Inside The LC: The Strange but Mostly True Story of Laurel Canyon and the Birth of the Hippie Generation
June 13, 2009
At the time of the ‘serendipitous’ encounter on Sunset Boulevard, Stills was living at the home of Barry Friedman, a former circus clown, fire-eater, TV producer, and freelance publicist. To say that his home was a bit odd would probably be an understatement. According to folkie Nurit Wilde, “It had a bathtub in the middle of the living room and a secret room behind the bathroom where people carried on liaisons.” The massive bathtub sat right in front of the equally massive fireplace. As Friedman himself would later acknowledge, “This was a very strange house.”
A sign by the front door of this residence identifies it as the "Holly Mont Castle"
Not strange by canyon standards, perhaps, but strange nonetheless. Stranger homes can certainly be found, such as in the Holly Mont neighborhood near the base of nearby Beachwood Canyon. One such home, pictured above, is described in the book Haunted Hollywood. The house isn’t actually haunted, of course, but it does contain some rather unusual features, as a past owner discovered: “the house’s most startling feature – a secret passageway behind a built-in bookshelf he’d discovered during remodeling. It connected to a series of subterranean tunnels linking several houses on the hillside … While exploring the tunnel beneath his house, Grey found a makeshift grave. The headstone read ‘Regina 1922.’”
Nothing weird about that, I suppose. Nor about the fact that the house pictured below, which sits right next-door, is also linked through the underground tunnel complex.
Friedman, as it turns out, was working for Byrds’ manager Jim Dickson, who also managed the Dillards. Dickson hooked Friedman up with Martin, and with a full slate of electric instruments, just as he had set the Byrds up with instruments and a bass player. Dickson and Friedman would soon become neighbors when Friedman moved from his odd house on Fountain Avenue to a home on Ridpath in – all together now! – Laurel Canyon.
That home, on 8524 Ridpath, would become a rather notorious party house. As Jackson Browne, who Friedman later took under his wing, recalled, “It was always open house at Paul Rothchild’s and Barry Friedman’s” (Paul Rothchild, for those who have forgotten, was the producer of the Doors, and in case I hadn’t mentioned it before, an ex-convict). Barney Hoskyns writes in Hotel California that “Friedman … orchestrated scenes of sexual and narcotic depravity that soon spun out of control.” Among the regular visitors was “a gaggle of girls who mainly lived at Monkee Peter Tork’s house” – which was also, as we all know, in Laurel Canyon.
Just a few doors down from Friedman, at 8504 Ridpath, lived Barry James, who also played a behind-the-scenes role in the success of the Byrds. Michael Ochs, brother of folk legend/self-professed CIA operative Phil Ochs, worked as James’ assistant. A very young Jackson Browne, fresh from the “imposing Browne family home in the tony, old-money neighborhood of Highland Park,” lived with James for a year, during which time Friedman worked to build a band around Browne. Toward that end, he recruited someone else who came from “old-money,” a kid by the name of Ned Doheny.
Most members of the Springfield also took up residence in our favorite secluded canyon. Richie Furay initially moved in with Mark Volman of the Turtles, who already had a place on Lookout Mountain Avenue. After marrying in March of 1967, Furay got his own place right on Laurel Canyon Boulevard. Neil Young, ever the recluse, found himself what has been described as a “shack” at 8451 Utica Drive. And Stills eventually moved into Peter Tork’s home, also on Laurel Canyon Boulevard. It is unclear whether Palmer and Martin took up residence in the canyon.
Martin was older than the rest of the band, having been born on September 30, 1940 in Ontario. In the very early 1960s, he served a brief stint in the U.S. Army, though he appears to have been, like Young and Palmer, a Canadian citizen. Go figure. Following that, as previously noted, he played with many country and rock legends before briefly joining up with the Dillards. With him added to the Springfield, the band was complete.
It wouldn’t stay that way for any length of time, however. Bruce Palmer had a habit of getting himself arrested on a regular basis, usually on drug charges. Some of those arrests led to deportations, since both he and Young were in the country illegally. He never seems to have had much trouble getting back into the country, however, and needless to say, none of his crimes seem to have actually been prosecuted in any meaningful way. But he did go missing on a fairly regular basis. During the band’s two-year run, Ken Koblun, Jim Fielder (formerly of Zappa’s Mothers of Invention), and Jim Messina all filled in on bass for varying lengths of time. And Doug Hastings filled in for a sometimes absent Neil Young, who had a habit of occasionally quitting the band, primarily due to ego clashes with The Sarge.
The band’s second single, recorded and mixed on December 5, 1966, and written just a couple weeks before, was released locally in December 1966 and nationally in early January 1967. It would be the group’s only hit single and it is remembered today as the quintessential protest song of the 1960s. That song, of course, is For What It’s Worth, the opening lines of which kicked off this series.
As a protest song, it must be said, it doesn’t quite measure up. First of all, despite what is commonly believed nowadays, the song is not a commentary on Vietnam War protests. Far from it. The event under consideration was the so-called Riot on the Sunset Strip, which involved about 1,000 kids who were demonstrating against the imposition of a curfew and the announcement that a popular club – Pandora’s Box, at 8118 Sunset Boulevard – was slated to be closed.
Pandora’s was a small coffee shop that featured poetry readings, folk music … and Laurel Canyon bands like Love and Buffalo Springfield. This caused a bit of a problem though, as the club sat on a traffic island at the intersection of Sunset and Crescent Heights (the gateway to Laurel Canyon), and overflow crowds would spill out onto the boulevard, blocking traffic. Even before the problems began, the building was scheduled to be demolished as part of a planned road-widening project.
Nevertheless, the announcement of its closing sparked a demonstration, and on the night of November 12, 1966, 200 cops squared off against perhaps 1,000 kids. The LAPD, being the LAPD, began cracking heads and arresting everyone in sight. Protestors responded by throwing rocks, setting a car ablaze, and attempting to ignite a bus. One month later, a song commemorating the event would be blaring from car radios across the city. Eight months after that, Pandora’s would be bulldozed.
Even if the song had been about anti-war protests, it still would be an odd choice for a protest song. Lyrics such as “Singing songs and carrying signs, mostly say hooray for our side,” seem to largely dismiss the concerns of protestors. And the line “nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong” seems to suggest that protestors are no better than that which they are protesting against.
Another curious irony about the song is that it was authored by Stephen Stills, aka The Sarge, an authoritarian, law-and-order kind of guy if ever there was one. Stills himself later heaped derision on the very notion of a protest song: “We didn’t want to do another song like For What It’s Worth. We didn’t want to be a protest group. That’s really a cop-out and I hate that. To sit there and say, ‘I don’t like this and I don’t like that’ is just stupid.”
Writing insipid pop ditties about Judi Collins, I suppose, was a much smarter course of action.
While For What It’s Worth is now the best-remembered ‘protest’ song of the 1960s, the most successful one at the time was Barry McGuire’s recording of P.F. Sloan’s The Eve of Destruction, which was also a curious choice for a ‘protest’ song, for reasons best explained by Paul Jones of the band Manfred Mann: “I think that Barry McGuire must have been paid by the State Department. The Eve of Destruction protests about nothing. It is simply a ‘Thy Doom at Hand’ song with no point.”
Yet another curious ‘protest’ song of the 1960s was Glen Campbell’s rendering of Buffy St. Marie’s anti-war standard, Universal Soldier. The very same Glen Campbell told Variety magazine that draft card burners “should be hung … If you don’t have enough guts to fight for your country, you’re not a man.” A young Bob Seger, meanwhile, penned and recorded Ballad of the Yellow Beret, a vicious put-down of draft dodgers, but that might be a bit off-topic.
Returning then to the Buffalo Springfield, I think it is safe to say that, to most music fans, there is a world of difference between a band like the Springfield and a band like the Monkees. That perception, however, is not necessarily accurate. As Unterberger has written, “there was not nearly as much gauche commercialism separating the Monkees and the bold Sunset Strip vanguard as is commonly believed. The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and Barry McGuire might have been landing hit records with social protest both gentle and incendiary, but they were tethered to a corporate media establishment in order to deliver those messages. On television’s Where the Action Is you could see the Byrds lip-synching The Bells of Rhymney in front of vacuous, grinning beach bunnies and muscle men cavorting on diving boards and plastic inner tubes. When Buffalo Springfield mimed to For What It’s Worth on The Smothers Brothers Show, they suffered the insertion of a shot of Tom Smothers pointing a gun at the camera during the line ‘there’s a man with a gun over there,’ to a burst of uproarious canned laughter.”
The ties between the bands actually ran far deeper than their mutual fondness for cheesy television appearances. Stephen Stills, it will be recalled, auditioned to be a Monkee, as did singer/songwriters Harry Nilsson and Paul Williams, and Danny Hutton of Three Dog Night. Stills and Tork remained close friends and frequently jammed together. Indeed, both Tork and fellow Monkee Mickey Dolenz joined the Springfield on stage at various local events. And Stills, Young and Dewey Martin all sat in on Monkees recording sessions.
On July 2, 1967, guitarist extraordinaire Jimi Hendrix played the Whisky and reportedly blew the roof off the place (figuratively speaking, that is). Shortly thereafter, he moved into Peter Tork’s house in Laurel Canyon. By the middle of July, Hendrix had joined the Monkees tour as their opening act. He was dropped after just a few dates, however, due to the fact that Monkees fans couldn’t quite wrap their heads around Jimi’s brand of music.
Throughout the summer of 1967, Stephen and Dewey’s Malibu home became the site of informal jam sessions involving Stephen Stills, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Miles, David Crosby … and Monkee Peter Tork. Stills played bass, deferring lead guitar duties to Hendrix. All of them ultimately ended up living at Tork’s Laurel Canyon spread, which, as previously mentioned, featured a gaggle of young groupies who spent an inordinate amount of time lounging around the pool in various states of undress.
Those jam sessions, both in Malibu and Laurel Canyon, were undoubtedly fueled by massive amounts of LSD. According to an anonymous insider interviewed by John Einarson, “Owsley [editor’s note: remember him?] used to give Bruce [Palmer] baggies full of acid, a thousand tabs of purple. Somehow he befriended Bruce so we [the band and various hangers-on] never lacked for LSD.”
There was yet one more curious tie between the Monkees and the Springfield: while together in Chicago, unnamed members of both bands were allegedly immortalized by the notorious Cynthia Plaster Caster. Our old friend Frank Zappa would soon take Cynthia under his wing and relocate her to LA to continue her, uhmm, work, just as he had taken the nubile young women who would become the GTOs under his wing. It could reasonably be argued, I suppose, that Zappa did more than anyone to create one of the more peculiar artifacts of the 1960s: the super-groupie.
Ahmet Ertegun, by the way, played a key role in launching the career of Mr. Zappa, so much so that Frank named one of his sons after him. Meanwhile, Zappa’s shady manager, Herb Cohen, “was involved with the [Buffalo Springfield] financially … Stephen knew Herbie from New York,” according to Einarson. The Laurel Canyon crowd, to be sure, was a close-knit group – all the more so because so many of them seem to have known one another before arriving there.
Just a couple of weeks before Jimi’s Whisky debut, he had dazzled the crowd at the Monterey Pop Festival, where the band under review today, the Buffalo Springfield, had also played – though by most accounts, not very well. Neil Young was taking one of his leaves-of-absence from the band and Doug Hastings filled in on second lead guitar. In addition, Stills brought his buddy David Crosby out on stage to join the band, which by many accounts was a rather poor decision on Stephen’s part.
In For What It’s Worth, Einarson provides the following evaluation of Crosby’s performance: “His profile was so low key many took no notice of him there save for his ever-present black cowboy hat, and his musical contributions, both instrumentally and vocally, were barely audible.” Some of those who had been on stage with Crosby had a somewhat less charitable view. According to bassist Bruce Palmer, “Crosby stunk to high heaven. He didn’t know what he was doing … he was all ego. He came on for forty minutes and embarrassed us.” Guitarist Hastings agreed, explaining that Crosby’s “problem was that he couldn’t play rhythm guitar very well, though he thought he could … that was one of the reasons why we sounded so bad at Monterey.”
Has anyone noticed, by the way, that I am not a huge fan of David Crosby and that I seem to relish tossing in gratuitous quotes questioning his talents?
After spending the ‘Summer of Love’ jamming with members of both Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys and the Monkees, the Buffalo Springfield hit the road in November 1967 to begin a tour opening for the Beach Boys, a pairing nearly as odd as the Monkees and Jimi Hendrix. Bruce Palmer, whom we have already learned was not one to mince words, had this to say about the Beach Boys as a performing band: “They were real lousy musicians but they had terrific harmony and a name. They were a studio group. On stage it was like the Monkees. They would spend weeks and months in the studio with Brian Wilson perfecting harmonies and overdubs, but you put them on stage and they stunk.”
That tour included a stop, curiously enough, at West Point Military Academy, which is, as we all know, a regular stop on most rock tours. While on the road, the members of the Springfield formed a close bond with Dennis Wilson, a bond that would be built upon in April of 1968 when the Springfield again went out on tour with the Beach Boys. That tour was launched on April 5, almost two years to the day from the fabled meeting that allegedly forged the band. It was the last major tour the group would undertake.
Just after returning from the 1968 tour, Dennis Wilson bonded with another local musician, a guy by the name of Charlie Manson. When Dennis introduced his new friend Charlie to his buddies in the Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young in particular was quite smitten – so much so that he reportedly went to record mogul Mo Ostin and recommended that Ostin sign Charlie right away.
How many of you, by the way, were getting a little worried that Manson wasn’t going to make an appearance in this chapter of the Laurel Canyon saga?
On April 28, the band began playing its last series of local venues. On May 5, at the Long Beach Arena, the Buffalo Springfield played together as a band for the last time. They had been scheduled to play two shows that day, the first at a venue in Torrance (your fearless scribe’s hometown), but that earlier show never materialized.
The band released their third and final album, Last Time Around, some three months later. As with albums by the Byrds and the International Submarine Band, the Springfield’s final album is often cited as being a pioneering effort in the creation of the country-rock genre. It appears, by the way, that there wasn’t actually a single album that could be considered the ‘first’ country-rock album, since the three albums most frequently singled out for that distinction – the Byrd’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the International Submarine Band’s Safe at Home, and the Buffalo Springfield’s Last Time Around, were all released, curiously enough, within days of each other in July of 1968.
That was just one curious shift that occurred in the local music scene. The folk-rock movement, you see, didn’t really last very long in its original incarnation. It quickly splintered into three distinct new genres: country-rock, psychedelic rock, and the ‘introspective singer-songwriter’ school of folk-rock most closely associated with former mental patient James Taylor. None of these musical genres, notably, posed the slightest threat to the status quo. The navel-gazers eschewed social concerns in favor of focusing on tales of personal anguish, the acid rockers largely preached the mantra of ‘turn on, tune in, drop out,’ and the country-rockers largely stuck to traditional – which is to say, quite conservative – country music themes.
Following the breakup of the Buffalo Springfield, Richie Furay and sometime bassist Jim Messina went on to form the band Poco. Through various formations, the band was critically acclaimed but never had a great deal of commercial success. Jim Messina ultimately left to become half of Loggins and Messina; his replacement, Randy Meisner, went on to become an Eagle. A guy by the name of Gregg Allman, who played briefly with Poco during its formative days, went on to front the Allman Brothers.
Poco debuted at the Troubadour, which served as the breeding ground for the country-rock movement, in November 1968. Their first album, Pickin’ Up the Pieces, hit the shelves six months later, three months after the release of the debut album by country-rock rivals The Flying Burrito Brothers, formed by former Byrds Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman.
Byrd David Crosby, meanwhile, teamed up with the Springfield’s Stephen Stills and ex-Hollie Graham Nash (who had arrived in Laurel Canyon in December 1968 – and soon after moved in with Joni Mitchell) to form a band first known as the Frozen Noses, a name inspired by the trio’s fondness for cocaine. By the late 1960s, the drug that would later become the drug of choice of the disco crowd had already begun pouring into Laurel Canyon. As glam-rocker Michael DesBarres recalled, “Every drug dealer was in Laurel Canyon.” Along with the drugs came lots of guns and huge piles of cash. Before long, according to Laurel Canyon chronicler Michael Walker, “cocaine became a pseudo-currency, like cigarettes in prison.”
A decade later, the world would catch a glimpse of that dark canyon undercurrent when four battered bodies were bagged and removed from a house on Wonderland Avenue … but we’ve already covered that.
The newest Laurel Canyon band, of course, was quickly renamed Crosby, Stills & Nash, and by the summer of 1969, they had the top selling album in the country. It would remain on the charts for an unprecedented two years. When the band got ready to hit the road though, there was a little problem; given that Stills was the only serious musician in the band, and it was he who had played virtually all the instruments on that debut album, it was going to be difficult, as Barney Hoskyns noted, “to translate their layered studio sound to the stage.” The solution was, as Einarson has written, to bring Neil Young on board, “to provide more umph to their live sets.” And so it was that by the end of the year, CSN had become CSNY.
Now the band just needed a rhythm section. Dallas Taylor, who had played on sessions for the first album, was recruited as a permanent drummer. Stills and Young summoned Bruce Palmer to come down from Canada to handle bass duties. According to Palmer, however, that didn’t work out, primarily because once he got to LA and “started rehearsing at Stephen’s house with Crosby and Nash, it became real evident that they were nothing but backup singers. They didn’t like it and decided to change it. They couldn’t take that; they thought they were too big, too famous, too talented. They weren’t talented, they were backup singers … It looked to them as if it was Crosby and Nash backing up Buffalo Springfield, being nothing more than harmony singers for Stephen, Neil, myself, and Dallas Taylor.”
According to Palmer, the first CSN album was “95 percent Stephen doing everything and he’s got his backup singer boys with him. He’s been dragging them around with him for 25 years.” Considering that Stills composed the majority of the material, played most of the instruments, and produced and arranged the album, Palmer’s assessment seems a reasonable one. In any event, CSNY didn’t last too long, dissolving after their 1970 tour. Stills next recruited the ubiquitous Chris Hillman to form Manassas, which also proved to be short-lived. Not long after, David Geffen teamed Hillman with Richie Furay and J.D. Souther to create the Souther, Hillman, Furay Band, which was supposed to be the second coming of CSN but which also proved to be short-lived. During the band’s brief tenure, our old friend Phil Kaufman was on hand to serve as road manager.
Crosby, Stills and Nash was not the only Laurel Canyon band to release a debut album in 1969. Three Dog Night, mentored by Beach Boy Brian Wilson, released their self-titled debut in January, and in June, a psychedelic rock band from the LC issued its first LP. Throughout 1968, the band, then known as Nazz, was a regular presence on the Sunset Strip, where they gained a reputation for being heavy on the theatrics but light on the musicianship.
The band was fronted by Vincent Furnier, the boyfriend of Miss Christine of the GTOs. Miss Pamela, aka Pamela Des Barres, described Furnier as “a rich kid from Phoenix.” A staunch supporter of the colonial occupation of Vietnam (isn’t it time we stopped calling these things ‘wars’?), Vince would later become a golf partner of uber-conservative Senator Barry Goldwater.
Furnier would soon change his own name, and the name of his band, to Alice Cooper, after deciding that he was the reincarnation of a witch who purportedly lived in the seventeenth century. Our old friend Frank Zappa signed the band and its debut album, Pretties For You, was the first release on Zappa’s Straight label. After transforming into a shock-rock band, the group would hit it big a few years later with the release of School’s Out.
Cooper had a curious connection to another rather eccentric canyon character: Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. In later years, both Cooper and Wilson would receive ‘treatment’ from a certain Dr. Eugene Landy, whose handling of Wilson would become quite controversial. According to various sources close to Wilson, Landy quickly took control of virtually all aspects of Brian’s life.
On October 19, 1978, academy award-winning actor Gig Young and his fifth wife, Kim Schmidt, were found shot through the head in their New York City apartment. The 64-year-old Young – raised, as would be expected, in Washington, DC – had just married the young art gallery worker three weeks earlier. There was no note found and no one close to the pair could come up with a motive for either to commit suicide, so the incident naturally was written off as a murder/suicide. Young had just taped an episode of the Joe Franklin television show that day and he presumably had given no indication that anything was amiss. The show never aired.
One other curious side note: at the time of the murder/suicide, Young was receiving ‘treatment’ from Eugene Landy.
As for the original members of the Buffalo Springfield, Stephen Stills and Neil Young are still known to perform at times. Richie Furay founded the Cavalry Chapel near Boulder, Colorado, where he still serves today as senior pastor. Bruce Palmer died of a heart attack on October 1, 2004. And Dewey Martin was apparently found dead by his roommate just a few months ago, on February 1, 2009. No published reports have given a cause of death. He had been living, curiously enough, in an apartment in Van Nuys, California, just a fifteen-minute drive from the home of your favorite scribe.