Saturday, 15 January 2011

L.A. Arrival

Laurel Canyon was the place to be in those days, when I first moved Stateside in 1970. Not that we realised that at first: we were too busy living it. Then some journalist joins the dots and realises for us that, hey, in a few square miles of real estate, you've got Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Jackson Browne, Mama Cass, Joni, Carole King, Frank Zappa, Canned Heat, and hey, who are those country rock boys, what's their name, the Eagles? They're going to be something, aren't they?

Well, not all of them were there at the start, and some of 'em left before the others appeared. And there were lots of other musicians there too, ones that only ever became footnotes in some book somewhere. I should know.

All I did know back then was that there were cheap places to stay up in the Canyons beyond L.A., and it was out of the seething, smoggy city itself, and it was near the Troubador. And anyone who was anyone played at the Troubador. Even I knew that, and I was still living in Arbroath.

So we arrived, me and my friend Julie, at LAX one broiling, dusty, summer's day, took a bus into the city, choked on the fumes, and found another bus that took us to West Hollywood.

Yes, two buses, a suitcase and a guitar each, and no more than two hundred bucks to our name once we'd been fleeced at the bureau de change by a sad-eyed woman who pretended not to understand our accents. No chauffeur driven limo for us: I might have sung in a hit single back home, that bloody clown song, but the management had the money all tied up in some management thing. It wasn't in my pocket, that was all I knew: I'd had to borrow the money for the airline tickets from Stan, Lickety Split's drummer.

Anyway, there Julie and I were, standing at a bus stop on Santa Monica Boulevard with our heads going round like lighthouse beacons taking it all in. We had a map, and a contact in Lookout Mountain Avenue, so we started walking. Even then, the locals looked at us like we were from another planet for walking. Uphill all the way.

Our contact was a guy called Charlie, from Glasgow. He was a session musician: keyboards, mainly. When we called at the address we'd been given, we were told he was at a party three doors down. A party, in the afternoon! We thought that was pretty rock and roll.

When we got there, the party consisted of three guys sitting on the floor smoking joints. We had somehow missed Charlie, so back we went in the late afternoon heat, our cheesecloth blouses sticking to our backs, and our shoes full of grit from the roadside.

Charlie was a wee Glaswegian guy with black hair plastered down over his forehead. When he opened the door he recognised us from passing us ten minutes earlier. "Thought it might be you," he said, grinning, as if two pale skinned girls with suitcases and guitars were a common sight in the Canyons. Come to think of it, probably were.

"Guitarists are ten a penny," he told us, as he made tea (we'd been hoping for something stronger). "So are singers, come to think of it."

"I've been writing some songs," I said.

"Oh aye?" he said, looking me up and down. I noticed his mid-Atlantic accent disappeared after he'd spoken to us for a bit.

When we'd finished our tea, he suggested we all go to bed together. When we knocked him back, he shrugged, said, "Worth asking," and took us two doors up the hill to a neat little three bedroom house, white painted, shuttered against the sun.

"Looking after it for a pal," he said. "He's no' due back from tour for another month."

Inside, the place was like the Marie Celeste: unmade beds, dirty plates and glasses in the kitchen, attracting the flies' attention.

Charlie sniffed. "Probably do with a bit of a tidy up right enough."

As it turned out, the owner never made it back from tour. Died in a hotel room in Pennsylvania. So we ended up staying there for three months, until Julie went home, and I moved in with Sumner and Katy.

We never realised how good we had it. Right in the heart of the Canyons; neat little place nestled in among the trees, up off the road, so that you woke every morning to the scent of pine and oak breathing out after the night, stretching themselves awake in the sun.

Charlie was good to us, though. Made some introductions: even got me some work as a backing singer in the early days. After that first knockback he was the perfect gentleman. Always treated me with respect, which is more than some did.

I think Julie went with him, once, before she went back. I made it my rule never to lay the landlord. Pretty much stuck to it, too. Pretty much.

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