Babe's & Ricky's Inn location.
The following is a history of Babe's & Ricky's
Laura Mae Gross, club founder.
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.
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
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.
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.