Some music is so ingrained in our collective minds that it’s easy to forget how game-changing it was. In the late 1960s, a marriage of rock and folk took place and much of the popular music from that union was being made in a single place — Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles.
From The Beach Boys to The Mamas & The Papas, artists were writing new classics from their homes in the Canyon. A new documentary called Echo in the Canyon tells the story of the place and the people and brings in contemporary musicians influenced by the music of Laurel Canyon.
“We were putting good poetry on the radio. There wasn’t any of that before it was June-moon-spoon,” David Crosby says in the film.
Artists like Crosby, Ringo Starr, Tom Petty, Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor, Beck and Cat Power all appear in the film. Directed by Andrew Slater, Jakob Dylan, son of Bob Dylan, interviews the musicians and also performs in the film.
Slater says the pivotal moment for the fusion of folk and rock was in 1964 when the group The Byrds came on the scene. “That moment when those songs from the first Byrds record go on the radio, it’s the first time songs of poetic depth and grace become pop songs,” he explains. “That paves the way for people to write differently.”
The geography of Laurel Canyon itself is what helped it feel like an artist colony. As Slater explains, the houses being in close proximity to one other made it easy for artists to collaborate.
“The main thing about LA is that you’re always on the edge of the wilderness, you know?” Slater says. “You’re there’s a coyote in your backyard and then being so close to the Sunset Strip where clubs were where people could perform created this kind of synchronicity in Los Angeles for making that music.”
While Slater provided the historical context, Dylan assembled musicians for the film who he felt were musical descendants of this time.
“The main connection is songwriting,” Dylan says. “The music that we’re talking about in the film, that’s what we’re doing, it’s splintered off in many different directions, but at the core of it that’s what we’re all doing.”
Dylan also covers songs from the time in doc like The Beach Boys’ “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” and The Mamas and The Papas’ “Go Where You Wanna Go.”
“We chose songs that, you know, I could explore with believability,” Dylan says of singing covers in the film alongside their creators.
Slater says the legacy of that magic time in Laurel Canyon will be “the spirit of partnership.”
“I hope that that kindness and the idea of Laurel Canyon will last. I think it exists in many pockets in America and many creative communities,”
Echo in the Canyon will open in select theaters in LA on May 24 and New York City on May 31.