New Documentary Captures Laurel Canyon’s Magic
There was something purely magical happening in the hills above Los Angeles in the late sixties.
I have always been eerily drawn to the Laurel Canyon sound. If you don't know what that means, or you can't immediately conjure an example, I understand. But think the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds," or The Byrds or The Mamas & The Papas or Neil Young's early work with Buffalo Springfield.
There was a revolution afoot that would impact popular music for generations to come. Perhaps, more importantly still, there was a cross-pollination taking place — artists voraciously inspiring one another and feeding off each other and trying to outdo one another.
Much of this is captured in a new documentary called "Echo in the Canyon," which will be released Friday in select cities. The film features a number of musicians from the sixties who helped create the Laurel Canyon scene — including Brian Wilson, Roger McGuinn, Michelle Phillips, Graham Nash, David Crosby and Jackson Browne. It also features several artists who were inspired by the music that came out of Laurel Canyon, like Tom Petty, Jakob Dylan, Beck, Cat Power and Norah Jones.
The more I think about it, and the more I go back and listen to those songs — as I have for the past couple of weeks — I realize how Tom Petty was shaped by the music of Laurel Canyon. When he died in 2017, I struggled to find the words to express my affinity for Petty's music. In no small part, it is the Laurel Canyon legacy that he carried forward, and through which he was able to inspire another generation of musicians.
In its heyday, the Canyon was abuzz with some of the biggest stars of popular music. These included Jim Morrison of The Doors, Carole King, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, members of The Eagles, John and Michelle Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas, and Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork of The Monkees. Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash lived together in Laurel Canyon — the same house immortalized in the Crosby, Stills and Nash song, "Our House." Mitchell's third album, "Ladies of the Canyon," was inspired by Laurel Canyon.
If you're interested in learning more about the Laurel Canyon scene, I'd recommend a fantastic book by Harvey Kubernik called "Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon." It features a foreword by Ray Manzarek of The Doors and an afterword by legendary Laurel Canyon music producer Lou Adler.
There are thousands of stories about the Laurel Canyon scene from those days — some of which are captured in "Echo in the Canyon." Michelle Phillips shares the story about Brian Wilson, who lived up the road from her. Wilson had a piano in his home, and the whole living room was filled with sand. He seemed to write day and night. It was during that period when he was writing "Pet Sounds," in my opinion one of the greatest albums ever recorded.
The film also features Ringo Starr, who shares the impact the Laurel Canyon scene had on his own career, and on the music of The Beatles. (It's said that "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was inspired by "Pet Sounds.")
Eric Clapton, who spent a fair amount of time hanging out in Laurel Canyon, also appears in the film.
While there have been similar music scenes — Detroit during the Motown years, Nashville, Seattle during the grunge explosion — there aren't many that have had the lasting impact of Laurel Canyon in the sixties and seventies.
If, one day, you get a chance to see "Echo in the Canyon," I hope you'll check it out.
— Originally Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News, 05/23/19