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Los Angeles Music Scene

By the mid-1960s, Southern California had come into its own as a pop metropolis. Thanks to the surf sound of the Beach Boys, the region became identified with the sun-kissed dreams of white American teens, and producers like Phil Spector and Lou Adler were making classic singles that challenged the dominance of the New York scene.  

At the same time, Los Angeles was developing a thriving folk scene around clubs like the Ash Grove and the Troubadour and McCabe's guitar shop.  That scene served as a magnet to aspiring folkies from all over -- people like Roger McGuinn, John Phillips, Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Richie Furay, who had been inspired by the burgeoning folk revival that had begun on the East Coast.  

By 1964, when McGuinn met David Crosby during a hootenanny at the Troubadour, the British Invasion had taken hold in America.  When McGuinn and Crosby teamed up with Gene Clark, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke to form the Byrds, they were as influenced by the Beatles as by Bob Dylan.  The Byrds' music was a new hybrid -- electric folk-rock -- and in the wake of their success, there were dozens of bands playing clubs on the city's fabled Sunset Strip.  

But it was the Troubadour, which had opened as a jazz club in the Fifties, that was the hub of L.A.'s new music scene. "On any given night, you'd have the kind of eclectic mix that was pure L.A., " said one musician.  "You might have Phil Ochs, David Blue, Eric Anderson, Joni Mitchell, the Everly Brothers, Jackson Browne, Mick Fleetwood, Elton John, Harry Nilsson, every established or would-be rock journalist and wanna-be photographer.  And, always, prodigious amounts of booze."

Texas exile Don Henley, who went on to form the Eagles with Detroit native Glenn Frey, remembers going to the Troubadour his first night in L.A. and seeing Graham Nash, Neil Young and Linda Ronstadt.  Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band, one of the originators of L.A.'s country-rock sound, made its debut at the Troubadour, as did Poco, another country-rock group formed by Buffalo Springfield alumni.

By the turn of the decade, several of the artists associated with the Troubadour scene  --  including Crosby, Stills and Nash, Mitchell, Young, Browne and Ronstadt  --  were enjoying significant commercial success.  Time magazine declared it the era of the singer-songwriter, and on the surface, the L.A. scene did seem to be dominated by singer-songwriters and country-rock bands.  But the reality was that the music being made in L.A. was much more diverse, incorporating everyone from blues enthusiasts like Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal and Little Feat, to quirky composers like Randy Newman and Van Dyke Parks to eccentrics like Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band.

By 1976, Los Angeles had become the nexus of the music industry. This period climaxed with the phenomenal sales of the Eagles' Hotel California and Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. Each album sold more than 15 million copies. By the end of the decade, though, tastes had begun to change, and the focus shifted back to New York, where punk, New Wave and rap were gaining in commercial popularity.