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Troubadours: The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter

| March 1, 2011 | 0 Comments

For those who delight in stories of what it was like to live a creative life during the golden eras of our musical heroes, you have a four-star treat in store. Troubadours: The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter, a documentary that centers around a West Hollywood venue that provided a nexus for the ’70s singer-songwriter movement, was released today as a CD/DVD package and will air as part of PBS’s American Masters series [you can watch the entire video at this PBS link].

The 90-minute stroll down memory lane tells the story of what was happening in the late ’60s and early ’70s—after the Beatles’ turned our world upside down, the Greenwich Village folk heyday, and songwriters like Carole King left the Tin Pan Alley world of New York’s Brill Building and headed to California where the newest music scene was taking root in fertile ground.

Mitchell, Crosby, Clapton & Cass’ daughter, Owen.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend time over the last decade with photographer Henry Diltz, who is featured in this film, and listen to him tell stories of what it was like in those heady days of poets, pot and endless parties in and around Laurel Canyon. It was there, in what now seems like a magical artistic community, where all the single, young singer-songwriters lived while trying to break through in the music scene. Joni Mitchell had a house there, as did Cass Elliot who threw countless parties where Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Eric Clapton, Mickey Dolenz, the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Crosby, Stills & Nash would hang out and play their newest songs.

Bonnie Raitt, Maria Muldaur & Linda Ronstadt

And when they weren’t at Cass Elliot’s house, they were at the Troubadour, a quirky little club owned by the even quirkier Doug Weston. It is around this club that the documentary takes place, with the perfect blend of music history, stories and commentary by a few of the artists who launched their careers in that club: David Crosby, Cheech & Chong, Steve Martin, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Kris Kristofferson, Roger McGuinn, Elton John and more.

But the real heart of this film centers around the 40-year musical friendship of Carole King and James Taylor, whose 2010 Live at the Troubadour CD/DVD and tour serve as the connecting thread of the documentary.  The final scenes of the two of them sitting at the bar of the Troubadour, talking about their lives, James’ struggle with substance abuse, and Carole’s balance of career and motherhood are moving and real. They allow us to be a fly on the wall for a personal reminiscence, and for an hour and a half feel like we were a part of something special, too.

—By Lydia Hutchinson
Black & White photos by Henry Diltz

Category: Best of PS

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