Thursday, March 12, 2009
Title: Laurel Canyon, The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood
Author: Michael Walker
When rock music was young and yet to be infiltrated by hard drugs, MBA’s and big BIG money, there was a hippie enclave holed up in the hills and valleys behind the Sunset Stripe in Los Angles. After the Beatles came in and decimated the musical landscape, numerous artists on the verge of fantastic success congregated in the Laurel Canyon area – buying inexpensive homes with proximity to the developing music center of Southern California. Included in this cavalcade of rising stars were the Byrds, Joni Mitchell & Graham Nash, Frank Zappa, Mama Cass Elliott, Neil Young, Jackson Brown, The Eagles and others. The Doors hailed from Venice Beach which was across town and a million miles away. In his tell-all-book Michael Walker talks about the unique artist community that lived on Laurel Canyon road in central Los Angles.
The book recounts how Cass Elliott brought together Graham Nash (of the Hollies) with Stephen Stills (of Buffalo Springfield) and David Crosby (of the Byrds) in her living room, “…she pulls up in this convertible Porsche. I got in and she drove me up Laurel Canyon to this house” says Nash. ‘Waiting there were Stills and Crosby, who sang for Nash the Stills composition, ‘You Don’t Have to Cry.’ “That was a moment that is indelibly etched on my soul,” Nash recalled.
Walker is sure to dish the dirt including Robert Plant’s (Led Zeppelin) fancy for 16 year old groupies and the, ‘L.A. Queens’ that catered to, “provide the fulfillment of fantasies of these men [who] were older than me” recalls Morgan Welch. Walker recalls the now infamous, ‘Riot at the Hyatt’ hotel on Sunset Strip and the debauchery that seemed to go on nightly as rock bands target Los Angles for much needed breaks from the road.
Walker talks about Charles Manson getting thrown out by Gail Zappa and his suspected reasons for the murdering Leno & Rosemary LaBianca and Sharon Tate. “Sally Stevens, an L.A. record executive who lived on Lookout Mountain at the time, recalls, ‘I was kind of wandering about this party and there was a door slightly open and I could see people sitting in a circle. There was a candle in the middle of the floor, and there was this guy sitting in the corner. He was kind of holding forth to everyone and they were all sitting like a bunch of sheep. And as I looked in the door, he said, ‘Come in, come in.’ I just got a bad feeling from him and said, ‘No, that’s okay.’ Later on, when they arrested Manson, I went, God, that’s the guys.”
As cocaine overtook marijuana as the drug of choice, Laurel Canyon’s innocence fell away behind a shroud of paranoia and the onslaught of Glam Rock. “A young misfit named Frank Ferrana, at the time being a transient being raised at the Sunset Tower apartment building on the strip, was obsessed with the Sweet’s vocalist, Brian Connolly, and why, among other matters, Connolly had, ‘bangs that curled under,’ Ferrana would change his name to Nikki Sixx and found Motley Crue…”
To lift from Charles Dickens, ‘it was the best of times’ and the future was tomorrow rather than yesterday. This is an easy read that is fun, packed with lots of known music names of when innocence was the norm and baby-boomer youths were hitting their teens and early 20’s. Yes, its fun. No, it’s not explicit. And best of all, the Omaha Public Library has it on hand…so it is free!
Artist: Hague a/k/a Mark Stenton
Title: (self titled)
A few folks have heard the bromide, “Taking coals to Newcastle.” A substantially smaller circle will know that Newcastle Upon Tyne, a northeast English town, was “home” to significant rock music talents including; Sting (The Police), Brian Johnstone (Ac/Dc), Brian Ferry (Roxy Music), Eric Burden (The Animals), Lindesfarne, Splinter, Nic Armstrong, Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and Andy Taylor (Duran Duran). Much like the midwest American cities of Omaha or Detroit, Newcastle has a perchance for rust-belt rock n’ roll that leans towards metal. So it a tribute to the internet that, ‘Hague’ has been able to muster any accord amid the heavier sounds that Newcastle is known for.
As an avid music fan, I lost my muse. Where it went I could not say. Perhaps it was the grind of 24 years in the pre-recorded music retail business – an industry that is literally less than half the business it was five years ago. And more than a few musical muses have been pilloried on the rail of radio’s endless blah, blah, blah. Having celebrated the twentieth anniversary of, ‘Pacific Street Blues & Americana’ (www.KIWRblues.Podomatic.com) I’d become a part of that dinge albeit trying to convey art over amassing an audience. I lost my rock n’ roll heart…so much so that I’ve resorted to trolling the internet listening to obscure LPFM (low powered frequency modulation) radio stations that recent legislation in Britain created. One day I found a heartbeat. Lionheart Radio, a real community station, located in Alnwick, Northumberland: a mere hamlet on the North Sea coast between Newcastle and the lowlands of Scotland. It was art. Oh, it’s not that their air-talent is that “talented.” One day it’s a conversation about Mrs. Thompson’s fresh garden tomatoes and the next it’s a choir of school children. Host Ally Lee is perhaps the most spontaneous deejay I’ve heard since KQKQ died in May of 1978. Lionheart is a come-to-life ‘Petticoat Junction’ that streams across the internet. It’s a community and you’re welcome to listen in.
It was on Lionheart that I heard the musical project by forty year old Mark Stenton’s. In a world where tits sell toothpaste, this was all together different. ‘Hague’ is at once a nostalgic memory you never had and the lilting smell of mom’s hug after coming in from the cold. It is the simple interplay between vocal, acoustic guitar and rich backing textures that allow the listener to focus on the well written music that sweeps you away with mental images and rendering lyric lines. The used of space is brilliant. Whether a keyboard, flute or super low bass, Hague builds a audio soundscape that is immediately friendly. Stenton’s sound is a bit ‘Bare Trees’ (Fleetwood Mac), a tad ascending English sing-a-long and a less palliative David Gray.
This five track EP opens with the track, ‘Fool.’ Stenton juxtaposes a flute against a strumming guitar as he sings, “You act like a fool, so they think you’re a fool. You want to fit in but I don’t know where on earth to begin.” It is a powerful song with layered texture and solo-era Lennon bite. “You say many things, without saying anything. Who’s in the mirror staring at you? What are trying to prove, when you act like a fool?”
“These northern stars flicker in silence, and the moon is burning red.” The album closes with the near cinematic song, ‘Northern Blues.’ Stenton uses space among a sonic pallet that harkens Townshend with, ‘See me, hear me, come on talk to me. Feel me and heal me, come on home to me.” A kick drum emulates a heartbeat as the song’s character bemoans a departed lover or the death of a dear someone. “These northern lights, they dance awhile, like the spirits breaking free. I’ll sing to you, my northern blues. Till you’re resting with me.” At 2:21 this is a powerful and moving artscape that is dramatic, underplayed and wrenchingly beautiful. This five track EP “has no filler.” Hague can be heard at; http://haguemusic.co.uk/