To a lot of people, you could say former Doll Hut owner Linda Jemison is one of OC's unsung patron saints of punk rock. The owner of the legendary–now extinct–punk club ran the place from 1989 to 2001 with a tough, mother hen ownership style that helped define the place during its heyday. As of yesterday, the Hut as we know it is no more, though that doesn't stop Jemison from reflecting on its crazy, fun, beer-soaked golden era. Whether she was managing a scrappy local band, buying them a beer from behind the bar or throwing their asses in a cab at the end of the night, Jemison's legacy with the Anaheim haunt was that of an owner whose love for the place far exceeded the space of the tiny venue. We recently caught up with Jemison to talk about the venue's glory days, potential plans for the building (which is registered as a historic landmark) and what made this little punk rock road house so goddamn special. Oh, and in case you're wondering, there is a time capsule buried underneath the place–she tells us where.
OC Weekly (Nate Jackson): What was it like being at your final show at the Doll Hut last week with the Ziggins performing, surrounded by friends and bands that have played there over the years?
Linda Jemison: It was really nice. Not a lot of people came out from the old days, but there were about 20 that showed up from that time, people who I see on a regular basis. It was nice sharing the Ziggins with them, they were basically the house band at the Hut when I owned it. I didn't think I was gonna get emotional, and then Steve Soto showed up. I didn't expect him to, and it brought tears to my eyes. He was truly a big part of why the Doll Hut was successful and he booked the Hut with me and I give him at least half the credit for some of the bigger bands that ever played there. I can't take all the credit.
You've always been known as an owner who was ready to go above and beyond the call of duty for bands and regulars who came out to the bar. What are some examples you can recall of times where you were more like a mother hen than a bar owner?
I used to play drums in bands when I was a teenager, and my experiences with promoters were always very bad. Because I understand the plight of musicians and the fact that they're very emotional people, I just feel like I have an understanding for them. I just wanted to make a place for them to feel comfortable and have a launching pad and I would do whatever I could to help bands become successful because I just understood where they were coming from. They were my pet projects, they were my boys, my girls, whoever they were. I never put any thought into it, it was just a reaction. I would let them rehearse [at the bar] during the day, made some of them quit their day jobs so they could focus on their music and hire them as bartenders and bouncers and bookers, whatever I could do to get them focused on their music, I would try to help them.
The Hut has gone through a couple times when the Doll Hut was supposed to close but managed to stick around, why do you think it's been able to survive up until now?
I think because it had such an impact with so many local musicians in the 90s and there are still so many of those people around still playing music, that even if they don't play there anymore, they still talk about it–the stories and the camaraderie–it's almost like folklore. There's even stuff out there that's not true out there about the Doll Hut. For example, No Doubt never played the Doll Hut. I can put the kibosh on that right now. They hung out there, the drummer Adrian maybe had a side project there but as far as I know Gwen never sang in the Doll Hut. It was great when the heyday was going on and we appreciated it. And then it did fold and we continued on in a different kind of avenue with more rock-a-billy, then it was sold again. I think at some point it sort of lost its clubhouse feel. And some things just don't last forever. And when I sold it and finally walked away and said goodbye, I was okay with it. In fact, I've only been back there 15 to 20 times since I left and it was usually for a benefit or a birthday party. But I was okay with it, that time in my life was done and I was ready to move on. I'm sad for people who aren't going to have it, but who's to say that in a few years someone can't buy it and do it again? Until they knock that building down, there's always hope it'll come back.
Do you know what the plan for the space is at this point?
I did talk to Juan [Reynoso], the owner and he said he'll continue to be the land owner, he will still own the building, he sold the business to I believe two women and from what I understand, they own two bars that are very successful and they are Latino, Hispanic-based bars. I don't know what that means or what kind of format they'll have but he said they definitely were not going to continue the rock-n-roll sound there. So they may choose to change the name but he says as of now that sign is not going anywhere.
Is there a fun fact about the building that only people who were there back in the day would know?
There's a time capsule underneath the stage, under the floorboards that we put in there in 1992. Only a handful of people know about that so if anyone goes under there and starts digging they'll find our time capsule. A lot of couple are still together that fell in love there and got married and had kids. In fact somebody said they were going to start a website at one point called www.dollhutcouples.com or something.
So what are you doing these days?
I just moved back about a year ago from Wisconsin, I got married seven years ago and moved away, I wanted to escape California for a while and I missed my mom and family so I moved back. These days I do management and consulting projects for up and coming business, I worked on some political campaigns over the summer with a friend of mine and now I'm, launching a new company that's starting and just kinda doing what I want. I still dabble in music for benefit shows and things like that but I don't think I'll ever be in the music business full time again.
Any final thoughts about the Hut?
I think that deep down if you want to do something and you truly believe in it, it sounds really corny and really Disney, but I had all the faith in the world that I could do this and I didn't know it would have the impact it did, but the first night, after closing the doors and turning off the lights, I said a little thing to myself "All I want is to have a place that is remembered like the Golden Bear or the Whiskey and that's really all I want." It was like this little wish. And I just tried to stay true to people and care about them whether they were a patron or a musician, don't let 'em drive drunk, send 'em home in a cab, have fundraisers when someone has a house fire, look out for kids at Christmas time, always trying to give back. I think anybody would be capable of doing what I did if their heart was in it. People used to come up to me all the time and go, "Oh I'd love to do what you're doing." I said "go buy a bar and do it! Change the music scene!" There's other people out there who've done it. It feels great. You won't get rich off of it, but you'll have fun doing it.