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Issue: Issue Winter 2005/ 2006

Music City ...the ultimate, living, breathing jukebox


But what makes Hollywood’s music scene special? It doesn’t have a distinctive sound or style, such as Nashville’s country or Detroit’s Motown soul. Instead, Hollywood’s musical uniqueness is attributed to its close proximity to the hubs of both the television and film industries. This area is a kind of melting pot of the arts, if you will, with actors, musicians and other fame-seeking entertainers all inhabiting the same small creative stage, simultaneously surging to capture the spotlight. Every night of the week, soundboards are humming hot with live music action in this town. Sounds flow from underground haunts like the Hotel Café or Largo, to that special musical magic emanating beneath the stars at the Hollywood Bowl. The worlds of music and film have had a co-dependant relationship ever since silver screens first brightened darkened theaters. For instance, when D.W. Griffith produced his silent movie classic, Birth of a Nation” (191 5), he underpinned its visuals with a large orchestral score stitched together from classical and popular sources. And even during the silent movie era, such films were still scored primarily by classically trained musicians. Furthermore, such musical accompaniments insured that there have never been any completely silent movies. When looking at the way various entertainment avenues intertwine, The Hollywood Bowl is akin to a pivotal intersection for such connections. ‘The Bowl has been in a lot of movies and television shows,” explains the Director of Hollywood Bowl Museum, Carol Merrill-Mersky. “Some very great movies of the past have had scenes at the Hollywood Bowl. The most famous ones would be “Double indemnity” and “Anchors Away,” with Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. More recently, “Beaches.” The whole opening of the film is shot on the stage of the Bowl. it’s been included in TV shows, from “The Beverly Hillbillies,” up to the current ones. And these have been seen by millions of people worldwide, and over many generations.” Although Hollywood music and institutions are known globally, there’s still no such thing as truly ‘regional’ Hollywood music. Because so many artists come here from every nook and cranny of the world, it’s more like the ultimate, living, breathing jukebox, offering a little something for everybody. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to name a genre that doesn’t have a significant Hollywood page in its history book. Take jazz, for example. This original American art form is alive and well in Hollywood these days, for instance — especially since The Catalina Bar & Grill has moved to its new Sunset Blvd. home. But Hollywood jazz is hardly just a club thing in these parts, as the Hollywood Bowl annually hosts its renowned Playboy jazz Festival, which packs in two full days of some of the best jazz music around. Furthermore, books could be written — and probably already have been — about the large role jazz music has played in the Hollywood film scene. Even country music, believe it or not, has roots in this seemingly rootless locale. Of course, the first city that comes to mind when you think about country music is naturally Nashville, TN. But Hollywood also has its own Western music traditions to tout. This is especially true for country-rock, which was practically birthed in Hollywood. One of its earliest practitioners was The Byrds especially when Gram Parsons contributed to the group’s seminal “Sweethearts of the Rodeo” release. On the more commercial side, one cannot forget about Linda Ronstadt’s early country-leaning records, and especially The Eagles contributions. It’s important to always keep in mind that when Don Henley and his band mates exposed life in the fast lane,” they did so with a distinctive twang in their voices. There are about as many different variations on rock music styles as there are waitresses/actresses working in Hollywood clubs, so it would be foolish to describe rock’s history in simplistic, all-encompassing, generic terms. But undoubtedly, Hollywood has been a breeding ground for rock music of every imaginable flavor for decades. “This is the edge of the continent,” says KLOS-LA radio icon Jim Ladd. “This is where people from all over the planet — not just America — come here to follow their dreams. So we’re getting talent from everywhere in the world — not to mention whatever local talent there is. So the talent pool here is astonishing.” During the Sixties, for instance, The Sunset Strip produced a seemingly endless supply of astonishing talent. The Doors, for example, was once the house band at The Whiskey. Furthermore, groups like Love, Buffalo Springfield, and many, many others, took those first baby steps at polishing their stuff under the lights of various clubs along The Strip. When it comes to ranking Hollywood’s homegrown talent, The Doors top a many music fan’s lists. “First and foremost is The Doors,” votes Ladd emphatically. “And that’s personal, as well as an objective thing. They were that important when they were discovered on the stage at The Whiskey, and they’re that important today to these 7 or 18 year old high school students listening to my show (“Headphones”), and listening to The Doors as a new band.” In the early to mid-Seventies, Los Angeles become synonymous with the laid back, soft rock sound, as singer/songwriters like Joni Mitchell of Laurel Canyon made a large, soothing impact. But toward the end of the Seventies, punk rock began to put a safety pin into Hollywood’s otherwise perfectly tanned flesh. Bands like X took the social commentary of the Iaidback Eagles, and revved these messages up with rapidly strummed electric guitars. Just as punk’s initial sonic blast began to dissipate, its roar was soon replaced by glam metal hard rock on the Sunset Strip. Groups like Motley Crue and Poison sported male musicians that looked pretty enough to give the girls in their audiences a run for their money, as they sprayed- up their hair, squeezed into Spandex pants, and gave hard rock a particularly glamorous face. Its proponents ranged from the hedonistic Motley Crue, to straight road of those Bible-tossers, Stryper. Simultaneous to this glamorous hard rock period, there was also something bubbling La Brea tar pit-like just beneath the surface. And just as The Doors had explored the harsh alternative to the Summer Of Love many years prior, the group Guns ‘N Roses could perceive that just outside all of Hollywood’s bright lights, this area could also be as scary as a jungle. Hollywood continues to be the place where unique artists get their first recognition. Modern day troubadours range from the nearly indescribable alternative rock of Beck, to the quiet sadness of the late Elliot Smith. Musicians will always come to Hollywood in search of success, mainly because these are the ones with the greatest drive to make it. At least that’s how promoter Sean Healy sees it. “The bands are a little bit more eager to actually advance their careers,” he’s observed. Even though musical styles have evolved, and many great musicians have come and gone over the years, that Capitol Records Tower is a beacon. just a short glance away from the 101 Freeway, it may appear closer to some than others. But for those with the drive to succeed, Hollywood will always be a special place where musical dreams can come true. LA-based freelance music writer Dan MacIntosh has contributed to local and national publications and is proud to call Hollywood his adopted hometown.