The Tree House
Updated: Dec 29, 2019
by Lorri Whiteside -
In the late 90's in Simi Valley, the back room of the Tree House was THE place to play. Big John, a gray-ponytailed former cop standing six foot six and nicknamed "The Tree," and his wife Dion ran the place. In the front bar, where the quieter bands begrudgingly performed, John held court and had his personal nameplate affixed to the bar. No one dare sit in his seat. The back bar was a giant room that was frequented by an assortment of characters, and is where the real party raged. Studebaker Hawk performed there 58 times.
The Tree House had good food and a great staff, and Big John employed Mike Caliendo to lead a well-run security team complete with walkie-talkies. If there was a problem, you would see some sort of disturbance and then suddenly it evaporated as the bouncers escorted the violator outside to be dealt with appropriately out back. Other bouncers included a guy named Dan and a big guy we called Santa because he dressed as such at the bouncers' private holiday parties where Studebaker Hawk entertained. The entire staff loved Studebaker Hawk and took good care of the band as it was always very lucrative for all concerned. As one of the bartenders once said, "It's always packed and their crowd doesn't drink milk." The bouncers knew they would always get some action and once jokingly asked, "When are you going to play Radar Love?" because that song always seemed to start some type of frenzy.
Ric commanded the room as he leaped from table to table and ran across the bar while whipping up the crowd's excitement. The Tree House took every once of energy you had but no matter how he felt, especially on night two, he always gave his all. There were a few times everyone wondered how he stayed upright. His self-deprecating humor endeared him to the crowd and people began recognizing him around town, which he loved.
In the early days, smoking was still allowed, and at the end of the night, the band went home, took a shower, and put their clothes out on the patio to keep the smoky stench outside. After a two-nighter, you needed a week to recover. Smoking was finally banned, but the speaker cabinets and cords smelled like the Tree House for several years after.
There are many stories to share about the Tree House, but those will have to wait until another day and unfortunately, there are woefully few photos so it must be true that whatever happened at the Tree House stayed at the Tree House. The Tree House has been closed for many years and Big John and Mike Caliendo have both passed away, but those who went there in the late 90's will always remember.
Pictured are the front room at the Tree House, where Big John held court, the ramp leading into the big room, and the bar on a hopping night. Also pictured are a couple of photos from New Year's Eve 1998. The first is a random shot from side stage, and the second is Dan's lifelong buddy, Jim, aka Bean, and I at the end of the evening.