in 1980 (it's still officially known as "Chuck Landis' Country Club"), the place was meant to be a premiere country music tour-stop, and for a short time did attract artists like Merle Haggard and George Jones.

Landis leased the room to Jim Rissmiller of Wolf and Rissmiller Concerts in August, 1980, because, he said at the time, of an "offer so tempting I couldn't refuse." Landis evicted Rissmiller in 1982 in a policy dispute, and in the wake of growing community complaints that the Club attracted crime. From there, the slide began.

Although big names were still occasionally booked, the Country Club "started to lose its prestige," Hurowitz said. In 1986, Canoga Park businessman John J. Mancini was convicted of soliciting the murder of a competitor--with discussion of the "job" taking place in the Club parking lot. This did not help matters.

Complaints Died Down

In 1984, a group of local business people called the Reseda Revitalization Corp. tried to persuade a city zoning appeals board to revoke Landis' permit to operate the Club. Restrictions on occupancy and closing hours were imposed for a time, but in 1985, after a city-ordered security beef-up, a lid on parking-lot parties and the addition of a kitchen, trouble complaints subsided.

Today, as Capt. John Higgins, commanding officer of the West Valley Area LAPD put it, "we hardly hear anything about that place anymore. There really isn't anything that has gone on there recently that has been a problem."

More welcome words would be hard to imagine for Hurowitz. He had enough trouble trying to persuade the creme de la creme of the music industry to reconsider the Country Club.

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