Central Avenue sign
Original Babe's & Ricky's Inn location.

CLUB HISTORY

The following is a history of Babe's & Ricky's Inn. 

Laura Mae Gross
Laura Mae Gross, club founder.
THE BEGINNING
Laura Mae Gross, born in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1920, moved west to California with her husband in 1944.  For several years she worked at a carwash and for Douglas Aircraft Company and lived happily with her family.  But her life took an abrupt and tragic turn in 1954 when her husband was robbed and killed while stopping on his way home to cash his paycheck.  
Now a single mother with young children to support, Laura eventually decided to go into business for herself.  In 1957 she opened her first establishment, called "Laura's Bar-B-Q," which was located near the corner of Wilmington and Imperial Boulevard.  Seven years later in 1964, she took over the Atlantic Club at 5259 Central Avenue, famed during the Central Avenue jazz scene that began in the 40's.  She re-named the club after her son and her nephew, and "Babe's & Ricky's Inn" was born.
THREE DECADES OF THE BLUES
For performers and listeners alike, Laura’s new club quickly became a welcoming home for pure unadulterated live blues.  B.B. King, Bobby Bland, T-Bone Walker, Lowell Fulson, Little Milton, Albert King and other noted blues musicians would drop by to play, as well as hundreds of marvelous sidemen, comedians, and dancers.  And Laura made sure the club was one where anybody could come in out of the weather, forget about the world outside and the day-to-day problems of life, and enjoy great live music.
By the time the nineties rolled around, Laura was well-known and beloved by the jazz community, as much for her tenacity to survive as for her unerring ability to recognize and cultivate rising blues talent.  Without the benefit of press agents, managers, or promoters, the word about Babe’s & Ricky’s Inn spread throughout the blues community to such an extent that within the past ten years, Laura has appeared in almost every major news publication and television channels in Los Angeles.  In 1987, then Mayor Tom Bradley signed a certificate of commendation from the City of Los Angeles honoring Laura’s “achievements in helping to keep Central Avenue alive.”  In 1994 she was covered on the ABC Evening News with Peter Jennings, and people all over America got to hear the blues from Central Avenue.
Over the years her club has been visited by thousands of blues fans from all over the southern California, as well as the rest of the country and even from overseas.  The stage had been graced by legends like Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Big Mama Thornton, Little Esther Phillips, Count Basie, Albert Collins, Ike Turner, Eric Clapton, Bobby “Blue” Bland, John Lee Hooker, Deacon Jones, Keb’ Mo, Jimmy Rip, Evans Neckbone” Walker, Mickey Champion, Ray Bailey, J.J. “Bad Boy” Jones, and Lowell Fulsom, just to name a few.  
Besides its entertainment value, Babe's & Ricky's Inn has had great historic and cultural value as a training ground for blues performers.  Over the years the club was a venue where new musicians could hone their skills and learn from older musicians.  Laura (or “Mama” as her “boys” affectionately call her) allowed the aspiring and very often unskilled blues pretenders to get up on the stage during the club’s legendary Monday night jam sessions.  If you showed talent, you might get a gig on Thursday night, and, with practice and patience, the performer could eventually work Friday and Saturday nights with the regular band.  This way new performers would have the opportunity to play the blues with and learn from local legends from the years past.  After thirty years of cultivating new performers, one can hardly look at the roster of any legitimate Los Angeles blues band or blues recording without seeing the name of one or more of “Mama’s boys.”
OVERCOMING CHALLENGES
Despite the influx of crime, drugs, and poverty into downtown Los Angeles in the 60's and 70's, Babe's & Ricky's Inn continued to host live blues.  Laura kept drugs and crime out and away from her establishment to such an extent that her patrons, white and black, knew that there was a safe haven remaining for the blues faithful to make their evening pilgrimages to.  The Los Angeles civil unrest of 1992 further hurt business in her area, but still Babe's & Ricky's Inn survived.
Another challenge came in 1993 when ASCAP randomly targeted Laura for $9,000 in supposed “live performance” dues.  Thankfully, with a little help from her friends, and a lot of help from noted R&B songwriters Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, the club was able to stay alive.  
Then an almost insurmountable blow came in 1995 when her landlord decided to expand his adjacent liquor store into the space that Laura had rented for thirty-two years, and forced Laura out by tripling her rent.  Faced with the reality of ever diminishing returns, Laura decided that the time had finally come to close the Central Avenue location of Babe’s & Ricky’s Inn.
OLD CLUB CLOSES...AND NEW ONE OPENS
On Sunday, April 7th, 1996, musicians, young and old, came down to Central Avenue for one last piece of the real blues at Babe's & Ricky's. The jam lasted from noon until dawn, and more than a few tears were shed.  As the sun rose over Los Angeles, Laura and her friends knew that their time on Central Avenue was done.  They stripped the club and moved all the equipment and fixtures into a large storage space. Then Laura and friends began looking for a new location for the new Babe’s and Ricky’s Inn. Help came in the form of Jonathan Hodges, a prop master in the motion pictures Industry who had been playing at the club on Sunday afternoons since Babe's & Ricky's Inn was the only place that he could and would play Blues music. Jonathan decided to become Laura's partner and saved the club.
 
With help from Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas' office, a closed restaurant in the Leimert park area of the Crenshaw district was found and leased.  In August, 1997, sixteen months after leaving Central Ave, Babe's & Ricky's Inn opened its doors once again to the blues fans.  And since then it has stayed open, with Laura there every night as she has been since 1963, welcoming customers and doing her part to keep the blues alive.
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