Here is the full version of my article on Laurel Canyon for the most recent issue of Align Magazine as well as some film I shot for the piece!
We’ve heard it romanticized by a million different people half a million different ways,
but California has become synonymous with being a haven for both song and style. With its
picturesque hills that were home to both beatniks and bigshots, its skyline always reflecting the shine that rose from the nightlife on the Sunset Strip, and it’s never ending stream of musical talent, the City of Angels in the late sixties and early seventies seemed like something out of a dream. Los Angeles in its heyday carried an unmatched electricity that pulled creatives in from every corner to take their shot at a different life. So many years after it’s initial boom, the bustling So-Cal city still holds countless stories of fame and free love within its streets. Lucky for us who were not there to witness it first hand, the energy felt in its epoch was immortalized through the music and fashion the years produced. The dive the late sixties took into enthusiastic experimentation and free living stirred up a whole new way of dressing, music making, and existing in general.
While there were still those who hadn’t turned onto the cultural reset happening around them, one thing that was undeniable was the fact that the tight box the previous years had placed especially women in was cracking at the corners. All throughout the fifties and the early sixties, women in music were few and far between. The slim female few who succeeded in making their way into the industry at the timestill only were presented as novel sweethearts draped in matching outfits and beehive hairstyles.
A pioneer in the Freak scene of Los Angeles and a man who would be sorely missed if he didn’t pop into our dimension to pump out some killer guitar licks and few dirty jokes took this old stereotype and flipped it on its head with a whole new type of girl group. Freak music at its core focuses a heavy emphasis on experimentation and progressive rock aesthetics and their fashion followed suit. Galavanting in the heights of Laurel Canyon dawned in layered scarves, cloaks, and basically anything outrageously different, the Freak’s mission statement was more is more. Rejecting the two categories of hippies and squares, this group wanted to live into the grey area with no definitions to sit between. In 1969, Frank Zappa produced Permanent Damage, the first and only album by his haberdashery of hard edged honeys whom he dubbed the GTOs. This girl gang was composed of 7 groupies who had previously arranged themselves as a ballet company of all things, floating all across the beatnik hubs in the Hollywood Hills dancing and romancing with the LA stars they came across there. Not musicians themselves, but strong headed sirens with sexuality as their spotlight and a presence in the growing freak scene, these ladies caught
Zappa’s eccentric eye and he took to them quickly. Challenging the girls to write an album while he was off on tour with The Mothers Of Invention promising he would produce upon his return, Zappa opened up the door to rocks exclusive boys club and to a band of groupies at that — a move bolder than most would make in the height of their career. With the creation of the GTOs and the release of Permanent Damage, Zappa posed a question to the city; Are we ready to jump nto a new decade with a new set of rules? From founding member Miss Pamela inspiring the character Penny Lane in Cameron Crowe's 2000 film Almost Famous to Miss Christine being responsible for shaping Alice Cooper’s stage identity, The Ladies of the GTO went on to be iconic in their own right in the changing times.
Nestled in the same canyon community, the Los Angeles soft rock scene was
experiencing a creative boom at the turn of this pivotal decade as well. If you were to hitch a ride from the Sunset after a long night at the Whisky A-Go-Go, it would only take you ten minutes to
be transported through the trees to find yourself up in the heights of Laurel Canyon. These hills served as a collaborative hot-bed for LA artists and acted as a sort of songwriting playground where inspiration could be found around every corner. Folk phenoms could regularly be found bouncing songs and ideas off of one another, playing on each other's tracks, and using the age old motivator of friendly competition to take their albums all the way to the top. The lore of this boom was quickly whispered far and wide and it was evident that to be somebody in the scene now, you had to be near the action.
In this melting pot of people all looking at life through the same lens, love and scandal
arose just as often as record deals it seemed. Take The Mama’s and the Papa’s great canyon pass around of 66’ for example, where leading lady Michelle Phillips got temporarily kicked out of the band by her husband and lead singer John Phillips after he found out she was not only sleeping with bandmate Denny Doherty, but with Gene Clark of the Byrds as well. This little tie up inspired a co-written track by John and Denny about the whole situation titled “I Saw Her Again.” Dramatics definitely occurred in this close knit circle of artists in the canyon, but it was nothing that wouldn’t make for great material later. When Canyon Queen, Joni Mitchell caughtthe attention of Graham Nash it would inspire some of their best work as love often does. The pair lived in Laurel Canyon together until it all started splitting at the seams in 1970. Things went sour as they often do, so as one last ode to Joni, Nash penned “Our House” on with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young in 1970 and Joni wrote most of the meat of Blue and her most famous track “A Case of You” for him a year later in 71’.
Not only was a musical revolution born from the Canyon, but a revampment in the world
of fashion as well. Androgyny within the world of fashion was beginning to surface and men and women alike sported long hair and intricate clothing. Peasant blouses and gypsy cloth so delicately complimented the natural look the ladies would often sport, transforming them into ethereal fairies when they’d lounge all day in the California sun. Crocheted ponchos, bell bottom pants, maxi dresses and warm toned outerwear dominated the lookbooks of LA. Flowing fabric that accentuated the way the canyon creatures moved about also acted as a style staple, often being matched with layers of turquoise and silver jewelry. The look of the Canyon was as effortlessly beautiful as the sound that it produced and both worked together to solidify a snapshot of this far away time in LA history forever. The timeless feeling this place and period fostered has found its way into today's culture so naturally and its impact has forever shifted the directions of music and fashion.