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From the Ashes, a New Ash Grove


"I have no interest in nightclubs," says Ed Pearl, 50. "I don't really know what that's supposed to mean. I went once to some club on Sunset. The Lingerie? I thought it would be bigger."

Pearl, 50, might have no interest in nightclubs, but he's the guiding force behind what he hopes will be a major live-music room in the heart of Hollywood--the Ash Grove.

If the name sounds familiar, it may be because this is Part II of the Ash Grove story. Veterans of the L.A. music scene remember Pearl's original Ash Grove on Melrose Avenue with great fondness. Started in 1958 largely by accident, according to Pearl, the original 200-capacity club was a major outlet for all sorts of music scenes, from folk and bluegrass to country, rock, gospel, jazz and blues. For 15 years until a fire closed the club in 1973, the Ash Grove provided a cultural access point not only for citified music fans but also black, blues and hillbilly performers.

The Ash Grove was where teen-agers like Ry Cooder and Jackson Browne could interact with legendary performers such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Brownie McGhee and Albert Collins. Over the years, hundreds of artists appeared there, ranging from New Orleans zydeco master Clifton Chenier to Jim Croce, Linda Ronstadt, Johnny Cash, Howlin' Wolf and the Byrds.

The new Ash Grove, which is scheduled to open in March at 6820 Santa Monica Blvd., will continue the tradition of providing a wide mix of entertainment in an atmosphere that encourages interaction among patrons of all ages, says Pearl.

The club will have a 400-seat main room and a 100-seat gallery area. Pearl intends to cover the gamut of L.A. cultures, including Korean, Thai, Russian-Jewish and Latin. Like the old club, the new Ash Grove will have a record store and a music school.

"It's like a cultural center on a pop level," says Pearl, who believes that the time seemed right to start again, musically, culturally and politically.

The idea to restart the Ash Grove came to Pearl while he was working on Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign in 1984, and solidified later that year when he produced KPFK radio's annual Winterfaire fund raiser, a weeklong music and crafts festival.

Recalls Pearl, "People I hadn't seen in ages came up to me and said, 'I haven't had so much fun in years! This is just like the Ash Grove.' "

Pearl has lined up an impressive group of helpers: political consultant Bill Zimmerman, poet Wanda Coleman, Freeway Records head Harvey Kubernik, banker and Jerry Brown adviser Tim Rosenfeld, music consultant and broadcaster Rene Engel.

"We're going to have a different music policy every night of the week," said Engel, who will be handling the club's bookings and was a regular at the old club. "We'll run the gamut from jazz to rock to indigenous folk idioms. I'm a giant Meat Puppets-Husker Du fan, so certainly bands of that ilk will be represented."

TEN YEARS AFTER: Followers of the local rock scene--present and past--will want to check out Music Connection's current issue celebrating the local publication's 10th anniversary. Among the highlights are senior editor Bud Scoppa's reflection on a decade's worth of deserving performers who did not become big stars, a similarly flavored profile of the Heaters' Maggie and Melissa Connell and interviews with such local heroes as Martha Davis and Dave Alvin.

There's also a special installment of the magazine's annual "Movers and Shakers Poll," in which not one, but two people (Long Tall Marvin Etzioni and producer/musician Don Dixon) name Spinal Tap's "Big Bottom" as one of the top tracks of the decade.

Among the winners of the magazine's annual players poll, in which local musicians pick their L. A. favorites: Warrant (rock) and Rosie Flores (country/roots).

HAVE A ROTTEN XMAS: Between playing local clubs with Thomas Dolby, having guitarist Jennifer Batten sign up for Michael Jackson's "Bad" tour and leader/bassist Bret Helm make his acting debut in the upcoming Roger Corman film "Charlie Guitar," Doc Tahri still managed to complete its mini-LP, "The Search for Corn," due out this week on the group's own Rubber Brother label. When Batten is back in town between tour legs in January, the group will shoot a video for the song "Minimum Wage."

And unlike most ex-Public Image Limited members, Helm seems to get along just fine with his former boss, Johnny Lydon/Rotten. When the two met up for the first time in a year after PiL's recent Universal Amphitheatre show, Helm invited Lydon to accept his hospitality at the holidays, and the howling one graciously accepted. "This'll be three years in a row of Christmas with Mr. Rotten," said an enthused Helm.

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