Laurel Canyon: Tripping Back in Time
It’s funny how something someone says jerks a memory from way back when and a vivid image comes to mind. I posted a photo of a purple suede fringed waistcoat I used to wear in the 1960s on Instagram along with my co-written novel, Only One Woman – set in the late 1960s – and after lots of discussions, with followers, we got around to chatting about who owned a similar waistcoat, and where they purchased it.
The discussions carried on to Facebook and out of the blue, someone asked me if I’d seen the YouTube documentary series about Laurel Canyon, in Los Angeles, covering the 1960s, and early 1970s and some of the bands and singer-songwriters who lived up there during this time.
My apologies to crime fans, this isn’t a crime-related post. Indulge me… but having said that, if you watch the documentary you will find that Laurel Canyon has a link to the infamous murder called, The Black Dahlia Murder, but I won’t spoil it here. Do watch the series.
I was transported back to a studio in Laurel Canyon where we worked for some months, back in the 1990s. Instant images pushed themselves forward in my head, I could even smell the hot, spice-laden fragrance that is peculiar to LA for some reason.
These photos were taken on film and sadly, over the years, have deteriorated, but I decided to add them anyway.
Curiosity got the better of me and I watched the YouTube series. I knew a lot about Laurel Canyon and its music history; it would be impossible to spend time there without someone telling you something about the iconic musicians who passed along those narrow roads and lived up in the canyons.
Apart from many album covers photographed at various properties on Laurel Canyon, such as Tapestry by Carole King, reputedly to have been taken in her home, the series mentioned who else lived there, where their houses were, when they lived there, and with whom they lived, loved, and collaborated – their songwriting partners and band members. If you haven’t seen it, please do take a look.
There are several episodes and each is informative and you get an insight into the stories behind the people, the music, and the property gates.
It covers the early careers of Joni Mitchell, The Mamas and The Papas, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, The Beatles, Frank Zappa, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Turtles, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Mickey Dolenz and many more.
When writing this I half-expected author and former Ad-man, Jeff Lee, to pop up and tell me one of his fabulous tales of Hollywood so we could both have a long natter about our experiences living and working in the entertainment capital of the world, but sadly he passed away a few years ago. I miss his little insights and funny stories. He knew many stars having worked on projects for record companies and movie studios. He authored wonderfully funny books too.
You can find his books on Amazon:
The album covers and singles are from our personal record collection.
It is not the Netflix documentary, Echo in the Canyon, but well worth watching all episodes.
Here is the link for the first episode from Wild River Television: Laurel Canyon.
The ping! came when I decided to watch the documentary. Cripes! It was like walking through those familiar streets of Laurel Canyon where I’d spent many hours, with the ‘hubster’ when living and working in LA.
Houses of all shapes, sizes, and designs, painted white, pink, or blue, with bougainvillea growing abundantly, with the telegraph wires cross-crossing the streets. The unkempt properties with wobbly wooden fences about to fall down, the earthquake-damaged roads cracked numerous times that never seemed to get repaired. Dead leaves drift around whenever a car passes churning them up with clouds of dust. Traffic speeds past whilst trying to avoid the refuse bins sticking out in the road; pedestrians beware. Pavements are rare and usually cluttered with personal mailboxes, various signs with instructions such as ‘No open fires,’ or a security company advert for the home they protect.
The roads are steep and winding and at times it feels like the edges are going to crumble as you drive upwards towards the summit. Stones fly under the car wheels if you go too near the edge of the canyon, whilst trying to avoid a wall or someone’s parked car on the single file road. It reminded me of driving up big Bear Mountain with that steep never-ending drop on one side and the mountain on the other.
There are some lovely homes, set back from the road, hidden behind huge gates that can be spotted from higher up in the canyon where you can look down upon them. But we came to the conclusion that we’d not want to live up there. The whole place is like a tinder box waiting to go up in flames, the roads are too narrow, and not always ‘made up,’ but very rough and difficult to navigate. The history of the area is fascinating and exciting and when you discover the music connections it is quite impressive. Very few homes have gardens, and not even ‘yards.’
The studio where the photo (below) was taken faced Ringo Starr’s then home across the canyon, It was possible to hear them entertaining their dinner guests if the studio glass doors were open to allow fresh air in.
Note the barbeque setup. I’m so glad we never got to fire it up on that wooden balcony. The whole house was made of wood and the surrounding canyon countryside was just ripe for fire with water-starved vegetation covering every space.
Our recording sessions started early mornings and ended in the early hours of the following day. It was often still dark whenever we drove up around the bends, with no street lighting to guide our way. Coming down was worse. It was a treacherous trip.
We were working with a number of record producers on an album for musicians we managed. The producers were also very successful songwriters There were two sets of producers, working separately with us, living in different areas of Laurel Canyon at that time, and both had gold and platinum albums and awards coming out of their ears. Their client lists read like a ‘Who’s Who.’ of the industry with multi-million sales for each of the artists they’d worked with, even then.
Bobby Brown, Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson, for example. recorded with both sets of producers at various times throughout their careers, in the two studios where we were based in Laurel Canyon.
Every morning the phone would ring and I would take a call for the producer at one of the studios, who was working with the caller as well as us. He was about to go on tour playing keyboards for the person at the end of the phone with whom I chatted daily; Michael Jackson.
There is a documentary on Netflix and Amazon Prime called Echo in the Canyon which is worth checking out, the link for the trailer is below.
I do hope those of you with an interest in music and especially 1960/70s music will take a look at the YouTube documentaries and films I mentioned. I found them so exciting and so interesting.
Please forgive my little diversion from Crime and writing. Those of you who know me here will already be aware of my previous incarnations and if you’re interested in my involvement in music, you can read Only One Woman, a blend of fact and fiction and the story of life on the road in the late 1960s… and lots more. Available Internationally in paperback and eBook.
You can also read ‘In the Mix’ my regular series in The Writers’ and Readers’ Magazine where I share some of my experiences and stories from my life in the music business.
Find out more about my writing by visiting my Amazon Author Pages – internationally:
Thanks for putting up with me. Normal service will be resumed soon.