Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.
A two-part documentary series, Laurel Canyon, premiered last Sunday on the premium television network EPIX. The film explores the lives and evolution of musicians who in the 60’s and 70’s would gather in a Los Angeles mountainside neighborhood (The second part airs this Sunday). Director Alison Ellwood put together a collection of previously unseen film clips, home movies and television appearances for the series.
This week, some of the artists and stories from chapter of pop music culture history.
Let’s get rollin’.
There are plenty of interview clips in the documentary of Michelle Phillips, the only surviving member of The Mamas and Papas who lived in Laurel Canyon along with Mama Cass Elliot.
“Cass had an open-door policy – anybody could swing by her place any time,” Phillips said. “They’d smoke a joint, drink some wine and play their guitars. She saw herself as a hip Barbra Streisand. Her house was at the center of everything, open twenty four hours a day [with] a very wide circle of friends.”
Holly Michelle Gilliam met and married John Phillips in 1962 and they would form the Mamas and the Papas in 1965.
“I would never have become a singer if it hadn’t been for John,” Phillips said. “Really, all I wanted to do was dress up in a cute cocktail dress, put my hair up, drink a Brandy Alexander, have a Marlboro, and be the bandleader’s girlfriend. That’s what I thought I had in front of me.”
BTW, ” California Dreamin”… it’s ‘pretend to pray’ it’s not ‘began’.
“A lot of people make that mistake, said Phillips. “About eight months after we recorded it, it was a big hit. We were doing a soundcheck before a concert in some town. We starting doing California Dreaming and Cass came up to me and asked why I sang ‘pretend to pray.’ I told her that was the lyric, and she said she thought it was ‘began.’ She said ‘That’s the way I sang it on the record.’ So when people come up and say “Oh, I thought you said it was ‘began’ to pray’ I tell them ‘Well, you’re right, too’ since Cass sang it that way’.”
The group was the subject of a PBS special in 2016, 50 years after they hit stardom.
Things weren’t always harmonious with the group. In a 2000 interview with the NY Times, Denny Doherty said ”it was an untenable situation. Cass wanted me, I wanted Michelle, John wanted Michelle, Michelle wanted me, she wanted her freedom.”
John Phillips died from heart failure in 2001. Doherty died from kidney failure in 2007. Cass Elliot passed away at the age of 32 from a heart attack in 1974. Many believed she choked to death on a ham sandwich, because there allegedly was one found next to her bed at the time of her death.
”What is a Jewish girl eating ham for anyway?” Doherty said. ”It didn’t happen. Her poor old heart just quit.”
When she moved to Los Angeles in 1968, Joni Mitchell discovered a book at a flea market that mentioned, “Ask anyone in Los Angeles where the craziest people live and they’ll tell you Hollywood. Ask anyone in Hollywood where the craziest people live and they’ll say Laurel Canyon. And ask anyone in Laurel Canyon where the craziest people live and they’ll say Lookout Mountain.”
Joni Mitchell bought her Laurel Canyon home at 8217 Lookout Mountain Avenue in the spring of 1968 and it became a popular place for musicians to hang out.
“There was a friendliness to it, no one locked their doors,” Mitchell said. That is, until the Charles Manson murders that shocked LA.
Mitchell said there was music everywhere. “In the afternoon there was just a cacophony of young bands rehearsing.
“Like Paris was to the Impressionists and to the PostImpressionists, LA back then was the hotbed of all musical activity,” she said. “The greatest musicians in the world either live here or pass through here regularly. I think that a lot of beautiful music came from it, and a lot of beautiful times came through that mutual understanding. A lot of pain came from it too, because inevitably different relationships broke up and it gets complicated.”
This was a big hit for Judy Collins, written by Mitchell.
Joni Mitchell in her Laurel Canyon home in 1969
Joni Mitchell in her Laurel Canyon home in 1970.
Mitchell began dating David Crosby of The Byrds around 1967 and he produced her debut album. Music journalist David Browne shared in his book “Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: The Wild, Definitive Saga of Rock’s Greatest Supergroup,” that Crosby would reportedly “revel in presenting her to his friends, treating her like a prized, talented possession.”
“David Crosby and I were never a couple,” said Mitchell. “We spent time together in Florida and he was off drugs and very enjoyable company at that time. We rode bicycles through Coconut Grove and went boating. But David’s appetites were for young harem girls who would wait on him. I would not be a servant girl. I had a child-like quality that made me attractive to him and my talent made me attractive. But we weren’t an item; I guess you could call it a brief summer romance in Florida.”
The relationship began to unravel and Crosby reportedly took up with an old girlfriend. That was the end of that love affair, paving the way for Mitchell to hook up with another musician.
Graham Nash, then with the Hollies, tells the story about the band playing a show in Ottawa in late 1966 or early 1967.
“And after the show the promoter throws the usual party where you’re standing there with a plastic glass of awful wine, and you’re trying to, you know, smile at everybody,” said Nash. “I saw this blonde in the corner, and she was incredibly attractive. And my manager was nattering in my ear about whatever it was, you know, promoter and his wife’s name and say hello to Georgie and all that kind of stuff.
“And I say, look, stop talking to me, I’m trying to attract this woman. And he said, well, if you’ll just listen, I was trying to tell you that her name is Joni Mitchell and she wants to meet you. And that’s how I met Jon.”
During one of those impromptu parties at Mama Cass’ house Elliot saw and heard Crosby singing…by himself. And Stephen Stills singing…by himself. And Nash singing…by himself.
Michelle Phillips remembers Elliot heard them all singing separately and said, ‘You guys should sing together.’ A new band was born.
The documentary also focuses on the second wave of Laurel Canyon musicians, including Linda Ronstadt.
“Frank Sinatra never wrote any songs. Elvis Presley never wrote any songs. Neither did Linda,” said acclaimed rock photographer Henry Diltz. “But she had the knack for picking out, instinctively, what songs were going to be good for her.”
In 1969 Hugh Hefner engaged in a 26-week TV series called “Playboy After Dark.”
Hefner had done previous TV programs. This one continued an atmosphere of a televised party, set in a $35,000 bachelor pad with a den, sunken living room, and curvaceous bar.
Guest were impressive. Marvin Gaye, Janis Ian, The Byrds, Buddy Greco, Shari Lewis, Pat Henry, and others.
Hugh Hefner said this in 1969 about “Playboy After Dark”: “It’s better than the Johnny Carson show or the Joey Bishop show and I do a better job hosting than Ed Sullivan does.”
This clip of Ronstadt singing a Bob Dylan song is in the Laurel Canyon documentary.
Ronstadt was all of 23 in that performance.
Some of the best and highly detailed recollections in the documentary come from Johnny Echols who sang and played guitar in the group Love.
“So the places in Laurel Canyon were really cheap. I got a house for $70 a month. Then I paid $160 a month for a four-bedroom house that is now in the $3 million (price) range to buy,” Echols said. “Musicians gravitated to places that were inexpensive and then their friends gravitated there. Pretty soon, no one but musicians lived there. And the police didn’t bother you when you had your music up really loud, because your neighbors did, too. It felt like ‘Oz.’ We were living in this magical little enclave and we were safe from the outside world.”
The Laurel Canyon communal magic, of course, couldn’t last forever.
“Before 1969, my memories were nothing but fun and excitement and shooting to the top of the charts and loving every minute of it,” said Michelle Phillips.
“The Manson murders [in the summer of 1969] ruined the L.A. music scene. That was the nail in the coffin of the freewheeling, let’s get high, everybody’s welcome, come on in, sit right down. Everyone was terrified. I carried a gun in my purse. And I never invited anybody over to my house again.”
That’s it for this week.
Have a great week-end.
“‘Hippie’ was like a young person just burgeoning, just opening, just blossoming, somebody who’s getting hip,”said Jackson Browne, a Laurel Canyon second-waver.
“There was a way of living your life out in the open, being a freak and being unapologetic about who you were.”