Young girls are coming to the canyon

“At first so strange to feel so friendly, to say ‘good morning’ and really mean it, to feel these changes happening in me, but not to notice ’til I feel it, young girls are coming to the canyon, and in the mornings, I can see them walking…”  “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon),” The Mamas and The Papas, 1967

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When I moved to Los Angeles in August 2011, I got in my car and started exploring the streets, the beaches, the tourist attractions and the famous landmarks that are mentioned in so many songs I listened to as a kid growing up in far-away Ohio.

The Pacific Coast Highway.  Venice Beach.  Sunset Strip.  The Santa Monica Pier.  Topanga Canyon.  Hollywood Boulevard.  The Troubadour.

tMV6BuuOne afternoon, I found myself on Sunset Boulevard, heading toward one of the nation’s meccas for every music lover and album buyer, Amoeba Records.  Sitting at a light, I looked at the street sign and realized I was at the base of Laurel Canyon Boulevard.  Wow, I thought, Laurel Canyon.  So much rock history there!

The main thing I recall reading about Laurel Canyon was how Joni Mitchell lived in a rustic cottage there in 1969, and shared the place for a while with Graham Nash.  They wrote many of their wonderful early songs there, including Nash’s “Our House,” specifically about the idyllic home life they nurtured there as one of counterculture’s better-known couples.

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Stephen Stills and Peter Tork

I turned left and headed up the winding road in hopes of getting a taste for what the Laurel Canyon community was all about.  I pictured some sort of woodsy Shangri-La where hippie types strummed guitars on front porches, waving and welcoming passersby in for tea and a hit off the hash pipe.

How silly of me to expect that more than 40 years later.  That was then, this is now.

Laurel Canyon Boulevard today is a very busy, overtaxed roadway that brings way too much traffic up and down the canyon connecting the San Fernando Valley with West Hollywood.   Like other canyon roads that snake through the Santa Monica Mountain range and the Hollywood Hills, Laurel Canyon can be a peaceful exception to the hustle-bustle of the rest of “El Lay,” especially if you turn onto the dead-end side streets that delve even deeper into the lush greenery.  But on the main thoroughfare, the long slow line of cars driven by impatient residents and valley commuters have little patience for swivel-headed tourists who dawdle and gawk, wondering where the peace-and-love musicians have gone.

From the mid-’60s into the early ’70s, an inordinate number of game-changing musicians

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The Mamas and The Papas

whose songs represented “the California sound” called Laurel Canyon home, even if only briefly.  The Byrds (Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and David Crosby) ruled the roost for a spell, as did John & Michelle Phillips of The Mamas and The Papas.  John Densmore and Jim Morrison of The Doors lived there, as did Buffalo Springfield (Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and Neil Young).  Bands like Canned Heat and Love were residents, as were Peter Tok and Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees.  Even iconoclast Frank Zappa of The Mothers of Invention made his home in the Canyon for a while.

Carole King, who had first gained fame as a Brill Building songwriter in New York with husband/partner Gerry Goffin, moved to Laurel Canyon in 1970, where she wrote the songs that would end up on her exceptional “Tapestry” album, a defining record of the ’70s and, for a while, the best selling record in history.

John Mayall, pioneer of the British blues movement, moved to L.A. in 1968 in the wake of the breakup of his band The Bluesbreakers, and recorded and released “Blues From Blues-From-Laurel-CanyonLaurel Canyon” that year.  One track, a gentle blues number called “Laurel Canyon Home,” painted this simple picture: “Each and every morning, when the sun is high, I hunt around the canyon until I find a place to lie, it’s so beautiful to be alone, got the sun and trees and silence, I’m in my Laurel Canyon home/ Looking back a century, I look at where I stand, it must have looked the same as when Apaches roamed the land, it’s so beautiful to be alone, got the sun and trees and silence, I’m in my Laurel Canyon home…”

Perhaps most famous of the Laurel Canyon crowd was Mitchell, the Canadian singer-songwriter whose third LP, “Ladies of the Canyon,” was written there in 1969-1970.  The title song describes the innocent waifs and sturdy Earth mothers who inhabited the community at the time:  “Vine and leaf are filagree, and her coat’s a second-hand one, trimmed in antique luxury, she is a lady of the canyon…  For her home, she gathers flowers, and Estrella, dear companion, colors up the sunshine hours, pouring music down the canyon…”

The Doors’ 1968 tune “Love Street” (from their #1 LP “Waiting For the Sun”) is Morrison’s nickname for Laurel Canyon Boulevard.  He also references the Laurel Canyon Store, a images-46general-store hangout that still exists today:  “She lives on Love Street, lingers long on Love Street, she has a house and garden, I would like to see what happens…  I see you live on Love Street, there’s this store where the creatures meet, I wonder what they do in there…”

Long before this group of musicians descended on the area, Laurel Canyon had been an escapist place, a magical-forest part of Los Angeles where the noise and smog didn’t seem to penetrate.  Hollywood actors in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s found privacy there, a safe haven in which to conduct private trysts and experiment with drugs, away from the prying eyes of the paparazzi’s cameras.

In “Canyon of Dreams:  The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon,” an exhaustive history and exploration published in 2009, author Harvey Kubernik offers this 51ZqLeLTBEL._SX378_BO1,204,203,200_description:  “It was the place where you ran away from your parents, hid from authorities, wrote music, books, screenplays, hung out with bands, chart-toppers and pretenders.  The music it gave birth to — before swollen egos and swollen nostrils brought a heavy rain down — somehow still informs the soundtrack of our lives.”

In the book’s foreword, Ray Manzarek, keyboardist of The Doors, said, “There was always some kind of magic afoot in that Canyon.  The light and the sun infused that zone with a sense of joy.  There was always something spiritual about that slice through the green earth, but never more so than in the ’60s.  We had become the new tribe, and it felt as if we were spreading the message of (dare I say it today) love to a new world.”

Danny Hutton of Three Dog Night arrived in Laurel Canyon back in 1964 and never left,  raising a family, tending a garden, and becoming a stalwart of the community.  Today, he boasts the unofficial title of ambassador of the canyon.  “Everyone has this thing about Laurel Canyon.  It’s a mythical place for most people.”

The Wallflowers’ Jakob Dylan, son of legendary tunesmith Bob Dylan, has always been intrigued by the aura of Laurel Canyon’s rock ‘n roll heyday.  In 2015, he staged a concert with Beck, Fiona Apple and other musicians to pay tribute to the music of that place and Echo-in-the-Canyon-movietime.  He then collaborated with producer Andrew Slater to conduct interviews with some of the key players of that era — David Crosby, Michelle Phillips, Brian Wilson, Stephen Stills, Jackson Browne, Roger McGuinn, Eric Clapton, Graham Nash, even Ringo Starr and producer Lou Adler.  He also spoke at length with Tom Petty (his final interview before his death) about how the songs and sounds born in Laurel Canyon had a profound influence on him and other contemporaries.

The result is a documentary of sorts called “Echo in the Canyon,” which is currently making a splash in cinema houses around the country.  It’s kind of disjointed, woefully incomplete and flawed, in my opinion, but for people of my generation, “Echo in the Canyon” is a fun and invigorating 82 minutes well spent.  For younger generations, or those who aren’t hip to the influences and inspirations of the Laurel Canyon story, it will no doubt be an eye-opening experience.

A side note:  I thought my readers might like to know there’s a 2002 film called “Laurel MV5BNWNiYzg1ZTktOTBmOC00YWIxLWJmNzUtZDRhYjEwZjA0YmIxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc1NTQxODI@._V1_Canyon” starring Frances McDormand, Christian Bale and Kate Beckinsale that is well worth your time as well.  Said director Lisa Cholodenko:  “My film editor and I were listening to music one day, and had brought in that Joni Mitchell album, ‘Ladies of the Canyon.’  I used to love that record. We listened to it, and started talking about what the Laurel Canyon scene must have been like in the late ’60s-early ’70s.  I thought it would be fun to set a movie in that scene but changed to a modern context. And I just took it from there.”  It’s a quirky piece of fiction set in the Canyon that focuses on the evolving relationship between a hippie-type mother and her more conventional son and daughter-in-law as they explore sexual tensions and generational differences.

Photographer Henry Diltz, one of rock photography’s most respected figures, has captured hundreds of photos of Laurel Canyon and its most celebrated musical practitioners.  One such photo appears on the iconic album cover for the debut LP “Crosby, Stills and Nash,” which was taken in West Hollywood, only a stone’s throw from Laurel Canyon.  Another is the wonderful shot (below) of Joni Mitchell leaning out the D6949H_UIAA0ru6window of her Laurel Canyon cottage.  “I really admired these people and their amazing music, and I felt honored to photograph them in their milieu.  We are still close friends to this day.”

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The Spotify play list below includes songs referred to in this essay as well as recordings from the “Echo in the Canyon” film soundtrack.

 

 

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I spent all my money at the record store

Less than two miles from where I live is a great little store on Santa Monica Boulevard IMG_2704called Record Surplus that bills itself as “the last record store.”

While this is clearly not technically true, it sure seems like it sometimes.  Ever since the iTunes Store debuted online in 2003, record stores began closing their doors all over the country, and retailers who once had sizable music departments have repurposed that space for other product categories.

I find it profoundly sad that the majority of music purchases made today are downloads.  Quick and convenient, to be sure, but without any of the fun, the wonder, the sense of discovery and community that made a trip to the local record store in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s such a warm and enriching experience.

I grew up in Cleveland, one of the nation’s hotbeds of rock record purchasing.  As in ba92f54e4bb9aa93b811d39f2a634dba--tobacco-shop-schools-inmany major American cities, we could buy albums from many kinds of retailers.  They were available at Woolworth’s, appliance stores, department stores, traditional music shops like John Wade Records (where I bought my first few albums), and even trendy clothing stores like J.P. Snodgrass.

Then there were the major chains like Peaches, Record peachesTheatre, Coconuts, Record Rendezvous, Camelot Music, and Disc Records, each with multiple locations across the region.

But the best record-buying experience was at the independent record store, and in Cleveland, the #1 place was Record Revolution, a very hip shop in the Coventry Village neighborhood of Cleveland Heights.  You could find all the new releases, comprehensive back catalogs, an enormous amount of imports unavailable elsewhere, and eventually, used albums.  The guys behind the counter were walking encyclopedias of knowledge and opinions, and they played the best stuff on the store sound system, which featured massive “Voice of the Theatre” speakers.

For music-loving record collectors like me, it was a slice of heaven.  I recall visiting Record Revolution at least once a week throughout my high school years, and for many years afterwards.  I could spend hours there, scouring the bins for rare releases, and 0071e8a4785a344ffa6403279c0efaf0--vinyl-records-old-schoolfinding albums by unfamiliar artists with cover art that mesmerized me.  I don’t think I ever left without at least one new album under my arm, often one that was recommended by an employee there.

“Record Revolution gave me a sense that I was entering a new world,” recalled Chris Abood, a longtime Cleveland friend and sometime disc jockey whose voluminous record collection rivaled mine.  “I wasn’t just buying records, I was having an experience there.  The records I bought there seemed more valuable because it was the coolest record store in Northeast Ohio.”

There were plenty of other independent record stores around Cleveland — The Shoppe, Melody Lane, Wax Stacks, Budget Records, and shops specializing in used records like The Record Exchange — and they all had people working there who had a passion for music.  They were helpful and genuinely interested in talking about, and recommending, bands and albums, both past and current.

I’ve been thinking a lot about all this because I’ve been reading a book called “Record Store Days” by Gary Calamar and Phil Gallo, first published in 2010.  Both authors have Record-Store-Days-hi-res-coverbeen heavily involved in the music industry, starting as record store customers, then employees, eventually major music writers and TV/film music supervisors.  Their book, subtitled “From Vinyl to Digital and Back Again,” goes into great detail about the history, culture, evolution and resurgence of record stores, with numerous photos and stories from the retail segment’s heyday.

With the birth of rock and roll in the mid-’50s came the phenomenon of the record store as community center, a place where teens would congregate to pore over, listen to and purchase the latest hits as 45-rpm singles.  Those of you who came of age in the ’50s and ’60s may remember that some records stores offered “listening rooms,” where buyers could take a MattatuckMusichandful of singles from the store’s racks and give them a spin on the turntables before deciding if they wanted to buy them.  (Some small shops like the aforementioned Record Surplus offer this convenience today.)

As the record-buying audience increased, and the favored format evolved from singles to albums in the late ’60s, many independent stores opened in cities large and small across the country.  Some specialized in blues records, or jazz, or country, depending on the preferences of the local market.  At the same time, general interest record stores born from humble beginnings grew to become national, even international success stories, such as Tower Records in California and Sam Goody in New York.  In Los Angeles, Wallichs Music City was the leading music retailer.  In Toronto, Sam The Record Man was considered THE place to go for any avid collector.

The mainstream outlets offered the more conventional records (Sinatra, movie soundtracks, classical recordings) and some of the most popular pop/rock releases (The Beatles, The Stones, Simon and Garfunkel), but they had to be persuaded by popular demand to stock the so-called “rock underground” music being played on the burgeoning FM rock radio stations (Frank Zappa, Canned Heat, Lou Reed).

Their reluctance to do so brought about the many hundreds, even thousands, of eclectic hole-in-the-wall stores with names like School Kids, Orpheus, Criminal Records, Mars images-22Music, Zodiac, Streetside Records and Mojo Music.  These shops, with a savvy eye on their clientele, typically created unique environments, often covering every inch of wall space with album covers and psychedelic posters, and they would add headshop-type paraphernalia and alternative magazines to their mix of products for sale.

Lenny Kaye, responsible for the groundbreaking “Nuggets” garage-rock compilation, worked at Village Oldies in New York in 1970.  “There’s a vast fraternity of record collectors, and the record store was their hub,” he said, “There was not a lot of information on these groups or the labels, so you’d gather at the record store, and it would be like a library.  You could browse at will for hours and hours, and share stories and trivia about the songs and the bands.”

These kinds of stores thrived throughout the 1970s, and even endured the introduction and eventual dominance of CDs over vinyl that took place during the 1980s.  By the 1990s, record store chains consolidated, and their retail spaces all started to look homogenized.  The employees working the counter at these stores were no longer passionate music people who knew about obscure albums by little-known British bands.  The big box stores — Circuit City, Best Buy, Borders, Wal-Mart, Target, Barnes & Noble — became the retail leaders, even though they made most of their money on appliances electronics and household goods.  They became bigger and stronger, hoping to eliminate the competition.

images-23The independent stores remained the industry’s neglected heroes, carrying, for example, grunge records before the genre became widely popular.  Many of these stores, or their generational successors, today remain popular niche outlets for the serious music lover looking to buy something beyond the “American Idol” artists and boy bands.

“Record Store Days” points out that the owners of smaller niche stores were, in effect, curators, carefully selecting their stock based on their location and clientele — beach towns, college towns, funky urban neighborhoods.  Kimber Lanning, owner of Stinkweeds in Phoenix, explained her strategy:  “I’ve made a career of being one lap ahead of the competition.  I have always sold things that will be popular a year later.  The more popular something became, the fewer copies we sold.”  Rand Foster of Fingerprints in Long Beach agreed.  1414304-360x240“The important part of retail music is the culture you’re selling.  It’s the museum element that stimulates people.”

In their book, Calamar and Gallo offer many sidebar stories about specific contributors’ remembrances of first visits to record stores.  Here’s one from early 1969:  “I found myself in another world — rows and rows of records, the smell of incense, and T-shirt iron-ons in the air.  The store was mystery upon mystery.   The Who had so many albums!  Who are Led Zeppelin?  Is that a pipe?  I brought the first Who record home and lost my mind…  I soon became incapable of displaying any fiscal responsibility in the face of a record I was curious about.”

The book quotes famed screenwriter/director Cameron Crowe, who wrote and directed the coming-of-age rock movie “Almost Famous” (2000).  “Record stores are a community of shared passion.  You see the look in people’s eyes and know that everyone is there for maxresdefault-21the same reason.  Record stores were way more personal than radio.  The music just sounds better.  And you feel like you’re in the beating heart of the thing that you love.”

In “Almost Famous,” Crowe wrote this line for the character Penny Lane to deliver:  “If you ever get lonely, go to the record store and visit your friends.”  Says Crowe,  “I did feel that those records in that store were my friends, and I really miss that.”

With the return of vinyl, record stores are starting to sprout in cities everywhere these days.  If you do a Google search of “record shops” in your area, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised to see how many options you have.  Here in Los Angeles, the supersized amoeba-musicAmoeba Records on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood is in the process of relocating and downsizing, but they intend to remain a dominant force in record retailing (vinyl and CD), including continuing their tradition of sponsoring release-day appearances and signings and even concerts by the artists.

As “Record Store Days” notes, “In chronicling the evolution of record stores, it’s a bit astonishing how often history repeats itself.  The creation of vinyl-only stores in the 21st Century neatly parallels the creation of LP-only stores 60 years earlier.  The number of owners who were employees and then bought the store they worked in continues to this day.”

So, although well over 75% of all music today is acquired through online sources, there are still stores you can frequent — to hang out, chat about music with like-minded souls, and purchase an actual record album that you can hold in your hands and cherish forever.

Meet me at the record store, even though it ain’t there anymore, you can sing to me that song about time moving on…”  — “Record Store,” Butch Walker, 2016