My 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.