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Hot Scene: The Return to Laurel Canyon

The former L.A. home base of Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne is now a hub to a new wave of hippie rockers

JENNY ELISCUPosted Dec 11, 2008 12:02 PM

Dive into Laurel Canyon — click above for a tour of the home of Cali rock by the Entrance Band

The winding steps that climb from Laurel Canyon Boulevard to Jonathan Wilson's hillside house might as well be a time warp: Walking into the guitarist's Wednesday-night jam session is like being transported back 40 years, to an era when this neighborhood a few minutes off the Sunset Strip was home to rock & roll royalty including Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, David Crosby and Jackson Browne. Tonight, a dozen or so longhaired dudes are milling around the Nag Champa-scented living room, where tie-dyed tapestries and Wilson's guitar collection cover the walls. On the patio, Yogger, a husky with a thick coat of white fur, is asleep on an Aztec-pattern rug. No one knows where he comes from, but they all say the dog shows up when there's a jam.

Pedal-steel whiz "Farmer" Dave Scher gets busy setting up his gear for tonight's party, where an assortment of local musicians will spend the hours between now and sun-up working classic grooves like Creedence's "Effigy" and J.J. Cale's "Call Me the Breeze" as players rotate in and out. In the kitchen, girls in flowing skirts and glittery eyeshadow — the modern "Ladies of the Canyon," for sure — light a joint of impressive girth. "I've got tequila buried in the woods," singer-songwriter Johnathan Rice offers as the spliff circulates. "Peace, love and understanding is big with this crowd, but fuckers will still steal your beer."

Laurel Canyon is one of rock's most mythic neighborhoods: This is where Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young first folded their voices into one beautiful harmony; where Zappa welcomed artists including Hendrix and Mick Jagger to parties at his infamous "Log Cabin" in 1968. Laurel Canyon was the inspiration for the Doors' "Love Street," the Mamas and the Papas' "12:30 (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)," CSNY's "Our House" and an entire album by British blues legend John Mayall. It's where music-business legends David Geffen, Jac Holtzman and Elliot Roberts helped build the recording careers of the singer-songwriters who defined the very essence of the Sixties California sound.

The music in the Canyon quieted in the Eighties, when rock stars sought greater privacy in places like Malibu and Topanga Canyon and hair metal took over the Sunset Strip. But since Wilson, 33, started hosting jam sessions a few years ago, an expanding group of artists — including the Black Crowes' Chris Robinson; the Jayhawks' Gary Louris; Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis and her boyfriend, singer-songwriter Rice — plus up-and-comers like the Entrance Band and the Whispertown 2000 have been reviving not just the old-school Canyon sounds but also that scene's spirit of collaboration.


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Jenny Lewis with boyfriend Johnathan Rice. Photo

Jenny Lewis with boyfriend Johnathan Rice.

Photograph by Susanna Howe


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