Young, Talented, & Free: Laurel Canyon in the Late 1960’s

Is there a historical time and place you’ve ever thought might’ve been great to have been around for whatever reasons?  The combination of the lens of history and the imagination can make the grass appear quite green in different bygone scenes.  For me, Paris in the 1920’s, Greenwich Village in the late-1950’s/early 60’s, and Swinging London in the mid/late 60’s are a few which stoke my imagination.




Another is Laurel Canyon for that brief moment in the late 60’s when the music world was shifting faster than people could keep up with.  Thankfully there were artists and record company executives willing to take chances.  Granted, the “free” in my title is subjective; artists enjoyed leeway to record and perform as they liked, but massive egos are a hinderance to freedom in the spiritual sense, and there was no shortage of those in the Canyon.


But it was a snapshot in time just before the money got absurd and the drugs too hard,  and it’s not likely to ever be repeated.  Today it’s snapshots I’d like to share in a manner which deviates from my usual format.  Rock photography became a major art form itself and crucial to the music industry around this time, and in L.A. Henry Diltz, among others, was a major contributor among the emerging folk and rock glitterati.  Perhaps I’ll explore that topic another time.

For now, picture yourself in a canyon in 1968 L.A., with tangerine trees and smoggy skies…


Frank Zappa with daughter Moon Unit.  Getty Images
The unofficial hostess of Laurel Canyon, Mama Cass.  Henry Diltz photo

Mama Cass may have been the unofficial hostess, but pictorially and musically speaking, to me the most interesting road in the canyon led to Joni Mitchell’s house:

Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Eric Clapton, and Mama Cass’s baby.  Henry Diltz photo
Crosby, Stills, Nash, Dallas Taylor, Young, and Greg Reeves.  Henry Diltz photo
Jim Morrison, standing outside his Laurel Canyon home.  Paul Ferrara photo
Jackson Browne in his ’57 Chevy.  Henry Diltz photo
Linda Ronstadt, then of the Stone Poneys.  Henry Diltz photo
Stephen Stills and Peter Tork.
Judy Collins and Joni in Mitchell’s Lookout Mountain home, Laurel Canyon.  Rowland Scherman photo
James Taylor and Joni.
John Mayall
The Canyon Country Store, where the ladies (and gentlemen) of the canyon gathered.

I recommend the following books to anyone interested in learning more about the Laurel Canyon scene in the 1960s and 70s:

Laurel Canyon:  The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood – by Michael Walker
Canyon of Dreams:  The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon – by Harvey Kubernik
Hotel California:  The True-Life Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and Their Many Friends – by Barney Hoskyns



November 8 – Dusty Springfield

Dusty Springfield – Single:  Son of a Preacher Man

This classic, written by Muscle Shoals composers John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins, was originally intended for Aretha Franklin.  Franklin did record it, but producer Jerry Wexler determined it wasn’t the right fit for her album.  Wexler, Tom Dowd, and Arif Mardin then produced Springfield’s version, released 50 years ago today, and it was a major international hit from her album Dusty in Memphis.  The song reached #10 in the US and #9 in her native UK.  It’s considered one of the all-time greatest singles by a number of music publications.  It’s also quite popular with sorority girls, as I found out a number of years ago when working as a party-pic photographer in a college town.

Side A:  Son of a Preacher Man

Side B:  Just a Little Lovin’


October 1968 Odds ‘n Ends

What a nice month October has been!  With the month full of great 50th album anniversaries (and cooler weather, of course), we’re headed into the final stretch of the year.  But before we get to the point in the year when north Texans are prone to running roughshod over local grocery stores, emptying their shelves of fake fire logs and bottled water whenever there’s a 2% chance of snow flurries, let’s close out October on this fine Halloween with a few final notably notable notables.

October:   The Osmonds – The Wonderful World of the Osmond Brothers  Yeah, no.

October:  Deep Purple – The Book of Taliesyn

Deep Purple gave us their second album 50 years ago this month (released in June of ’69 in the UK).  The Book of Taliesyn was released just in time for the band’s first US tour.  It was recorded only three months after their debut, Shades of Deep Purple, and hurriedly released by request of their label as their debut material was seen as insufficient to tour with.  As with their debut, it’s a mix of originals and rearranged covers including Neil Diamond’s Kentucky Woman.  Also similarly to their previous record, it was received well by critics in the US where they were still being called the “British Vanilla Fudge,”  but once again ignored in the UK.


October:  Brewer and Shipley – Down in L.A.

The duo from the Midwest released their debut album 50 years ago this month with a little help from Jim Gordon, Hal Blaine, Jim Messina, and others.


10/1/68:  Otis Redding – Otis Redding In Person at the Whiskey a Go Go

Another great posthumous Redding release, At the Whiskey a Go Go was recorded in 1966 prior to his rapid rise to fame due to his appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival a year later.


10/3/68:  Merle Haggard – Mama Tried

Merle’s critically acclaimed album featuring the hit title track reached #4 on Billboard’s Country album chart.  It was a continuation of his themes of crime and hardships.


10/7/68:  Thom Yorke born

The Radiohead frontman turned 50 this month.


10/14/68:  Tyrannosaurus Rex – Prophets, Seers and Sages:  The Angels of the Ages

This is the second album by the band later to be known simply as T. Rex.  An AllMusic retrospective review refers to it as the most underrated of their four albums.  As I probably said with the first one earlier this year, I’m going to have to give it a listen one of these days.


10/14/68:  Dept. of Defense announces it is sending back 24,000 troops to Vietnam for involuntary second tours


10/16/68:  Three Dog Night – One

One is the debut of Three Dog Night.  Oddly, their #5 single of the same title wasn’t included on the original album release.  Robert Christgau, Life Cereal’s “Mikey” of rock music critics, actually liked it.


10/17/68:  Ziggy Marley born

Ziggy has outlived his father by 14 years.


10/30/68:  Jackie Kennedy becomes Jackie Onassis


10/31/68:  LBJ announces complete halt to bombing in North Vietnam








October 30 – A Solo Classic from Marvin

Marvin Gaye – Single:  I Heard it Through the Grapevine

This Motown classic was written in 1966 by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, and originally recorded by Gladys Knight & the Pips in 1967 when it reached #2.  The Miracles recorded a version in 1968, as did Marvin Gaye, and CCR did a sprawling rendition for their 1970 album Cosmo’s Factory.  As with Stevie Wonder’s hit For Once in My Life a couple of weeks back, Berry Gordy originally vetoed Grapevine as a single before relenting in October of ’68.  It was released this day 50 years ago, and was a #1 smash in the US and UK.


The song went on to become part of the American music fabric, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for “historical, artistic, and significant” value.  It also had a resurgence in popularity in the 1980’s after it was included in the Big Chill movie soundtrack (1983) and in a California Raisins advertisement in 1986 (this version mirrored Gaye’s, but featured Buddy Miles as the vocalist – something I wasn’t aware of until reading up on the song).  In the mid-1980’s Gaye’s version seemed almost as ubiquitous as anything by Michael Jackson or Madonna.  It’s one of those timeless tunes that could see another resurgence at any point in the future.

Side A:  I Heard it Through the Grapevine

Side B:  You’re What’s Happening (in the World Today)