Echo in the Canyon
by director Andrew Slater
I did not set out to make a film about the Laurel Canyon music scene. In fact, I didn’t set out to make a “film” at all. I was looking to record some music.
Growing up in New York in the 1960s, AM radio transported me to places I wanted to be. Of course The Beatles defined mod London, and Bob Dylan defined New York. But the songs by The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Mamas & The Papas and Buffalo Springfield painted an idyllic picture of life in bohemian Los Angeles. As a young adult I was drawn to move to Los Angeles by these groups and the lifestyles they expressed in song.
Throughout my career in the music business, this earlier music of my adopted hometown was an obvious part of the bedrock of my generation’s cultural place in the universe. But I was also aware of how it remained part of the foundation of the musical palette for generations of musicians that followed.
Whether through nostalgia or some other force I cannot quite account for, as we neared the 50th anniversary of the advent of this revolutionary period in rock and roll, I was struck with the need to explore the music of this era through the eyes, ears and souls of musicians who were born into a culture where this music was always a part of the world as they knew it.
I enlisted the help of Jakob Dylan, along with a few artists of his generation, to join me, and we journeyed to places where the music was made and to the people who made it. Jakob had known many of these people his whole life, and they began telling him the stories behind the songs. And the stories we heard echoed all the things I thought I knew but never was able to articulate in a way that clearly captured what was happening at this fantastic creative moment in time.
We recorded the music that is now the Echo in the Canyon album, and luckily I must have always known this project would be more than just a record, as I began filming our experiences early on, whenever and wherever it was possible. It was not long before it became clear through our conversations with the original artists that this needed to be more than album. The stories and insights, told by my heroes, “primary sources” from this magical period of time, were too compelling to be buried in “research.” That is how this movie, which has now taken on a life of its own, came to be made.
What was happening here in the mid-‘60s, before the onset of psychedelia and the era of the singer-songwriter was obvious to me—but no one had ever told the story of this legendary place from the standpoint of how deeply and richly the artists impacted and collaborated with one another, and how the waves of influence traveled across the ocean to England and back, with The Beatles claiming The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” as a precursor to much of the musical landscape of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
Personally, I embarked on the Echo in the Canyon project because these songs defined what I couldn’t say about the places that I had yearned to see. And these bands changed the way I thought about music—electrifying folk and trading ideas amongst each other that not only inspired The Beatles but inspired generations of artists to this day. And I wanted to film and record it to be experienced in a state-of-the-art movie theater, to try to recapture the magic I felt so many years ago. Thank you Landmark for helping me bring this dream to life.