Monday, June 2, 2014

A brief history of the San Fernando Valley music scene

A version of my story originally ran in the LA Daily News' Good Life section.

Since the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll era, the San Fernando Valley and its environs have spawned plenty of prominent musicians. 

In the late 1950s, teenage Chicano rocker Ritchie Valens helped put Pacoima on the musical map with the national double-sided hit record “Donna”/“La Bamba” and popular follow up single, “Come On, Let’s Go.” 

Although Valens’ career was brief, his influence was later felt by Carlos Santana, Los Lobos, Stray Cats, The Blasters, Los Lonely Boys and more. 

From the mid-‘60s to early ‘70s, creative types who opposed the Vietnam War and other hot button  issues of the period flocked to the Laurel Canyon area. Many were transplants from other parts of the country and eventually took up residence there.  

The resulting music scene helped folk, rock and pop singer-songwriters like Crosby, Stills and Nash (pictured left) - with and without Neil Young - Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Carole King, Jackson Browne, the Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds, Eagles, Frank Zappa and others flourish.

The Beach Boys had ties to the scene, as did the Doors (three members resided in Laurel Canyon for a period, where they reportedly wrote “People Are Strange” and “Love Street”). 

One venue that played a primary role in the developing local folk music scene was the Troubadour, located at the border of Beverly Hills on Santa Monica Blvd. and launched by Doug Weston in the late ‘50s. 

More recently, critically acclaimed musician/producer Jonathan Wilson helped reinvigorate the scene through jam sessions at his Laurel Canyon home, featuring musicians from Wilco, Black Crowes, Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, the Jayhawks, Jakob Dylan, Dawes and Johnathan Rice. 

“California Dreamin’: The Sounds of Laurel Canyon,” a new exhibit that just opened at LA Live’s Grammy Museum, is a testament to the cultural phenomenon.

Young musicians’ extreme discontent with society during the mid-‘70s helped lead to the punk rock movement. By decade’s end, San Fernando Valley’s Bad Religion was formed. Three of its members attended El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills. 

Utilizing multi-part harmonies (unusual for punk at the time) and socio-political lyrics, the band’s ‘82 debut LP “How Could Hell Be Any Worse” came out on their own indie label Epitaph Records.

Eventually, Bad Religion’s music videos gained exposure on the MTV tastemaker modern rock show 120 Minutes. When the next wave of punk bands achieved mainstream popularity in the 1990s, Bad Religion benefitted from commercial alt-rock radio airplay. They continue to release albums on a regular basis today; the most recent being 2013’s “True North.” 

A few years later, several rock acts from the Valley broke nationally and kept the spotlight on this area.  

Linkin Park was started in 1996 by three former Agoura Hills High School students. They came from the same local nu-metal scene as fellow Agoura band Hoobastank and Calabasas quintet Incubus. Linkin Park’s music incorporated elements of electronica and rap rock. 

While still using the moniker Hybrid Theory, the band was a regular at the Cobalt Café in Canoga Park and Whisky a Go-Go in West Hollywood. Following a name change in 2000, its major label debut CD “Hybrid Theory” sold nearly 5 million copies in its first year and was the bestselling album of ‘01. It was eventually certified for diamond status (10 million shipped) by the RIAA. 

The band won two Grammys, launched the multi-act Projekt Revolution tour and worked with Jay-Z  on remix albums. Successive CDs have debuted at No. 1 and gone gold or multi-platinum in the U.S. Linkin Park has notched 16 top 10 modern rock radio singles (10 topping the chart) to date. Sixth studio album “The Hunting Party” is due in June.

Incubus arrived on the scene in 1991. Early shows commence at the Whisky A Go-Go, Troubadour and Cobalt Cafe. First major label album “S.C.I.E.N.C.E.” went gold in ’97. Featuring a more groove-based, melodic approach, three successive releases were even more successful. The band has notched 14 top 10 alt-rock singles. Its most recent effort was 2011’s “If Not Now, When?” 

Best known for rock chart topper “The Reason,” Hoobastank formed in 1994 and - like Incubus and Linkin Park - played the Cobalt Café early on. A self-titled major label debut album in 2001 was certified platinum; 2003’s pop-inflected “The Reason” went double platinum and the band amassed nearly a dozen top 40 rock hits. Many of them crossed over to the adult and mainstream rock radio genres. Hoobastank’s last CD “Fight or Flight” came in 2012.

The next high profile rock band from the area to make it big was a family affair.   

Hailing from Valley Village, HAIM is the surname of three sisters – Alana (rhythm guitar, keyboards, percussion), Este (bass, guitar) and Danielle (lead guitar). 

The young girls performed at charity events, county fairs and religious festivals around the area in classic rock cover band Rockinhaim (alongside their parents).

Danielle and Este spent a short period in the female group Valli Girls, which was signed to Columbia Records and had a song on “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants” film soundtrack.

The siblings started HAIM in 2006 while still in high school and regularly played clubs like the Cobalt, Troubadour and the CIA in North Hollywood. Focusing on other endeavors for a while, Este graduated from UCLA while Danielle toured with major artists like Jenny Lewis, Cee-Lo Green and The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas.

HAIM released the debut EP “Forever” in 2012 and the critically-acclaimed, full-length rock and R&B-laced debut album “Days Are Gone” last year. It reached No. 6 on the Billboard 200 chart, while “Forever” and “The Wire” went top 30 at rock radio.

Last November, HAIM served as musical guest on “SNL.” They have played Europe (Glastonbury Festival in England, where the album has moved more than 100,000 copies). The group was among the most buzzed about acts at the Coachella Festivals this past April where fans held up large cardboard cutout signs of Este.

Many local bands cut their performance teeth at the Cobalt Café. Initially a coffee house in Woodland Hills, the venue moved to Canoga Park three years later, booking music and poetry performers.

Owner Dave Politi, a San Fernando Valley native, used New York City’s famed CBGBs club as a template. The Cobalt quickly became an important part of new local musicians’ development. A partial list of bands that have played the small all ages, alcohol free venue over the years reads like a “who’s who” of 1990s and 2000s alt-rock: Jimmy Eat World, AFI, Less Than Jake,  Eve 6, Reel Big Fish, Save Ferris, Avenged Sevenfold, New Found Glory, Something Corporate, Rx Bandits.

Another prominent Valley venue is The Canyon in Agoura Hills which books top name regional and national bands and tribute acts. Opening in 2000, the Canyon’s show roster has revolved around rock, blues, jazz and country music.

The establishment has had Hoobastank, OneRepublic and Joe Bonamassa on its stage before they became household names. Ben Harper, Jackson Browne, Heart, Velvet Revolver, Willie Nelson, Dave Davies and B.B. King are a few of the other top tier acts to play the Canyon. 

According to marketing director Luanne Nast, the Canyon stands apart from other similar venues in the region because “there is no better place to see a show. We have first rate sound and lighting and an up close, personal and intimate setting -- not to mention full dinner service.”

Elsewhere in the region, the Cowboy Palace Saloon in Chatsworth showcases local and regional country acts. The Valley Performing Arts Center at California State University, Northridge showcases adult contemporary and country, while the Alex Theatre in Glendale tends to book world music, symphonies and musicals.

Here are some musicians that have worked or resided within the San Fernando Valley area in the past decade or so: 

Encino-Cherrie Currie (The Runaways), Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, Nirvana), Tom Petty, Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier, Al Jarreau, the Jackson family 
Northridge-Berlin’s Terri Nunn hosts a weekly radio show on KCSN-FM at Cal State Northridge. 
San Fernando: Grammy and Dove-winning gospel vet Andrae Crouch is Senior Pastor at New Christ Memorial Church alongside sister/pastor Sandra. 
Sherman Oaks: 2006 “American Idol” runner up Katharine McPhee went to Notre Dame High School 
Studio City: Eddie Van Halen 
Van Nuys: Incubus singer Brandon Boyd, the Hippos. Also notable as the 1970-2012 home of the infamous Sound City recording studio (immortalized in an acclaimed Grohl-helmed documentary last year) 

Thanks to Ida Miller for The Doors info.

1 comment:

ida said...

That's a really nice write-up. Very extensive and thorough. And interesting! I enjoyed reading it.