Laurel Canyon in the 1960s and '70s is to modern American rock music what Paris in the 1920s was to American literature. LA's legendary neighborhood cuts from West Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley all the way up to Mulholland Drive and for 20 years, the deadend streets and the modest cabins and bungalows became a breeding ground for long-haired counterculture, home to some of the most influential musicians in the emerging So Cal folk and rock scenes, including the Mamas and the Papas, Jim Morrison, Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Gram Parsons, Jackson Browne, The Byrds, Crosby Stills and Nash and The Eagles. A convenient getaway from the bright lights of the Sunset Strip, nearby clubs the Ash Grove, the Whisky A Go Go and the Troubadour buzzed with the forefathers of country and rock and roll.
It's easy to hear those Laurel Canyon influences in almost any modern rock band. Portland four-piece The Parson Red Heads especially cling to the dusty harmonies and twangy guitar solos of the era. More than anything, the group has learned the craft of delicate song construction from the Laurel Canyon influence.
"I have had a lot of Laurel Canyon music in my life for as long as I can remember —my parents were huge fans of CSN&Y (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), Joni Mitchell, James Taylor. In college I discovered my deep love for Neil Young, The Byrds, and all the music attached to them—and that just keeps leading me down new trails and new discoveries," said the Red Heads' singer-songwriter Evan Way. "It's nothing less than one of the greatest eras of songwriting we have ever known in the U.S. All of the songs are put together SO WELL."
A respect for the craft is one of many reasons The Parson Red Heads will tour a tribute to Laurel Canyon at McMenamins across the state, playing one set of original songs and two sets of Laurel Canyon covers.
"You can always learn new things and new tricks by learning the songs written by the masters. We'll be doing stuff by Joni, CSN&Y, Jackson Browne, The Eagles, all the way to more left of the dial, Laurel Canyon stuff like Gene Clark, The Turtles, and The Monkees," said Way. "A lot of folks don't realize The Monkees' ties to that scene."
The final show of the tour at the Crystal Ballroom will feature guest artists from the Portland music community, where many of the alt-country influenced acts seem to take pages directly from the Laurel Canyon bible.
"Eric D Johnson (of Fruit Bats fame) is going to be singing The Eagles' "I Can't Tell You Why" and The Monkees' "Porpoise Song"; Scott McCaughey (of The Minus 5, Baseball Project, Young Fresh Fellows, and the producer of our most recent album) is going to be singing "Take It Easy" by Jackson Browne," said Way. "It's going to be great to be able to play these songs for folks, maybe even get into some of the history of these songs and all the connections and facts behind the songs and songwriters—it was such a close-knit scene, a lot of folks were involved in each others' songs, so it's fun to learn about that kind of stuff, too."
The Parson Redheads present: Songs from Laurel Canyon
Wed., Aug. 13
McMeanamins Old St. Francis, 700 NW Bond St.