Goodbye 2020, José Feliciano and California Dreamin’

Well, it’s the last day of 2020 and I feel duty bound to post something as it’s been a year like no other. We all wish we could just wipe the slate clean and start afresh with a 2021 that is fit for purpose, but sadly just not possible. In the short-term nothing much will change regarding the pandemic, bar things getting worse for a while it seems. At least there is hope on the horizon, with vaccines now coming on stream faster than you can say Jack Robinson (God Bless the Scientists). Hopefully by Spring, life will have started to get a bit easier for all of us.

As of 11pm tonight (the time difference dictates it will work out that way) we will no longer be part of the EU, which makes me sad. I shared some pictures two years ago of DD’s Hogmanay party and over half her guests were originally from other countries in Europe. She is of the generation who grew up with the offspring of people who had come here to work from Eastern Europe, and of course is also of the generation who thought nothing of heading off to Amsterdam, Paris or Barcelona for a short city break. Geographically we are still going to be part of Europe, but it just doesn’t feel right to be breaking away like this at a time when mutual cooperation is more important than ever. Let’s hope the new relationship with our closest neighbours is a good one.

But hey, this is a music blog and although I have had many post ideas over the last few days, I have been rather distracted by my Christmas presents. One of my Boxing Day hobbies used to be jigsawing (and not the kind which can relieve you of a digit). This year DD not only gave me a great jigsaw but also a board to make it on which means we are no longer sans dining table until the puzzle is completed. It was tough going, especially for my neck and shoulders, but I finished it yesterday.

My Christmas jigsaw

Other distractions have come in the form of books, craft kits and another pretty special present from DD, a signed copy of the script for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer pilot episode, ‘Welcome to the Hellmouth’. Regulars around here will know that we as a family were big fans back in the day, so a very thoughtful gift. I think I’ll have to return another day with one of the many songs I have in my library from the Buffy soundtrack, as the song I want to feature in this post is a bit of a different animal and has been my favourite new discovery of 2020.

It’s been a hell of a year I think we can all agree, and we didn’t have Buffy to save the day for us, but in amongst all the anxiety, rules and restrictions most of us have watched a fair amount of television and I am no exception.

A few months ago I wrote about the documentary Laurel Canyon which I had watched the same week as the Tarantino film Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. Both were set around the Hollywood Hills of the late 60s and there is a great scene in the movie where Brad Pitt is driving his boss’s car around LA, listening to the radio. The song playing is not the Mamas & the Papa’s version of California Dreamin’, but the one by José Feliciano. Maybe it’s because it’s winter here in Scotland at the moment, but like me, don’t you just want to swap places with Brad for a few hours? (For the record, if you haven’t seen the film yet, the girl in the clip is a key player in the plotline. Yes she is very young, and yes, Brad is now very old, but nothing unsavoury came of their ‘friendship’ bar the usual blood and gore you would expect from a Tarantino movie.)

California Dreamin’ by José Feliciano:


It occurred to me I know very little about José Feliciano but it seems he is still going strong at the age of 75 and released a new album at the start of this year. He is Puerto Rican and his music is known for its fusion of styles – Latin, jazz, blues, soul and even rock, created with his unique, signature acoustic guitar sound. The song California Dreamin’ was recorded along with other covers for his 1968 album Feliciano!. I think most of us who are fans of Quentin Tarantino movies appreciate the song choices he makes for the soundtracks almost as much as the movie. He certainly chose wisely with this song which was perfect for the era but not too obvious either.

So, ‘What’s It All About?’ – No wild Hogmanay parties for us tonight, it being 2020 an’ all, but had things been as usual, we would probably have spent it with our neighbours as we have done for the last couple of decades. We were supposed to take turns in hosting, but some houses have a better layout than others for parties, so we tended to be guests rather than hosts – Guests who used to offer up the entertainment I might add. More of that another time.

For now, a Happy New Year to everyone who visits here. We’ll all be glad to see the back of 2020 I’m sure, but 2021, please, please be kinder to us.

Until next time…

California Dreamin’ Lyrics
(Song by John Phillips/Michelle Phillips)

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day
I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day

Stopped in to a church I passed along the way
Well I got down on my knees and I pretend to pray
You know the preacher liked the cold
He knows I’m gonna stay
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day
If I didn’t tell her I could leave today
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day

California Dreamin’: Laurel Canyon, A Special Place In Time

Like many others I’ve not had a holiday this year, but I did spend much of last week in Laurel Canyon, that hotbed of creativity that became the epicentre of the late ’60s folk rock scene. First of all I watched the two-part series Laurel Canyon, A Place In Time and then I revisited Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, where much of the action takes place in the same location, at the same point in time. (Both can be found on Amazon Prime.)

I’ve watched many documentaries over the years about the music and lifestyles of those who resided in Laurel Canyon, but this was a particularly good one, as the only two ‘talking heads’ were photographers from those days (Henry Diltz and Nurit Wilde) who shared many of their candid shots. We saw Joni Mitchell looking all loved up with Graham Nash, Peter Tork larking around in Frank Zappa’s back garden, Jim Morrison on his bicycle and David Crosby hanging out with future sidekick Stephen Stills.

During my first year of blogging, as some regulars might remember, I kept returning to the year 1967, as for some reason there is a special place in my heart for the music from that era. Perhaps it’s because I was just a little too young to remember it from first time around, so still have many new discoveries to make, or maybe I’m just a bit of a hippie at heart and if I could hire an honest-to-goodness time machine for a day, I think I would head back to Laurel Canyon. In the early ’60s the music industry was still very much centred in New York, but by 1967 many Greenwich Village folk artists were moving west to California and setting up home in the houses and cabins which littered the hillsides of the West Hollywood district of Los Angeles. Doors were left unlocked, residents hung out and partied, but best of all, they made great music.

Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills, a district of Los Angeles

As for choosing a featured song for this post, there are literally too many to choose from. I took notes whilst watching the first episode of the documentary and they stretched to six pages. The names of some of the people who lived in Laurel Canyon in the late ’60s are as follows:

The Byrds, ‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’, Love, Joni Mitchell, Brian Wilson, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Buffalo Springfield, Jim Morrison, Frank Zappa, Alice Cooper, Peter Tork, Mickey Dolenz and The Mamas & the Papas.

Considering Mama Cass used to have an open house policy, and seems to have been one of the main figures of Canyon life, maybe this song would be a good choice. It was written when the Mamas & the Papas were still based in cold and wet New York, but were contemplating a move to California, which just like many others before them is exactly what they did.

All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey.
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.;
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

California Dreamin’ by the Mamas & the Papas:


But of course all good things come to an end and that’s kind of what happened to this free-loving, drug-fuelled community a few years later. Doors could no longer be left open after The Manson Family killings, and a couple of the key players died way before their time (Jim Morrison and Mama Cass). As we headed into the 1970s bands like the Eagles entered the frame, and the music became more about making money, which was a new direction for Canyon residents. One by one they started to head down to more salubrious residences in more upmarket districts such as Beverley Hills.

The film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is set in 1969, and is a tribute to the final moments of Hollywood’s golden age. The main character is Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), a star who fears his career is fading, and his stunt double Cliff Booth (played by Brad Pitt) who now acts as his gofer. As ever with Tarantino, the plot follows multiple storylines all coming together at the end. Rick’s house on Cielo Drive is right next to the one rented by Sharon Tate (a Manson Family victim) and her husband Roman Polanski. I won’t spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but suffice to say it was vintage Tarantino. Cielo Drive is not in Laurel Canyon but a bit further west, however it’s still located in the Hollywood Hills. With winter now approaching here in Scotland, I know where I’d rather be (without the murders of course).

I’ve long known about the community who took up residence in these hills, just a stone’s throw from downtown Los Angeles, but I never took the time to work out where on the map Laurel Canyon is actually located. Now I’ve got that sorted it’s time to revisit the good times, before it started to go wrong, and enjoy the music that was inspired by the place.

There was a lovely story in the documentary about how the song Our House by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young came about. Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell, both young and in love, had gone down into Los Angeles for some breakfast. On the way they’d stopped at an antique shop where Joni bought a simple, blue vase. When they got home, Graham suggested she stroll through the woods to pick flowers for the vase. Rather than build the fire he had promised, he sat down at her piano and began writing a song about their shared domestic bliss: “I’ll light the fire, you put the flowers in the vase that you bought today”. I’m an old romantic so really loved that story but find it hard to believe that by the time the song was released, they were no longer a couple. Makes me sad.

This one by Buffalo Springfield always sends shivers down my spine, and it has appeared in many a Vietnam War film. Although often considered an anti-war song, Stephen Stills was inspired to write it because of the Sunset Strip curfew riots in November 1966, a series of early counterculture-era clashes that took place between police and young people.

Of course we can’t forget about Joni Mitchell, that Lady of the Canyon.

Finally, something from Jim Morrison and The Doors, one of the most iconic and influential frontmen in rock history, who sadly died at the age of 27 in 1971. Jim was a true bohemian and poet who struggled to cope with his fame. Perhaps his brooding good looks were a hindrance to him, but he remains on many a deep-thinker’s bedroom wall to this day.

Until next time….

California Dreamin’ Lyrics
(Song by John Phillips/Michelle Phillips)

All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey.
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.;
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

Stopped in to a church I passed along the way.
Well I got down on my knees and I pretend to pray.
You know the preacher liked the cold;
He knows I’m gonna stay.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day.
If I didn’t tell her I could leave today;
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.