When I was a kid, I remember my parents going to hear Perez Prado at the Biltmore Bowl. By the time I started to know Latin clubs existed, I learned about the Coconut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel. Shortly before it was torn down, I performed a huge industrial show with the Rat Pack impersonators. I heard on the radio about big dance concerts with Tito Puente, El Gran Combo, Orquesta Aragon. Around 1972 when I started dancing, Virginia’s on 8th, Candilejas on Hollywood Blvd, and El Cid were the clubs for Mambo & Cha Cha. The world went Disco by late 70’s and by the time Salsa started to catch fire around 1991, only Candilejas was left. As Disco died, clubs downtown Myron’s Ballroom was renamed Grand Ave, The Mayan became a huge Salsa club, the Bonaventure Hotel were the downtown spots. The Westside started with St Marks in Venice, The Boathouse on the Santa Monica pier, the Red Onion in the Marina, the Proud Bird at LAX and a few others. The East side had banquet rooms Quiet Cannon & Luminarias but sporadically. A bit farther South, Stevens Steakhouse and a few in Anaheim. But with so many clubs, suddenly there was a big need for bands. The Conga Room an idea of Joe Cassini and Brad Gluckstein became a big hit on Wilshire.
When I started dancing the bands I remember were Johnny Nelson, Johnny Martinez’ La Maquina, Rudy Regalado, and my favorite Versailles. But as with most musicians, bands breakup and reform. Versailles became Siva, and later Son y Clave. Then Octavio Figueroa, Charanga Cubana, and La Palabra. Soon I heard about this great band playing at St Marks and El Floridita- Johnny Polanco & Conjunto Amistad. El Floridita had a unique night on Mondays. Being that Monday is an off night, A list celebrities would show up which made it even more fashionable. In Pasadena a group of friends formed a group called the Mambo Society. Led by Raul & Alicia Gomez the group would start Mambo nights in Pasadena. After a couple years they moved back to Studio City. Alicia threw so many parties that were just Latin Music and they got so big that she started to rent out the Sportsmen’s Club on Ventura. Although we were originally asked to teach we had the studio and deferred. Albert Torres took over and created a weekly night that became THE place to go on Friday nights. With Laura Canellias, William Ochoa and Joe Cassini teaching, the night became the Valley place but being a banquet hall ,never on Saturdays.
Enter the Granada in 2002. Though I had dances in the studio with Polanco, Son y Clave, Johnny Martinez and a few others, we didn’t have a bar so it was too expensive to do regularly. At the Granada, not wanting to compete with Sportsmens, I started with weeknights and Saturday. But soon we were doing Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. By 2006 the main clubs in metro LA were Mayan, Stevens, Conga Room, Mama Juana’s, El Floridita and the Granada.
By 2008 the older bands started to retire and new ones came in. Over the 9 years I had the Granada, the main bands were Son y Clave, Johnny Polanco, Son Mayor, Opa Opa, Echo Park Project, Chino Espinosa y Los Dueños del Son, Costa Azul, Charangoa, Angel LeBron, and Octavio Figueroa. Newer bands such as Conjunto Afro Son, Tromboranga, and a few others started to pickup the stars from the retiring bands and you could no longer tell the bands from one another.