Johnny’s West Adams adds live music to menu

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Eatery to offer Friday night live music this summer

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

WEST ADAMS — The West Adams Boulevard neighborhood just east of Crenshaw was alive with the sound of music on May 21, as Johnny’s West Adams kicked off live music on Fridays.

It was a packed house for the debut of Live Music Friday Nights at Johnny’s West Adams, a free, weekly event from 7 to 9 p.m., scheduled to continue on the outdoor stage through the summer.

The goal of the new event is to provide music in a casual, intimate outdoor setting on the venue’s patio and parking lot while attendees grub on Johnny’s famous pastrami and other items on the menu and grab a drink from the Bar at Johnny’s.

The first night featured well-known Los Angeles keyboardist Jeff Babko, who was joined by Greg “Gee Mack” Lawrence on guitar, Steve Ferrone on drums and Sean Hurley on bass.

Lawrence, who has produced The Whispers, has also played with Cheryl Lynn and En Vogue.

Ferrone played for the Average White Band, Chaka Khan and Duran Duran and joined Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers for a 22-year tenure in 1994.

Hurley, who has recorded with Lana Del Rey and Alicia Keys, is one of the most in-demand bassists touring, on records and movie soundtracks and is a long-time member of John Mayer’s touring and recording band.

The leader of the band, Babko, has been a member of the Jimmy Kimmel Live house band since the show’s debut over 18 years ago. He toured with Sheryl Crow and James Taylor, and is a featured performer in the Netflix movies “Wine Country” and Steve Martin & Martin Short: “An Evening You Will Forget For The Rest Of Your Life.”

He’s been a member of Meters’ drummer Zigaboo Modeliste’s funk band (with Gee Mack) and recorded with Frank Ocean and Smokey Robinson, as well as on the scores to “Superbad,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Hot Tub Time Machine,” “Get Hard,” “Daddy’s Home” and countless others.

The diverse crowd danced, clapped and snapped their fingers to songs like Booker T. & The M.G.’s “Green Onions,” “A Real Mother For Ya” by Johnny Guitar Watson, James Brown’s ‘Soul Power’ and more.

Babko said he was happy to be selected to kick off the live music on Fridays.

“Because of the weird year, and having a beautiful space they weren’t able to open up last year, they thought bringing in live music would ignite the neighborhood and electrify it and people would feel what we’re trying to create here,” Babko said. “They asked me to put something together. Knowing the history and the neighborhood, we just have to play the space and bring some love and energy here. This is really great.”

Babko said he chose “Gee Mack,” Ferrone, and Hurley because he knew they would each bring their own brand of “soul-funk” to the music.

“We just want to play music that feels good,” he added.

Lawrence revealed that the band was playing together for the first time — with no prior rehearsal. He was meeting Hurley and Ferrone for the first time that evening.

“We didn’t rehearse or anything,” Lawrence said. “Jeff Babko called me and said he was starting this jam thing with Ferrone and asked me to come. Jeff and I used to play together. It’s OK that we didn’t rehearse. Once you get to a certain level, you just know how to make it happen.”

“It’s the magic of music,” Babko added.

Christian Hernandez, who lives across the street from Johnny’s West Adams, came for both the food and the music.

“I love coming here,” he said. “I love the music. This wasn’t here last year, so I’m loving it. I will definitely come back.”

Lorelei Russell also is a regular Johnny’s customer. She came because she heard they were going to have live music.

“This is fantastic,” said Russell, who said she’s a violinist. “I came earlier for the food and came back for the music. I love this. The music is great. The patio area is nice. I’ll definitely be back.”

Will Gramling, who is friends with two of the band members, came to get some food and to check out the music. He loved the music, the venue and promised to come back another night.

“This is the first time I’ve heard these four play together,” he said. “I thought they were awesome.”

Joyce Creer has lived in the Adams District for years. She said she was looking forward to hearing some live music.

“Since they’ve been open, Johnny’s has always felt very welcoming in the neighborhood,” Creer said. “They’re always super, super nice.”

Creer said she and others in the neighborhood are reaching out to the owners with the hope they’ll bring in R&B artists this summer.

“We’re here on Crenshaw and Adams in the heart of the community,” Creer said. “We enjoy it here and enjoy the vibe they are putting out, but it would be nice to hear some R&B. I’m right down the street, so this is going to be my new ‘Cheers.’”

For menu and additional venue information: www.johnnyswestadams.com.

For other updates, follow Johnny’s on Instagram at @johnnyswestadams.

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.