Los Angeles — There are two often-quoted “definitions” of Los Angeles: (1) It is 70 suburbs, in search of a city; (2) It is a three ring circus in search of a tent.
So it is with the rock and roll scene–spread to hell and gone, 70 scenes in search of a major happening, and as clownish, amazing and freaky as a circus parade.
Los Angeles is many things. It is the city that created the surfing sound… the hot rod records of Jan and Dean; the saccharine songs of Sonny and Cher; the sandy-haired soul of the Righteous Brothers; the polyethylene parts of the Monkees; the intricate innovation of Van Dyke Parks; the Mothers of Invention and the late, early and middle period Beach Boys.
Los Angeles is home, today, for everyone from Ray Charles to Herb Alpert; from Tim Buckley to Don Ellis; from Phil Spector to Lou Rawls; from Glenn Campbell to Taj Mahal; from Johnny Rivers to Nancy Sinatra; from Lee Michaels to Chad and Jeremy, and from Nilsson to Elvis Presley.
It is headquarters for the Chambers Brothers, the Turtles, the Mamas and Papas, the Byrds, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Love, the Association, Canned Heat, the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, Steppen-wolf, the Stone Poneys, the Doors, the Iron Butterfly, Clear Light and the United States of America.
It is where the Rolling Stones came to record once upon a time and where the Jefferson Airplane records now. Los Angeles is where there are 318 record wholesalers and manufacturers listed in the yellow pages, and where new ones appear on the scene each week. Los Angeles is where Ravi Shankar has his school and where the Monterey Pop Festival was born. It is where there are hundreds of recording studios and where, apparently finding all of them in some way lacking, John Phillips and Brian Wilson built private studios adjacent to their Bel Air swimming pools.
Los Angeles is where clubs, and groups, change names, and management, on a fortnightly basis. It is a city crammed with writers, photographers, artists, critics, producers, marketing consultants, promoters, managers, publicists, messenger services, and at least a hundred other occupational categories–all of them devoted in part or wholly to the music business.
[Masters of Artificiality]
Los Angeles is a relaxed and relaxing city, veined with canyons where musicians and artists live. It is also “uptight plastic America,” crawling with buyers and peddlers of flesh and the masters of artificiality.
You must understand geography. They come to L.A. to hang out, to organize new groups and audition at the Troubadour on Monday nights, to hole up in a canyon and write songs, to gig at non-union clubs for a percentage of the door or merely for the chance to be seen. They figure if they are within walking or driving distance of a studio or pressing plant (rather than in Salt Lake or Omaha) it is easier to get heard, get signed, get rich. Which is true (in a limited sense), for more acts are “discovered” or “created” in L.A. and more records are cut in L.A. than in almost all other cities of the world combined.
The most complex, and simplest, scene is the Record Company Scene. It is a series of paradoxes: thieving and magnanimous (usually this is motivated by greed, but magnanimous nonetheless), tasteless and talented, shambling, funky and computerized. There is a sense of intimacy at some companies (like Elektra) and a 1930’s showbiz style–somewhat uptight today–at others (like Capitol). It all becomes simple when you realize records are like widgets to those who keep the company books. Everyone who works in a widget factory spends a good slice of his life trying to convince everyone his is the best widget factory in town. It rarely is.
[The Company Freaks]
There is, however, a peculiar kind of guerilla warfare being conducted within this scene. At the moment, the concept of “company freak” is extremely popular. These are also known as “house hippies,” the record company’s equivalent of the “necessary Negro.” They are there by invitation and although their titles are euphemism at best, they are assigned specific responsibility – sometimes involving talent acquisition and producing, but always including flackery.
Andy Wickham, for example, is the “company freak” at Warner Bros.-Seven Arts and Reprise. Since this young Englishman joined the company founded by Frank Sinatra and featuring Trini Lopez and Dean Martin, Reprise has signed the Fugs, Arlo Guthrie, Tiny Tim, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Jimi Hendrix, while WB-7 has added Van Dyke Parks and the Grateful Dead.
These groups most likely would have signed with the company without Wickham. It isn’t important, because Wickham represents a “type” considered by many to be necessary. Derek Taylor, who is the spiritual progenitor of the hip record scene in L.A., was A&M’s first-person contact with the underground before he returned to England, and now that position is filled by Michael Vosse. Nick Venet is thought to be Capitol’s “company freak.” And David Anderle, who is now in charge of Elektra’s West Coast office, was a “company freak” at MGM two years ago, a company that is “freak-less” today.
In the area of hip flackery, the “company freaks” more often than not deal with the underground newspapers–a medium most record companies consider important. So the companies, acting through the staff long-hairs, make it more than easy for the Los Angeles Free Press and Open City writers to attend recording sessions, interview musicians, etc., while, of course, the underground press turns around and pays its printer with record company advertising money. In L.A. the socalled underground (Anderle prefers to call it the “barely-above-ground”) and the Establishment indulge in a lot of mutual back-scratching.
[Edifices and Waiters]
Despite the popular notion, the record companies do not form a monolithic bloc. Each is different from the other, in fact, some so far apart in style that they do seem to be a part of the same industry at all. The major record companies each have offices in Los Angeles, and several of them are headquartered there. RCA, MGM, and Columbia – all New York-based – have small to huge offices with representatives, salesmen, distributors and RCA owns a pressing plant. So do UNI, Mercury, ABC and a dozen others. But the “Los Angeles company” scene is one which revolves around Warner Brothers / Reprise; A&M; Elektra’s West Coast branch; Capitol and Liberty.
Capitol, headquartered in Los Angeles, is a very old style, middle-of-the-road company. It is located in that 1930’s “stack of records” edifice, built like a pile of 45’s. On the top floor, black waiters quietly pad around serving ice-water and other nourishment out of silver pitchers to the variety of executives. Down below, the nature of business is such that one wouldn’t know it was records except for the framed pictures and of Lou Rawls, the Beach Boys and Buck Owens.
The strange thing about Capitol, of course, it that they have the Beatles under contract. That group is still an absolute mystery to them, and they have only the vaguest idea that they are “something different.”
A&M, for some peverse reason, is one of the “talked about” companies. The perversity is that their bread mainly comes from Herb Alpert & the Tiajuana Brass, the Sandpipers, the Baja Marimba Band and other things like that. They’ve recently built new studios, acquired a film set (formerly Charlie Chaplin’s), and have enough construction going on to seem like they are expanding all the time in every direction. They have signed some young acts, but nothing yet has been successful.
Perhaps it was the presence of Derek Taylor which gave A&M whatever hip image it now has. He poured out numerous nouveau-purple prose bio’s and releases for all their acts, lent a sharp style and then split. Behind him he leaves a company which always is considering the Beatles, and may yet try to sign them.
Until recently, all Elektra had on the West Coast was David Anderle. Now they have the Doors and Elektra’s President Jac Holzman’s latest dream, the plushest studio available today. It is located in a Spanish-style set of offices (too small yet to be called a complex) with gardens on two sides and construction engineers on the others. Elektra has yet to get another act comparable to the Doors, devoting much of their time to a stable of solo male singers, most of them out of the folk bag.
The most action is taking place at Warner Brothers/Reprise, as they make a determined effort to move from being the label of Frank Sinatra and the adjunct of a movie manufacturer into a company with a line of top artists and best-selling acts. In Sinatra, the Association and Bill Cosby, they have some heavy breadwinners. However the corporate thinking is headed down primrose lanes which include Tiny Tim, the Grateful Dead, Joni Mitchell, the Fugs and Jini Hendrix under WB/Reprise contracts. (It is a minor amazement that a collection like the Fugs, the Dead, Tim and Hendrix should all be one label!)
The Warners executives are a fairly solid group–Joe Smith, Joel Friedman, Mose Austin and Stan Cornyn with Andy Wickham flitting around all over the place as well–and know where they want to more their company, how and why. It is highly probable they will be a very major label in just a few years time.
[The Presence of Incense]
The artistic side of the record companies is in the studios. Back in the days when Phil Spector was buying studio time by the week–not the hour– Gold Star was The Studio. This was where Spector took the Righteous Brothers and the Ronnettes and countless others to record their hits. It is where Sonny & Cher recorded, and where the Beach Boys spent thousands of dollars on “Smile,” a record Brian Wilson destroyed rather than release. (Something about believing it was “magic fire music,” which, if released, might cause the city to burn down.)
Today, The Studio is Western, although it is not necessarily the best. (“Best” probably goes to Elektra’s new studio, not yet readly for use but already sporting Persian rugs and –Continued on next page paisley baffles; when ready, this facility will be available only to Elektra artists and what Anderle calls “an invited few we’d like to have say they recorded here.”) Western is a large, square one-story structure on Sunset Boulevard, near the Columbia film lot. It is gray and old and unattractive, and hourly rates go up to $104, making it the highest-priced studio in town. Warner Bros. and Reprise record all their acts there. The Mamas and Papas use Studio #3, considered by many in L.A. to be the finest room available.
(The reputation – or charisma – surrounding Studio #3 is so great, infact, that someone else in town, Wally Heider, built an exact copy of it and called it Studio Three. It, too, is booked solidly.)
In the studios, too, there is incredible variety. Western offers some carpeting and a lot of bare linoleum tiling, with the conventional pegboard style of “paneling,” while Elektra (already mentioned) presents a studio atmosphere that demands the presence of incense to make the picture complete, and A&M took its cue from old movie days (a natural, since it quarters in Charlie Chaplin’s old studio and residence) and put a chandelier in the studio lobby, another in one of the control rooms.
[Laquered Sebring Haircuts]
Another scene, closely related to the record company, is the Party Scene. Dozens of reviewers and music trade writers and fan magazine editors and photographers have offices in Los Angeles and the music industry seems to feel it must offer these people not only a five-foot shelf of wax and acetate each week, but also a tight social calendar. Any excuse, or none at all, is reason for a press party.
It used to be that every sponge in the music business attended these functions with what seemed to be little more than a desire to get drunk. Today–with, again, the so-called underground so prominent a part of the music scene–there is less booze consumed, more “getting one’s head ready” before leaving home.
(Current, and a continuing, headquarters for the boozing musical hype is a chianti-bottled and plastic-cushioned restaurant in Hollywood called Martoni’s. The Sinatra clan eats here, sitting in the larger back room. In the front room sit or stand the disc jockeys with their lacquered Sebring haircuts tossing down drinks and anchovies, laughing it up with publicists and record promo men who “must” pick up the tab.)
(Slowly, however, a new style of promotion man is being created–one who supplies caps and tabs of LSD rather than booze. But he’s still a promotion man and that makes him twice as bad, nay, evil, when fooling around with LSD, a far cry from booze.)
It also used to be at the L.A. record party you’d hear the most hypesper-minute – with record company promoters hyping disc jockeys (who stood around, preening and hyping each other), while agents and managers and publicists and record company execs hyped anyone who came into view. Now there are increasing numbers of people from the underground present. Sprinkle the above with a number of teen fan mag writers, a few photographers, and the usual clot of hangers-on and you have cast your first record party.
You will not, by the way, find very many of the following at a record party. These are “stars” of the music scene, as well as some of the most influential personalities:
David Crosby: Since leaving the Byrds (and leaving them a more peaceful group by leaving), the fiercely Russian-looking Crosby has become a record producer (Joni Mitchell), sailor and, excepting record parties, the winner of the Man-You-See-at-Every-Gathering Award. Because he “hangs out” so much, there is a tendency to think he isn’t producing much. In a sense this is true. Yet, he is an integral part of the L.A. scene–thanks, largely, to his track record as a musician, but also because he is so volatile and opinionated.
Mama Cass: Cass Elliot runs a close second to Crosby in the non-paid public appearances race. She helps open new clubs (such as the Kaleidoscope) and enjoys attending opening night performances. Back in the days when the Mamas and Papas were promoting “California Dreaming,” she introduced’ herself to TV producers as “the mover in the group.” She still moves (is launching a career as a single, among other things), but in this case it is quite often the case of the young dowager queen who comes to the scene, rather than have it come by command to her.
Terry Melcher: Doris Day was once described as Hollywood’s “solid gold virgin,” but 25 years ago she produced a son. Today this only offspring is one of the highest-paid record producers in the world. With the royalties from several Columbia albums behind him–among others, the early Byrds–he now is involved with the Beatles’ production company, commuting from London to L.A., where he scoops up songwriters (Pam and Greg Copeland of the Gentle Soul) and the like, to fly over the pole back to Apple again. Terry has not yet, and probably never will, turn about and produce his mother.
David Anderle: “I always think of David as a painter,” says a friend, and this, too, is what David thinks of himself. But almost (emphasis on almost) every day he appears at one time or another in his office at Elektra–an office that has a rug that bounces like a trampoline when you cross it, a large round table (no desk) and a patio. Anderle’s common costume includes a wide-brimmed felt hat, an almost Mexican mustache, some suede and cowboy boots. His capacity is right-hand man to Elektra president Jac Holzman, and, by extension compadre to the Doors.
Lou Adler: If there were a pecking order in L.A.’s “hip” music world, this man would be thumb-wrestling with only a few others for top position. Founder of Dunhill and Ode Records, producer of the Mamas and Papas, and, with John Phillips, the elated (1967) and frustrated (1968) force behind Monterey. He is an extremely difficult man to find, harder to get to talk–unless you are in his thumb-wrestling league. Adler, definitely a Spector-like success in the biz, still can’t stay out of it and operates his new record label from his half-built Bel-Air home. It’s pink.
Peter Tork: When Stan Freberg shows up on the set of the Monkee movie, this is the Monkee he is there to see … to talk about a “symphony” Tork has written, among other things. Tork, folksinger-turned-teen millionaire, also appears regularly (and without pay) at the Monday night “hoot sessions” at the Troubadour–to sing and play and laugh at Monkeedom. By definition, the Monkees are in another world, but they are honest people, after all, and do fit into the scene quite well.
Frank Zappa: Derek Taylor once advised a friend to “create and preserve the image of your choice.” He did not say it to Zappa, but Zappa followed the advice–superbly–and the image he created was Freak. “He looks like a dying tree, with suspenders,” said one writer … and presumably, the Mothers of Invention form the rest of the Black Forest. Zappa is considered a genius, although it is certain he thinks this appraisal is a cruddy one. Zappa, in a word, eats it up.
Brian Wilson: Brian recently painted his Bel Air home purple, then repainted it bright yellow when the neighbors complained. And then there was the time he pitched a tent in the living room. These are the stories you hear, and however true they are, there still is Brian’s music to listen to–and that makes the stories acceptable.
Jim Morrison: A young man who went to the UCLA Film School and became a teenage idol, not in film but in music. Morrison is the one you hear the “story of the week” about now (succeeding Brian Wilson in the gossip corner) and the Doors are one of the highest-paid groups in the world. Morrison says he would rather be back singing in the Whiskey.
Barry McGuire: Rock and roll’s personification of the “back to nature trip.” If the gathering is under the skies (Love-Ins, etc.), McGuire will be there with his family and friends, taking his clothes off and getting busted too often to be amusing. McGuire thinks this is a drag, but remains the same.
Phil Spector: The grand old man of distinctive arrangement and rock, who comes out of semi-retirement periodically to scatter pearls before TV cameras–and while doing so, destroy all challengers by a subtle style of two or three-upsmanship. He has a fancy office building on the Sunset Strip only three minutes from his 24-room Victorian mansion. He feels he’s done it all, and he stays home.
The excitement of the night club scene seems largely past, but today it also appears to be reawakening, in the San Francisco “dance-concert” form. Sunset Strip still hasn’t recovered from the blow it received over a year ago–”dirty kids rioting,” said the restaurateurs –a few clubs are beginning to stir again. The Trip (formerly the Crescendo) and Ciro’s (later It’s Boss and still later Spectrum 2000) remain dark, but inside the old Moulin Rouge (later the Hullabaloo and now the Kaleidoscope) the Nachtmusik scene of Los Angeles may be coming together.
Kaleidoscope (capacity: 1468) is operated by two former William Morris agents, John Hartmann and Skip Taylor. Just short of a year ago they tried to open the Kaleidoscope in another building, but a neighborhood fear of long hair forced a court order killing this plan. The “Kaleidofolk” retrenched, found some backers in New York, and took over the old Moulin Rouge.
The club featured a 360-degree light show and a nearly perfect sound system that included the largest public address system outside Radio City Music Hall.
Miles away to the west is the Cheetah, the huge (capacity: 3,750) old Aragon Ballroom on Venice Beach. Generally regarded a bummer, largely because of its small, outdated light show and acres of stainless steel flanking the dance floor, it is, nonetheless, attracting as many as 2,000 young people on Friday and Saturday nights–if, of course, the group is right (Butterfield, Doors.)
[Pinnacle at Pinnacle]
More miles away, in another direction, downtown amid used car lots and on the fringes of the USC campus, is the Shrine Exposition Hall, scene of L.A.’s first Freak Outs (featuring the Mothers of Invention) two years ago. Now it is one of “the scenes” one or two weekends each month when Pinnacle Productions stages its dance-concerts. Here, good music (Cream, Hendrix, Traffic, Airplane, Buffalo Springfield) mixed with a good light show and good vibes make anything Pinnacle does the best stuff on the music calendar. These are the major clubs or dance halls. There are other sources of live music–the Santa Monica and Pasadena Civic Auditoriums, the Music Center in Anaheim and the Hollywood Bowl, along with a number of smaller clubs such as the Troubadour and the Ash Grove (largely folk houses), the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach (top name folk and rock), and on the Sunset Strip, the Whisky a Go Go (top name groups), the Galaxy and Gazzari’s (lesser-known acts).
Only on weekends do most of these clubs record a profit, and many are even closed during the week. The club scene in Los Angeles, although once again promising, is not what it once was.
[The Canyon Scene]
It is the canyons –Laurel and Topanga, especially–that house the people who make the music. Laurel Canyon is a paisley gash that runs from Schwab’s on Sunset to the suburban San Fernando Valley, and Topanga Canyon is a dusty-woodsy pass leading from Malibu Beach to the same suburban sprawl. The environments in these canyons differ, but the people do not.
Van Dyke Parks calls Laurel Canyon “the seat of the beat” in his album Song Cycle, for it is here the music-makers create and rehearse, using the canyon walls as a natural baffle–and the neighbors don’t seem to mind so much.
Stand on the wood porch outside the Canyon Country Store halfway up the hill and watch the neighborhood file in for supplies. In a few days time you will have seen members of Clear Light and the Turtles, Neil Young and Richie Furay (former Buffalo), Lee Michaels, Bryan MacLean (Love), Joe Larson (Merry-Go-Round), Micky Dolenz, Joni Mitchell, A&M’s Michael Vosse, Elektra engineer John Haney, Phil Austin and Phil Proctor of the Firesign Theatre, Andy Wickham, Elektra producer Barry Friedman (who shared a home in the canyon until recently with Paul Rothchild), Carol King (Goffin and King), and a dozen others of this musical, house-hopping fraternity. It is also in Laurel Canyon that Eric Burdon has a home, and Frank Zappa just bought the old Tom Mix house.
The attraction of the small store, with a cleaners and tiny restaurant nearby, is social as much as culinary. It is here where dates are made, new homes are found (on a bulletin board or through friends), grass might be scored, and where you usually get some sort of vague answer to the question, “What’s happening?”
[Billy of Ridpath Drive]
“If there were more mobility in this town,” says Billy James, a personal manager and music publisher who lives just up the hill from the store, “the Canyon store would look like MacDougal Street on Saturday night.”
Billy lives on Ridpath Drive, a steep twisting road that puffs to a dead-end after dividing 50 or 60 small frame houses slammed up against the mountainside. An afternoon stroll along his block reveals the essence of canyon existence.
At 8504 Ridpath, where Billy lives with his wife Judy and son Mark, is a mailbox with a typewritten list of the legitimate addresses for 8504; there are at least 20 companies, groups and individuals on the list. Inside the house this day, the dutiful wife is preparing a 1 p.m. breakfast of hamburgers for Billy and for Jackson Browne, a singer-songwriter Billy represents. Between phone calls, in a small dark “office” cluttered with albums, photographs, collages, tapes and acetates, Billy talks about the canyon.
“I lived in Beverly Hills my first two years here,” he said, “and then I moved into the clear air of the hills. It was either the hills or the ocean; both are here and it seemed silly not to live comfortably.
“I wasn’t the first to move into Laurel, but there weren’t too many here then–musicians and so on. Arthur Lee [Love] lived nearby–and that was about it. It’s all happened in the last year or so. I don’t know why, really. If creative artists need to live apart from the community at large, they also have a desire to live among their own kind and so an artistic community develops.”
[The Distant Drums]
As Billy talks, you hear someone in the near distance rehearsing. Billy explains it is the drummer for the International Submarine band. The drumming becomes louder as you pass the house and walk another few yards to 8524, Barry Friedman’s home. There you find Barry listening to tapes he has just produced for Elektra. Outside and on a different level from the house someone is cleaning the swimming pool and in another room of the sparsely furnished but rambling house a young Canadian songwriter named Rolf Kempf is picking and singing quietly.
Barry turns up the tapes for a visitor and begins to hype the group, the Holy Modal Rounders. You can see his lips move and barely hear him as an earthslide of sound fills the room from two huge studio speakers mounted near the ceiling. When the volume is cut, Rolf returns to his picking.
The following day Billy James is not home in the afternoon, but meeting with a record company. The house of the International Submarine Band is quiet as its members sleep. And Barry Friedman’s home is asprawl with musicians listening to albums and rapping–several of those present being the members of the Buffalo Springfield, wondering what’s next.
Laurel Canyon has been described by pop writer Richard Goldstein as a place where streets appear as if laid out by earthworms. And so it is. The earth is baked dry and verdant with semi-tropical growth by turns, and the drives and trails knot incredibly–linking a community of sound.
(A footnote regarding the househopping mode of living in L.A., which can only be described as incestuous: before Barry Friedman and Paul Rothchild moved into what is now Barry’s home, the tenant was disc jockey B. Mitchell Reed … who, in turn, now lives in David Crosby’s house in Beverly Glen, while Crosby commutes to his boat in Florida … and Barry’s old house, in Hollywood, is now inhabited by Doug Weston, owner of the Troubadour.)
Topanga Canyon is a stranger and somehow gentler place, removed from Hollywood and the center of the scene by almost 20 miles. (But still in L.A.) Say “Topanga” to someone in L.A. and the first-word-you-think-of response is “hippie.” But Topanga carried Goldwater in 1960, and the American Legion post there is a powerful one. Still, it is where Linda Ronstadt and Bob Kimmel of the Stone Poneys lived when the world began to spin. It is where Barry McGuire went to collect himself and began getting back to nature and where, today, in small frame homes against clay hillsides live two songwriters named Alexander (Gordon and Gary), Chris Hillman and Kevin Kelly of the Byrds, and the old Buffalo Springfield’s Steve Stills.
Laurel Canyon is the sort of canyon where you’d expect to find (and will find) a lot of motorcycles. Topanga Canyon is the sort where you’d look for horses. Both these means of transportation are popular among the music-makers who live in these canyons: bikes in Laurel, horses in Topanga. (VW campers in both.)
[Immediate Medical Attention]
Los Angeles is a strange town, seeming at times as if it were made in Japan and shipped here in small parts, then assembled by a committee of capricious drunks. But it has a pull, an attraction that may often (if not always) be related to – but somehow a little stronger than – the record company and the money it represents.
Frank Zappa, after living for 18 months in New York, returned to Los Angeles in May. “New York, is a good city to make money in,” he said, “but I can’t write there. I have to be in L.A. There’s something very creative here.”
Roger McGuinn of the Byrds says the music scene suffers some from the city’s unusually beautiful climate, its “terribly relaxed attitude,” but Derek Taylor thinks those points make L.A. valuable. “This town makes no demands on you and it offers you everything good,” he said. “There seem to be 30 hours in every day and eight days in each week. There is a leisurely pace, but a pace of getting it done. It’s all here–the best facilities, the best climate. You don’t have to leave L.A. on business, you know, unless you like to travel on business; everyone you know or like wants to come here. Even the Beatles, who never go anywhere.”
There are others who feel Los Angeles is not yet the blossom Derek says it is. Michael Vosse feels the earth in Los Angeles is “in need of immediate medical attention.” “It’s sick,” he said. “The business is sick and we have to keep attacking and working to make it well.”
While John Hartmann, manager of the Canned Heat and one of the Kaleidoscope owners, says, “The L.A. music scene is almost an unborn child. It’s a whole new thing today. The industry is generating product at an incredible pace, and new groups and new record companies are appearing hourly. I believe the L.A. scene started with the Buffalo Springfield and I think the Doors really kicked off this new era. Now stand back and watch out!”
So as L.A. troops from club to club by night, from studio to studio by day, or hides out in a canyon to rehearse and write, the scene begins to unfold. The many scenes haze softly at the edges and begin to overlap.