If Ol’ H.H. was the father of R&B radio in Los Angeles…Art Laboe can be credited as the father of Rock N’ Roll radio in the City of Angels. In 1955 Art made his debut in Los Angeles as a deejay for radio station KXLA, although Hunter Hancock had been in Los Angeles playing rhythm and blues for some time, Laboe was the first to play Rock N’ Roll. In 1950 Laboe started doing his shows from Scrivner’s Drive-In Restaurant chain (then only numbering three). As the chain grew so did Art’s audience, his live dedication shows drew groups and car clubs from all corners of Los Angeles County. At the time most of the drive-ins could only support about thirty cars. Art needed more room so Scrivner’s built a huge drive-in on Imperial and Western that could accommodate 200 cars; the hill top restaurant may have been the first low rider Mecca in the county. Art claims his connection with the people of Los Angeles especially the Chicano community started during his time at Scrivner’s. Teens had a place where they could listen to “their” music and also a place to be heard, Laboe claims to have aired 25,000 dedications from the restaurant chain in five years. His popularity prompted concert promoter Hal Zieger and bandleader Johnny Otis to hire him to emcee their live shows. At his first show held at the Shrine Auditorium some time in 1957 Art received such a favorable response that he became a regular, hosting shows at the Orpheum, United Artist and paramount Theaters. During this period Art also started to emcee dances on the outskirts of Los Angeles’ city limits. Dances for teens held within the Los Angeles City limits required a permit from the school board and Art wanted his dances for all ages so he used dance halls in neighboring cities. Although dances were held in Anaheim, Long Beach and San Bernardino it was El Monte, which eventually became his headquarters. Laboe rotated his schedule weekly with El Monte Legions Stadium getting a show every other week. The best in rhythm and blues talent, both national and local were booked at his shows. According to Laboe “We always had our local groups the Penguins, the Carlos Brotheres, Jesse Belvin, the Turks, Bobby Day and Rosie and the Originals, then we would reach out to the groups from the East like Chuck Berry, Jackie Wilson and the Drifters it was all about good times.” The good times continued after the dances were over, car clubs would pack the street around the dance halls showing off their cars and trying their luck with the girls which came streaming out of the dance hall. Not only was El Monte Art Laboe’s weekend headquarters, it also became a magnet for Black, White, Chicano youth and aspiring rock n’ roll stars. Cannibal and the Headhunters, the Jaguars, the Premiers, The Carlos Brothers, the Salas Brothers, Ritchie Valens and Thee Midniters were just a few of the Chicano groups from Southern California’s barrios that performed at El Monte.
The Old Barrio Guide to Low Rider Music 1950-1975 By Ruben Molina