The Laurel Canyon Mafia!

Yes, Virginia, there was a “Laurel Canyon Mafia”.

Laurel Canyon, a cozy hamlet centered in the low-lying Hollywood hills, looming over the infamous Sunset Strip and acting as a geographical and cultural divide between L.A.s San Fernando Valley and West Hollywood. Laurel Canyon was a veritable magnet for all creative types, most  notably  in the 1960’s musicians and recording artists, but the names that make up the residents, friends and neighbors of ” The Canyon” read like a murderers row of “Hitmen and Women. They made the rules, broke the rules, but unquestionably they simply ruled the world of music in the 60’s. They worked together, created together and of course slept together while consistently making the greatest music of our generation or anyone’s.

So, who were ” The Laurel Canyon Mafia? Let’s see if any of these names sound familiar. The Byrds, The Doors, The Turtles, The Buffalo Springfield, The Mama’s and The Papa’s “Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young” Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Linda Ronstadt. ” The Mafia” we’re a warm welcoming gang so the residents frequently included the transient Beatle, Stone or other rock royalty, just passin’ through and “Looking for a place to crash” The legend and tales of The Laurel Canyon Mafia are notorious and numerous, so let’s begin early on when a young Richie Furay and Stephen Stills were in Laurel Canyon working on material for their new as yet unnamed band, with Bruce Palmer and Neil Young.

While discussing what to call the group they were interrupted by the roar of a steamroller working outside. Looking up, they saw the machine with its manufacturer’s name emblazoned on its side… There it was “Buffalo Springfield” BAM, history made from the blast of a diesel! Years later during a birthday party for Joni Mitchel Mama Cass invited her neighbors Graham Nash and David Crosby over for lunch, Cass insisted she instinctively knew their voices would have a magical blend if they harmonized together. Graham and David gave it a try, next door neighbor Stephen stills dropped by, added a third vocal and awesome guitar fills and BAM,  right in Mama Cass’ kitchen, Crosby, Stills and Nash are born.

The influence this unusual community had on the artists is undeniable. On the day Graham Nash moved in with Joni Mitchell, he wrote about it (first Verse)  ” I’ll light the fire, while you place the flowers in the vase that you bought today, ay, ay, ay,” ” Our house is a very, very, very fine house” Unfortunately, as word about the community spread, Laurel Canyon became a kind of tourist attraction especially among young women hoping to meet and “get to know” their idols.

Perhaps the most blatant song about the growing saga of Laurel Canyon was the final hit single from The Mama’s and The Papa’s “Twelve Thirty” written by the groups patriarch John Phillips. History will indicate that John, perhaps revealed a little too much information, admitting lyrically in the song’s chorus, ” Young girls are coming to the canyon, and in the morning I can see them walking, I can no longer keep my blinds closed and I can’t keep myself from talking”Whaddya think ? The Doors classic ” Love Street” Yup, smack dab in Laurel Canyon !…..Any stories anyone?

Meanwhile, enjoy this rare, unique and beautiful performance by Joni of her Masterpiece!

 

15 Comments

  1. Hey Wood,
    You hit the mark here so well and articulately. And, it’s been the topic of many late night conversations.
    Can the confluence of music, art and creativity of The 60’s ever be replicated?
    We agree with you, quite likely, it never will!
    That’s why SMS is here….
    Thanx for your always eloquent input in our ongoing dialog…
    Rick

  2. “12:30” OH YEAH what a great creation by John!! and Cass singing about the genesis of soooo many of these incredible imaginaries!!! you began your piece with the words: “our generation or other’s”!!!! Soooo true “Shoe”!!!! Tis seminal moment in time actually created and DEFINED A NEW ART WHICH COURIOUSLY INCLUDED MUSIC!!! This was a time of convergence of boomers, artists, poets, lyricists, melodies being consciously recognized and connected to with UNIVERSAL CONSCIOUSNESS, musicians with infinitely transcendent ears to transpose the vibrations of this HIGHER ORDER!! The whole of mankind has been held together solely by the artist – a stabilizing force!! In mankind’s past we have noted “RENEWALS” and “re=dos” throughout history BUT NEVER IN HISTORY HAS SUCH A COMPLETE TURN INTO ABSOLUTELY DYNAMIC ORIGINALITY EVER OCCURED!!.. This was truly an AWAKENING OF CONSCIOUSNESS ON A GLOBAL LEVEL!! We have always had genius in all aspects of social content but NEVER HAS THIS GENIUS CONVERGED TO COMPLETELY RE-IMAGINE HUMAN SOCIETY AS DID THE SOULS OF THE SIXTIES WHO THROUGH NO FORCE OF THEIR OWN KNOWING ARRIVE AT EXACTLY THE VERY SAME PLACE AND TIME GUIDED ONLY BY THEIR MASS TRANSENDENCE INTO A NEW CREATIVE ENERGY RESULTING — LIKE GOLD — UNTOUCHABLE, INDUSTRUCTABLE, AND UNTARNISHABLE. This confluence quite likely may never occur again!!!! This was, is and forever will be the GREAT AWAKENING!! We of course continue and will continue to enjoy and experience the magnificent creations of various artists but as yet and not on the foreseeable horizon will such a complete restructuring of human kind be taking place in the realms of art!! Everything we experience today is [if you will] a “re-do”, a “re-make”, a “re-finement”, a “re-interpretation” of what HAS ALREADY BEEN DONE IN THE ’60’S!!! WELL FOR NOW ANYWAY — WHO WILL PICK UP THE CHALLENGE IS NOT THE QUESTION — IT’S WHAT SOCIETY WILL TAKE UP THE CHALLENGE?????
    the wood

  3. Hey Rick, Really enjoy reading these….ah, incredible days. Any thoughts about Pandora’s Box ? First saw the Bryds there. Did you play that venue. Kim

    • Hey Kim, great to see you here. I never played Pandora’s Box. I did however spend the summer of 68 as the house band at ” The Sea Witch” A hole in the wall just a few blocks west on Sunset blvd, right next door to Dino’s bar and grill. Incidentally, Pandoras Box( in all it’s gold and purple splendor) was “Ground Zero” and the staging area for the legendary Sunser Strip Riots in November of 1966…..Were you there ? I was !
      By the way, How were The Byrds in those early days?

  4. The more oft-told tale, here taken from wikipedia:
    At a party in July 1968 at Joni Mitchell’s house, Nash asked Stills and Crosby to repeat their performance of a new song by Stills, “You Don’t Have To Cry”, with Nash improvising a third part harmony. The vocals jelled, and the three realized that they had a unique vocal chemistry.
    Creatively frustrated with the Hollies, Nash decided to quit the band and work with Crosby and Stills.

    • Yes, Mr. Guido, I’ve heard that story about CS and N at Joni Mitchell’s house as well. However, I think Rolling Stone said it best when they noted that the truth to the actual place of origin for Crosby, Stills and Nash tends to change depending on who you ask!( if you get my drift) One thing is certain, whether it happened @ Joni’s or Cass’ house They came together in Laurel Canyon !
      Thanx Mr. G for sharing that great 60’s story…

  5. Great article, Rick! I imagine you have read Graham Nash’s recent memoir. If not, I highly recommend it. Keep on writing. Love it!
    Allan T

    • Thanx Allan, read something from him 10 years ago, very revealing especially regarding The Hollies so I’m looking forward to your recommendation. Thanx for being part of SMS

  6. I lived there after my ex (Paul Cotton Lead guitar and vocals for Poco) and I broke up. It was the place to hang out in the 80’s and 90’s especially when my friends built the ever popular Cat and Fiddle Pub.So many memories from that time in my life. Thanks for the article it’s always nice to think back to that time in my life.

    • Freida, Thanx for joining in. So, you lived in the canyon and your friends owned the local pub? Life doesn’t get much better ! Meanwhile, Paul Cotton was the best part of Poco, not only was he a great singer and guitar player , he was a great songwriter “Heart of the night ” “Crazy Love”, Barbados, and ” Indian Summer” are the best songs the band ever recorded ! And Poco’s album ” Legend” remains in my top 10. Here’s a secret you probably know, but…..POCO were originally called POGO ( with a “G”) However, at the time there was a popular Sunday funnies comic strip called POGO, they threatened a lawsuit and forced POGO to become POCO. Jim Messina and Richie Furay seem to get all the credit for Poco, but it could never had happened without Paul Cottons brilliance

  7. Love this article and the info is so telling as to how different our generation and the music of that time was. People coming together, enjoying each other, and in their realm of reality creating great music that still endures today.

    • Yes,it was a great area,,We did have a great time Jules,with u &Rick,,The music will live on forever…Miss thoses days,,yes…

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