Legends of the Canyon is a new documentary based on the memories of the great photographer Henry Diltz. The film traces the history of the Laurel Canyon music community, one of the most successful and important such communities in the history of American music.
The assassination of John F. Kennedy, followed not long after by the arrival of the Beatles on these shores is the spark that ignited a generation. Bands that had been playing folk music (including Henry Diltz’ own band, the Modern Folk Quartet) suddenly grew their hair long and plugged in. I’ve read a lot about this era, and obviously heard a lot of the music, so there aren’t many surprises for me on this subject. But the film is well made and a terrific introduction for anyone that is interested in this important era in music history.
Legends of the Canyon succeeds because it is well organized, using several of the most famous artists of the era as centerpieces of the story. It all begins with the Byrds, followed closely by the Buffalo Springfield. There is commentary from a host of people who were integral behind the scenes including agent John Hartman, Warner/Reprise boss Lenny Waronker, Whiskey owner Mario Maglieri, and super manager David Geffen. But the all important testimony comes from those who made the music, including Graham Nash, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Michelle Phillips, Van Dyke Parks, and Dallas Taylor.
It’s interesting to see how many of these people are still awestruck by the talent of Joni Mitchell, and still mourn the loss of Cass Elliot. A good deal of time is devoted to Cass, and by extension the Mamas & the Papas. You come away from the film feeling like Cass was someone you would like to have known. It’s also nice to see the great songwriter Gene Clark of the Byrds get proper recognition for his outstanding, but ultimately squandered, talent. One interesting bit of commentary suggests that Stephen Stills lifted a Moby Grape song called “Murder In My Heart For the Judge” and used it to create “For What It’s Worth.” If true, it’s ironic since Moby Grape was a band totally built in the image of the Buffalo Springfield.
By far the biggest chunk of screen time is devoted to Crosby, Stills and Nash, and later Young. We hear about the idyllic recording of their classic debut album, and the darkness that surrounded the follow-up, the equally if not more classic Deja Vu. The usually amount of pretension and bemusement prevails among these guys in their commentary. The oddball here is CSN drummer Dallas Taylor. Let’s just say his memories of those days do not exactly jibe with those of his former band mates.
The bonus features are somewhat unusual, including as they do lots of 8mm film shot back in the day by Henry Diltz. What makes this unusual is that it’s silent film, which is something of a problem when you’re watching live performances of a band. The footage is interesting though. There are also extended interviews with various commenters, a quick piece in which Stephen Stills and Van Dyke Parks debate how the Buffalo Springfield got their name (hint: they don’t agree). There is also a very nice gallery of Henry Diltz photos.
I promised you a copy of the DVD. All you have to do to win it is to send an e-mail to email@example.com with the word ‘contest’ in the subject line, and the answer to the following question in the body:
What pre-Mamas and the Papas band was Cass Elliot in with Denny Doherty and future Lovin’ Spoonful member Zal Yanovsky?
Spelling counts, so be careful. This contest is open only to people with a valid U.S. mailing address. The deadline for entries is 5:00 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, September 26, 2010. At that time I will choose one winner at random from all the correct entries. Good luck!