Laurel Canyon, by Michael Walker

by Derwood Hunsdale-Talbot on September 9, 2009

Laurel Canyon
The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood
By Michael Walker

laurel-canyonDid every Sixties and Seventies rock icon live in Laurel Canyon? This book could lead one to believe so. Joni Mitchell named an album Ladies of the Canyon, alluding to herself, Cass Elliott, Carole King, Judi Collins and the other Queens of the Canyon. The Byrds lived there. David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash first sang together at Elliott’s home. The sentimental Nash-penned “Our House” was about his and Mitchell’s home there. Frank Zappa had what seemed like an Open Door policy for musicians there. Jackson Browne lived there, as did members of The Turtles and The Doors. So did John Mayall. The Beatles, the Stones, Eric Clapton and members of Led Zeppelin often found themselves staying there. Without Laurel Canyon, there may have never been an Eagles, a Poco, a Crazy Horse.

Just up the hill from Sunset Boulevard (where many of them performed and all partied), Laurel Canyon was a magnet for super-talented musical experimenters. Young, impetuous and riding a monumental wave of popularity, commercial success and the perks of indulgent record companies, they formed a tight-knit community that dared and encouraged each of its members to expand the creative boundaries of popular music.

Of course there are many who disagree and have made strong statement to the effect that what came out of this period was drug-soaked meandering (The Doors), feel-good Hippy Dippy (The Mommas & Poppas; CSN&Y) or narcissistic navel-gazing (Browne; James Taylor). So to even pick up this book probably requires a self-admission that the music from Laurel Canyon’s residents was (is) enjoyable and maybe even important. If knowing where music came from enhances the experience of listening, this book is enjoyable and maybe even important.

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