‘Echo in the Canyon’
There’s a lot to like about Echo in the Canyon, a new 90-minute documentary about the Laurel Canyon music scene in the mid- to late-’60s, directed by Andrew Slater. One asset is the constant presence of Jakob Dylan, who has been silent as a recording artist for several years but here proves to be a sensitive interviewer and performer. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that someone who’s grown up as the son of Bob Dylan isn’t sycophantic towards his celebrated interviewees, but his thoughtful silences are often expressive — they give us, too, the chance to think.
It’s an unusual film in that its framing device is the assembling of a group of musicians, led by Dylan, to perform in concert the songs of the Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, the Byrds, the Mamas and the Papas, and Buffalo Springfield. Dylan’s on-stage guests include Regina Spektor, Beck and Fiona Apple — and, I guess, the members of his band, the Wallflowers. Those he interviews include Roger McGuinn, Brian Wilson, Michelle Phillips, Lou Adler, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, John Sebastian, Jackson Browne, Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr. There are lots of archive clips, many of them cherishable.
The real focus is very specific. It’s the moment folk music and rock music merged in the Byrds’ version of Bob Dylan’s “Mr Tambourine Man”. Specifically, it’s the moment Roger (then known as Jim) McGuinn got hold of a 12-string Rickenbacker — the second to be produced, we learn — and constructed that famous introduction, which echoed the “jingle-jangle” of the lyric and became a genre in itself, working its way through Tom Petty and ending up as power-pop.
A lot is made of the influence of the Beatles on this movement, quite correctly, and also of the way the Byrds’ early records influenced George Harrison to write “If I Needed Someone”. Personally I think they should have given considerable credit to the Searchers’ versions of Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono’s “Needles and Pins” and Jackie DeShannon’s “When You Walk in the Room”, which came out in 1964 and predicted the jingle-jangle sound with great precision. Also, given Nash’s presence, some mention should have been made of the Hollies’ influence.
But then David Crosby doesn’t think much of the pop music that came before… well, before David Crosby. It was, he says, all “moon-and-june and baby-I-love-you”. Oh, right. “I close my eyes for a second and pretend it’s me you want / Meanwhile I try to act so nonchalant.” That’s not poetry, huh? Sure, “To dance beneath the diamond sky / With one hand waving free / Silhouetted by the sea” is poetry, too. Ah well. Tutto fa brodo, as they say.
Having read two biographies of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young for a Guardian review last year, my appetite for stories of internecine warfare in the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield is pretty well sated, and nothing uttered here adds interesting detail or insight. It’s nice to see Brian Wilson and to hear Michelle Phillips, and Petty’s conversation with Dylan in a guitar shop is apparently the last interview he gave before his death in 2017. But anyone expecting this to be the story of the Laurel Canyon of Joni Mitchell and James Taylor will be disappointed, which makes the presence of Jackson Browne puzzling: he talks well, of course, but really had nothing to do with what the film is talking about.
Apparently Slater was inspired to make the documentary by seeing Jacques Demy’s 1968 film Model Shop, set in Hollywood and starring Anouk Aimée and Gary Lockwood, with a soundtrack by Spirit (who, like Love and the Doors, are never mentioned). I’ve never seen it, but the clips we’re shown certainly make me want to rectify that omission. The director tries to recreate that lost vibe as Dylan cruises the boulevards and wanders from one legendary studio to another: United and Western (now merged), Capitol… not Gold Star, of course, demolished many years ago. The use of Laurel Canyon itself is disappointing: I wanted get more of a sense of the topography and to see the houses where these people lived and (in every sense) played.
Some of the newly performed music is enjoyable, although the chopped-up editing can be frustrating, and having Stills and Clapton perform a guitar duel in studios on different continents wasn’t really a very good idea at all. The best comes at the end: a sensitive version of “Expecting to Fly” is the finale, preceded by Dylan and Beck duetting quite beautifully in front of their band on the Byrds’ arrangement of Goffin and King’s “Goin’ Back”. “A little bit of courage is all we lack / So catch me if you can / …” It made me stand up, grab the nearest air guitar, and find a harmony to sing. And that doesn’t happen every day, I can tell you.
* Echo in the Canyon is on Amazon Prime. The photograph is taken from the Laurel Canyon Radio website: http://www.laurelcanyonradio.com/view-from-laurel-canyon/
great piece richard, as ever. a tiny correction though re. the correct italian idiomatic expression… it really is ‘TUTTO FA BRODO’, not ‘tutto fa UN brodo’.
Thank you for the correction, Sergio. I’m certainly not going to argue. But that’s how Gianluigi Lentini described a particularly scruffy goal he scored for Milan. Or that’s how I copied it down, anyway…
Being Italian I must say that our old say is “Tutto fa brodo” instead of “Tutto fa un brodo”.
I give in! Thanks, Maurizio.
Great Piece. Hard to capture the sights and sounds of the past, and given the agendas of some of the ‘Stars’, it’s going to be viewed through that lens. Crosby sounds like a nightmare. Really want to see it now!
On a complete tangent, I just caught up with the ‘Muscle Shoals’ documentary, which hints at the friction between Rick Hall and the 2nd set of house musicians. Glad there was reference to his first set of session guys, Norbert ‘Downhome’ Putnam et al., who became the Nashville ‘A’ Team.
The Muscle Shoals documentary you allude to … now THAT was a genuinely well done documentary filled to the brim with content and context worthy of the term .. documentary
Its investing that despite all of LA’s recording studios Muscle Shoals is the place of legend for recoding .. whereas Laurel Canyon was the place of legend for singers , songwriters and creativity that was off the charts
In fairness to David Crosby, on page 4 of John Rogan’s (1981) “Timeless Flight”, he cited the Searchers as one of his favourite groups.
His favourite composers were listed as….
Miles, Evans, Coltrane
The Searchers “Needles and Pins” and Jackie de Shannon “When you walk in the room”. Credit where it’s due. Nice one!
Michael Walker’s book on Laurel Canyon in the 60s and 70s is a great read and not constrained by things that hold back the documentary. There is more attention given to the development of a community as well as Zappa’s early role in having that community grow up around him. The doc is a nice companion to the more critical and comprehensive book.
Harvey Kubernik’s book ” Canyon of Dreams ” is vastly superior to Mr Walkers … errrr ,,, somewhat lacking effort
Thanks, Richard, for alerting me to the Demy film Model Shop and, more specifically, to the score by Spirit – I love the band but had not even heard of this venture.
4 tracks from ‘Model Shop’ can be found on a 1991 2 disc Spirit compilation called ‘Time Cycle’ which nicely summarizes their early years (including the notorious ‘Taurus’). When Sony reissued the first 4 Spirit albums a few years later they inexplicably did not include the ‘Model Shop’ tracks among the bonus material. Have a dim and distant memory of the film possibly being shown late one Sunday on BBC2. Great, great band.
Some of the tracks on ‘Clear’ are from Model Shop, too, if memory serves.
Agree with most of what you felt about the doc, Richard, and I was especially irritated by the fact that they had the likes of Jackson Browne and (as you say) Graham Nash talking interestingly and with great personal knowledge of the SoCal scene, but none of their music. Virtually anything by Browne would’ve been welcome, as would the Hollies’ King Midas In Reverse which was so clearly influenced by the Byrds. I also thought the Beck/Dylan version of Goin’ Back was pretty good, but there have been many betters, not least Nils Lofgren’s but that’s a different ball of wax altogether. And why didn’t they get Michelle Phillips to actually sing as well as talk – she sounded as thought she’d have been up for it.
Nice piece, as ever. I haven’t seen this yet, but will endeavour to do so this weekend. I’m also looking forward to seeing Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time a 2-parter recently screened on Epix in US. Agree about ‘ When You walk In The Room’. Our covers band played this for some years, 12 string resonance just great, always a frisson, & went down very well with a variety of audiences.
New to y’all across the pond . Very old news to us ( like two years plus old ) So for once on this site its y’all that late to the party … not me ( ha ! )
The documentary just released … EPIX’s ” Laurel Canyon ” is a bit better … but in reality both are severely lacking in both context and content .
Fact is I spent a bit of time in the canyon myself … though unfortunately just as the place was devolving from a creative hot spot to the excessively gentrified tourist trap it is today
So … The best choice to understanding Laurel Canyon is the book …. ” Canyon of Dreams ” by Harvey Kubernik .. which documents the magic place that Laurel Canyon was dating all the way back to the silent film era .. as well as the multitudes of jazz etc musicians who lived there before and up till the 60’s setting the stage for what was for a good 15 years plus THE most creative musical place on the planet …. bar none
In as far as any influence the Beatles may of had ( yeah Crosby went gagas for them but so what … the rest of the Byrds were already on the path that led them to stardom ) … might I remind you that EVERY Beatle with the sole exception of nose in the air Sir Paul McCartney has admitted it was Bob Dylan … and the Beach Boys that influenced them … not the other way around
As for David Crosby’s comment ? Somehow considering the vast appreciation I personally know David has for Momma Cass , the Turtles .. Zappa etc et al and all those that came to the canyon before him … I’m betting either the comment was taken completely out of context .. or alternately David was having one of his really bad days
Pleased to see the acknowledgment of The Searchers. Yes, The Byrds were important but always annoys me they get all the credit and glory when The Searchers had that jingle-jangle sound down whilst the preflyte Byrds were still on acoustic guitars.
An excellent salute to the Canyon… but it was also the scene of tragedy. In one of the many fires which swept through, John Mayall’s entire archive of recordings, lyric sheets, gig notes, bookings, photos and records was lost.
Very glad to see the Searchers and Hollies mentioned. They’re too often forgotten about these days, but I remember that as a ten-year-old I liked them a lot. And yes, you should certainly try to catch Demy’s Model Shop, which really is one of the best films about LA: all that driving! And if you’re a fan of his Lola, it is essential viewing. Here’s my old Time Out review of Model Shop, written some years after my first viewing of it (since when it has been beautifully restored). https://www.timeout.com/london/film/model-shop
Thanks, Geoff. Any idea where/how I can find Model Shop?
Model Shop is here: https://rarbg.to/torrent/tlce82q
Yes, simple, because it was restored not that long ago. Arrow released it on BluRay so you can get it directly from them or from Amazon. I originally saw it on BBC2 because I was a Spirit fan – but then I later became a huge fan of five or six of Demy’s other films, and have seen it frequently since.
Happy viewing if you get it!
Thank you, Maurizio.
“I’ve been livin’ with the Bear, in a big house full of blues”
I confess. The Laurel Canyon flavour I like the most is the ‘Mayall meets Canned Heat’ one !!!
This sounds very promising indeed. Jim Gordon’s succinct-but perfect-drum break on The Byrds’ version of Goin’ Back has always been a goose bump prompting moment for me. I’ve never seen the Demy film either but the soundtrack holds up well and is available on this reissue via Cherry Red.
On a very tangential note the Gideon Coe show I produce for 6 Music will be another Dylan themed affair this Thursday from 9pm followed by a play out of the new album in full at midnight when it’s released.
Henry, I hope you (and Richard) don’t mind me introducing a tangent here – I was trying to contact you on another matter (Stuart Maconie suggested you could help) but had failed in the attempt. Is there a path through which I can contact you directly?
You can. Might it have something do with Bert Jansch?
It does indeed, Henry! I tried your formula BBC email a while back but no luck, and tried messaging a couple of the shows you’re associated with and still only tumbleweeds…
And I have been saying just that about that drum break for many years, but no one else seemed too bothered ..so I am very glad to hear it now!
Thanks, Tim, Geoff and others for that further information about Model Shop. I have been listening to the soundtrack on Amazon Echo/Alexa; and it does not disappoint… By the way, did anybody out there ever see Spirit live? Did they even tour here? Randy California toured as a solo artist/Captain Kopter circa 1973 because I saw him and his band in Norwich. It was an exuberant and accomplished set but it was a far cry from Spirit on record. I am still puzzled as to why the band did not receive greater acclaim. Even in retrospect they have not fared too well. Is there even a decent ‘biography’ of the band?You rarely hear them on the radio though Cerys Matthews did once play ‘Fresh Garbage’. Around the same time 2015 actor and director Kerry Shale used some Spirit in Listen, We’re Family (an excellent play, based on real-life interviews, which did not pull its punches about British post-war Jewish life).
Paul, a version of Spirit certainly toured here in 1978 and subsequently. I think their final tour was in 1991. A 1978 performance o at The Rainbow is available on Esoteric and Evangeline have a number of releases including one of the last Euro tour in 91. I saw them in Birmingham in 79 or 80 – it was a trio of California, Ed Cassidy and (I think) Larry Knight. They were pretty good but I think there were some legal reasons preventing them from playing certain original songs so they did several Hendrix covers. I think the original band did play over here in the late 60s with Phil Manzanera, for one, being impressed by the band,and California’s performance in particular, at (I think) the Lyceum – this is referred to in the late Ian Macdonald’s liner notes to a 2 disc Manzanera anthology from many years ago. Hope that helps.
Thanks, Tim – it does sound like the original line-up did tour here…
Just catching up … I first saw the original five piece Spirit possibly at the Lyceum (?), which I think was their first tour in the early 70s. I don’t remember the exact year anymore. I’ve always cited it as one of my favourite live band performances. Energy, chops, emotional, enthusiastic, clever, talented are words that come to mind still. The energy seemed to have come from ‘The family that plays together’ era, and then contrasted immediately with the subtlety of the atmospheric Clear tracks. I saw them play a few more times over the years, once at the Rainbow, but don’t know the date, and then also two gigs once when it was just Ed Cassidy and Randy California’s band. Sad loss. Brilliant music.
Update: I found this useful biography of Spirit, including recording details and band changes.
Bearing in mind your comments on the importance of the Byrds version of Mr Tambourine Man, its all the more perplexing that it didn’t make even 100th place in the Guardian’s recent list of greatest UK Number 1s.