The word echo can be haunting, conjuring the ghostly sound of the human voice reverberating in a dark house or deserted valley. It can mean the unwanted reflection off of hard surfaces in a less-than-ideal acoustical environment. It can mean the use of the Memphis/Elvis '"slapback" echo on early Sam Phillips-produced Sun Records releases.
In Greek mythology, Echo was a nymph who could utter only the last words spoken by others. It can come into play as a reduplicative in a sentence, and be why people sing in the shower. It can also mean the influence over time of a halcyon era in music history.
This brings us to the great new music documentary "Echo in the Canyon," co-produced and starring Jakob Dylan of The Wallflowers ("One Headlight," "Sixth Avenue Heartache") and directed by Andrew Slater, former CEO of Capitol Records, record producer and music journalist for Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. It is now streaming on Netflix.
Many other artists and record folks appear. Tom Petty is interviewed, that alone making it a must-watch with recent video footage of Tom and Jakob checking out RICKENBACKER 12-STRING guitars at an LA luthier’s shop. Aficionados may recall that Tom and his mates had a somewhat underappreciated record titled "Echo" (" ... and he went down ... swingin' ...").
If one listens to the classic Heartbreakers' 1981 hit "The Waiting," you must surely hear the echo of the Byrds’ sound with Tom Petty and Mike Campbell’s ringing 12-string guitar parts.
Record man Lew Adler, Roger (formerly Jim) McGuinn of the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Beach Boys, David Crosby, Steve Stills, Ringo Starr, the Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian, Eric Clapton, Fiona Apple, the Mamas and the Papas' Michelle Phillips, Cat Power, Beck, Neil Young, and others appear. "The Association" is mentioned, as is Warren Zevon (an artist long championed by director Slater). The folk music boom of the early '60s and how it morphed into folk-rock is well covered, and of course references the elder Dylan "going electric." There are some wry asides about the elder Dylan as it relates to Jakob.
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Even if you don't give a whit directly about the music of the individuals or groups featured in "Echo," the influences on modern rock cannot be minimized as the reverberations of that sound and style are still heard in more modern times in the music of the Stone Roses, REM, Matthew Sweet, the Gin Blossoms, Teenage Fanclub, Wilco and scores of others. That list is long and illustrious.
This column is not meant as a review of the film — I liked this musical documentary VERY much — as much as a musing on that era's influence on musical styles to follow. As a musician greatly influenced by the sounds and artists portrayed, I thoroughly enjoyed the performances by Jakob Dylan and his friends, the vintage film footage, and interviews conducted at the homes of David Crosby, Jackson Browne and other still-vital stars who emanated from that time and place.
I was brought nearly to tears by the end-of-film version of the Jerry Goffin and Carole King-penned Byrds hit "I'm Going Back." We played that song, along with Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages" and the Byrds' "Eight Miles High," in our high school rock band the Viscounts, and our band Devil’s Kitchen parked ourselves for an LA run in near-to-Laurel-Canyon Topanga Canyon, also a storied area of LA. That was in 1969, so I breathed that air, as it were.
Mentioned several times in the film, with a fair amount of footage shown as well, is a 1969 Jacques Demy movie called "Model Shop." Starring Gary Lockwood — an original "Star Trek" guest star — that film is cited as an influence on many of the ideas that evolved into the production of "Echo in the Canyon."
Reviews of "Echo" are found in considerable number on the web, and many lean toward the negative, citing an apparent lack of original footage of happenings in Laurel Canyon, Joni Mitchell and her unassailable artistry being under-represented, and the appearance of the Beatles in an otherwise very American scene. It is not a "fault" in my opinion to include the Beatles, and we learn why in one of the many engaging anecdotes peppering the film, this one concerning the all-important thread in the film, the Rickenbacker electric 12-string guitar.
The documentary for me is all about this seminal instrument and the emergence of what eventually became loosely termed "jangle rock." If you happen to be a fan of the largely Canadian Buffalo Springfield, of "For What It’s Worth" fame, as am I — what a band that was! — you will not be disappointed. Ditto the Byrds' the Mamas and the Papas; Beach Boys; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; and on.
The period technical minutiae — the equipment, man! — as shown is impressive, along with the great song craft.
It is my bet that you will enjoy this musical documentary. A decade in the making, the love of the music and the time period shines through in "Echo in the Canyon."