Monday, November 4, 2019

Echo in the Canyon

Rickenbacker 360-12 Electric Guitar
 So I finally got a chance to see the Andrew Slater documentary echo in the canyon (2018) starring Jacob Dylan and just released this past week on Netflix and linked here.

This documentary has gotten a few harsh reviews, as notably Joni Mitchell is not even mentioned, even in the context of the California Sound evolving from surfing and car songs to more socially conscious and interpersonal songs. For god's sake, as a Laurel Canyon resident who released Ladies of the Canyon in 1970 she (and The Doors) deserved a little shout out here. Also the overuse  of clips from the 1969 art film Model Shop as Slater's and Dylan's inspiration for the documentary is annoying but is easily put aside.

With that said, this 1 hour and 22 minute doc has plenty of great clips of its own as you get a snapshot of the the mid to late 60's in Laurel Canyon with some of the famous musicians who lived there and some famous musicians who didn't. My favorite was getting to watch Tom Petty talk about music one more time as this was his last recorded interview. The beginning of the film with Tom is a fantastic hook that for me is my ultimate sweet spot of Monday Monday jingle jangle 60's rock 'n' roll and my original inspiration for writing this blog. For me, learning anything new about three of my all-time favorite bands- The Mamas & The Papas, The Byrds, and Buffalo Springfield are gem pieces to the rock 'n' roll puzzle for those of us who just can't get enough of this stuff. Man, to have a time machine and be a young adult in Laurel Canyon and on the Sunset Strip in the mid-sixties, would be...



Here's several key elements that make this film 'a must see' that covers the folk to folk rock transformation.

This starts with the transition of folk musicians and studio recording in New York mostly moving to Los Angeles shortly after The Beatles stepped off the plane in 1964. John Sebastian tells how Roger McGuinn started singing Beatles' songs in folk clubs in New York and Los Angeles with no success but with the guts of a pioneer and a Beatles inspired 12 string Rickenbacker 360-12 electric guitar. 

In the film, Roger McGuinn gets a much deserved feature as a major architect from musicians singing folk songs with acoustic guitars to composing folk rock songs with electric guitars. Here's a quick clip (not in the film) of Roger and his Rickenbacker.



In the film, Roger and The Byrds take traditional folk songs like Pete Seeger's The Bells of Rhymney and transform it in their 1965 version. Here's a set of clips, first with Seeger's original version, and then The Byrds.





I also enjoyed the conversations with famous musicians who discuss how art is a continual process of iteration and the 'cross pollination' of songs that influence song writing. I bought a book a couple of years ago by Austin Kleon with the perfect title to describe this process of creativity, Steal like an Artist. In the 1960's, Laurel Canyon becomes such a place where collaboration + competition = creativity. One example from the doc, is how George Harrison adapts Roger's riffs on The Byrds version of The Bells of Rhymney that influence him in his 1965 song, If I Needed Someone.



Then, Brian Wilson is blown away by Rubber Soul and that inspires him to write Pet Sounds in 1966. In turn, The Beatles are inspired by Pet Sounds, and in 1967 create Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. (As a side note to the playlist below- I also include Buffalo Springfield's (Stephen Stills) Questions, which morphs into Carry On with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and then Eric Clapton adapts the Questions riff for his song, Let It Rain (1970) .

July 25, 1965 - Newport Folk Festival
The film's MC role is played with perfect Bob Dylan DNA detachment by son Jakob Dylan, born in 1969. I think son Dylan does a great job tapping into dad's influence without mentioning his name. As the greatest songwriter of his generation, Bob Dylan himself also makes the historic transition from acoustic folk to electric rock 'n' roll and turns the music world on its head at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.

As the documentary unfolds, I realize Jakob is the perfect medium to tell this story. His quiet casual manner and approach to the material works perfectly for the famous musicians who take his questions and run with it (e.g. David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Tom Petty,  Eric Clapton, Brian Wilson, Jackson Browne, Lou Adler and Michelle Phillips).

Jakob brings in his own generation of musicians to update 13 songs from the California Sound era that in their interpretation remain both current and true to the originals. In the playlist below, I start with the original 60's version and then follow it with the Jakob and friends take. I love his selections as Jakob goes for some of the deeper cuts, not just the hits and hey that's my kind of playlist! I highly recommend you make the time to watch echo in the canyon this week on Netflix, it's a trip!



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