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.

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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.

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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…

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Frank Zappa with daughter Moon Unit.  Getty Images
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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:

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

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Laurel Canyon:  The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood – by Michael Walker
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Canyon of Dreams:  The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon – by Harvey Kubernik
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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

-Stephen

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/p/laurel-canyon-michael-walker/1100946905/2660582144646?st=PLA&sid=BNB_New+Marketplace+Shopping+Textbooks&sourceId=PLAGoNA&dpid=tdtve346c&2sid=Google_c&gclid=Cj0KCQiA2o_fBRC8ARIsAIOyQ-nUr5rGOVMQysznRYWWeGKw0AyV9FYd9GtYNVJnKKuhsr4oNzFz474aAumGEALw_wcB

https://www.abebooks.com/Canyon-Dreams-Magic-Music-Laurel/30110395251/bd?cm_mmc=gmc-_-used-_-PLA-_-v01&gclid=Cj0KCQiA2o_fBRC8ARIsAIOyQ-kNGadghEctBnpcpBkIc6ZO4citQKhM2YH4GY7xmO6i_oF5PT47dmAaAmowEALw_wcB

https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-471-73273-0

 

July 30 – Buffalo Springfield Bow Out

Buffalo Springfield – Last Time Around

This record seems to have defied the odds with how good it is.  Contract obligation albums have often not been the best representation of rock groups, and in the case of Buffalo Springfield, they had already gone their separate ways by the time this one was released.  The tracks had been recorded months earlier in late ’67-early ’68.  But producer Jim Messina, who also played bass and sang on a couple of songs, pulled a very good swan song album out of the void of participation by the others.

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The other side of the coin for Last Time Around, released 50 years ago today, is that it is really more of a collection of solo songs.  The opening track, On the Way Home, is the only song with all five original members participating.  The lyrics to one of the tracks, The Hour of Not Quite Rain, were actually written by a fan who won a radio station contest, something that seems more fitting for a Monkees bio.  And even that’s an enjoyable listen to my ears.  The upbeat Latin flavored Uno Mundo, one of five Stills penned songs, features a rather dark lyric for such a happy sounding song:  Uno Mundo/Asia is screaming/Africa seething/America bleating/just the same.  Stills took a bit of a hit with critics, who wrote that his contributions weren’t up to his standard.  I don’t hear it that way; his other songs, Pretty Girl Why, Four Days Gone, Special Care (with Buddy Miles on drums), and Questions (which he later revived for on the CSN&Y song Carry On) are all fantastic tracks.

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It was the mercurial Neil Young whose participation was next to nil on this project.  Despite this, the two tracks he did write for the album went on to be classics:  I Am a Child and On the Way Home (the latter sung by Richie Furay on the album, though my favorite rendition is with Neil on vocals).  The closing track is Furay’s Kind Woman, a ballad for his wife who he is still married to today.  It’s a nice, peaceful ending to a tumultuous three years for a very heavily ego-driven band.

The album could be looked at as an embarrassment of riches considering how much great music they recorded on the first two albums and knowing where they were headed in the immediate future:  Furay and Messina would form Poco, the very influential early country-rock band, Neil would record his first solo record before rejoining Stills, along with Crosby and Nash, on their second album.  And Stills, before joining CSN and a mere two days before Last Time Around was released, would have his name featured on a highly acclaimed blues rock album with Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield (which I wrote about here).

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. On the Way Home
  2. It’s So Hard to Wait
  3. Pretty Girl Why
  4. Four Days Gone
  5. Carefree Country Day
  6. Special Care

Side Two:

  1. The Hour of Not Quite Rain
  2. Questions
  3. I Am a Child
  4. Merry-Go-Round
  5. Uno Mundo
  6. Kind Woman

A very solid bio of the band is For What It’s Worth:  The Story of Buffalo Springfield (2004).  It was written by respected music history writer John Einarson with Richie Furay.  It seems like a pretty even-handed account of their story, and is bolstered by Furay, who appears to have been the most level-headed member of the group.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Time_Around

https://www.allmusic.com/album/last-time-around-mw0000310624

https://books.google.com/books/about/For_What_It_s_Worth.html?id=vIdR–aAoAsC

-Stephen

 

July 22 – Bloomfield, Kooper, Stills: The Unsung Supergroup?

Bloomfield, Kooper, Stills – Super Session

Not all music collaborations are created equally.  Some might be better known due to the names involved, but in retrospect come up short musically.  One example in my opinion is the Dylan and the Dead album.  Another might be John McLaughlin’s joint effort with Carlos Santana on Love Devotion Surrender, an enjoyable listen but far from either guitarist’s best album.  The widely acknowledged first “supergroup” was Blind Faith, whose eponymous album is highly regarded.  But the precursor to the rumble caused by Clapton, Winwood, Baker and Grech was Super Session, released 50 years ago today.  With this album we have three artists who were arguably in near peak spontaneous creative mode.

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L-R:  Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield, and Stephen Stills

The album title is a slight misnomer, as it’s really two separate collaborations with Kooper/Bloomfield on side one and Kooper/Stills on side two.  I’m not exactly breaking headline news by saying this is a significant blues rock album, as it has earned gold record status.  But with so many other noteworthy releases around the same time, it sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.  You’ll likely never hear a track from it on classic rock radio (which is just fine with me).  Al Kooper was still somewhat fresh off his brief stint as one of the founding members of Blood, Sweat & Tears, Mike Bloomfield was about to leave the Electric Flag (having previously worked with the Butterfield Blues Band), and Stephen Stills was a free agent with the recent demise of Buffalo Springfield and participation in one of the most famous “supergroup” collaborations in his near future after spending a day with Kooper.

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Day one:  Kooper and Bloomfield

Kooper and Bloomfield had worked together as session musicians on Dylan’s landmark Highway 61 Revisited three years earlier as well as the latter’s fabled performance at Newport when he “went electric.”  Kooper, working as an A&R man for Columbia post-B,S&T, booked two days of studio time and invited Bloomfield to jam.  The songs on side one of Super Session are from the very productive first day, but when the second day rolled around, Bloomfield was a no-show.  As a testament to the respect Kooper has in the music industry, he was able to ring Stephen Stills, whose contribution rounds out the album.

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Day two:  Kooper with Stills

Side one includes three Kooper/Bloomfield originals, including their tribute to John Coltrane, His Holy Modal Majesty.  This extended jam has been described by one critic as a “fun, trippy waltz” that “features the hurdy-gurdy and Eastern-influenced sound of Kooper’s electric ondioline, which has a slightly atonal and reedy timbre much like that of John Coltrane’s tenor sax.”  Side two, or the “Stills side,” includes covers of Dylan (It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry), Donovan (a very unique take on Season of the Witch), and an original by session bassist (and bassist for Bloomfield’s Electric Flag) Harvey Brooks, Harvey’s Tune.  Session horn players added a brassy touch (though not as featured as on albums by Electric Flag or Blood, Sweat & Tears).  The album is late-60s Chicago blues with a twist.  In my view, it’s also an indispensable addition to any collection of blues-based rock albums of the era.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Albert’s Shuffle
  2. Stop
  3. Man’s Temptation
  4. His Holy Modal Majesty
  5. Really

Side Two:

  1. It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry
  2. Season of the Witch
  3. You Don’t Love Me
  4. Harvey’s Tune

For those who enjoy this album, here are a couple of others I recommend:

Michael Bloomfield – Don’t Say That I Ain’t Your Man!:  Essential Blues, 1964-1969

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The Butterfield Blues Band – East-West (1966)

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Session

https://www.allmusic.com/album/super-session-mw0000190678

-Stephen