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



July 5 – The Lizard King and His Grasshopper – errrr Moth…

The Doors – Live at the Hollywood Bowl

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Doors’ historic engagement at that venerable L.A. venue, the Hollywood Bowl.  They weren’t the first rock act to perform there – among the many notable non-classical or jazz concerts, the Beatles were there in ’64 and ’65, the Jimi Hendrix Experience performed two months after the Doors, and skipping ahead almost 50 years Tom Petty’s final show just before his passing was on that stage – but thanks to the belated concert album and video release in 1987, the performance holds an important place in the group’s lore.


The Doors were one of my favorite bands during my highly impressionable adolescence in the 1980’s, and I rented this concert video numerous times on VHS.  Then somewhere along the line, perhaps after watching Oliver Stone’s 1991 biopic of the group a few times, I began to see Jim Morrison as more of a caricature of himself which cheapened the music for me.  But as we see repeatedly with these bands, time has a way of shaping and reshaping our perspectives.


In my case, starting this blog has caused me to revisit the Doors catalog with fresh ears.  Whether one likes Morrison’s poetry or not, or whether one even considers it poetry at all, there were three extremely talented musicians and one very good vocalist in that group.  Actually, two talented vocalists, as heard when Ray Manzarek had to take over the vocals on the occasion at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam when Jim was unable to make it to the stage after ingesting anything and everything given to him by fans as the band walked around the city.  And knowing that Manzarek was also playing the bass lines on his keyboard only elevated his status as a musician in my mind.


Due to the poor quality of the tapes when originally released 31 years ago, the album was limited to seven tracks totalling just over 22 minutes.  With improved technology, the other tracks were cleaned up and the full show was released in 2012 as Live at the Bowl ’68.  As critic Chris Roberts noted upon the 2012 release, the band seemed very aware of the importance of the show as they rehearsed more than usual, played tighter during the show, and even decided on a set list prior to the performance – something they didn’t often do.



One of my favorite moments of the show comes during The End when Morrison, under the influence of the “dreaded lysergic” (as George Harrison referred to it in later years), goes into a rambling stream of consciousness soliloquy about a grasshopper he sees on the stage just to his left.  He’s being over the top as usual in his typical rock Adonis mode when he looks down and realizes it’s not a grasshopper but a moth – a rare moment of levity, especially for such a bleak song.

Tracklist (2012 release):

  1. Intro
  2. When the Music’s Over
  3. Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)
  4. Back Door Man
  5. Five to One
  6. Back Door Man (Reprise)
  7. The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)
  8. Hello, I Love You
  9. Moonlight Drive
  10. Horse Latitudes
  11. A Little Game
  12. The Hill Dwellers
  13. Spanish Caravan
  14. Hey, What Would You Guys Like to Hear?
  15. Wake Up!
  16. Light My Fire
  17. Light My Fire (Segue)
  18. The Unknown Soldier
  19. The End (Segue)
  20. The End