Hello, Long Beach, Hello World.
I was going to write about the LB music scene in general to start this column off but after writing and deleting, writing and deleting and finally realizing the subject is far broader than the one of multiple inaugural articles can grasp, I have decided to narrow my subject matter and just make a quick statement. While I cannot and will not make effort to speak on anyone else’s behalf, I at Long Beach Independent will most definitely attempt to bring you articles, show reviews, album and E.P. reviews, interviews, local music news, and more that YOU would like to hear about, read about, and just simply see from the Long Beach music scene.
For my first week, I will be interviewing Mark DiPiazza; owner of DiPiazza’s in LB. DiPiazza’s is one of the premiere music venues for up and coming artists in Southern California. Not only is this venue under 21 friendly before 10 and on some nights all night but it is a staple of Long Beach music. It is somewhere people know they can go and be in a safe environment, while hearing some of the best of what Long Beach has to offer as far as music goes. The food is great, the staff is welcoming, and if you are an artist looking for shot to play and showcase your skills, Mark will most likely give you a shot at some point. But, business is business and if you don’t draw people you may not be asked back. That is very understandable. Whether you’re dinning, going for a show, or just a drink DiPiazzas is a wonderful place to spend a beautiful Long Beach night.
Eddie: Mark, how you doing man? Tell me, how did you get started in owning and managing music venues?
Mark: Oh, I started when the owners of the Java Lanes came to me and asked me if I wanted to do the coffee shop at Java Lanes.
Eddie: Okay, cool so from there you turned it into a music venue/restaurant/bar type of thing or what?
Mark: Yeah, when I went in there I got control of the coffee shop, and it was like as big as my old restaurant. I’m not really a bowler so I was like, “I don’t really want to go to a bowling alley”, but when I saw the coffee shop and how big it was, I was like “Shit, that looks great”, and I got all the food and stuff in the bowling alley. Then there was this big room that they used for bowlers meetings for awards banquets for the bowlers after their league was done, and I said, I’ll do this but I want to make that room my fine dining restaurant, so they said alright. The owners gave me the room and I started a fine dining restaurant for a couple years but it just was hard to make it happen because right next to the restaurant there was a wall with a sliding door that went in and out, that was to the bar. Well the bowlers would finish bowling and they’d get drunk and they’d be screaming and yelling, and it was really hard to get people, especially older clientele into a bowling alley #1, and #2. To do a fine dining Italian restaurant while people are screaming back and forth and they can hear it was kind of scary for my patrons.
Mark: So, I asked the bowling alley if they would let me knock the wall out and let me make a concert venue because back in the 60’s that was like thee place for concerts. You know, they had The Temptations and some really big acts there in the 50’s and 60’s and then it just sat dormant for like 25 years. No one would do music in there. They said “no, no we don’t want to do that, we don’t want to knock the wall out, we want to keep it separated”. And then they banned smoking in public places. All their business dropped like 75% because you couldn’t smoke in a bowling alley and that’s what everybody did, so finally they said okay go ahead and do it, so I knocked the wall out built that stage, and from there, that’s how it started.
Eddie: Wow, that’s really interesting man, I have been playing for you for a while, even since you owned the java lanes and even I had no idea that’s how you got it started man. That’s cool.
Mark: Ha-ha, Yeah, I was never in the music business. I mean I had a band when I was like 13, 14 like we all do. I was the singer of my band and we made a little money for a year playing for like high schools and stuff, but I knew it wasn’t gonna be serious so I quit that after a couple years. I was maybe 16 when I quit.
I was always into restaurants and dinning, not really the entertainment and music. So when I did start Java Lanes, I really had no idea what the hell I was doing. It was the punk rock era, and you know I wasn’t really a punk rocker. Alex and his partner Kayden came to me and said “Hey, uh, Can we book the place”? I said, “Yeah. I’ll give you some nights”. Well Kayden booked like 6 shows and I watched what they did, and I said, “This isn’t that tough”. I noticed half the nights were really good and half of them were really bad as far as the attendance.
Kayden then came to me and said, “I want control of the room, and I’ll give you a little bit of money but we want to have control of the door, the room, and we want to book everything, every night. And I said, “Not gonna happen”. So they said “Then we’re not gonna do it”. And that was the end of Alex, Kayden and I. From that point on I’ve done everything myself.
Eddie: Wait, that was Alex who owns Alex’s Bar in LB?
Mark: Yeah, Alex and I are still pretty good friends. Kayden and I haven’t talked since that day, and that was in like 1996, but Alex and I have been friends this whole time. Even though we’re close to each other we don’t really have competition. We both do our own thing, and Long Beach is so big, there’s enough for everyone to go around. If you know what you’re doing and you book the right stuff then we’re all gonna be busy. I mean, that’s how Alex and I feel. We’re not really competition, we’re friends.
I started that and it’s amazing when you have a venue and you have a phone number, every band in the world is calling that phone number trying to get to play because there’s very few venues compared to how many bands that are out there.
Eddie: Absolutely, especially with all age music venues too, I mean, DiPiazza’s is one of the very few all age venues in Southern California so I could only imagine how many calls you get from bands with kids under 21.
Mark: Well, I did even more… I cross promoted. What I did was; The kids who were here to see the show would pay 5, 10, 15 dollars per ticket and with that after the show was over they got one free game of bowling with their ticket so they would go in there and I would fill the lanes up at 1-2 o’clock in the morning with all these punk rockers bowling. Of course my wife Marilynn was helping me the whole time and suddenly we turned that bowling alley back into a tremendous profit again. It was all around, the numbers we’re up everywhere. Their bar went nuts, and I had never owned a bar. I controlled the entertainment but I never had any percentage of the bar. They wouldn’t give that to me. But I did have control of the door and how much I paid and I realized from the sleazy promoters I had seen that, God, ya know I could give the band three quarters of the door, I could take a quarter of that and still make really good money.
That’s kind of how it started, and then of course I had Weezer there. Which, they came out of retirement I think it was in 96′ and a friend of mine was a friend of a friend of theirs. They were looking to play 3 small places before they went big time again. So Weezer did Spaceland, they did one other place and they did my place. That kind of really put me on the map, and I had the Black Harp Session, I had all the punk bands that everybody knows T.S.O.L. and all those bands. I had the Cody’s. You know I’ve had some pretty big acts there.y. So for me the bands we’re making more than they ever made anywhere. I was making tremendous money because now I have a venue that I can squeeze almost 700 people into, and 700 people at $10 is a lot of money. And well, I did well enough on that end after all those years I had enough to open up the location I’m at now.
Eddie: That is something else.
Mark: Yeah, once it started it kind of snowballed in to more and more bands seeing it and wanting to do it, and I originally had a small stage that I had built. Then the band Lit came along and did their video there for the song, My Own Worst Enemy. (Watch the video here
Eddie: No shit, they did that there?
Mark: Yeah, they filmed the video, they redid my stage and made volcanoes and stuff, so every night after that I would put dry ice in all the volcanoes and it would look like volcanoes erupting on the stage. I had that little stage for quite a while until a few years after that when I built the one that probably everyone remembers. It was the giant stage that I had Weezer on. It had a 10 foot ramp that would slide out. It was just an amazing stage. So, I started out with LIT and then I did the Coyote Ugly movie. They paid me a bunch of money to do that and that again helped me to develop and get me the money to build the other stage.
Eddie: That is super cool. I had no idea that all that stuff went down under your reign. I noticed you said you’ve had Lit, and Weezer play at your place. What, in your opinion have been some of the high points being a club owner? Like, any artists that you personally love that have played at your spot?
Mark: Well, Weezer was definitely #1. Dee Dee Ramone played for us and that was amazing just to meet and talk to him. You know it was great and sad in the same respect because it was on his last days. We did a private Christmas Party for Offspring, for Dexter and all those guys. We did Jesse James’s Christmas Party there so we have had some really cool things.
Yeah, we’ve had a lot of the stuff at the new place too. I’ve had the Heartbreakers w/o Tom Petty, all the rock and roll hall of famers. We’ve had Marky Ramone here, we’ve had Flea here. It’s been so many that it’s hard to remember. Ha, and that’s not even really getting into the great punk rock bands, The Weaklings from San Francisco, played here & the singer grabbed a bottle and broke it on stage and cut a big Z in his chest while there was 700 people raging! It was just unbelievable. Ha-ha, yeah, it’s crazy what I’ve seen over the years.
Eddie: Holy shit, man, Hahaha.
Mark: and T.S.O.L. Jack tried to burn my stage down one time, and I mean it was just some incredible stuff.
Eddie: As a club owner that does all your own booking; what specifically do you look for in artists that come through and play your venue? What will help a band or artist get invited back to play at your spot?
Mark: Bring people. Unfortunately that’s the number one thing. Nobody can pay their bills unless people come in to see them. And the bands don’t want to play for nobody ya know? So they need to bring people. Hopefully they are a good band as well. I mean, the Dirty Heads started here, Slightly Stoopid played here before they were big so it’s kind of fun to see bands that we’re good and just got better and better, and better, or bands that were absolutely terrible and actually got good. But as I get longer in the business I still try and help out bands but they do have to be fairly good before they can start going out and playing in a live venue.
But, I do try to help out everybody I can.
Eddie: Long Beach has been a melting pot of not only people and culture, but of music and performing arts as well. What other than music entertainment have you been bringing to DiPiazzas lately?
Mark: Well, my wife hooked up with Kitten DeVille who is one of the best Burlesque women in the world and was doing classes with her privately at our location during the day time and we would do the recitals for the performances after class ended and she would bring some heavy hitters from Hollywood along with herself performing which was an incredible thing. It was just classy and it was a great act but we had some heat from the city because they won’t allow us a dance permit which is just ridiculous. We are an entertainment venue with no dance permit. I’m not even aloud to have line dancing here. But, I can have burlesque; they can stand and take their clothes off all the way down to their pasties and g-strings as long as they don’t dance. In fact this valentine’s day we had a sold out show and 1 person called the city and complained. The city called me up Friday, 3 days before the show and said we’re gonna close you down if you do the show, so my wife and I spent 3 days panicking. We didn’t want to call everybody back and cancel it, so we actually started out at DiPiazzas at 6:30, and we had a secret location a block away that at 8 o’clock. We took everybody out our front door and walked 200 people down to another venue. We set up a bar, we set up lighting, we set up a sound system, and we had the show.
So you know what, the city tries to screw with us, but we always improvise. We are NOT gonna let the show stop I’ll tell you that.
Eddie: Wow that is amazing.
Mark: Yeah, I’m not a big fan of the city of Long Beach City Council. Well they aren’t big fans of us. The City Council is just not our friend. The Police department IS our friend and we get along amazingly with the police force, but the City Council isn’t. They just don’t want to have anything new, anything exciting. But again, we’re not hurting anybody here. We don’t have police complaints we’ve never had a stabbing, a shooting in our existence since 96′ not even at Java lanes and to be treated like we are treated is just unbelievable to us, but ya know we just have to keep bearing with it and keep bringing live music and live entertainment to Long Beach because that is what we do and that’s what our passion is. That and really good food!
Eddie: Now that you mention that, why don’t you tell me about your food? Give the readers a brief overview of some of the menu items and maybe what they can look forward to at a night at DiPiazzas.
Mark: Hands down we believe our pizza is the best. It is New York style, it is thin crust. Everything we use is fresh. In fact while I’m talking to you right now I’m actually making a sauce. My wife and I still are very hands on with all of our recipes, we do it ourselves. We do have our chefs, 1 has been with me 21 years, one has been with me 19, and they have duplicated our recipes pretty well but my wife and I still make the sauces. Our lasagna is great. We have some wonderful chicken dishes. My wife is a vegetarian so we have a pretty good selection of vegetarian items and entrees on our menu. We like to try to appeal to everybody.
Eddie: Yeah, I can speak to the validity of your pizza as well. It is brilliant.
Mark: I’ll tell ya what’s really selling for us like crazy are our hamburgers right now. We’ve extended our line. We have an inferno burger; we have a bleu cheese burger. We have a T-shirt burger where we give a T-shirt away with the burger. And on our burgers we use Angus beef. We have a grill not a griddle. Our burgers are top notch, it’s amazing. You would think a music venue or a pizza place with burgers? But yeah our burgers are really becoming popular. You know, music is our passion but so is our food.
Eddie: What do you have coming up that you are excited about?
Mark: Oh, I’m really excited about this Friday, we’ve got Metalachi. They’re an amazing band with traditional mariachi instruments playing metal covers of Black Sabbath, some 80’s stuff, & more. They are just unbelievable. They’re fun, exciting. People stand in front, pack it in and they just scream in hilarity. They sing the songs, and know all the words to the songs and it’s just great.
We got my good friend Mike Watt. He’ll be here the 16th, he just wrote his 3rd opera, and it’s a non-traditional opera. A punk rock opera with the missing men and that’s just gonna be an amazing show.
I got of course probably the biggest thing I’ve had in a year and a half. I have The Atari’s coming here March 23rd. They’re reuniting with the original line up and haven’t played since 2005′. They’re only playing 3 venues of capacities less than 300 people and I was lucky enough to be the only one in the L.A., O.C. area.
I also have The Ziggens back in Apr and a lot of stuff coming up so come on out.
Eddie: Mark, thank you for your time bro. I will see you very soon and maybe we can hit the golf course later on this week. You take care and I’ll speak with ya this week.
Mark: Thanks Eddie.
You can meet Mark almost any night down at his establishment. He is very hands on, is a great guy, and willing to give almost anyone a chance. Check out his menu, the event schedule, & see just what is going down at DiPiazza’s @
If you would like your band reviewed, interview, or would like to read about a particular local artist, email me!