Grammy Museum show reflects LA music's darker side

By John Rogers

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 31 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

This March 26, 2012 photo shows visitors watching a display about the 1960s 'Go-Go' scene in Los Angeles, next to a vintage Rock-Ola jukebox converted to digital use, at the exhibit, "Trouble In Paradise: Music and Los Angeles, 1945-1975," at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. The museum website says the exhibit focuses on the "tensions between alluring myths of Southern California paradise and the realities of social struggle that characterized the years following WWII."

Reed Saxon, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Think of the music that defines Los Angeles and often three words float to the surface: The Beach Boys.

Which is why The Grammy Museum's new exhibition, "Trouble in Paradise: Music and Los Angeles 1945-1975," has carefully chosen not to overemphasize the group that helped cement LA's reputation as the Land of the Endless Summer, filled with sandy beaches, tricked-out automobiles and beautiful women. Think such songs as Surfin' USA," ''Little Deuce Coupe" and "California Girls."

"A lot of people, especially folks not from Los Angeles, might come in thinking, 'OK, I'll learn about the Doors and I'm going to learn about the Beach Boys. Which you will," says Josh Kun, who curated the exhibit running through June 3.

But there's also a much richer, more diverse and sometimes much darker view of Los Angeles that is reflected in its music during those years, and that is what Kun really set out to show.

"My hope is that people come away with a more nuanced and detailed view of just how much was going on in Los Angeles during those years," he said.

In addition to nurturing the Beach Boys, LA was the place Sam Cooke came to in 1963 to record his soulful Civil Rights anthem "A Change is Gonna Come" at the famous RCA Building. That same year, Phil Spector was across town at Gold Star Studios building his Wall of Sound with the Ronettes' song "Be My Baby."

A few years later, James Brown would arrive to record "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud."

With a vibrant jazz and R&B scene on the city's largely black South Side blossoming after World War II, with Chicano-rock fusion developing on the East Side a few years later, and with the likes of musicians from Joni Mitchell to Frank Zappa filling up every nook and cranny of the city's Laurel Canyon area in the late 1960s, there seemed to be a different style of music taking form every few months.

"Every day, just walking home from school was an adventure for me," recalls Willie Garcia, who grew up on the South Side, where he would see everyone from Cab Calloway to Count Basie arriving in his neighborhood for a show.

A few years later, Garcia would be doing shows himself, over on the East Side, where he would gain fame as Little Willie G, front man for the group Thee Midniters.

With songs like "Land of a Thousand Dances" and "Chicano Power," his group would become arguably the second-most influential band, behind Los Lobos, to emerge from largely Hispanic East LA

Meanwhile, in the northeast San Fernando Valley, a teenager who had shortened his name from Richard Valenzuela to Ritchie Valens would plug in his electric guitar and, reading off a handwritten lyric sheet provided by his grandmother, turn a traditional Mexican folk song called "La Bamba" into one of rock music's enduring classics.

To capture all of those moments and more, "Trouble in Paradise" takes visitors along a timeline that includes not only hundreds of photographs, posters, guitars, stage costumes and other memorabilia, but also the sights and sounds of the era itself.

Stopping around 1960, for example, a visitor can slip on a pair of headphones at one of several listening stations and hear Dick Dale, the king of the surf guitar, perform an ear-rattling version of "Let's Go Trippin'" in all its screaming guitar chords and crashing drum cymbals glory.

And at the center of the exhibit is a gleaming, refurbished 1970s-era jukebox that has been loaded with nearly 100 digital recordings, everything from Rosie and the Originals' "Angel Baby" to the Doors' "Light My Fire."

Video screens, meanwhile, show the Righteous Brothers, Shelly Manne and, yes, the Beach Boys.

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere