Singing in the Sun: Linda Ronstadt and 4 More SoCal Music Memoirs

Linda Ronstadt performing at a WPLR Show in New Haven, Connecticut in the New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Linda Ronstadt performing at a WPLR Show in New Haven, Connecticut in the New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum

Linda Ronstadt’s new memoir Simple Dreams hits shelves this week. In it, she looks back at how an ordinary girl from an ordinary Arizona family became a multiplatinum-selling artist who has collaborated with some of the world’s most notable musicians  -- everyone from Dolly Parton to Phillip Glass. A big part of Ronstadt’s story takes place in Los Angeles, where she moved as a teenager to be near the vibrant Southern California music scene; in the 1960s and '70s, Southern California was a locus of activity for folk and rock. Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Frank Zappa, The Eagles, Carole King and many many more musicians all spent time making music and mischief in the canyons. Here are four more stories that give readers a glimpse into the era when music and culture were changing by the minute, under the California sun.

Laurel Canyon by Michael Walker

Michael Walker positions Laurel Canyon’s music scene as an intellectual and creative hot spot, like New York’s Greenwich Village and the Jazz Age in Paris. And as we see from the books in this list, it's true. The scene was intimate, inspiring and a little incestuous. In addition to offering some great history and some gossipy details on The Mamas & the Papas, the Eagles, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joni Mitchell and the whole cast of characters, Walker also zooms out to give readers an understanding of the wider Southern California music scene at the time, and an understanding of how drug culture -- especially cocaine -- was impacting these artists. The account focuses mainly on the rise of the Laurel Canyon scene, so it’s a great jumping off point for readers who want an introduction to the era.

Hotel California by Barney Hoskyns

Picking up where Walker leaves off, in terms of timeline, Hoskyns takes readers on a leisurely drive through Laurel Canyon.There are parties to be found but the mayhem is tame compared to some other musical scenes. What’s more shocking is the the story of how these artists who begin as young idealists become quickly wrapped up in the mercenary music business once they start writing successful songs. Wasn't it Joni Mitchell who said "mo’ money, mo’ problems?"

Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller

Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon have become inspirations to generations of young female singer-songwriters. But in the 1960s, these women were just coming of age themselves, and without a great public history of female superstar songwriters to spur them on. Girls Like Us gives readers a look at each of their stories, which together give an interesting cross section of the experiences of coming of age in North America in the '60s. Each woman is undeniably talented, but the different paths they followed to bring their gifts to a public stage are specific to where they started out -- not only in what neighborhood, but in what class, what type  Their friends and family tell their stories here, lending an intimacy and engaging personal quality to the narrative, which is fitting for three women who are known for baring their souls in their songs.

Wild Tales by Graham Nash

Graham Nash has spent his life at the center of music history. From the British Invasion to Woodstock, from Laurel Canyon to...American Idol, he’s been there, writing and playing hits. Wild Tales takes readers back to Nash’s British roots and his early days with the Hollies, early Beatles label-mates who were topping the charts themselves in the early sixties. Once Nash reaches U.S. shores he dives deep into the counterculture, heading to Woodstock and then Southern California and mingling with greats like Cass Elliot, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. In California, we see Nash become part of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and get an intimate glimpse of his romantic relationship with Joni Mitchell. Nash’s candid storytelling gives readers a real sense of how personal relationships with other artists - and the joys and jealousy that came along with them - fueled the iconic music that came out of that magical time in the California sun.