The Purple Room at the Club Trinidad became a legendary place to have dinner and watch a performance in the 1960s, thanks in part to appearances by the Rat Pack.
After numerous changes over the years, the Purple Room is under brand-new management, and has gone through a complete makeover in an effort to return the classic venue to its glory days.
Who is in charge of the entertainment aspect of this ambitious effort? None other than Gary and Joan Gand, who handle booking for the venue, and themselves play Friday and Saturday nights at the Purple Room.
The Gand Band’s story starts long before the Gands’ arrival here in Palm Springs—back in the city of Chicago.
“We met when we were 17 years old,” said Joan Gand. “Gary was a guitarist in my friend’s band, and I was the keyboardist in another blues band.”
Said Gary: “She was going out with the drummer. I was determined to steal her away from the drummer.”
Responded Joan: “We’ve been together and playing music ever since, and we won’t tell how many years that is.”
The Gands were part of the Chicago blues scene, playing in legendary clubs around Chicago and getting to know some of the well-known Windy City blues musicians.
“In Chicago, the blues for us as musicians was every day,” said Gary Gand. “You go to the liquor store, and you’d see Muddy Waters—he was a local guy. It wasn’t until the Rolling Stones came out later talking about how great Chicago blues was, the Chess (Records) sound and all that stuff, that we really thought it was special, and that wasn’t going on in the rest of the world.”
Blues music definitely runs deep in the Gand’s repertoire.
“It’s the emotion of (the blues),” Gary explained. “Blues is about the hardships that are in your life every day. (In) the great music, whether it’s blues, classical or country, there’s always a story of sorrow. You lost a woman; you lost your castle; you lost a war—there’s a whole religion built around that stuff.
Joan Gand credited a high school friend for introducing her to blues.
“I was taking jazz theory and messing around with improvisation,” she said. “A friend of mine who was two years older than me and had a blues band heard me playing in the music department at school. He said, ‘You should come play in my blues band!’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t know anything about blues,’ and he said, ‘You don’t have to; if you know jazz, jazz is based on blues.’ I went and played in his band, and ever since then, I’ve always been a fan of blues and that whole world. From a keyboardist’s perspective, it’s just great music to play, and I really enjoy it.”
The Gands later headed to Palm Springs, and played regularly at the late, lamented Blue Guitar.
“We ended up coming to Palm Springs because of the modernism thing going on,” said Joan Gand. “With the architecture preservation, all the amazing buildings in town, and the whole town of Palm Springs, we just fell in love with it from the architecture point of view. That’s a hobby of ours, and we collect modernism furniture—and, of course, that fits in with guitars from the era. All that design adds together with the music, so we got deeply involved in that.”
Their favorite local show thus far was put together by the Palm Springs Art Museum at the Bob Hope house.
“We played a fundraiser there, and when we were looking for an area to set up the band, we discovered this huge outdoor fireplace made out of concrete,” said Joan Gand. “They weren’t using it, and it was a warm night, and it actually looked like a giant stage. Imagine a fireplace that big—that a whole band could fit in there.”
Gary added: “When I went into the backyard, it was right off the patio. I said, ‘Oh, look, they got a stage right here.’ I was talking to the house manager, and I asked, ‘What’s that big pile of wood for?’ and he said, ‘That’s for the fireplace.’ I asked him, ‘Where’s that?’ and he said, ‘You’re standing in it.’ I asked, ‘Are you planning to use it tonight?’ He said, ‘No,’ and I said, ‘Great! Then we’ll set up in here in the fireplace.’ That was really fun.”
After playing fundraisers and home shows—one of which included Max Weinberg, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band’s drummer—friends convinced them to seek a new local regular gig. However, it was not easy to do; they said there was not much variety in the local scene, and many venues wrapped up entertainment around 9 p.m.
After some residencies in various local places, they found the Purple Room last season.
“When we played here last year during the season, it was barely making it,” said Joan Gand. “It hadn’t been renovated in a long time; it had been reopened by new management who didn’t know what they needed to do to make it work. We have a lot of fans in Palm Springs, and they would come because there was nowhere to hear this music. It would be just packed in here, and when they tried to do other nights of music, no one would come, because (the other acts) didn’t have a following.”
Gary Gand shared a pet peeve that he and Joan share.
“It was a lot of track acts—people singing around with their computer,” said Gary Gand. “Our policy here is no tracks: It’s live musicians playing live music in front of a live audience. Everything that comes off the stage is someone playing a musical instrument. DJs are great for the late-night dance crowd, but that’s not a substitute for a live band playing music. We’re cool with (DJs), but what we’re not cool with is a guy crooning along to his laptop.”
When Tony Marchese and Mark Van Laanen, the owners of TRIO, took over management of the Purple Room over the summer—remodeling it and returning food service to the venue—they brought in the Gands to put together a great music program. They have put together residencies that include local band Machin’, jazz musician Michael Holmes, and Barry Minniefield, a singing chef who performs soul music. The Gands have a special musical lineup planned for Modernism Week in February, too.
As a result of the music, the food and the renovated venue, business has been pretty good since the October reopening.
“It’s been very well-received by the public,” said Marchese. “All the old groups are coming out again. For the past six weeks or so, it’s been awesome. We’re 40 percent above what we thought we were going to do.”
Joan Gand said they want to make sure the Purple Room stays true to its roots.
“The main point of everything is to preserve the traditions of live music and roots music,” she said. “If people don’t hear it performed live, it will be forgotten.”
The Purple Room, at the Club Trinidad at 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, is open from 3 p.m. to midnight, Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday; and 3 p.m. to 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday. Live music is featured every night. For more information, including a complete schedule, call 760-322-4422, or visit purpleroompalmsprings.com.