I honestly don’t remember the first time I walked into the Talking Stick. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to boast about how I immediately fell in love. I think I first heard about her from my brother poet Mark Lipman. He mentioned that readings were done there. I seem to recall being impressed with the genuine Bohemian flavor of the “Stick.” The stage was small but huge. The audio equipment was first rate. Once I became a regular, I lent my Fender Bassman amps to the backline. The Braaksmas were in charge. They were initially hesitant. Nickie Black made the move from the original Santa Monica Stick. We became serious siblings after I entered. We remain close to this day. Through Nickie, I became the bassist for the Venice Beach Fellowship worship team. I still am. We inevitably returned to the Venice Skills Center, 5th & Sunset, and the Stick stopped being a non-profit. It was wise of the Braaksmas to delegate Nickie to keep the Stick going. But a year later Nickie was usurped overnight.
I fostered some serious resentment for the underhanded way Nickie was replaced with the Stick’s most recent “management.” Nickie was the heart and soul of the Talking Stick, damn it. He drove home the “community” that began with Venice West and the Gas House in the ‘50s. I joined Nickie in the kitchen as a dish washer and floor mopper for several years, and I was glad to do it.
When the most recent “owners” took over, they stupidly suspended business operations and smothered the Stick into oblivion with an idiotic barrage of ridiculous renovations that would be the coup-de-grace in the life of a beautiful venue. In the end, all the hard work and sweat that the baristas contributed would fall prey to the almighty dollar. I’ve left out the part of how I had my guitar collection stored upstairs, and how I parked my Ford E-150 in the lot for several years. It bothers me that the Talking Stick was there for me, but I was helpless to come to her aid when she needed me.
– Roger Houston
Above, L to R: Roger Houston, Stefani Valadez and Nickie Black at the Talking Stick