They Built LA on Rock and Roll and Now There's a Book About It
Rockin’ the City of Angels: Celebrating the Great Rock Shows of the 1970s In Concert, On Record, and On Film
By Douglas Harr
Diego Spade Publications
This is a book of visual delights, and they are abundant. There’s Alice Cooper in his gory prime dancing with a line of skeletons. Elton John in his sequined L.A. Dodgers uniform. Rick Wakeman of Yes in all his caped glory, surrounded by a circle of keyboards. Jethro Tull’s wildman Ian Anderson fluting away in his signature stork pose while wearing leg tights. And Queen’s Freddie Mercury bare-chested and sporting leather and his own harlequin tights (what was it with tights on lead singers in the ‘70s?)?
In this sizable tome, Harr – who by his own estimate has attended more than 400 live rocks shows – pays tribute to the decade and the city where he saw so many of them.
Combining music journalism, band biography, personal remembrances, and a multi-media guide for further immersion, the book covers a wide variety of acts who graced stage in LA. Scores of them including Rock Gods (Who, Stones, Queen, Zep); Shamans & Storytellers (Genesis, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac
…and Ambrosia??); and the Virtuosos of Harr’s beloved Prog Rockers (ELP, Rush, King Crimson, Gentle Giant).
Some of rock’s greatest photographers have their full color work on display here, including Armando Gallo, Neal Preston, Jim Summaria, and Neil Zlozower. And while not budget-priced by any means, this hefty volume would look nice on any coffee table. Rocks Off spoke with Harr from England via email about the book and his particular classic rock journey of the ‘70s.
Rocks Off: What made you decide to do the book?
Harr: I decided to take on the book project after years writing articles for Gonzo Weekly magazine in Britain, covering many of the bands I’d first seen during my formative years in Los Angeles. The chance to focus a book specifically on the fantastic live concerts of the ‘70s backed by the amazing photography of the era inspired me.
Rocks Off: Most images are not from the exact concert you are writing about, but from the era. How did you work with the photographers to find just the right images to convey in pictures what you were trying to do in text?
Harr: I worked with the photographers, sometimes in person, sometimes at a distance, to find the most spectacular shots they captured of each band performing in support of what I see as their best album and tour.
In most cases, I was able to recall the staging, wardrobe and other elements of stagecraft to ensure we had shots from the right concert – in a few cases some extra research was needed to jog my memory! While some are not from the band’s actual date in Los Angeles, they are primarily from the same tour in order to inform and match the text.
Rocks Off: You have a particular affinity for Prog Rock. What about that genre lent itself to the more lavish stage presentations like the Crab Nebula from Yes or Genesis' "Lamb" tour?
Harr: Progressive rock music often incorporates storytelling into its lyrics and imagery. This lends itself to live staging, arguably best realized by Genesis on the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour. Often this staging was literal, with films, costumes and other visuals taken literally from the verse. More frequently, it was primarily lighting effects that highlighted the dynamics in the music and the performance, making the whole more exciting and impactful.
Rocks Off: What do you think audiences today miss out on in terms of seeing these acts — many of which still tour today — in their '70s prime?
Harr: Most of the bands in the book still tour, and I’ve seen them again with my wife and friends over the last decade. Most bands are best seen directly after they record their seminal works, and the ‘70s were a special time for the development of rock music, and corresponding elaborate concerts.
Of course, many bands improve over the years. Sometimes one or more of the original musicians are no longer in the band, or remain but are not at peak form, but generally the shows have continued to be amazing. As technology has evolved, some of these artists have actually improved their sound and elements of staging. Roger Water’s more recent performances of The Wall come to mind.
Rocks Off: I you could go back in time and see one concert featured in the book again tonight, which one would it be?
Harr:That’s a tough question! There were so many that stand out for different reasons, but if I had to pick one it would be Jethro Tull’s A Passion Play.
Rocks Off: Finally, do you think that California/L.A. shows have any different vibe - for audience for performers - than, say, any other city?
Harr: L.A. has its own vibe – as much of the recording industry is centered there - I think many bands were particularly focused on giving it their best shot – it was also a popular stop – we were lucky that almost every band that toured in the era booked our town.