Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll's Legendary Neighborhood

( 6 )

Overview

In the late sixties and early seventies, an impromptu collection of musicians colonized a eucalyptus-scented canyon deep in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles and melded folk, rock, and savvy American pop into a sound that conquered the world as thoroughly as the songs of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones had before them. Thirty years later, the music made in Laurel Canyon continues to pour from radios, iPods, and concert stages around the world. During the canyon's golden era, the musicians who lived and worked...

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Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll's Legendary Neighborhood

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Overview

In the late sixties and early seventies, an impromptu collection of musicians colonized a eucalyptus-scented canyon deep in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles and melded folk, rock, and savvy American pop into a sound that conquered the world as thoroughly as the songs of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones had before them. Thirty years later, the music made in Laurel Canyon continues to pour from radios, iPods, and concert stages around the world. During the canyon's golden era, the musicians who lived and worked there scored dozens of landmark hits, from "California Dreamin'" to "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" to "It's Too Late," selling tens of millions of records and resetting the thermostat of pop culture.

In Laurel Canyon, veteran journalist Michael Walker tells the inside story of this unprecedented gathering of some of the baby boom's leading musical lights—including Joni Mitchell; Jim Morrison; Crosby, Stills, and Nash; John Mayall; the Mamas and the Papas; Carole King; the Eagles; and Frank Zappa, to name just a few—who turned Los Angeles into the music capital of the world and forever changed the way popular music is recorded, marketed, and consumed.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Laurel Canyon is hilarious and true and bittersweet. Michael Walker catches the mood in the air, and gets it right... the interviews are wonderful . . . It's a beautifully-written document of that time and place when the personalities were as big as those stony dreams that fueled some of the greatest masterpieces in rock." —Cameron Crowe

"Laurel Canyon captures all the magic and lyricism of an almost mythological geographical spot in the history of pop music. The book lovingly limns the story of a more melodious time in rock and roll where the great talents of the 60s and 70s cloistered together in a sort of enchanted valley populated by an all-star cast of characters, including Joni Mitchell, Jim Morrison, Mama Cass and Brian Wilson."

—Stephen Gaines, author of Philistines at the Hedgerow

"In Laurel Canyon, rock and roll history is urban history, California history, American history, global history through the songs and scandals coming from a canyon on the coast of dreams running through the labyrinthine center of our times." —Kevin Starr, Professor of History, University of Southern California and author of Coast of Dreams: California on the Edge

Publishers Weekly
Beginning in the mid-1960s, a string of successful rock bands emerged out of Laurel Canyon, a neighborhood of Los Angeles tucked away in the hills north of Sunset Boulevard. From the success of bands like the Byrds and the Mamas and the Papas, and singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Jimmy Webb, Walker proposes Laurel Canyon as rock's answer to Jazz Age Paris. It's a plausible concept, but one he stumbles to elaborate past the length of a magazine feature. The journalist, who lives in Laurel Canyon, delivers strong material on some of the musicians he cites, particularly in early chapters about Crosby, Stills & Nash and Frank Zappa, but offers little about other equally significant acts. Instead, he pads the story with lengthy sections on groupies and the music scene in other parts of the city, the Altamont concert (which was hundreds of miles away) and a digression on the history of cocaine. Furthermore, his enthusiasm for the Laurel Canyon legend leads to shaky critical pronouncements. If "the folk stars of the early 1960s were the first rock stars," for example, then what was Elvis? 8 pages of b&w photos. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Pop culture journalist Walker has written a fascinating study of the Los Angeles neighborhood in which he lives and its relationship to developments in American popular music in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Throughout, Walker makes a strong case for Laurel Canyon being at least as important as San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury in defining the sound of pop music. Beginning with the Mamas and the Papas's California Dreamin' and continuing through the work of Jim Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Frank Zappa, the Eagles, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Laurel Canyon is associated with pop, rock, the singer-songwriter movement, and the birth of country rock. Walker discusses the neighborhood itself, the rock'n'roll way of life, and the music in a relaxed, clear style, drawing on published accounts of the various personalities involved. This book should make an excellent addition to any public or university library's popular culture collection. Owing to some of the frank discussion of the lifestyle of the time, secondary school librarians will probably want to preview. Highly recommended.-James E. Perone, Mount Union Coll., Alliance, OH Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An uninspired tribute to Laurel Canyon. Pop-culture writer Walker (the New York Times, Rolling Stone, etc.) has a potentially interesting hook for an umpteenth recounting of the Los Angeles music scene of the late '60s and '70s: Rather than focus on the musicians or the music, Walker concentrates on the neighborhood where many of the key players set up house: laid-back, rustic Laurel Canyon, a sleepy idyll nestled above the hurly-burly of the city proper, where marijuana smoke and eucalyptus flavored the air and the sensitive strumming of singer-songwriters reverberated among the trees. The problem is that there is nothing much interesting about Laurel Canyon. Cheap rents and a bohemian atmosphere attracted the likes of the Byrds, Joni Mitchell, various members of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, the Eagles and Frank Zappa-who got high, played the guitar and hung out. Undoubtedly fun for them, but hardly riveting reading. Even the curiously high incidence of house fires fails to liven things up much. Walker writes passionately and well about the demimonde, but the smug, faintly toxic coziness of the "scene" quickly begins to pall. Groupies hold forth on the lifestyle, club owners and artist managers reminisce about the good times, Graham Nash rhapsodizes about the house he shared with Joni Mitchell, and it's all a bit like listening to your parents tell their college stories. Unlike Swinging London, with its inherently dramatic generational conflict and cultural upheaval exploding from the stifled misery of post-war shortages and a crushing class system, this charmed corner of southern California was, in these pages, a mellow, contentedly bland paradise, Eden before the fall. One wishes for aserpent or two. A nap also induces a peaceful, easy feeling.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780865479661
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber
  • Publication date: 5/15/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 302,592
  • Product dimensions: 5.51 (w) x 8.22 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from Laurel Canyon by Michael Walker Copyright © 2006 by Michael Walker. Published in May 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

PREFACE

In 1968 a British pop star and the refugees from two seminal Los Angeles bands gathered in a cottage on Lookout Mountain Avenue in Laurel Canyon, the slightly seedy, camp-like neighborhood of serpentine one-lane roads, precipitous hills, fragrant eucalyptus trees, and softly crumbling bungalows set down improbably in the middle of Los Angeles, and sang together for the first time. The occupant of the cottage, which had moldering shake shingles and draft-prone casement windows, was a Canadian painter, poet, and folksinger named Joni Mitchell. The British pop star, sporting a wisp of a goatee and a thick Manchester brogue, was Graham Nash, founding member of the Hollies. The refugees were Stephen Stills, late of the Buffalo Springfield, writer and singer of "For What It's Worth," who had three years before auditioned for the Monkees and, having failed, recommended his friend, a folkie named Peter Torkelson; and David Crosby, late of the Byrds and "Mr. Tambourine Man," possessed of a Buffalo Bill mustache, an immaculate harmony voice, and piercing eyes that Mitchell, with typical literary flourish, likened to star sapphires. (Crosby produced Mitchell's debut album, Song to a Seagull.) So it was that Nash, Stills, and Crosby sat in Mitchell's living room on Lookout Mountain, in the heart of Laurel Canyon, in the epicenter of L.A.'s nascent rock music industry, and for the first time, began to sing together.

It is a measure of Laurel Canyon's mythmaking powers that this particular watershed may have actually occurred not at Mitchell's cottage—though that's the way Nash and plenty of others remember it—but a mile away in the living room of Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas, who along with Mitchell briefly co-reigned as unofficial queen of the canyon, one an inscrutable poet-genius, the other a bosomy, meddling mother figure. What is certain is that within the year, Nash, Stills, and Crosby apotheosized into Crosby, Stills & Nash, the third group with Laurel Canyon roots within as many years—after the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield—to score a knockout with their first record. Nash moved into Mitchell's cottage on Lookout, there to write his ode to countercultural domestic bliss, "Our House." Mitchell, in turn, wrote and recorded "Ladies of the Canyon," her paean to the strange bohemian netherland where she and Nash nurtured their affair and where it would soon become evident that some of the twentieth century's most talented and enterprising young men and women had gathered at just the right moment.

Laurel Canyon had been filling up with musicians from Los Angeles, New York, and London since the mid-1960s: Mitchell was a transplant from New York via Saskatoon; Carole King had recently decamped to a place on Appian Way; so had Nico, the Teutonic waif from Andy Warhol's Factory. Up the street from Mitchell's place were John Phillips, Michelle Phillips, and Denny Doherty of the Mamas and the Papas, who, until they moved west and recorded "California Dreamin'" and "Monday, Monday," had busked around as semi-obscure folksingers. British bands touring the States made it a point to stop by Laurel Canyon for a party or two—Beatles, Stones, Animals, Yardbirds, and the rest. Some never left—the British blues legend John Mayall bought a house just over the ridge from Mitchell's place. It was Brigadoon meets the Brill Building, and the repercussions thirty-odd years later continue to pour from radios, iPods, and concert stages around the world.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2012

    A fun read. I lived in Nichols Cny from mid 60's to mid 70's. I

    A fun read. I lived in Nichols Cny from mid 60's to mid 70's. I know a # of the folks interviewed for this book (some famous, some now gone, some just were average residents). The book relates what was quite an extraordinary time for 'the canyons.' Author's research is well done. This period was electrifying, heady, experimental & a lot of other adjectives. It also in hind sight was scary and many were very immature and all too trusting. But times were different then and those times changed very fast. This book captures the vibes well. I wished I had know when the author was doing his research. I would have contributed and urged him to speak to a few others I keep in touch with to this day.

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  • Posted May 15, 2011

    not recommended

    The book was entertaining in places. I question the accuracy of some of the subjects but he captured the mood of the eras he wrote about quite well. I remember a few of the people mentioned in the part of the book that covered the early-mid 60's to the early 70's, from their coming down to Laguna Beach. Most of it was pathetic and sad. And to portray teenage girls who let themselves be used by over-blown, screwed up, and self inflated musicians as having the least bit of significance or relevency is depressing. That is the one word I can use to describe this book; depressing.

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  • Posted April 20, 2011

    Great Read

    If you are looking to explore popular music history
    particularly focusing on the 60s and 70s, this is one of the books you
    must read. Walker uses his knowledge of the time period, and the
    musical movements going on during those times, to craft a history of
    Laurel Canyon. His use of concrete examples and stories, like that of
    Frank Zappa's emergence onto the scene, give the reader a great deal
    of understanding. One of my favorite quotes from the book comes from a
    recount of Laurel Canyon, "...it was kind of a refuge for people who
    were incapable of eye-to-eye hustling on Sunset Boulevard. You'd look
    out the window and write songs in a flannel shirt about timber and
    chrome and guys would come by and sit and listen and whenever they'd
    do a line that meant it was a good song." Overall I thought this was a
    great book if you are interested in the musical eras of the 60's and
    70's; while at times it did seem a little dry, there was always an
    interesting anecdote to help spice things up. Anyone over the age of
    14 can appreciate this book and I would recommend it to most people.

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    Posted November 3, 2012

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    Posted January 30, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2010

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