Wednesday, March 2, 2011

'Troubadours' premiering on PBS

"Troubadours: Carole King, James Taylor and the Rise of the Singer-Songwriter." (Photo/Josh Weiss)

Like many people living in Southern California at the time, the 1960s are somewhat of a blur to me.

Of course, I have a valid excuse — I was between the ages of 0 and 9 at the time.

Then there's musician James Taylor, one of the prominent subjects of the documentary film "Troubadours: Carole King, James Taylor and the Rise of the Singer-Songwriter" that premieres tonight on PBS. Taylor, bemoaning his lack of recall of the late '60s and early '70s that are chronicled in the film, shares something his son once said to him.

"You could never remember anything," Taylor said his son told him. "You just can't remember that you can't remember anything."

I saw this film when it premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. It's a delightful — albeit incomplete — look back at the burgeoning singer-songwriter scene that was flourishing at the time in Los Angeles, in general, and Doug Weston's Troubadour club on the Sunset Strip, in particular.

Having long followed the career of Elton John, I was well aware that he made his United States debut at the Troubadour with a series of shows in August 1970. I was unaware, however, of just how big a role the Troubadour played in the careers of other performers in that time period, including the likes of the Eagles, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Steve Martin and Linda Ronstadt — not to mention Taylor and King.

"The Mecca was the Troubadour," says Martin in the film, "even though there was a club called the Mecca."

Many of the stars of that era appear in the documentary, directed by multiple-Grammy nominee Morgan Neville, offering reminiscences and insights into the productive musical time period. Some lasted. Others didn't.

"When a singer-songwriter shows up," said Crosby, "the first album represents 10 years of work. The second record, that's when you find out how good they are."

King is the star of the show, however, earning the most camera time as the film uses her career as a template for all the other performers to play off of. The songstress, who delivered one of the best-selling albums of all time with 1971's "Tapestry" — featuring hits like "I Feel the Earth Move," "It's Too Late" and "You've Got a Friend" (a song, ironically, also covered by Taylor) — actually had to be talked into performing her first live solo shows at the Troubadour by Taylor.

For fans of the singer-songwriter genre, I definitely recommend checking the documentary out when it re-airs on PBS.

To read the full story I filed back when the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, click here.

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