Echo in the Canyon

Jakob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Rickenbacker

This documentary is so in my wheelhouse. I’m a huge music fan, especially of ‘60s bands, which is what led to my working for years as a DJ at a classic rock radio station. Since I know so much about the Laurel Canyon music scene, I was worried I’d already know all these stories. Especially after watching the documentary Under the Covers a few years ago (about album cover photographer Henry Diltz, who had a few photos pop up here).

One of the few ‘60s bands I wasn’t that fond of was The Byrds, but listening to former Greenwich Village folkie Roger McGuinn talk about the band’s history, and the history of these ‘60s artists, was a blast. And I never knew that a song they did is what inspired the George Harrison/Beatles tune If I Needed Someone. And the story of how the quiet Beatle got that 12-string Rickenbacker is terrific.

I’ve always loved Eric Clapton’s “Let it Rain” but never even realized how much it sounded like Buffalo Springfield’s “Question.”

There were revelations like this, and so many others, that made this one of the most enjoyable movies (not just documentaries) that I’ve seen all year.

Early on we see a smiling Tom Petty grab that jangly Rickenbacker, and a smile curls up your face, especially realizing this is probably the last interview Petty did (and the California transplant has lots of stories to share).

There were plenty of laughs, too. Hearing Michelle Phillips (The Mamas and the Papas) diss the Byrds by saying, “If they can have a hit, we can” before leaving the Greenwich Village folk scene for the California coast.

The film has perhaps the most coherent interviews with Brian Wilson that I’ve heard in some time. Of course, The Beach Boys, and “California sound” are featured often in this. It was refreshing that it was more than just the sandbox story I was familiar with. Wilson shared a lot of nuggets here.

It was nice to hear David Crosby admit that he was a jerk (he once flipped me off when I asked him a question, which prompted me to write the story “David Crosby Flipped me the Byrd” which ironically, he ended up loving).

I had never seen the live performance of Buffalo Springfield go from Stephen Stills singing For What It’s Worth, into Neil Young’s blazing version of Mr. Soul.

Yet it wasn’t just the old clips of these rockers that I loved seeing. The guy behind this movie, Jakob Dylan (who I believe has a dad in the music industry), does a great job showing us the haunts of Laurel Canyon and Sunset Strip, as well as assembling some of the best musicians working today — Fiona Apple, Norah Jones, Regina Spektor, Cat Power, and Beck. They perform many of these classic songs in the studio, and at the Orpheum Theater. It’s a little less exciting watching this “supergroup” sit in a living room and pore over classic albums we all know and love.

Producer Lou Adler, who many merely know as the guy in sunglasses that always sat next to Jack Nicholson at Lakers games, shares some great stories about his time in the studio with these bands.

I was shocked that Ringo Starr agreed to share so many stories. My favorite was about the time he and George drove to one of these Laurel Canyon houses where everyone was sitting around naked. When they saw two Beatles pull up, they immediately ran and put their clothes on.

“Not very hippie of them,” laughs Ringo.

Stephen Stills shared some great stories, including a time he jumped out a back window when the cops busted up one of his parties. He says the guys still rib him about that to this day. It was sad to hear his voice sounds like he might have some kind of problem. I was lucky enough to meet him (and his bandmate Graham Nash), on a number of occasions, and there aren’t two nicer musicians around. It’s a shame Crosby is such a jerk (a topic they do bring up).

The one element of this movie that confused my wife and I, was seeing the indie Jacques Demy film Model Shop, showing Gary Lockwood driving around L.A. in an old MG. Now, I get why Dylan is driving around in his GTO, but…not sure of the point of the movie in the documentary.

You will hear some of the stories you’ve probably heard before, like how The Beatles made Sgt. Pepper as an answer to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. What you may not have known, is that Wilson wrote Pet Sounds after being heavily influenced by the previous Beatles record Rubber Soul.

We also hear from Jackson Browne, and it was nice that he shared stories I didn’t hear in Under the Covers. We learn that a lot of these musicians would just show up at another songwriter’s house, play a new song they wrote, smoke a joint, and just hang out.

Yet nothing beats the jubilant Tom Petty. He loves music so much, and to hear him joyfully tell stories about seeing Buffalo Springfield open for the Beach Boys in concert as a teenager in Florida, or winning Pet Sounds on a radio contest as a kid and saying “I never got over it.” It just warms your heart. I just never understand why these musicians, who get so influenced by those before them, never learn to steer clear of the drug use that has taken many of them far too young (okay, off my soapbox now).

Perhaps my only complaint about this documentary is that there was no Joni Mitchell and nothing about Arthur Lee & Love. Now, I understand the band Love isn’t very well known among most folks, but with Lee and Bryan MacLean (a former roadie for the Byrds) and their Byrds sound, mixed with garage rock psychedelia (and the album “Forever Changes” being considered one of the most influential records ever), at least a passing mention would’ve been nice.

It was great to hear a quick mention of the Gold Star Recording Studios, especially since San Diego is the place where a musical about that place, called 33 ½ — House of Dreams, will debut soon (for details: https://www.sdrep.org/showinfo.php?showid=425 )

If you can’t wait another few months for that show, you can see this terrific documentary. If you’re lucky enough to see it on opening night Friday — you can catch director Andy Slater doing a Q&A after the film, followed by a performance from Jakob Dylan (The Wallflowers) and Jade Castrinos (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros). And if you saw them on Jimmy Kimmel a few weeks ago, they tore it up with their version of The Mamas and the Papas’ “Go Where You Wanna Go.” They’ll also do some Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. That’ll be after the 6:00 p.m. show at the ArcLight in La Jolla, and after the 7:45 show at the Landmark Hillcrest Cinemas.

I’m giving this documentary 4 stars out of 5.

 

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