Skip to content

LA stories

Carol ConnorsMy Los Angeles is a place of myths and legends, all bathed in the glow of an endless neon sunset. It’s where the young trumpeter Dupree Bolton, barely into his teens in the early 1940s, secreted articles of his clothing night after night in a suitcase hidden backstage at a Central Avenue club so that when the right day presented itself he could leave home without telling his parents and go on the road with Jay McShann’s band. It’s the El Monte Legion Stadium, outside the city limits, where young blacks, whites and Latinos mingled, avoiding LA’s bylaws against mixed dances, to hear the DJ-turned-impresario Art Laboe presenting great doo-wop outfits like the Penguins and Don Julian and the Meadowlarks. It’s the image of Art Pepper, just out of jail, trudging up an Echo Park hillside in baking afternoon heat, wearing a check sports jacket and carrying his alto saxophone. It’s Richie Valens recording “Donna” at Gold Star Studios, with that perfect echo. It’s Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Paul Bley, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins inventing the future at the Hillcrest Club on Washington Blvd. It’s Brian Wilson, with the rest of the Beach Boys off on tour, concocting miracles of sound in a series of Hollywood studios. It’s photographs like the one above, which shows the young singer and songwriter Carol Connors, formerly known as Annette Kleinbard when she sang lead on the Teddy Bears’ “To Know Him Is to Love Him”, celebrating the gift of an AC Cobra from its inventor, the racing driver Carroll Shelby, whose jovial challenge — “If you write a song about my car and it goes to number one, I’ll give you one” — had sent her home to write “Hey Little Cobra” for the Rip Chords (she’s holding up the sheet music).

This is not just my Los Angeles. It’s Harvey Kubernik’s, too. The difference is that Harvey’s LA is real. It’s where he was born, and where he grew up in the 1960s. He attended Fairfax High, listened to Hunter Hancock on KGFJ, B. Mitchel Reed on KFWB and Wolfman Jack on XERB, and saw the Beach Boys at a record store appearance in Culver City in 1962 and the Seeds at the Valley Music Center in 1967. He even danced, so he says, on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. He watched the whole parade pass by: the Byrds, Love, the Doors, Johnny Rivers, Sonny and Cher, the Wall of Sound, the Monkees, Buffalo Springfield, and on and on. He’s been writing about it for 40-odd years. And, best of all, he’s retained every drop of enthusiasm for the place and its history, much of which is to be found between the covers of his latest book: Turn Up the Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972, published by Santa Monica Books.

It’s a large-format book and the photographic content is extremely rich (those familiar with Harvey’s earlier volume, Canyon of Dreams, will know what to expect). But the oral history is the point, and there is no one better to convey it than an indefatigable interviewer with an enviable contacts book. “I conducted over 200 interviews for this book over 38 years,” he writes, and although there are big names here, such as Johnny Otis, Roger McGuinn, Michelle Phillips, Lou Adler and Herb Alpert, some of the most fascinating testimony comes from session musicians like Hal Blaine, Julius Wechter, Jim Keltner and Joe Osborn, producers like Russ Titelman, Jim Dickson and Bones Howe, industry figures like Russ Regan and Lester Sill, and scenemakers like Henry Diltz and Rodney Bingenheimer.

Maybe you don’t want a book containing Titelman’s story about how he was studying sitar at the Kinnara School of Music when he met Lowell George, who was then playing shakuhachi. Or the view — shared by Phil Spector and Andrew Loog Oldham — that “Good Vibrations” represented not a liberation but a trap for Brian Wilson. Or the guitarist Elliot Ingber (who became Winged Eel Fingerling of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band) talking about how he felt like he was “landing on another planet” when, as a teenager, he made the bus journey from Hollywood to John Dolphin’s record shop in Watts, where he was able to discover the playing of Lowman Pauling with the “5” Royales and Hubert Sumlin with Howlin’ Wolf. But if you do, this is it. Because there’s one of those on almost every page.

* The photograph appears in Turn Up the Radio! and is from the collection of Carol Connors.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Charlie Banks #

    Thanks, Richard. Sold!! I’ll invest in Harvey’s book. I like the mix of social and cultural history that some writers can bring out. As an aside, and thinking about your interest in things LA, can I recommend another book to you. It’s by Eduardo Obregón Pagan. Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon: Zoot Suits, Race & Riots in Wartime L.A. Another dimension that informs the degrees of separation between whites and Hispanics at that time and thereafter. Also, a lovely photography book by Don Normark on Chavez Ravine, well referenced by Ry Cooder, as you know.

    May 20, 2014
  2. Thanks for the excellent recommendations, Charlie. I’ve always been fascinated by the Zoot Suit Riots. One more recommendation for you, if you don’t already have it: Clora Bryant’s 1999 book Central Avenue Sounds.

    May 20, 2014
  3. crocodilechuck #

    Dupree Bolton……… [‘The Fox’, Harold Land}

    May 20, 2014
  4. Sold on me too Richard, just ordered it. That car looks pretty hot too.

    May 21, 2014
  5. Charlie Banks #

    Thanks again, Richard. No, I don’t the book but I’ll pursue. You may already know it but Arhoolie have a great Pachuco music compilation: Pachuco Boogie. It’s terrific. Don Tosti features but sadly one song missing is Chinito, Chinito that Ry Cooder did a beautiful version of on Chavez Ravine. As often happens YouTube to the rescue…

    Back to books, Ry Cooder once told me about another book on LA East Side music. At the time, I left it and I’m now scratching my head to recall it. It was Ry who put me on to the Zoot Suit Riots book. He’s an inveterate reader.

    May 21, 2014
  6. Charlie Banks #

    ….sorry jumping about here, but just come to me that Ry recorded a song Guisa Guaina for Chavez Ravine, but was dropped. He played it to me from the rough mix of the album before it came out. It was very nice – vibes, sax, guitar etc (can’t recall who did the vocal) but maybe it didn’t fit exactly with the rest of the album tunes. Anyway, Don Tosti’s original is on the Arhoolie CD

    May 21, 2014
  7. Colin Bailey #

    Reading your piece made me immediately reach for Charlie Haden’s Quartet album In Angel City with the great pictures of both Charlie and Club Hillcrest. Thank you.

    May 21, 2014
  8. Fred Shuster #

    There seem to be few, if any, fragments of L.A.’s storied past left. But you can still linger, as I did recently, in front of now-abandoned Parker Center downtown and recall a young Ben Gazzara in “Arrest & Trial” or Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden and Raymond Burr in 1957’s “Crime of Passion” shot right there.

    May 21, 2014
  9. So good to know about this book. I lived in LA from 69 – 72 and again from 78 – 85 and I never got tired of all the music associations, many of which you reference. Aron’s Record Shop – a mecca for record buying enthusiasts and rock n roll pupils – was across the street from Fairfax High and every time I went (weekly if not more often) it was a kick to see the sand coloured school and think of all the musicians and artists who had gone there. Likewise getting to make records in Gold Star (a woman came in wanting to buy the toilet seat in the Women’s room because Cher had sat on it), visit the Capitol Tower, go to El Monte stadium (to see The Grateful Dead!), visit A&M with its other history as Chaplin’s studio, drive past Shelley’s Manne Hole, and all the other associations. It’s not often you get to drive a song lyric, as you could with ‘Dead Man’s Curve’. It’s pretty much eviscerated now, but there was a time, as JB would say, and it sounds like Harvey has had the sense to keep track of all his work so that we can still enjoy.

    May 27, 2014
  10. charlie banks #

    I know you’ve moved on to others things on the blog, but you might like to spend a few minutes on this Youtube video with Ry Cooder being interviewed about the context of Chavez Ravine….you may like his transport

    June 1, 2014
  11. Charlie Banks #

    ….just to add a sad detail, the photographer Don Normark has passed away aged 86. Here’s a nice appreciation from the LA Times and offers further insight into the demise of Chavez Ravine.

    June 12, 2014

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: