Can you think of a more rock ’n roll city than Los Angeles? Whilst London may have a longer heritage, and New York has a lot of songs, it is LA that really encapsulates the success and excess of rock & roll.
Where else can you find such a rich vein of history and infamy than Los Angeles? From the Riot House to the Whiskey on Sunset, from Venice Beach to Laurel Canyon the myths and legends of rock and roll flow through the city like a drug through the vein.
Over the past decade, I have started reading so much more about the music this West Coast icon, learning about how and why Los Angeles became the centre for a cultural revolution. Books like Hotel California: Singer-Songwriters and Cocaine Cowboys in the La Canyons, 1967-1976 by Barney Hoskyns just fired my imagination and sealed my resolve to take a pilgrimage to these locations.
In 2016 I dragged the family out to LA, en route to Desert Trip in Palm Springs, and set about my own musical pilgrimage. In preparation for this trip, I researched the stories and the locations to help better understand where I was going and what I was looking for.
I share with you now my research and some of the stories and locations I have learned about.
Rock n’ Roll landmarks of Los Angeles
As you would expect, there are places I will miss, places you may know that I would love to learn about. Please do connect with my page on Facebook and share the love!
To keep some form of order, I have compiled the locations into relevant sections.
- Album Covers
- Recording Studios/Venues
‘Hotel California’ – The Beverly Hills Hotel
Location: 9641 Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills
One of the most famous album covers was shot at the Beverly Hills hotel. Taken with a cherry picker, up high, the cover shows the tops of the hotel taken into the sunlight. If you love the album check out these 30 Hotel California facts you may not know about this classic.
The back cover was taken at the Lido Apartments, 6500 Yucca St, Los Angeles.
Crosby Stills & Nash Album Cover
Album: Crosby Stills & Nash
Location: 815 Palm Avenue, Los Angeles. (Map)
Residents of Laurel Canyon, they took the album cover for their eponymous album was taken in front of an old shack on Palm Avenue. After the shoot was complete, they looked at the photos and realized the order was wrong. From left to right, the cover shows Nash, Stills and Crosby. The trio returned to the same shack the following day for a reshoot only to find it had been pulled down overnight. So the cover stayed!
The location has been flattened for a long time so all you can see is a parking lot. Check this article for more of the story.
1246 South Hope Street, Los Angeles
Another famous Doors cover and another Los Angeles Rock Landmark. Sadly the hotel no longer exists but you can take a drive past and maybe get your picture taken!
This site has a great backstory on the album cover and its location.
The Byrds – ‘Untitled’
The Griffiths Observatory
The Griffith Observatory is one of LA’s most iconic landmarks. Set high up in the Hollywood Hills, it has more connections to movies than music.
This cover for the Byrds 1970 ‘Untitled’ album was shot on the stairway up to the observatory. The background was edited to feature a desert, not a city backdrop.
The ‘burning man’ cover for Wish You Were Here was shot on the backlot of Warner Brothers Studios just over the way in Burbank.
Location: 8221 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, (Map)
Possibly no greater Rock n’Roll Landmark exists in Los Angeles.
“If you must get in trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont,” Columbia Pictures founder Harry Cohen famously advised his young stars. An adage that has remained true to this day. Back in the Sixties, it played host to visiting rock bands (if they weren’t’ staying at the Riot House, below.)
The challenge here is separating fact from fiction. Did John Bonham ride his motorcycle through the lobby? Having seen the size of that lobby, I suspect he did that at the Riot House. Gram Parsons lived here for a while, Jim Morrison dangled from the roof and John Belushi died (in 1982) from an overdose. James Dean jumped through a window for a part. And those are just the stories we know about!
Read more about my stay at the Chateau Marmont here.
‘The Riot House’
Location: 8401 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, Los Angeles (Map)
With the exception of the Chateau, no other hotel embodied the ‘Rock n Roll’ culture of excess in LA. This is where Keith Richards threw his television out of the window. Led Zeppelin allegedly rode motorcycles through the hotel. The motorcycle riding story was also attributed to the Chateau Marmont. Having stayed at the Chateau I am confident you couldn’t get a motorbike through those corridors!
Now called the Andaz West Hollywood, you can stay and enjoy some of the memories. The balconies have been enclosed so you won’t be able to throw TVs out the window anymore!
Canyon Country Store, Laurel Canyon
Location: 2108 Laurel Canyon Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90046, USA (Map)
Just up from Sunset Strip, the Canyon Country store was the local store for Laurel Canyon residents. Featuring local produce and a cafe, the store remains a magnet for music history buffs.
With the exception of the Troubadour Club, Laurel Canyon is the centre of the Sixties counterculture. Residents including Mama Cass, Jim Morrison, Frank Zappa, Crosby, Stills, Nash, Joni Mitchell and many more.
Eric Burdon (The Animals), David Byrne, Alice Cooper, David Crosby, Micky Dolenz, Cass Elliot, Fabian, Glenn Frey, Jackson Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Chris Hillman, Anthony Kiedis, Carol King, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek, John Mayall, Peter Tork, Brian Wilson, and Neil Young.
Our House was written by Graham Nash about the cottage he shared with Joni. ‘Ladies of the Canyon’ was written by Joni about the neighborhood, whilst John Phillips wrote Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon), the last great single for The Mamas and Papas.
Mama Cass (Elliot) was for a time ‘the queen’ of Laurel Canyon acting as introducer and matchmaker to Crosby, Nash, Stills and Joni Mitchell.
Blue guitarist John Mayall spent time in the Canyon, after recording ‘Blues from Laurel Canyon’ based on visits to the area.
(Note: Laurel Canyon Road, not Laurel Canyon Boulevard is what you want.)
Blue Jay Way, West Hollywood
Not strictly part of the LA scene, but George Harrison wrote ‘Blue Jay Way’ for the Magical Mystery Tour album whilst waiting for a friend in Blue Jay Way.
“There’s a fog upon L.A.
And my friends have lost their way
We’ll be over soon they said
Now they’ve lost themselves instead.”
Paul Simon recorded the percussion for ‘Cecilia’ whilst hanging at a friends house on Blue Jay Way. If you watch ‘The Harmony Game’, Paul explains how he was sitting in a circle on the floor with friends. They started clacking and dropping chopsticks onto the floor. Paul recorded this and it became part of the rhythm for the ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ classic.
‘Our House’ – Joni Mitchell
Location: Lookout Mountain Avenue (Map)
Joni Mitchell bought a house up on Lookout Mountain with the proceeds of her first album, ‘Song to a Seagull’. It is where this iconic photo was taken and where her lover Graham Nash wrote, ‘Our House’ about their time together.
It was also where Joni wrote some of her greatest work including most of ‘Ladies of the Canyon’ and ‘Blue’. Canned Heat lived next door for a time and around the corner was the Houdini Estate.
The Boardwalk and beaches of Venice Beach are where Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek got together to form what became The Doors. You can read more about their connection and plenty more LA spots for the Doors on this great site.
The Forum, Inglewood
Not strictly in Los Angeles, but half an hour south of Hollywood is the Forum. A purpose built indoor arena that played host to some of the iconic concerts of the Sixties & Seventies.
Cream played their farewell gigs here in ’68, with support from Deep Purple. Some of the tracks for ‘Wings over America’ were recorded here by Paul McCartney & Wings in 1976. These were the first US gigs for Paul since The Beatles at Shay Stadium.
The Eagles played three nights here on their Hotel California Tour in 1976 and The Rolling Stones played here countless times between ’69 and ’75.
The Whisky a Go Go, Sunset Boulevard
The ‘Whisky’ is just one of three famous music venues located in the same block of Sunset. Starting first as a ‘Go Go’ bar with disco, the venue soon started to attract young live acts.
For a time, The Doors were the house band, with regular performances from The Byrds, Love and Buffalo Springfield. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin also played here. Still an active Live Music venue, you can check the site for upcoming acts.
Right across the street is the Viper Room, the club once owned by Johnny Depp, where River Phoenix died from an overdose in 1993.
The Roxy Theatre, Sunset Boulevard
Another famous club, owned by Lou Adler and for a time David Geffen. The first week saw Neil Young perform and Genesis performed a number of shows just three months later.
In December 1973, Laurel Canyon resident Frank Zappa recorded most of his album ‘Roxy & Elsewhere’ at the club. Bob Marley & The Wailers recorded ‘Live at the Roxy’ was recorded here in 1976.
The adjoining bar, ‘On the Rox’ had its share of hell-raisers. The bar was a regular hangout for John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Alice Cooper, and Keith Moon during Lennon’s “lost weekend” in 1973-74.
The Rainbow Bar & Grill, Sunset Boulevard
The Rainbow opened in 1972, with a party for Elton John. John Belushi ate his last meal here (died in a bungalow at the Chateau Marmont.) A regular hangout for Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, Alice Cooper and Micky Dolenz of the Monkees. In later years, when not touring with Motorhead, Lemmy was a fixture at the end of the bar.
As the Seventies became the Eighties the club became more of a heavy metal scene with performances Poison, Motley Crue and Guns n’ Roses. Parts of the music videos for November Rain were filmed at the club.
The Troubadour, Santa Monica Boulevard
In the late Sixties, the Troubadour was the place to perform. It was a key early venue for performers including Elton John, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, the Eagles, The Byrds, Love, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Bonnie Raitt, J.D. Souther, Jackson Browne, Van Morrison & Buffalo Springfield.
Elton John played his first US performance here. Comedians Cheech & Chong, and Steve Martin were discovered here.
It remains a key place for up and coming as well as established artists including Coldplay Bastille and a reformed Guns n Roses in 2016.
By day there isn’t much to see here but you can still stop for a selfie outside 🙂
Next door is Dan Tana’s Restaurant where Glenn Frey and Don Henley wrote the key lines for ‘Lyin Eyes’ after observing young girls ‘comforting an old friend.’
750 Vine St, Los Angeles (Map)
Shaped like a pile of records, the Capitol building was one of the most important labels in the sixties and seventies. Possibly their most famous bands (for the purpose of this article) included the Beach Boys, Linda Ronstadt, and The Band. (They also represented Dean, Martin, Frank Sinatra, and the Beatles!)
You can take a tour of the building which rates highly on TripAdvisor. Something I have yet to do!
Sunset Sound Recorders, Sunset Boulevard
From the outside, there isn’t much to see here, but you can imagine the music recorded in these studios. Originally created by Walt Disney’s Director of Recording the early studios recorded audio for Bedknobs & Broomsticks, 101 Dalmatians, and Mary Poppins.
Subsequently over 200 Gold records have been recorded here including; Exile on Main Street, Purple Rain, Pet Sounds and two albums by the Doors – their eponymous album and Strange Days.
Where to stay for your Hotel California Trip
The obvious answer would be the Hotel California, The Beverly Hills Hotel but you’d actually be quite away from the key places on the list. Whilst it’s only a 25-minute drive away, you may prefer to stay in the heart of the action. Chateau Marmont or Andaz West Hollywood (Riot House) are two rock n’ Roll locations. Across two visits we stayed at the Chateau and at the London West Hollywood which looks onto The Viper Room and across to the Whisky a Go Go, Rainbow and the Roxy.
Thanks for reading. If you like it, please do share on your social networks!