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Any Major Laurel Canyon

August 25th, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

Rarely, if ever, has so much musical talent been concentrated in one suburb as it was in the decade between the mid-1960s and mid-70s in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles.

A popular residential area for film stars during the Golden Age of Hollywood, by the late 1960s Laurel Canyon had become a bohemian refuge, a place where hippies did lots of drugs and wore few clothes.

The pioneer denizen was Frank Zappa, but the sounds that came out of Laurel Canyon were mostly folk and rock and folk-rock. Zappa, The Doors and Alice Coopers were musical outliers amid the likes of Joni Mitchell, Cass Elliott or James Taylor, or even popsters like The Monkees’ Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz.

Queen Bee of Laurel Canyon

The queen bee was Cass Elliott of The Mamas and the Papas — whose producer, the legendary Lou Adler, also lived there. Her parties were the place to be, according to virtually every alumnus. At one of these parties, Cass suggested that David Crosby of The Byrds should team up with Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield and Graham Nash of The Hollies, believing that their voices would go well together. The idea, as it turned out, was inspired.

Nash would later write a song about life on Laurel Canyon. Our House, on CSN&Y’s Déjà Vu album, was written about his domestic bliss with girlfriend Joni Mitchell. The two even home-recorded a demo of the song. But by the time Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young recorded it, Mitchell had dumped Nash. In fact, during the recording of Déjà Vu, all four members were nursing broken hearts (in Crosby’s case due to a tragic bereavement).

If Cass Elliott was the social locus of Laurel Canyon, with Dolenz’s home running a close second, then Joni Mitchell might have been the artistic leader. She’d even make an album about Laurel Canyon, sensibly called Ladies Of The Canyon.

As word spread about this musical refuge, more musicians moved in. In the 1970s, this was also accompanied by a different kind of drug culture, with cocaine supplanting weed and acid as the favoured form of substance use. The extended Summer of Love was ending in Laurel Canyon as well, with external events like the Manson Murders darkening the good vibes.

Tragic Singer

Not every member of the Canyon set became big stars like Joni Mitchell or James Taylor. Sadly, gifted artists like Judee Sill or Linda Perhacs never broke through and today are widely forgotten, unjustly so. Perhacs debut album in 1970 remained her only one for 44 years.

The extravangantly gifted Judee Sill, perhaps best-known for her song Jesus Was a Cross Maker, might be Laurel Canyon’s most tragic singer. In her young days, she was engaged in criminal activities, including robberies. She mended her ways in reform school, where she picked up an interest in Christianity which would find expression in her songs. Moving to LA, she soon experimented with drugs, picking up a heroin addiction (which led her to a stint in jail in the 1960s).

As a person Sill was troubled, as a musician, however, she excelled. Nash and Crosby appointed her as their opening act on tour, through which she landed a recording contract. She recorded two fine albums, but to no commercial success. Injuries from car accidents, health problems and drug abuse followed her until a drug overdose killed Sill in 1979.

Laurel Canyon on LP Covers

A couple of famous album covers were shot in Laurel Canyon. The cover photo Carole King’s Tapestry was taken in the living room of her house at 8815 Appian Way (the story of that cover is told in the Tapestry Recovered post).

The cover of Crosby, Still & Nash’s eponymous album, the one with the beaten-up sofa on a porch, was taken at a random house Graham Nash had discovered in Palm Avenue (between Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevards). The shoot, by Henry Diltz, was great, but there was a snag: the trio had yet to decide on the order of their names in the supergroup. When they decided on the Crosby-Stills-Nash order, their positions on the couch photo were in the incorrect order. So a couple of days later, they piled into the car to reshoot the image, in which the members would sit in the correct order — but when the group got there, the house had been torn down. In the end, they just went with that perfect shot, sitting order notwithstanding.

Diltz was a major contributor to the excellent 2020 two-part documentary Laurel Canyon, which features rare photo and video material. A great companion piece is the 2019 documentary Echo In The Canyon, which was a project of Jakob Dylan, which connects the Laurel Canyon scene with contemporary musicians.The mix is sequenced to fit on a standard CD-R, if you take tracks 1-25, but there are seven more songs to enjoy. It includes home-smoked covers and the above as an illustrated linernotes PDF. PW in comments.

1. Jackie DeShannon – Laurel Canyon (1969)
2. The Mamas & The Papas – Twelve-Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon) (1968)
3. The Byrds – Eight Miles High (1966)
4. Love – Orange Skies (1966)
5. Buffalo Springfield – Sit Down I Think I Love You (1966)
6. Joni Mitchell – Ladies Of The Canyon (1970)
7. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Our House (1970)
8. Judee Sill – Crayon Angels (1971)
9. Jackson Browne – Jamaica Say You Will (1970)
10. Carole King – Sweet Seasons (1970)
11. Dave Mason – Just A Song (1970)
12. Little Feat – Fool Yourself (1973)
13. Bonnie Raitt – Too Long At The Fair (1971)
14. Carly Simon – The Right Thing To Do (1972)
15. James Taylor – Blossom (1970)
16. Linda Perhacs – Sandy Toes (1972)
17. Poco – Just For Me And You (1971))
18. Eagles – Peaceful Easy Feeling (1972)
19. America – Lonely People (1974)
20. Ned Deheny – On And On (1973)
21. The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band – Border Town (1974)
22. Mama Cass – Make You Own Kind Of Music (1969)
23. Flying Burrito Brothers – Sin City (1969)
24. Judy Henske & Jerry Yester – Charity (1969)
25. The Monkees – For Pete’s Sake (1969)
Bonus Tracks:
26. The Turtles – So Happy Together (1966)
27. Three Dog Night – Never Been To Spain (1971)
28. Linda Ronstadt – Long Long Time (1970)
29. Fleetwood Mac – Landslide (1975)
30. John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers – Laurel Canyon Home (1968)
31. The Doors – Love Street (1968)
32. Alice Cooper – Living (1969)

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  1. amdwhah
    August 25th, 2022 at 09:26 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. August 25th, 2022 at 13:50 | #2

    Great stuff, thanks!

  3. Berni
    August 27th, 2022 at 19:21 | #3

    Outstanding!

  4. Rhodb
    August 27th, 2022 at 22:35 | #4

    Thanks AMD a really good compilation and wonderful information

    Regards

  5. Jim Sells
    August 29th, 2022 at 22:33 | #5

    Ned Doheny. Not trying to be a pedant, just thought it might help people trying to find his stuff.

    As always, thanks for everything you do, amigo :)

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