Laurel Canyon (Review)

This will be the definitive documentary about the music that came from the artists living in L.A.’s Laurel Canyon from 1965 to 1975.

The two-part documentary is available to stream on Epix (it later became available as a low-cost digital purchase).  It includes all the artists listed on the above poster and more.  We see an amazing collection of old film and photos, plus we hear old and new interviews.  The key decision in the making of this film is that the artists are only seen as they were back in the sixties and seventies.  That’s because only the audio is used from the newer interviews.  This allows viewers to be taken back in time without thinking about how the stars have aged.

The director of the film is Alison Ellwood, shown above with the Eagles in 2013 when she did the acclaimed “History Of The Eagles” documentary.  Ellwood and her Laurel Canyon staff deserve  praise for finding all of the film and photos from about half-a-century ago, and then determining how to assemble them into a cohesive narrative.  The documentary is only semi-chronological, with artists interwoven throughout.  That way we don’t just get one artist followed by another.  In fact, it’s similar to the way these artists were interacting musically as they visited each other‘s houses in Laurel Canyon.

Here we see a group of musicians, including Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell and Cass Elliot (who was often the hostess for such gatherings).

Photographer Henry Diltz says (visitor from England) Eric Clapton was fascinated by the guitar tunings and style of chord playing by Joni Mitchell.

Diltz provided most of the historic photos, and was friends with nearly all of the artists.   He narrated portions of the film, and was shown at his current age.  Henry Diltz, who was at one time a folk musician, did the album cover photography for a lot of the Laurel Canyon artists, including The Doors, Crosby Stills & Nash, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, the Eagles, and many more.  Here’s a photo he took of Joni Mitchell.

Joni was leaning out the window of her home in the canyon, and the photo was taken as Diltz and a friend approached the house.

Diltz also took this shot of Joni with Graham Nash.  Nash told the story of how he wrote “Our House” when the two lived together.  It was the same time Mitchell was writing her albums Ladies Of The Canyon and Blue.

Additional historic photos were by Nurit Wilde, who is shown here on the 1960s set of The Monkees TV show.  Like Henry Diltz, she narrated parts of the film and was shown at her current age.  She mentioned that she ran the lights and sound for Buffalo Springfield at the Whisky A Go Go club.

At one time Stephen Stills and Peter Tork were roommates.  Stills had been considered for The Monkees, but when he was told his crooked teeth disqualified him, he suggested Peter audition.

Included in the film were the stories of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” about demonstrations in the 1960s, and CSN&Y’s “Ohio” about how four Kent State students were shot while protesting the Vietnam War in 1970.  The film doesn’t shy away from other bad news of the time, such as the Manson murders, but mostly the documentary concentrates on the artists.

Besides the more expected artists, Laurel Canyon provided significant coverage of other artists like The Doors (shown above), Love, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Little Feat, Alice Cooper, The Turtles, The Monkees, Bonnie Raitt, and Frank Zappa.  It didn’t matter what type of music you made, you were accepted by the Laurel Canyon family of musicians.

The documentary had some excellent rare film footage of Linda Ronstadt.  She told the story of how boyfriend J.D. Souther wrote “Faithless Love”.  Linda quipped that she and J.D. would have a fight, he’d go write a song about it, and she’d record it.

Most people know that the Eagles formed after Don Henley and Glenn Frey had backed Ronstadt on tour.  They added former Flying Burrito guitarist Bernie Leadon, shown on the left in the above photo, and Poco bassist Randy Meisner, who is next to Bernie.  Both had played in Ronstadt’s band earlier, and she recommended them to complete the original Eagles.

(Couldn’t leave out this shot of Glenn Frey & old Chevy.)

Last year’s enjoyable documentary Echo In The Canyon covered 1965 through 1968.  The even better Laurel Canyon: A Place In Time covers an extra seven years.  Director Alison Ellwood says she had wanted to make the film for twenty years, and the project was started before Echo.  She made it a point not to see that film, so it wouldn’t affect her work on Laurel Canyon.

The documentary starts in 1965 with the music of The Byrds and The Turtles, and goes through 1975 when the Eagles really take off prior to their peak of Hotel California.  It’s impressive how much information is included about all the artists, and yet the just over two-and-a-half-hour film never lags or seems too long.

Laurel Canyon  is not just a cool film for Baby Boomers.  It’s a great historic record of an almost mythical place and time.

2 Replies to “Laurel Canyon (Review)”

  1. Haven’t seen Laurel Canyon yet, waiting for it to show up on Netflix. Does it mention the Troubadour? Thanks for the overview. Amazing music came from West Hollywood

    Editor: Yes, the Troubadour was featured in the documentary, along with other L.A. clubs. Since Epix is a competing streaming service, Laurel Canyon is unlikely to show up on Netflix. We were able to use a one week free trial to watch the two episodes. We decided to stay with the service another month, and that’s just $5.99…about the same as some movie rentals. We’ve watched Laurel Canyon twice, and really enjoyed it.

  2. have seen “laurel canyon” 4 times now and will see again. its fantastic! really perfect. puts me there and makes me feel connected to that “place in time”. outstanding.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *