The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #22: “Lover of the Bayou”

“Lover of the Bayou” (3:39)
Written by Roger McGuinn and Jacques Levy
Produced by Jim Dickson
From “Untitled,” Columbia, September 14, 1970

The Byrds started out by creating the “folk-rock” genre, a hybrid of Bob Dylan folk and Beatles rock ‘n’ roll. They quickly explored other musical styles, pioneering jazz-rock, raga-rock, psychedelic rock, and finally settling into country-rock. But the latter-day Byrds lineup could also straight-up rock ‘n’ roll as they did with song #22 in our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown, “Lover of the Bayou.”

Whereas the original incarnation of the Byrds (1965-1968) was well-known for its indifference to rehearsing and the resulting poor quality of its live performances, the latter-day lineup of Roger McGuinn (guitar), Clarence White (guitar), Skip Battin (bass), and Gene Parsons (drums) earned a reputation as a hard working, audience pleasing, quality touring band.

McGuinn had co-written a number of songs with Broadway impresario, Jaques Levy, that were intended for a musical that never materialized. With the fresh material, the Byrds decided to release a double-album comprised of a studio disc and a live disc to show off the band’s in-concert chops.

The opener to the live disc, “Lover of the Bayou,” was one of the McGuinn-Levy tunes. It’s a pretty good rocker with Clarence putting his Telecaster through the paces, augmented by Battin’s bass lines, Parsons’ awkward overfills, and McGuinn providing inconspicuous rhythm on his twelve-string Rick. Some wondered if McGuinn had been listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival before writing this “gumbo rock” tune with its nonsensical lyrics. McGuinn later stated his inspiration was Malcolm “Dr. John” Rebennack. “Lover of the Bayou” was recorded at the Felt Forum in New York City on March 1st, 1970 and the hard-drivin’ rocker served as the opener to many a Byrds concert.

The “Untitled” album was easily the best of the five post-Sweetheart, McGuinn-White Byrds LPs and we’ll be visiting the album once more in our Top 25 countdown.

The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #23, “Changing Heart”

“Changing Heart” (2:42)
Written by Gene Clark
Produced by David Crosby
From “Byrds,” Asylum Records, March 7, 1973

The Byrds started out in 1965, but by late-1968, Roger McGuinn was the only remaining original member. The lead guitarist soldiered on for five more years with hired hands. The ersatz Byrds’ released their last album, “Farther Along,” in 1971, but the band continued to tour. With the exponential popularity of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Asylum Records president, David Geffen, thought it would be financially lucrative if David Crosby, McGuinn, and the other founding members of the Byrds, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, and Michael Clarke reunited for an album, a tour, and possibly more. McGuinn bought into the idea and finally pulled the plug on his ersatz, touring Byrds.

I remember eagerly anticipating the release of “Byrds,” the reunion album of the original members of the band. I got on a bus after school and headed to Midtown Records in downtown Rochester to get my copy. But when I got home and played the LP I was like, “Huh?” Overall, the album was disappointing, but Gene Clark contributed two excellent tunes with “Changing Heart” getting a slight edge over “Full Circle.” That’s Gene playing the harmonica. One of the more disappointing aspects of this album was producer Crosby’s decision to minimize McGuinn’s trademark 12-string Rickenbaker (possibly in retaliation for his firing in 1967?), but we do get to hear some muffled riffs in this tune.

Despite being a gifted songwriter, Gene’s career never took off after he quit the Byrds in 1966 (he’d been the band’s primary songwriter for their first two albums). In this song, Gene bemoans being misunderstood and mishandled by the record company execs. In actuality, much of the problem was due to his own heavy drug and alcohol abuse (in conjunction with other mental health problems). Clark died in 1991 at the age of 46 from accumulated, self-inflicted health issues.

I wasn’t the only Byrds fan disappointed by the reunion album. Due to the unenthusiastic response, a tour and subsequent projects never materialized. The next and last time the five original Byrds appeared together was eighteen years later in 1991 when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, just four months before Gene’s death.

The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #24: “Bad Night at the Whiskey”

“Bad Night at the Whiskey” (3:23)
Written by Roger McGuinn and Joseph Richards
Produced by Bob Johnston
Released as a single, January 7, 1969
From “Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde,” Columbia, March 5, 1969

After Chris Hillman quit the Byrds in the Summer of 1968, only Roger McGuinn (guitar) remained as a founding member. McGuinn pressed forward with hired hands, Clarence White (guitar), John York (bass), and Gene Parsons (drums). Their studio album, “Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde” was met with a cool reception by fans and critics. The songs were mostly mediocre and the production was terrible. Bob Johnston, producer of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, inexplicably turned the treble way down in the creation of this muffled disappointment.

One song stood out for me on this album and that was “Bad Night at the Whiskey,” written by McGuinn and his friend, Joey Richards, an early-60s rocker. Columbia execs also thought enough of the song to release it as a single, although it failed to chart.

I enjoyed “Bad Night…” a lot despite the muffled mix. The vocal sustain is a nice element. A couple of minor criticisms: York’s high harmonies can’t compete with the masterful high harmonies of former-Byrd, David Crosby, and über-talented country guitarist, Clarence White, is a fish out of water as he attempts to play rock ‘n’ roll. Many have labeled the angry lyrics of this tune – e.g., Well I’ll stay out of your way if you keep out of mine – as “allusive,” and perhaps that was on purpose. In her book, “In the Wings: My Life with Roger McGuinn and The Byrds” (2017), Ianthe McGuinn writes that her relationship with the Byrds’ leader was very troubled at this stage because of Roger’s hedonistic rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. They would legally divorce in 1971. The “Whiskey” in the title refers to the Whisky A Go-Go, a night club on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles that featured many of the most popular rock bands of the era.

Enjoy.

The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #25, “Gunga Din”

As promised, today we begin our weekly series counting down the Byrds’ Top 25 Songs (in my humble opinion).

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“Gunga Din” (3:03)
Written by Gene Parsons
Produced by Terry Melcher
From “Ballad of Easy Rider,” Columbia, November 10, 1969

After the poor showing of their previous album, “Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde” (March 1969), the Byrds got a boost by having three songs included on the soundtrack of the popular counter-culture film, “Easy Rider.” Roger McGuinn, guitar, and his three hired hands – Clarence White, guitar, John York, bass, and Gene Parsons, drums – shamelessly exploited their connection to the movie by naming their next album, “Ballad of Easy Rider.” The band’s original producer, Terry Melcher, was enlisted in hopes of repeating some of that “Mr. Tambourine Man”/”Turn! Turn! Turn!” success. Columbia’s advertising execs hailed the album as the band’s rebirth, but it was largely a collection of cover tunes and unremarkable musicstry.

Most fans would follow the undiscerning crowd and select “Ballad of Easy Rider” or “Jesus is Just Alright,” the two singles, as the album’s best songs, but I’m partial to the deep cut, “Gunga Din,” written by Parsons and arguably the finest composition of his career. The song has a nice melody paced by multi-instrumentalist Parsons’ rollicking acoustic guitar fingerpicking, York’s lilting bass-line, and a catchy chorus. Parsons isn’t the greatest vocalist in the world (notice the enhanced double-track), but his plaintive singing style fits this tune perfectly. The lyrics have Parsons recalling the band’s disappointing tour stop in rainy New York City while traveling back to sunny L.A. aboard a DC-8. Parsons refers to two incidents: 1) a concert in Central Park in which another act, Chuck Berry, “Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll,” failed to show, which infuriated the crowd, and 2) bassist, John York’s foiled attempt to have breakfast with his mother at the Gramercy Park Hotel where the Byrds regularly stayed when in town. The dining room maître d’ refused York a table because of his scandalous black leather jacket attire. After the disappointing tour stop, the listener can’t wait to get back, with Parsons, to sunny L.A.

Amateur Byrds fans continue to perpetuate the mistaken notion over the internet that “Gunga Din” was Parsons’ nickname for York, however, Parsons has stated that he “threw in the nonsensical ‘Gunga Din’ part to make up the rhyme.”* Legendary keyboardist, Glen D. Hardin, plays organ on the cut although his contribution is somewhat buried in the mix.

Enjoy!

*Byrds: Requiem for the Timeless, Volume 1, p. 528.

The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs – Introduction

Rock music connoisseur, Hans, over at slicethelife is currently presenting a Beatles’ Top 100 Songs countdown. That prompted me to think about doing a Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown. The Byrds were obviously not nearly as successful and popular as the quartet from Liverpool, but they did carve out a significant niche for themselves as perhaps the most influential American rock band of the 1960s. Most folks over a certain age remember the Byrds only for their two iconic singles from 1965, “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn,” but their output actually spanned from 1965 to 1973 and they influenced an entire generation of songwriters and musicians (including the Beatles and Dylan). Over the course of those eight years, the Byrds recorded twelve studio albums, which included 130 songs as well as a small number of singles-only 45s. Along the way, they pioneered such genres as folk-rock, jazz-rock, raga-rock, psychedelic rock, and country-rock.

I initially thought it would be difficult choosing my favorite 25 Byrds songs and ranking them, but the process actually went very quickly. My choices admittedly don’t reflect the beaten path consensus – only 9 of my selections were included as part of the 22 songs collected in the The Byrds’ Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2 albums. The designation of songs selected for those albums as “Hits,” especially those songs in Vol. 2, was a misnomer. The last time a Byrds tune made it to the AM Top 40 was in March 1967. The band’s roster changed significantly over the years and by 1969 Roger McGuinn was the only founding member still involved. The quality of the music declined significantly at that point, which will be noticeable by the songs that were chosen; only 7 of the 25 songs selected were recorded after the Summer of 1968.

Enough with the wordy introductions. Next Wednesday we’ll begin our The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs series with song #25 and count it down each week to song #1.

Postcript: For the index to my reviews of the Byrds’ twelve albums, see here.

Throwback Thursday: I thought I’d seen Someone, Who seemed at last, to know the Truth. I wasn’t mistaken.

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on June 25, 2016.

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In a couple of previous posts, I mentioned that I’d been a huge fan of the rock bands, The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, and Nash way back when I was a teenager. David Crosby was a member of both groups and I liked his music quite a bit. Crosby was an excellent singer and wrote some outstanding tunes. But he was also an atheist and occasionally preached his godless worldview via his songs.

Yesterday, I had Pandora on in the background as I was washing a few dishes and Crosby’s song, “Laughing,” from his 1971 solo album, “If I Could Only Remember My Name,” started playing. I remember I used to love that song. It seemed so full of wisdom at the time. Crosby actually wrote the song in response to ex-Beatle, George Harrison, and his deep involvement with Hindu guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and later, with the Hare Krishna sect.

Check out the song’s lyrics below. Crosby was/is a man searching for truth while denying the truth.


“Laughing”

I thought I met a man,
Who said he knew a man,
Who knew what was going on.
I was mistaken,
Only another stranger that I knew.

And I thought that I found a light,
To guide me through my night,
And all this darkness.
I was mistaken,
Only reflections of a shadow that I saw.

And I thought I’d seen someone,
Who seemed at last,
To know the truth.
I was mistaken,
Only a child laughing in the sun.
Ah! In the sun.


Well, David, I finally did meet the Man who not only knows the Truth but Who is the Truth! His name is Jesus Christ and He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Praise the Lord, I accepted Jesus Christ a decade after filling my head with “Laughing” and similarly-themed existentialism from the high priests of rock and roll.

“Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” – John 6:68-69

“Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” John 18:37-38

Postscript: That’s Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead playing some exquisite licks on pedal steel guitar.

Note from 2021: At an age when most 1960s rockers are either long-retired or dead, David Crosby continues to create albums, completing five in the last seven years. Prominent on the 80-year-old atheist’s albums are songs expressing anxiety over his looming death.

Throwback Thursday: It’s amazing what the Lord can use!

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on May 16, 2016 and has been revised.

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Following their excellent fifth album, “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” (January 1968), the Byrds were at a crossroads. Members David Crosby (rhythm guitar) and Michael Clarke (drums) had been fired during the “Notorious” recording sessions, leaving Roger McGuinn (lead guitar) and Chris Hillman (bass) to complete the project. Gram Parsons was subsequently hired to fill Crosby’s spot. McGuinn had wanted the next Byrds LP to be a double-album of songs representing the entire history of the American music catalog, from Appalachian jug tunes to electronic synthesizer progressive rock, but country music fans, Parsons and Hillman, had other ideas.

The band traveled to Nashville in the Spring of 1968 to record what would become their next album, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.” The 11 songs were straight-ahead country with hardly a trace of rock n’ roll. When the band returned to LA, the record execs decided newcomer Parsons had too large of a presence on the studio tapes. A few of his lead vocals were replaced with McGuinn’s. One of the songs, “The Christian Life” (listen below), had first been released by the Louvin Brothers in 1959. McGuinn attempted an imitation of Parson’s Southern drawl on the song, which bordered on the criminal.

After its release in August, 1968, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” only reached #77 on the Billboard charts. At the time, the pioneering album was way too red-neck for the Byrds’ hippie fans while no self-respecting country fan was going to buy anything from a hippie band like the Byrds. It took a few years, but rock n’ roll audiences eventually embraced country-rock.

I became a Byrds fan shortly after the band stopped recording in 1971 and began buying up their 11-album catalog. When I listened to “Sweetheart” for the first time, I was like, “Yech! What’s with this country hillbilly stuff?” And I wasn’t at all pleased with “The Christian Life” or Hillman’s cover of  “I Am a Pilgrim.” I was a Roman Catholic and like any self-respecting cultural Catholic, I didn’t go for all that Jesus stuff.

Parsons, McGuinn, and Hillman sang those Christian songs tongue-in-cheek, as a lark, but former-Catholic, Roger McGuinn, ended up accepting Jesus Christ as his Savior in 1977. I know the Holy Spirit used those two songs in my own journey to Christ.


The Christian Life

My buddies tell me that I should’ve waited
They say I’m missing a whole world of fun
But I still love them and I sing with pride
I like the Christian life

I won’t lose a friend by heeding God’s call
For what is a friend who’d want you to fall
Others find pleasure in things I despise
I like the Christian life

My buddies shun me since I turned to Jesus
They say I’m missing a whole world of fun
I live without them and walk in the light
I like the Christian life

I won’t lose a friend by heeding God’s call
For what is a friend who’d want you to fall
Others find pleasure in things I despise

I like the Christian life
I like the Christian life

I Am A Pilgrim

I am a pilgrim and a stranger
Traveling through this wearisome land
I’ve got a home in that yonder city, good Lord
And it’s not, not made by hand

I’ve got a mother, sister and a brother
Who have gone this way before
I am determined to go and see them, good Lord
For they’re on that other shore

I’m goin’ down to the river of Jordan
Just to bathe my wearisome soul
If I can just touch the hem of his garment, good Lord
Then I know he’d take me home

I am a pilgrim and a stranger
Traveling through this wearisome land
I’ve got a home in that yonder city, good Lord
And it’s not, not made by hand

Additional Gospel songs later recorded by the Byrds would include “Oil In My Lamp” and “Jesus Is Just Alright” from Ballad of Easy Rider (1969), “Glory, Glory” from Byrdmaniax (1971), and “Farther Along” from Farther Along (1971).

See my 1400-word review of “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” written in 2018 here.

Chris Hillman, pioneer of country-rock, recounts his stints in the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Desert Rose Band, etc.

Time Between: My Life as a Byrd, Burrito Brother, and Beyond
By Chris Hillman
BMG, 2020, 238 pp.

With the arrival of the British Invasion and “Beatlemania” in 1964, folk musicians, Jim McGuinn (twelve-string, lead guitar), Gene Clark, and David Crosby (rhythm guitar) saw the writing on the wall and united to form a rock n’ roll band. Chris Hillman, (bass guitar) and Michael Clarke (drums) were added and the Byrds were born. The band had phenomenal success right out of the gate with their first recording, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” going to #1 on the singles charts and their same-titled album, released in June, 1965, peaking at #6 on the album charts. The Byrds’ unique sound, a melding of folk music and rock n’ roll, influenced a generation of songwriters and musicians.

In this very enjoyable memoir, Chris Hillman recounts his career, beginning with his boyhood years growing up in Rancho Santa Fe, California, his development as a country-bluegrass musician, and his unlikely recruitment into the Byrds at the tender age of nineteen. After several personnel changes, Hillman’s role in the Byrds grew, and he and new recruit, Gram Parsons, steered the band into country music with the pioneering album, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” (1968). Parsons and Hillman then broke away from the Byrds and founded the influential country-rock band, the Flying Burrito Brothers (1968-1972).

Following the Burritos, Hillman was involved in the following notable ventures while continuing to hone his skills as a musician, singer, and songwriter:

  • Manassas with Stephen Stills (1971-1973)
  • Byrds’ founding members’ reunion album (1973)
  • Souther-Hillman-Furay Band (1973-1975)
  • Solo albums, Slippin’ Away (1976) and Clear Sailin’ (1977)
  • McGuinn, Clark, and Hillman (1977-1981)

Following MCH, Hillman returned to his country-bluegrass roots with three, small-label albums, leading to the formation of the Desert Rose Band (1985-1994), where he enjoyed his most satisfying professional success as the leader and frontman of the popular country music band.

After DRB folded, Hillman kept busy with a number of small-label releases, always including friend and ex-DRB bandmate, Herb Pedersen.

Hillman intermixes his professional history with many personal reflections including the inevitable internecine squabbles with bandmates. Hillman was sixteen when his father committed suicide in 1961, which scarred the boy and fueled ugly rages throughout his life. Hillman claimed to have accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior in 1973, through the witness of Christian bandmate, Al Perkins, but would eventually “convert” to the legalistic sacramentalism of his wife, Connie’s, Greek Orthodox church.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Being a long-time fan of the Byrds and their offshoots, I already knew many of the stories, but Hillman does provide some fresh insights. The preliminaries are a bit too long for my taste. Hillman doesn’t actually document his initiation into the Byrds until page 67, nearly one-third of the way through the book, but that’s a minor criticism. The takeaway is the interesting story of a very shy, young musician of limited abilities, who, despite plenty of adversity, determinedly persisted and made himself into a remarkable talent and showman. No one in attendance at those early Byrds concerts in 1965, including his bandmates, would have guessed that the shy bass player with his back to the audience would go on to carve out a distinguished, fifty-five-year career. Those in the know recognize Chris Hillman, now age 75, as one of the principal pioneers of the country-rock sound, which would later be successfully commercialized by the Eagles.

Chris Hillman today

Status of the other founding members of the Byrds: Gene Clark (d.1991) and Michael Clarke (d.1993) died from drug and alcohol abuse. After achieving fame and success as a member of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, David Crosby nearly ended his life due to drug addiction before spending five-months in prison and drying out in 1986. He continues making albums and touring. Jim (later Roger) McGuinn also became heavily involved with drugs. In 1977, with his life spiraling out of control, McGuinn accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior. He also continues to record and tour and publicly profess his faith. See my post about McGuinn here. For my reviews of all twelve of the Byrds’ albums, see my index here.

Below: The Byrds’ recording of “Time Between,” written by Chris Hillman, from the 1967 album, “Younger Than Yesterday.” That’s guest artist and future Byrd, Clarence White, masterfully delivering some very tasty country guitar licks. Nope, that’s not a pedal steel guitar Clarence is playing, it’s a 1954-model Fender Telecaster modified with a B-Bender.

Throwback Thursday: Turn! Turn! Turn! Roger McGuinn and Jesus

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on January 24, 2016 and has been revised.

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As a young teen, I became a huge fan of the rock group, Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and sometimes Young). I was such a dedicated admirer that I even began exploring the back-catalogs of the members’ previous bands, including David Crosby’s stint with the Byrds. I eventually became a bigger fan of the Byrds than CS&N.

The Byrds came together in 1964 with Jim McGuinn on lead guitar and vocals, Gene Clark on vocals, David Crosby on rhythm guitar and vocals, Chris Hillman on bass, and Michael Clarke on drums. They were all folk musicians who had seen the writing on the wall with the rising tide of Beatlemania and attempted to make the switch to rock ‘n’ roll. Their resulting sound, with the instantly-identifiable, jingle-jangle of McGuinn’s Rickenbacker twelve-string electric guitar and Crosby’s high vocal harmonies, was a unique blend of folk and rock; a synthesis of Bob Dylan and John Lennon.

The Byrds’ first two albums were wildly successful and influential, but the band’s popularity gradually waned as rock music began drifting toward a “heavier” sound. Over the years, band members came and went and by 1968, McGuinn (pronounced mik-gwin) remained as the only founding member. But McGuinn and his hired hands continued to release albums and tour as the Byrds until 1973 when he disbanded the group to begin his solo career.

At the peak of the Byrd’s popularity, McGuinn, a former Roman Catholic, began dabbling in Subud, a form of Eastern religiosity, and subsequently changed his first name from Jim to Roger in 1967 as part of his initiation. The Byrds’ recorded repertoire included a large number of songs with a spiritual theme, which no doubt reflected McGuinn’s restless spiritual search: Turn! Turn! Turn!, 5D, I Am A Pilgrim, The Christian Life, Oil in My Lamp, Jesus Is Just Alright, Glory Glory, and Farther Along.

Drugs were a staple of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and McGuinn was a regular imbiber. By 1977, heavy drug use had brought McGuinn to the lowest point in his life. Elvis Presley’s drug-induced death in August of that year was a wake up call. McGuinn thought to himself, “That could have easily been me.” The Holy Spirit was working in McGuinn’s life and after talking with some Christian friends, he accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior.

Being a huge Byrds fan at the time (and currently still), I thought McGuinn’s acceptance of Christ and becoming one of those “born-agains” was some very strange and disappointing stuff. Little did I know that the Holy Spirit was using McGuinn’s conversion, along with many other people and things, to also prod me along. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior six years later in 1983.

McGuinn’s witness continued to affect my life. Five years ago (2015), I was reading an online article in which Roger described how he and his wife had a daily devotion time together, during which they read a Psalm, a Proverb, and a chapter from the Old and New Testaments and prayed. My wife and I had never had a daily devotion time together. I suggested it to my wife and she gladly agreed and it’s been a huge blessing in our lives ever since!

At the age of 78, Roger continues to tour and delight audiences. Nobody plays the twelve-string quite like him.

The birth of “folk-rock” in the hills of Los Angeles

Echo in the Canyon
Directed by Andrew Slater and featuring Tom Petty, Brian Wilson, Jakob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, Roger McGuinn, Michelle Phillips, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Jackson Browne, John Sebastian, and Lou Adler
Greenwich Entertainment, 2018, 82 min

4 Stars

In the early-1960s, young people gravitated to two types of music; there was rock-and-roll for teeny boppers and the “unsophisticated,” and there was folk music for college students and the “socially conscious.” Both groups eyed each other and their music with contempt. But when the Beatles came to America in 1964 and took the country by storm with their infectious brand of rock-and-roll, a few young folk musicians took notice.

In Los Angeles, Jim (later Roger) McGuinn hooked up with fellow struggling folkies, Gene Clark and David Crosby, to form the Byrds and together they created a synthesis of folk music and rock-and-roll. It was one of those rare moments of “game-changing” creativity. The new style of music, dubbed “folk-rock,” was a huge success and had a powerful influence. Both the Beatles and Bob Dylan, folk music’s premier troubadour, were paying attention and changed course; the Beatles became more cerebral and Dylan plugged in. Young musicians and songwriters who were hip to the new sound flocked to Los Angeles where it was “happening.” With some serious paychecks now coming in, Crosby bought a house in the Laurel Canyon neighborhood in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles and was followed by many other like-minded artists. For a brief period, 1965-1968, Laurel Canyon was THE place to be.

Former record company executive, Andrew Slater, put together this documentary to capture some of the excitement of that particular time and place. Host, Jakob Dylan (son of Bob), takes the audience on a journey that includes archived footage and interviews. Dylan and his young friends (Beck, Jade Castrinos, Justine Bennett, Regina Spektor) ruminate on the impact the Laurel Canyon sound had on popular music and perform some of the old chestnuts in concert.

I had been meaning to catch “Echo in the Canyon” at Rochester’s art house movie theater. Having missed it there, I was pleased to see it was already available via Amazon Prime videos. Being an old Byrds/Buffalo Springfield fan, I really enjoyed this documentary. But I was even happier when I listened to my wife describe the film to one of our sons over the phone the next day. She told him the Laurel Canyon musicians sang about peace, love, and universal brotherhood, but they couldn’t get along themselves. Hey, that’s my line! Yup, Jesus Christ is the ONLY answer.

Postscript: Many have asked why one of Laurel Canyon’s most celebrated former residents and artists, Joni Mitchell, is conspicuously missing from this documentary? Well, Joni has been scathingly critical of Bob Dylan in several interviews and I’m sure Jakob Dylan was not enthusiastic about featuring her in any form or fashion. Peace? Love? Harmony?