I just received Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon by Harvey Kubernik. This book kept popping up as an Amazon recommendation for me: "Since you're obsessed with Cher, you might like this book."
Unless you are a 1960s/70s LA music nerd, I can’t really recommend the book for Cher fans; there are only some slim Cher references inside...mostly revolving around S&C when they were living in Lower Laurel Canyon during the time they made “Baby Don't Go" and "I Got You Babe”...an exciting time to be making music in LA to be sure.
The book is mostly a reverie of session players and music-makers who lived and worked "up in the country" of Lauren Canyon Drive and who came down to the clubs of Sunset Boulevard to play their music at night, stories of people who have faded from the limelight, like Jackie deShannon, Randy Meisner of the Eagles, Donovan and Glen Campbell. But the fact that Sonny & Cher make so many cameos in this historic scene is satisfying.
As I noted in my introduction to the Cher Zine 2, Cher’s reputation is improving just by nature of her name appearing more frequently in lists of the rock establishment's cannon. We find an example of this on this books inside flap:
"Lauren Canyon, California, is a zip code with its own playlist. The unforgettable sounds of Sonny & Cher; the Doors; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Joni Mitchell; the Eagles; Carole King; the Byrds; and many others were cultivated in the canyon…”
Included in the book are stories by S&C-connected people such as guitarist Barney Kessel who played on “The Beat Goes On,” keyboardist Don Randi who knew S&C in 1964 when they were Caesar & Cleo and played on “Baby Please Don’t Go” [SIC], and Jackie DeShannon, called The Queen of Laurel Canyon, who says Sonny and Jack Nitzsche wrote “Needles and Pins” for her and how the the record company didn’t like it but she “wanted something with an edge to it.” She said Brian Wilson skateboarded into the studio when they were recording it. Her version didn’t make it very far on Billboard (#84) while The Searchers version made it to #13 (#1 in the UK).
Dan Kessel talks about the hip acts of the day: Caesar & Cleo, Joe & Eddie, The Pair Extraordinaire, Ian & Sylvia playing the clubs of the Purple Onion, The Ash Groove and the Ice House.
Photographer and musician form MFQ (Modern Folk Quartet) talks about taking photos of the KHJ concert sound check at the Hollywood Bowl with Sonny & Cher, Donovan, and Bob Lind.
Randy Sterling talks about being hired for $36 to use his 12-string in the “I Got You Babe” recording needed for added Wall of Sound. He also worked on the “All I Really Wanna Do” sessions. He says he gave Cher a pep talk before recording the Dylan song because she was teary-eyed and self-conscious about it. He says she “knocked it out of the ballpark in one take. When we were doing it I knew it was good.” He says he even told Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman of the Byrds soon after that Cher’s version would be a hit.
Kim Fowley (creator of The Runaways) says his novelty single “America’s Sweethearts” with Bunny & Bear was a takeoff of Sonny & Cher. (Bunny & Bear...HI-larious)
Guitarist Tony Valentino (of The Standells) says he used to hang out near Pandora’s Box on Sunset Strip in 1966 and there was a lot of tension there between “rock band people with long hair and bell-bottoms” and people from “the other side” (does he mean the other side of consciousness? or the other side of the Santa Monica mountains, ie. the Valley People?). There was also tension between the hippies and the police who were always pushing people. He said he saw Sonny & Cher around Pandora’s Box the night of the riots. Sonny was producing and recording with The Standells (with drummer Hal Blaine and bassist Carole Kaye).
[By the way, The Standells are often called the Godfathers of Punk or purveyors of protopunk. They were matched with Sonny, according to member Larry Tamblyn, in an effort to tone down their image with the single “The Boy Next Door.” Blaine and Kaye are not mentioned in their Wikipedia credits. As members of the infamous LA session players, The Wrecking Crew, getting shafted from credit is not unusual for them.]
Songwriter and producer Ian Whitcomb talks about 1965 as a magical time and that he was friendly with S&C when they released “Baby Don’t Go.” He says, “Sonny loved my song ‘The Sporting Life.’ The odd thing was, even thought they didn’t have a hit. They still had a chauffeur and limousine.”
Most interestingly, Glen Campbell talks about picking guests for his “Goodtime Hour” TV show:
“When I did the TV show, I wanted to make sure I could get everybody I knew who was a good singer. Johnny Cash, Cher, Ray Charles, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, John Hartford, Linda Ronstadt, Bobbie Gentry, Rick Nelson, Anny Murray."
[I think Glen Campbell trumps Gregg Allman when it comes to a critique of singing.]
Randy Meisner of the Eagles talks about their early managers (former S&C managers) Charles Greene and Brian Stone, “Managers are bad in a good way. We hadn’t even made a record and we were in a limo. Those guys had some class.” (Sounds like a pattern.) He said when he was cutting an early album at Gold Star, Cher walked in. “She watched us from the control room and gave me a smile. It almost made up for all the mac and cheese” [he was forced to eat because he had no money].
There are pics of Sonny or Cher on a few pages: Cher singing with Glen Campbell and Neil Diamond in the late 60s; Sonny with the Kessel brothers allegedly during the recording of “I Got You Babe.” (Did Sonny really wear that paisley shirt under a bobcat vest that day? Oy. Loud.); Sonny & Cher with Rodney Bingenheimer at Gold Star during “The Beat Goes On” sessions.