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Music and Mayhem in 'Laurel Canyon'

Michael Walker stands at the Laurel Canyon site where the legendary log cabin owned by Frank Zappa once stood. The home was the scene of many impromptu jams where some of the biggest names in music would drop by to play and party. The cabin burned down in 1981.
Melissa Jaeger-Miller, NPR /
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Michael Walker stands at the Laurel Canyon site where the legendary log cabin owned by Frank Zappa once stood. The home was the scene of many impromptu jams where some of the biggest names in music would drop by to play and party. The cabin burned down in 1981.

In the late 1960s, just as San Francisco was having its own Summer of Love, a rustic canyon at the heart of Los Angeles was also in bloom with songs that defined the moment, written and performed by the bands that defined a generation.

High above the city, the Byrds, the Mamas and the Papas, Frank Zappa, Crosby Stills and Nash, The Eagles, Jim Morrison and a host of other talents found a wild refuge just a short hitchhike from the noise and neon of the Sunset Strip.

Laurel Canyon was home to entire bands, and the hangout of choice for every rock 'n' roll legend, or wannabe, who passed through Los Angeles. Michael Walker's nonfiction book Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Legendary Neighborhood charts the highs and lows of a celebrated part of music history.

Walker has his own theory of why so many good musicians seemed to end up in the same part of a sprawling city: "Musicians need to breathe the same air," he says. "And these were some of the best musicians of their generation, sort of by luck and happenstance jammed into this beautiful, leafy, little neighborhood."

The innocence and wild creativity that characterized the "hippie" era of the Canyon slowly degenerated into an era of wild excess fueled by huge paychecks, cocaine and groupies. But for a brief decade, the canyon was an incubator for a "golden age" of popular music.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.