The Go Go Family Tree
by Domenic Priore
The year was 1964. The place, a seedy Sunset Strip nightclub in Hollywood, California called Whisky a Go Go. Patty Brockhurst was DJing records from a cage-like veranda above the dance floor on opening night. Unable to stand still while playing the rocking rhythms, she began to move to the music. The crowd below cheered her on, and the American contribution to the French discotheque was born; the Go Go dancer. Running right alongside of this phenomenon was Candy Johnson, who bumped and shook surfers off their boards in such teenage drive-in movie favorites as Beach Party and its various follow-ups. When Candy wasn't making movies, she led her own band called the Exciters, wowing audiences looking toward Futurama at the 1964/65 New York World's Fair.
Teevee didn't take very long to catch on. Later that year, the Shindig! dancers took wing from the famous ABC show of the same name. Shot in the Los Feliz district in L.A., Andre Tayir was the choreographer but the spirit of their dance routines came from a teenager named Toni Basil, who within a years time would provide her talents to Beat artist and filmmaker Bruce Conner for their combined short BREAKAWAY. The Shindig! dancers set their groove to the acts appearing on the show, including the Beatles, the Byrds and the Kinks. Carole Sheyene became the most well-known dancer as "The Girl with the Horn Rimmed Glasses," cutting a cool disc called "Boys Do Make Passes at Girls Who Wear Glasses."
Not to be outdone, West Side Story guy David Winters choreographed the Hullabaloo dancers on the competitive NBC Go Go show, Hullabaloo. But it was Lada Edmunds Jr. that no one would forget... she even appeared on the cover of TV Guide, shakin' all over with pursed lips and eyes that could shoot you down like laser beams. Winters went on to lead dancers on many '60s variety shows, including Nancy Sinatra's special Movin' With Nancy.
The real ace-in-the-hole was Hollywood a Go Go, who pulled their dancers right off the floor of a real, live teenage Go Go club on the Sunset Strip. The Gazzarri Dancers hit the beat so good with an El Kabong! that future TV genius Norman Lear called up the show's producer Al Burton and said "What have you done with the girls on Hollywood a Go Go? I mean, they look so different than Shindig! or Hullabaloo, because those two shows look like Warner Brothers 1937, and you look like your today, or tomorrow!" Perhaps it was their outfits from Hole in the Wall on La Cienega, or the fact that these were real kids tapped into the then-emergent garage punk sound, as the club house band at Gazzarri's were the incredible Sons of Adam.* *FOOTNOTE: Today, a Gazzarri Dancers website exists featuring YouTube links many of the great performances from the show.
Striking back with momentum from the success of Shindig!, ABC followed suit with two shows featuring dance teams that kept hot on the heels of Hollywood a Go Go's sense of BANG! The first was Shivaree!, led by the capable head, hands and feet of choreographer Teri Garr, a brilliant Go Go dancer in the best sense. The second group were The Action Kids, who despite a squeaky-clean cut image crammed a lot of excitement into Dick Clark's ambitious Where the Action Is! These kids got the opportunity to shake with the 13th Floor Elevators, ? and the Mysterians, the Count V and James Brown. They could even pull a groovy sashay with Chris Montez and, in one segment, seem to levitate L.A. City Hall and Welton Becket's modernist Music Center downtown behind a performance of "You Baby" by the Turtles. The Action Kids, like the Hullabaloo dancers, featured both guys and gals, though the best remembered of the group were the spunky brunette Jeri Lyn and the lovely blonde with French-cut bangs, Roberta Tennes.
The movies didn't lag behind at this stage of the game. Along with David Winters, our hero this time out is, again, Toni Basil, who really whomped the world for all time with a dance group (also featuring close friend Teri Garr) for the greatest rock 'n' roll concert film of all time, The T.A.M.I. Show in 1964 They followed the next year (1965) with The Big T.N.T. Show... both of these concert movies featured what may have been the best Go Go dancing ever caught on film. But Toni wouldn't be sitting still with that alone. Outside of her great Freak-Out scenes arranged for the Annette Funicello film Pajama Party, a zenith of sorts was reached in The Cool Ones, where the cast was primarily made up of a boy/girl Go Go dance team, much in the spirit of Hullabaloo and Where the Action Is. The fake show they danced on in the movie was called Whizbam! Toni Basil also excelled in the 1965 cave teen classic Village of the Giants, which featured San Francisco's coolest band, the Beau Brummels, swingin' out a couple of numbers at Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood. There were other great Go Go scenes filmed at the monster-staged club known as the Haunted House on Hollywood Boulevard. One would be wise to orb It's a Bikini World and Girl in Gold Boots to check out the vigor of the dancers.
Teevee didn't stop going to a Go Go just because of the Summer of Love, either. ABC's summer beach-in Malibu U continued the tradition of great Al Burton productions, similar to Hollywood a Go Go, but light and airy, rather than evoking a Sunset Strip nightclub. The Bob Banas Dancers added the perfect mood for this summer replacement series. Santa Monica beach was the site for the peak moment of this whole period, Groovy, a local KHJ-Channel 9 weekday show that ran for 86 episodes of psychedelic bikini mayhem until it went inside at the end of '67, where it remained Groovy for the rest of the decade. Noel Harrison's Where the Girls Are featured a stunning array of Go Go girls gliding around in see-through chiffon sleeves, who did their best to combine the sunny flower power vibe of 1967 Pop with the bobble-head doll ka-zing of Hullabaloo. ABC's Something Else was a late entry that featured the noble, it-ain't-gonna-stop efforts of The Action Faction Dancers in 1969, also chorographed by Bob Banas.
Debuting in '67, Laugh-In always gave kudos to the Go Go scene. Goldie Hawn was one of several gals who flaunted the body painting technique pioneered by Hollywood make-up artist Sheryl Carson (whose work is more commonly seen in the Monterey Pop festival movie by D.A. Pennebaker). Laugh-In accentuated the slam-bang color assault-on-the-senses scheme of this Ernie Kovacs-inspired show, originally to be titled Rowan & Martin's Wacky World. Copping the phrase Love-In that came around via Peter Bergman of psychedelic L.A. comedy team The Firesign Theater, Laugh-In would nab the #1 spot in the ratings straight through to the end of the 6Ts.
It wasn't until 20 years later on a show called It's Happening that Go Go dancing returned to television, full force and without shame, albeit on public access. Co-host (with yours truly) Audrey Moorehead led a forever-changing group of dancers which, like Hollywood a Go Go, had been chosen right out of nightclubs like the Cavern in Hollywood, 2581 in San Diego and The Purple Onion in San Francisco that featured both Mod and '60s Garage Punk bands as their main stock in trade. And it didn't hurt one bit that the college professor who taught me how to direct the show, Joe Keene, had been the director of Hollywood a Go Go. In this day and age, a return to the style and sounds of vintage Burlesque has given the world it's spearhead '60s rock 'n' roll offshoot, Go Go dancing, a real second wind, and it's taken the Devil-Ettes to remind us, as Roddy McDowall said so boldly in The Cool Ones, "It's the team. Got that? It's the team, or nothing!"
Domenic Priore is the author of Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock 'n' Roll's Last Stand in Hollywood (Jawbone Press, London, 2007, foreword by Arthur Lee of Love)