This 90-minute American Masters special originally aired on PBS. It takes viewers back to the early 70s, a joyful and creative period in American music, especially in Los Angeles. There a group of young singer-songwriters was establishing a new genre whose gentleness and intimacy contrasted sharply with the untamed ferocity of rock. They blended folk and rock played on acoustic guitars and pianos, and the personal stories they told touched the hearts of my generation and of all the generations since.
Ground zero was The Troubadour, a small club on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. It was run by an influential, mercurial, and often dictatorial manager and producer, the late Doug Weston. Our guides to the scene are the men and women who wrote and sang the much-loved tunes of the era. We hear first and foremost from from James Taylor and Carole King, who are the best of friends and the focal point of the film.
Taylor and King are joined by Jackson Browne, Kris Kristofferson, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, David Crosby of Crosby Stills and Nash, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, J. D. Souther of the Eagles, and others, both in interviews and in performance. Recalling their experiences at The Troubadour and other clubs is clearly a pleasure for them, and they express great affection for the period and for one another. Growing up together, they formed intense bonds that endure to this day.
The film covers not only the wonderful music but also the groundbreaking comedy of the time: Steve Martin and Cheech and Chong hold forth at length about what went on in the clubs. Producers like Peter Asher and Lou Adler weigh in, as do songwriters like Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and critics like Robert Hilburn of the L.A. Times and Robert Christgau of Rolling Stone. They discuss the volatile personalities, occasionally shady business dealings, and frequent drug use that threatened the community they helped to build.
The bonus CD is a nice touch: a 10-track compilation of some of the most important original recordings of the era. It should pique your interest in complete albums by the artists I've already mentioned as well as Linda Ronstadt, Tom Waits, Randy Newman, and Warren Zevon. And if you'd like to preview the film, you can watch it in its entirety at the PBS American Masters website, together with outtakes and additional material.