Saturday, September 19, 2020

Cass Elliot - Gertrude Stein of Laurel Canyon

Graham Nash & Mama Cass
Happy Birthday to the Gertrude Stein of Laurel Canyon. Mama Cass born this day in 1941.

A huge buzz in the Laurel Canyon community in the mid '60s surrounded the auditions to find four wacky musicians for a television show called The Monkees. Originally, Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield auditioned for a part, but his "snaggle tooth" kept him from nabbing the role. So instead, he recommended his roommate, flower child Peter Tork. Their comedy genius (John Lennon likened The Monkees to the Marx Brothers) combined with some of the greatest songwriters of the decade (Boyce & Hart, Neil Diamond and Laurel Canyon resident songwriter Carole King) would eventually earn them respect as bona fide performers. In addition, Dolenz and Tork's homes were known for some of the most famous - and infamous - parties in the canyon.

David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Owen Elliot & Mickey Dolenz

Known as Laurel Canyon's "Gertrude Stein," Mama Cass Elliot was one of the canyon's most beloved residents, and was known to host legendary get-togethers as well as for making connections between her musician friends that would change American music history.  Gertrude Stein had served this role for the American expatriates in Paris in the 1920s, single-handedly bringing the modern art movement to prominence and helping to launch the careers of Hemingway, Picasso and James Joyce. 

In the fickle world of music it wasn't unusual for bands to break up and its members to regroup with other musicians. The Crosby, Stills & Nash blend had been brewing for a while. In-fighting within Crosby's and Stills' bands caused Stills to leave the Buffalo Springfield and Crosby to be kicked out of The Byrds.  The two decided to form their own short-lived group, the Frozen Noses. It was during this time that Crosby, on a trip to Florida, discovered a fair-haired Canadian folk singer named Joni Mitchell. So impressed by her musical brilliance, he brought her back to L.A. and over to Mama Cass' house. Joni was a triple threat - an angelic voice, a poetic writer and a uniquely accomplished guitar player. Even Eric Clapton on a visit to Laurel Canyon was in awe watching Mitchell's unique guitar playing style. With Mitchell moving into the neighborhood and Crosby and Stills singing together as a duo, Mama Cass made a connection that would make music history in more ways than one! Cass knew the duo needed another voice even if they didn't, and she also knew that British pop star Graham Nash was not very happy in his group, The Hollies. Cass arranged a meeting between the three harmonic singers, and Crosby, Stills & Nash was born. And, of course, so was the relationship between Joni and Graham.