Los Angeles, California

Smokey Joe's Café by The Robins

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Just sittin', diggin' all them scenes
At Smokey Joe's Café
A chick I'd never seen before
Came walkin' on in through the door Read full Lyrics
There have been many great song writing teams over the years, but Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller are right up there with the best of them. They were born within a few weeks of one another and met as teenagers in L.A. They were a couple of Jewish boys who dug black culture and changed the course of popular music forever. Sadly, Jerry Leiber died on August 22, 2011.

The <i>Smokey Joe's Café</i> soundtrackThe Smokey Joe's Café soundtrack
They shared a love of rhythm and blues and started writing songs, Leiber penning lyrics and Stoller composing the music. Creating hits such as "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock" with recordings by the King, and "Is That All There Is?" recorded by Peggy Lee, meant they had success from a young age and with great artists.

And they continued churning out hit after hit, so much so that a Broadway musical was created around their tunes. "Smokey Joe’s Café" was one of their songs, but became the name of the show involving dozens of their hits. In the mid 1990s the revue-cum-musical ran on Broadway for more than 2,000 performances. "Smokey Joe’s Café" is performed in Act 2.

The Robins were a rhythm and blues vocal group based in L.A. who performed a number of hits for Leiber and Stoller in the 1950s. "Smokey Joe’s Café" was one of them. So impressed were Leiber and Stoller with The Robins' version of their song that when they were offered a new deal with Atlantic records, they asked the band to join them on this new contract. Only two did and that might have been a career-saving decision.

Beverly Blvd. and La Cienega, Los Angeles<br>Photo: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BeverlyCenterCorner.jpg">ChildofMidnight</a>, <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>, via Wikimedia CommonsBeverly Blvd. and La Cienega, Los Angeles
Photo: ChildofMidnight, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The two members of The Robins who made the move became part of The Coasters, who in some respects are still working today. Sadly a number of The Coasters are no longer with us, having been murdered or died in prison after being convicted of murder. Now that would make a great blues number.

Yes, there was a real café used as a basis for this song. And yes, it was in Los Angeles on the corner of Beverly Boulevard and La Cienega. Not that you’d find it today or its surrounds. In the early days the city of L.A. had oil wells in the heart of town and a greasy spoon eatery was right alongside an operating oil well. The food may still be the same, but most oil wells are more rural in their locale these days.

Causes one to wonder if any of the customers propped up in the greasy spoon had an inkling their eatery would one day inspire a smash hit, a new performing group and a Broadway musical.

Cenarth Fox
May 19, 2014
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Comments: 4

  • David From Fairfax Area As A Boy from GlendaleSawdust floors, ponies next door, not to mention the Oil Derricks.
    Great Bar-B-Que beef sandwiches. Across the street from Rexall Drugs Store.
  • David from Culver CityI'm 67 and I have very fond memories of going to Beverly Park, going on the Pony Rides next door and having the great BBQ Beef sandwiches at Smokey Joe's. That was in the mid to late 1950's. Hard to believe how rural that corner was back then.
  • Linda from LaI am 60. My fondest memories was going with my dad to Smokey Joes and having a bbq beef sandwich. I loved the roll and the sauce. I was maybe 10 :-)
  • Gene from Los Angeles, CaI remember going to eat at "Smokey Joe's" at the corner of Beverly and La Cienega Blvd, and the oil wells next to and near the place. Great sandwiches. I miss those old days.
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