How Laurel Canyon Became Rock Star Central In The 1960s And '70s

By | January 25, 2019

test article image
'The Hollywood Vampires' (L-R -- John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Alice Cooper and Micky Dolenz) and Anne Murray celebrate an early Thanksgiving at the Troubadour on November 21, 1973 in Los Angeles (Photo by Richard Creamer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

In the 1960s and ‘70s, folk musicians, psychedelic rockers, country rockers, and pop groups trying to get a little edge flocked to Laurel Canyon. Rock stars, it seemed, had found their Shangri-La, an idyllic world where a group of disparate friends all grew together to become some of the best known artists of the 20th century. Artists like Joni Mitchell, The Eagles, The Monkees, and Crosby, Stills & Nash all lived within walking distance of one another and would routinely hang out and jam together into the wee hours of the morning. The Laurel Canyon rock star scene was, like the California sound many of them made famous, a mellow affair.

The canyon’s twisted, humpbacked roads, dense eucalyptus, and neighborhoods of hidden homes feels like a woodland, country town that’s a world away from Los Angeles, but it’s somehow only five minutes away from the Sunset Strip. That’s what made the area so charming to the bohemian artists of the Woodstock generation.

Mama Cass Routinely Held Picnics At Her House

In stories of the Laurel Canyon scene, Cass Elliot, a.k.a. Mama Cass of the Mamas and Papas, is lovingly described as the “Gertrude Stein” of this circle of singer-songwriters. She loved to have everyone over to her home to jam, shoot the breeze, and of course eat. During the heyday of the Mamas and Papas she told Rolling Stone

My house is a very free house. It’s not a crash pad and people don’t come without calling. But on an afternoon, especially on weekends, I always get a lot of delicatessen food in because I know David [Crosby] is going to come over for a swim and things are going to happen.

One such get together was notable for featuring David Crosby (on a hunt for deli food), Joni Mitchell, Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, and Eric Clapton.

Jackson Browne Lived In A Basement Beneath Glenn Frey

test article image
Jackson Browne in 1977. Source: Wikimedia Commons

While they were still up-and-coming singer songwriters, Glenn Frey and Jackson Browne were neighbors, and they lived so close to one another that one could hear the other working on new music. Browne described the scene as an “amazing tribal life.”

The legend goes that Frey was lying on his bed and listening to Browne write “Take It Easy” on his piano. Browne couldn’t crack the tune and gave up, but Frey needed him to finish the song so he popped down to Browne’s place and gave him the line “It's a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowin' down to take a look at me.” The song was then recorded by The Eagles and over the years has become a new American standard.