The mystique of the Laurel Canyon music scene (1965 to 1975) is pervasive to many of us, as its talented residents inspired each other to create songs like “California Dreamin” and “Hotel California.”
Reflecting on these and other tunes from that era, musician Brian Chartrand recognized how interconnected Canyon performers and their musical output had been. His epiphany occurred during a three-month gig on a cruise ship in 2012, when he was singing and playing a large variety of popular songs.
A fan of Laurel Canyon music since childhood and later a performer of the songs (often referred to as folk rock), Chartrand realized how those musicians helped alter the sound, cadence and even the perspectives of American popular music.
Chartrand did extensive research on the Canyon artistic genre, reading books and articles, learning about the lifestyles, connections and interactions — both personal and musical — of the performers, especially about how they influenced each other in their singing styles and musical messages, with many of them engaging in all-night jam sessions.
He admires and is inspired by the musicians from that neighborhood and period, including The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Carole King, James Taylor, the Mamas & the Papas, Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills & Nash, The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Brown, Jim Morrison, Neil Young and several others. In an interview, he specifically mentions Jackson Browne, about whom he says, “He was a young kid who was writing mature songs. He’s a great story and song crafter.”
Chartrand is also enamored with the songs of Bob Dylan and Jose Feliciano, who did not live in the Canyon neighborhood, and who he includes in his “Live From Laurel Canyon” shows. “Bob was very inspiring to Canyon musicians because he was writing and performing his own songs, as pop music at that time was usually written by professional songwriters. So Bob was a bit of a living legend. And while Jose was not a resident of Laurel Canyon, I like his acoustic guitar driven approach to the song, ‘Light my Fire.’”
As Chartrand researched and listened to pieces by the Canyon artists (and a few others), he began writing a script for his “Live From Laurel Canyon” musical show that he planned to produce and perform in. His intention was to include renditions of familiar and important Laurel Canyon compositions, narration about the area’s lore and artists, along with projected photos of the musicians who performed those pieces.
He presented his first Laurel Canyon show at the MIM Music Theater in 2013 in Phoenix, receiving tremendous praise and applause. “Since then, we’ve performed over 60 shows in the United States and in Europe,” he explains.
“I love performing in the show,” he adds. “The music and the band I work with are super compelling. And I really appreciate the stories we present because I love the why and how of that whole scene. It was a golden age of music from one of the last great rock & roll neighborhoods.”
He begins most Laurel Canyon shows by having his band perform the Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin’,” and concludes with the Eagles’ “Hotel California.” He calls the two songs “bookends,” as they are especially resonant with California audiences who naturally relate to their words, melodies and to the ambiance that they convey. “The audiences have been super supportive as they respond to the music and to the stories about the performers,” he says. “I feel like I’m a musical guide. One thing I love is that after the show, folks come up and tell me about their personal Laurel Canyon experiences or relate unique stories that they’ve heard about the place or about bands that were part of that scene. And the feelings we have after we do a show are unparalleled.”
Along with Chartrand who does vocals, plays acoustic guitar and narrates, the band includes Holly Pyle and David Freeman (vocals), Lamar Gaines (keys), Will Gaines (bass),Todd Chuba (drums) and Adam Armijo (electric guitar).
Southern California audiences will have the opportunity to experience the “Live From Laurel Canyon” experience on Saturday, March 12 at 7:30 pm at the Fred Kavli Theatre in Thousand Oaks; fredkavlitheatre.com.
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