Laurel Canyon: The paradise where they put up a parking lot

Eddi Fiegel
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:41

Once upon a time, there was a wooded wonderland where long-haired men and women wore flowers in their hair and often little else, where wood cabins nestled among cypresses and bougainvillea and the sound of birdsong mixed with guitars. Just a 10-minute drive north of Sunset Boulevard and Hollywood, Laurel Canyon was home to Joni Mitchell, The Doors, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Frank Zappa, The Mamas and The Papas, Jackson Browne and The Eagles.

It is now the subject of a two-part BBC Radio 2 documentary and a book. Both explore the Canyon's heyday in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when it inspired albums including Mitchell's Ladies of the Canyon, John Mayall's Blues from Laurel Canyon and countless songs including The Doors' "Love Street" and The Mamas and The Papas' "12.30 (Young Girls are Coming to the Canyon)".

The Canyon attracted mavericks and celebrities almost from the turn of the last century. Bohemians built chalet-style cabins while wealthy industrialists built mock-Tudor villas or Cape Cod-style retreats. In the 1930s, Hollywood stars discovered the area. The Garden of Allah, a hotel on the edge of the Canyon soon became the hedonistic hang-out of A-listers. Three decades later it was bulldozed for a mini-mall. This subsequently inspired Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi".

By the late 1960s, the Canyon chimed perfectly with the free-living, free-loving hippie ethos. Embracing the new lifestyle were Jim Morrison and his girlfriend, the poet Pamela Courson, Mamas and Papas songwriter John Phillips and fellow "Papa" Denny Doherty. Frank Zappa's home was one of the social centres and "Mama" Cass Elliot's, became a kind of permanent salon and second home to David Crosby, Graham Nash, Mitchell, Stephen Stills and Gram Parsons, as well as a stop-off for British musicians from Donovan and The Beatles to Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.

In the early 1970s the Canyon played host to Carole King, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and others but, by the end of the decade, cocaine and an increasingly corporate industry meant there was little left of the old utopia.

'Canyon of Dreams – The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon' by Harvey Kubernik is published by Sterling; 'Laurel Canyon' is on BBC Radio 2 on August 9 at 10pm. Eddi Fiegel is author of 'Dream a Little Dream of Me – The Life of "Mama" Cass Elliot, published by Pan Macmillan

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