What I’m Listening To (June 2014)

…while it’s still June, eh?

A new song by Los Angeles’ own Jenny Lewis:

“Just One of the Guys” by Jenny Lewis (2014)


In memory of Gerry Goffin, Carole King’s songwriting partner and creator of some incredible pop songs, here is the demo version of the song they wrote for Ms. Aretha Franklin:

“(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman” by Goffin and King (1967)


I heard John Gallagher cover this tune a few weeks ago and have been on a mini-Springsteen kick ever since:

“Atlantic City” by Bruce Springsteen (1984)


I’m a sucker for Chris Martin (mostly) acoustic, and Coldplay’s last album had some good tracks:

“O” by Coldplay (2014)

I don’t know who I am

But, you know, life is for learning

We are stardust, we are golden

And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden


Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock” (1969)

“California Dreamin’: The Sounds of Laurel Canyon” at the Grammy Museum

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The past few weeks I’ve been helping out the wonderful staff of the Grammy Museum with their new exhibit on the music of Laurel Canyon. The exhibit opens tomorrow with a panel featuring prominent musicians in the Canyon scene: Mickey Dolenz, Art Podell, Harvey Kubernik, Danny Hutton, and Gail Zappa. The exhibit will be on the second floor of the museum through November this year–I hope that friends and visitors in L.A. will stop by to see!




What I’m Listening To–May 2014

May 2014

Lucius, “Turn It Around”

This old-timey cover of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by The Wind and the Wave

Sara Watkins, “The Dotted Line”

Jackson Browne, “Something Fine”

Tracy Newman, “I Just See You”

Miranda Lambert, “Automatic”



What I’m Listening To–January 2014

Decided that if I’m updating my “What I’m Listening To” page, it would be nice to have an archive. Here was my original batch of songs posted in January 2014:

Linda Ronstadt, “Willin”

Lord Huron, “Lonesome Dreams”

Kacey Musgraves, “Follow Your Arrow”

Blake Shelton, “Mine Would Be You”

Kate and Anna McGarrigle, “Gentle Annie”


I”ll archive all these posts under the tag WhatI’m ListeningTo


More Laurel Canyon Transformations

We saw Carly morph from half of a polished ’60s sister duet into an earthy folk songstress between her days in the Simon Sisters and her first solo albums as a singer-songwriter. But Carly wasn’t the only lady of the canyon to undergo such a change. Here is Carole King during her days as a pop-hit songwriter at the Brill Building in New York City in 1962:CaroleKing1962


In 1968 she moved to California to try and keep ahead of the music industry shift to the West Coast and settled in a home at the top of the hills in Laurel Canyon with a killer view Hollywood and L.A. She quickly adopted the Laurel Canyon lifestyle, embracing the “back to the earth” mentality and adopting a more “natural” look. Here she is with her hair in long, natural waves, sitting by the window, sewing a tapestry by hand:






Joni Mitchell, known for being Laurel Canyon’s folk goddess, started out with a similar style to the Simon Sisters while trying to make it as a performer in Toronto’s folk scene. Here is a video of her performing “The Circle Game” in Canada in 1966…in a field filled with cows…The style here is more subtle, but note the tailored fit of her clothing and the classic 1960s floral print on her shirt.

Mitchell also migrated to the Canyon in 1968 where she produced her first solo album, Song to a Seagull. Her ethereal style–making most of her clothes by hand–defined the look of Laurel Canyon.





Not only did the styles change, but the aesthetic of the photos themselves look very different from the early/mid 1960s to the later part of the decade. The photographers use more natural lighting, and the subjects don’t look directly into the camera.

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The Simon Sisters

Meet the Simon Sisters (Kapp Records, 1964)

Meet the Simon Sisters (Kapp Records, 1964)

Searching around for folk roots for the singer-songwriter movement, I discovered that Carly Simon performed in a folk duo with her sister, Lucy. Calling themselves the Simon Sisters, they recorded an album in 1964 on Kapp Records. Both sisters played guitar with Lucy singing soprano and Carly adding robust low harmonies like Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul and Mary). The Simon Sisters recorded traditional tunes, including “Dink’s Song” and  “Waley Waley (The Water Is Wide),” as well as hits composed during the folk revival, like their French version of  “Blowin’ in the Wind (Ecoute Dans La Vent)” and the folk-rock classic “Turn, Turn Turn.” The sisters also recorded several tracks geared towards children: “Cuddlebug,” and “Winkin’ Blinkin’ and Nod.” Here they are performing “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “Winkin’ Blinkin’ and Nod” on the ABC television show, Hootenanny, in 1964:


Their matching frocks and clean-cut hairstyles were actually quite common in the folk world–look at early pictures of Judy Collins or of the New Christy Minstrels, the “commercial-folk” group from Los Angeles whose women performed in folk-inspired gingham frocks with chic, contemporary beehive hair-do’s. After establishing themselves as worthy singers, many female folk performers would then grow their hair out and adopt a more “natural,” free-spirited, folk look, a la Joan Baez. This is exactly with the Simon sisters did in the early 70’s when each went on to record solo projects like on Carly Simon’s album cover for Anticipation (1971) or Lucy Simon’s self-titled debut.


All this just to scratch the surface of the connections between the singer-songwriter movement and the United States folk revival. The artists in the singer-songwriter movement were steeped in the musical traditions of the folk revival, and the visual imagery and acoustic musical style that they adopted on their albums in the 1970s (after the folk revival had declined significantly in the US) signaled this folk tradition to their audiences.


[Research tangent of interest: After recording her two solo albums, Lucy Simon (1975) and Stolen Time (1977), Lucy Simon went on to compose the score for the Tony-nominated musical, The Secret Garden (1991)]


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Newport in the rain

For my Newport family, here is a story from Pete Seeger about the festival in 1965 that I found in SingOut! It might sound all too familiar:


“ADD UNFORGETTABLE occassions: when the cloudburst opened up on six thousand people at the Newport Folk Festival, 1965, and they were in the middle of listening to Dick and Mimi Fariña. Not a soul scurried for shelter. The music kept on hotter and stronger. Some in the audience started stripping, and dancing in the downpour. The number was over. Everyone soaked to the skin, hollering for more, on their feet, clapping, stamping, dancing to the dulcimer and guitar” (SingOut! Vol. 17 No. 3, June/July 1967, pg. 47)



(photo credits to Brett)

On Pete Seeger

In the wake of Pete Seeger’s passing, I can’t possibly contribute more than these pieces (NYTimes, Newport’s Tribute Video, SingOut! Mourn’s the Passing of Pete Seeger) already have to celebrate his memory. But I will reflect a little bit on how Pete Seeger influences my research:

Folk Songs and Folk Institutions

Seeger stood at the center of creating both the songs and institutions that shape our conceptions of “folk music” in the United States today. Sure, it’s a complex and controversial term. But Seeger’s life outlines the classic story from the 1930s labor protests to the 1960s Civil Right’s movement. He played traditional and vernacular tunes, and he wrote his own, like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “We Shall Overcome,” which have been canonized as folk songs today, and that is the folk process. He was central to folk music’s premiere festival at Newport and continued to work with the festival through most of his career. He wrote a  column for SingOut! Magazine and helped found Broadside, two publications that spread the ideology of folk revivalism to college kids throughout the U.S. Without those institutions, we probably wouldn’t have the folk world we have today. Whether these platforms were holding on to idealistic notions of folk revivalism or pushing for new directions, Seeger was right there. Beyond the classic sense of folk revivalism, Seeger thought that it took all types of music to make up a folk scene–it can include any music that folks make. I think when people remember that, the term opens up a really lovely space.


“Both Sides Now”

Pete Seeger wrote a fourth verse to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” and got her permission to perform it. This one little verse has helped me work through many of the aesthetic differences between the songwriting of the folk revival and the songwriting of the singer-songwriter movement. Here is the verse:

Daughter, daughter don’t you know, You’re not the first to feel just so

But let me say before I go, It’s worth it anyway

Someday we all may be surprised, We’ll wake and open up our eyes

And then we all will realize, The whole world feels this way

We’ve all be living upside down, And turned around with love unfound

Until we turn and face the sun, Yes, all of us, everyone.

Seeger’s song takes Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” away from the first person into a communal feeling. Seeger writes with a perspective that looks outside of himself. And Seeger writes with calls to action–turn around, change your ways. More thoughts on the differences between folksongs and singer-songwriter songs to come in my paper for the Society for American Music conference in March…I don’t wan’t to give too much away!

Taking a Stand

I think the most profound way that Seeger has influenced my research (and inspired me personally) is the way that he used music to stand for something. He cared about the circumstances that people were living in in the United States. He sang with workers during union disputes. He spoke out against oppressive Cold War censorship. He stood with students at the March on Washington. And he didn’t get off scot-free. He was blacklisted, questioned before Congress, and sentenced to prison (luckily, his conviction was appealed and overturned). He could have changed his ways, played tunes that didn’t disrupt, and found more channels for performing, greater financial security, and fewer controversies with government authority. But he never backed down.

BfDCRffCcAEkFRSWhen I say that Seeger inspired me personally in this way, I haven’t myself stood on the front lines, singing protest songs, risking arrest or my career. But Seeger’s story sets an example for “protest music” that actually takes a risk, and I find it incredibly important to have a spectrum for the ways that music can be political (Ingrid Monson’s Freedom Sounds theorizes this in greater depth). Whenever I read and write about protest music/music and politics, I have to remember that it’s one thing to write a song and another to put your safety, career, and body on the line. The SNCC Freedom Singers are another great example of this, and they used Seeger’s “We Shall Overcome” as a sign of solidarity in some very dangerous situations. I don’t mean to say that you shouldn’t write the song that speaks out against society. Do it. Write the song. But it’s not the same amount of risk that it takes to be involved in direct-action protest. Perhaps remembering Pete Seeger today can help people think through some of the controversies in popular music right now. For example, Macklemore’s “Same Love” received criticism for it’s token appropriation of the fight for marriage equality. I think it’s good that Macklemore is saying something–pop music certainly needs to get away from the heteronormativity–but it’s important to realize that this is not the same thing as, say, the thousands of people who are protesting the oppressive conditions (surrounding marriage equality, voter rights, medical coverage, etc.) in the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina where people were arrested for speaking out every Monday last summer. So I’m thankful for Seeger’s example of one way to use music to affect political change.

Thanks to Pete for your commitment to folk music as a way to make the world a better place. I admire your peaceful spirit.


The Americana Music Association’s Pre-Grammy Tribute to Phil Everly at the Troubadour

There’s always something new to learn about life in Los Angeles, and this weekend, I had my first “awards season” experience. Although I have heard about the elaborate after-parties that follow the awards show, I did not know that the Grammy’s also came with a series of pre-Grammy events. On Friday, MusicCares honored Carole King as Person of the Year (wish I could have been at that party!), and on Saturday, a handful of venues hosted pre-Grammy concerts. I got the chance to attend a party put on by the American Music Association (AMA), which they had decided to dedicate to Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers, who passed away earlier this year. It was not Clive Davis’ big, glamorous, red-carpet bash, and I think the median age of the audience was probably above 45, but the laid-back and friend-filled atmosphere at the Troubadour was the perfect setting to honor Mr. Everly’s legacy.

Marquis for the AMA Tribute

The Troubadour is one of the most historic venues on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip. After opening as a folk club in 1959, the Troubadour became a central space for several emerging musical styles in L.A. throughout the 1960s and 70s, including the folk rock of the Byrds, California Country Rock pioneered by Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons, and the Eagles, and the singer-songwriter movement with Carole King, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, et al.  Every night at the Troubadour, top-notch artists would perform to a crowd filled with other aspiring talent and L.A.’s musical elite, forming a close-knit community of musicians. This venue and the community that formed there is one of the central areas of my dissertation, so I have been to several concerts there to get a sense of the atmosphere and space. But on Saturday, I entered a dissertation time-warp, as I found myself at the Troubadour with some of the old gang that used to hang out there.

The lineup for Saturday’s concert was kept a secret by the AMA, but I had a sneaking suspicion that there might be big names there. I got to West Hollywood about twenty minutes after the doors were supposed to open, but the line to get into the Troubadour was still wrapped around the corner, and they were only letting in people on the guest list. (Note to future self: Get on the guest list.) As I waited in line around the corner, I noticed that I was the youngest person in line by a long shot. Apparently kids these days aren’t listening to the Everly Brothers. (Note to kids these days: Listen to the Everly Brothers.) Actually, though, I was excited to be around the older audience, thinking that this crowd would have a greater appreciation for pop music of the 1970s.

Bonnie Raitt and Joe Henry perform "You Can't Fail Me Know"

Bonnie Raitt and Joe Henry perform “You Can’t Fail Me Know”

When I finally got into the venue, the whole upstairs was blocked off for VIP guests. I asked one of the guardians by the stairs who was up there. He said, “At least four famous people! Well, I know I saw Bonnie Raitt and T Bone Burnett, but I saw two other people who looked like they could be famous.” Jackpot. I made it to a place where I could actually see some of the community that I’m studying in action.

Peter Asher performing a song from his days in the duo Peter and Gordon, McCartney's "World Without Love"

Peter Asher performing a song from his days in the duo Peter and Gordon, McCartney’s “World Without Love”

Everyone on the lineup performed at least one Everly Brothers cover and then an original piece. Some of the performers were current acts on the Americana scene: the all-girl bluegrass band, Della Mae; Rhiannon Giddens and Hubby Jenkins of the Carolina Chocolate Drops; Jamestown Revival, a local folk group in LA about to hit the national scene; and the Milk Carton Kids, a duo with beautiful harmonies reminiscent of Don and Phil. Later in the night, singer-songwriters Joe Henry, Rodney Crowell, Bonnie Raitt and Ry Cooder each performed. Peter Asher also made an appearance and spoke very candidly about the Everly Brothers’ influence on the British Invasion.  Raitt, Cooder, and Asher were each major players in the LA singer-songwriter scene during the 1970s. And I was right about the older audience appreciating the atmosphere. People were silent and listening intently. People weren’t holding their phones the whole time. The audience expressed overwhelming gratitude at the appropriate moments (ask Rhiannon Giddens about the uncontrollable applause after her performance of Odetta’s “Waterboy”). It was truly amazing to be there and experience the atmosphere first-hand.

For many musicologists, you could never imagine being in this situation. You’re never going to walk into the court of Mantua and find Monteverdi rehearsing for L’Orfeo.  At the same time, many ethnomusicologists could never imagine not finding themselves immersed in the community they study. For me, Saturday night felt like both of these situations. I’m excited to follow-up with the connections that I made at the Troubadour this weekend.

[Unfortunately the Troubadour doesn’t allow cameras unless you have a press pass, so the photos are from my phone. Not the best quality, but I’m glad to have a few shots]

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