The Spirit of Laurel Canyon

Laurel Canyon Country Store
Wedged along a twisting road in the Hollywood Hills, the Canyon Country Store welcomes all. Photo: Kendall Whitehouse

Following Adobe Systems’ MAX developer’s conference in Los Angeles in late October of last year, I attended a performance by singer/songwriter Kat Parsons at a private home in Los Angeles’ storied Laurel Canyon. It was an apt location for an intimate evening of music.

Canyon Country Store: Welcome All
Canyon Country Store: “Welcome All” Photo: Kendall Whitehouse

While the history of Laurel Canyon reaches back to the dawn of the film industry’s arrival in Southern California — Western star Tom Mix purchased an early Canyon tavern and made it his home — the Canyon’s most notable inhabitants were musicians in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Graham Nash’s “Our House” was written about the Laurel Canyon home he shared with Joni Mitchell. Mitchell’s own album “Ladies of the Canyon” pays homage to the Canyon’s mystique. Frank Zappa lived in the cabin formerly owned by Tom Mix. The Doors’ Jim Morrison lived in the Canyon with Pamela Courson on a small side street immortalized as “Love Street” in the Doors’ song. Other Canyon residents of the era included David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Carol King, Jackson Browne, the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn, the Eagles’ Glenn Frey and Don Henley, the Doors’ John Densmore and Robby Krieger, and many other musical artists both famous and obscure.

Before the arriving for the concert that October evening, I stopped by the Laurel Canyon Country Store (the “store where the creatures meet” in the Doors’ “Love Street”) to pick up a bottle of wine as a house-warming gift.

Canyon Country Store: You Are Here
Canyon Country Store: “You Are Here” Photo: Kendall Whitehouse

Although it’s been more than a third of a century since Morrison, Zappa, Mitchell and the others frequented the establishment, the late-1960s vibe is still in evidence. By the entrance, the store’s name dances with brightly-colored psychedelic lettering. As you approach the store from the cramped parking lot you’re greeted with a sign that cheerily proclaims “Welcome All.” And then there’s the mirror inset in the heart that reminds you that “You are here.”

Each year the store organizes “Laurel Canyon Photo Day” when the residents of the Canyon assemble in front of the store for an annual photograph.

As the proprietor was ringing up my wine purchase I looked up at the over-sized print of the photo from last year, taken on November 1, 2009. Just to make small talk, I asked, “When is this year’s photo?” “It was last weekend” he replied and added, “Sorry you missed it.” I demurely pointed out, “Well, I wouldn’t qualify to be in the photo — I’m not from around here.” The proprietor genially responded, “We would have loved to have had you.”

The offer sounded quite sincere. It made me smile.

Wedged along a twisting road in the Santa Monica Mountains between Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley, in the Laurel Canyon Country Store, the spirit of the 60s lives on.

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