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Review of "Troubadours: The Rise of The Singer-Songwriter." Starring Carole King, James Taylor and others.

Updated on September 11, 2012
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May spends her days reading, running, painting, starting various craft projects and fighting chronic writer's block.

Interviewees include:

  • James Taylor
  • Carole King
  • Jackson Browne
  • Robert Hilburn (music critic, Los Angeles Times)
  • Lou Adler (King's former manager)
  • Peter Asher (Taylor's former manager)
  • Bonnie Rait
  • Danny Kortchmar
  • Leland Sklar
  • Russ Kunkel
  • Elton John
  • Steve Martin
  • JD Souther




DVD Documentary: "Troubadours: The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter."

It’s a balmy Los Angeles night in 1969. Young people line up on Santa Monica Boulevard, outside the Troubadour. This bar doesn't look particularly special, but Doug Weston, the Troubadour's eccentric owner, has a knack for spotting new talent. Artists such as Elton John, James Taylor, Steve Martin, Cheech and Chong, Jackson Browne and Carole King will all find major success after playing here.

Was I there? Of course not - I wasn't even born yet, but that's what makes this DVD such compelling viewing. You can almost feel the California breezes and corduroy pants against your skin as you watch some of the most enduring musicians of our time talk about a moment in history when the singer-songwriter rose to the top of the charts.


The DVD

Robert Hilburn, Music Critic for the Los Angeles Times sets the scene: “By 1970 the heart of 60’s Rock was going down, Beatles were breaking up, the Stones were inactive…it needed time to take its breath, and when it was taking its breath, that’s when this singer/songwriter movement was at its most powerful.”

The DVD is a series of interviews and clips from artists and music influencers who lived that moment in time. Whilst Carole King and James Taylor feature most prominently in the documentary, it gives a comprehensive overview of what it was like for the singer/songwriter on the cusp of success in LA in the late sixties and early seventies.

Troubadours includes clips from some of the earliest performances of Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Elton John. It also shows James Taylor’s performance of Fire and Rain at the Newport Folk Festival in 1969, just a week after his first Troubadour performance.




Taking their bows at the Troubadour Reunion Tour, Melbourne performance, March 2010
Taking their bows at the Troubadour Reunion Tour, Melbourne performance, March 2010

Living the Life

The artists paint a picture of a hippy lifestyle where a musician needed little more than their guitar and other musicians for inspiration. James' backup band members who still perform with him today (childhood friend Danny Kortchmar, Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel) are also interviewed. The loyalty between them, and the genuine friendship that has survived over decades, seems to defy the idea of cold hard life of the music industry. This group of musicians have never lost sight of the love of the music that brought them together in the first place.

The artists talk about a community of singer/songwriters, many of them living in Laurel Canyon, California. James Taylor calls it an "exciting artistic community", and speaks affectionately of the time he spent living there with Joni Mitchell "It was a wonderful time," he says, "we had a great time… too good to last I guess."

A Troubadour employee says "There was a trifecta going on. The bedroom was Laurel Canyon, the living room was the Troubadour and marijauana was the church.”

Bonni Rait describes it as being "incestuous in the best way."

The artists talk candidly about the widespread use of drugs, particularly marijuana, at that time.

"For the great majority of us, when we were doing pot and psycedelics things were headed in an fairly interesting direction.When we started doing coke and heroin, things went to s@#$, as they will do," says David Crosby.

James Taylor and Peter Asher talk about James' battle with heroin. Taylor acknowledges how lucky he was to have overcome his addiction.

Carole King & James Taylor: Live At The Troubadour
Carole King & James Taylor: Live At The Troubadour

The DVD and CD of James Taylor and Carole King's 2007 concert at the Troubadour

 

Take Guitar Lessons from James Taylor

In his typically generous style, James Taylor has uploaded some free guitar lessons on his website (www.jamestaylor.com) and Youtube. If you've never played the guitar before they're probably a little tricky, but if you can play, and you want to learn how to strum 'Fire and Rain', 'Country Road', 'Little Wheel', or its companion piece 'Second Wheel' you will love these lessons where he clearly shows what he's doing.

The End of an Era

The DVD concludes with the decline of Westin's famed hangout.

Westin's eccentricities and attitude brought about the end of the Troubadour. The musicians talk about the way he had of "tying people up," so that they would be contractually obliged to perform at the Troubadour for years. In the end many people said "To hell with Doug Westin." Lou Adler (King's former manager) opened the Roxy to compete directly with the Troubadour, and effectively destroyed it in a very short time.

At the end of the DVD, the artists reflect on the end of that era. "How long can free love, and pot exist as a cultural foundation? It can’t really," says Steve Martin.

Success took the musicians away on tours, Carole King moved to Idaho, many others, once they were wealthy moved to other areas such as Malibu, and that period of their lives was at an end.

"Things don’t last forever, you know. None of these things are meant to." James Taylor.

Carole King and James Taylor onstage during their Troubadour Reunion Tour, Melbourne performance, March 2010.
Carole King and James Taylor onstage during their Troubadour Reunion Tour, Melbourne performance, March 2010.

James Taylor and Carole King Return to the Troubadour

The Troubadour is once again a thriving music spot.

In 2007, Carole King and James Taylor performed together at the Troubadour to celebrate its 50th anniversary. It was the first time they had performed there together since 1971.

From that concert came the inspiration for their Troubadour Reunion world tour. I was fortunate enough to be at the Melbourne concert in 2010, five rows from the stage. I’ve been a James Taylor fan since I first saw him in Portland Oregon, Sept 15, 2001, but he and Carole together - the musical chemistry between them is just incredible.



Comments

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    • MayG profile imageAUTHOR

      May Galnou 

      6 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      Hi Sherry, It really is a great documentary. I have a feeling it may have been on TV at some stage in the U.S., but I'm not really sure. Thanks so much for reading my hub and for voting it up!

    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 

      6 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      It sounds fascinating, that was an exciting musical era, one that's always fun to revisit. Thanks for an interesting hub. Voted up.

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