Schedelic bliss in Big Sur

The first concept album came out of the Big Sur region in 1964—a psychedelic retreat called Electric Light Orchestra (Elo). Singer Jeff Lynne was looking for a way to break through to young people, who were more interested in drugs and crazy girls. So he wrote, recorded, and re-recorded “Evil Woman,” which he re-named the one and only Electronic Light Orchestra. The irony was that the band debuted in New York City, but it quickly gained a cult following and signed with Warner Bros. and, later, Elektra.

Lynne started the Electric Light Orchestra with the help of two other ex-Warners musicians—guitarist Billy Cox and drummer Roy Haynes. He recruited keyboardist Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, a Brit who grew up as a major fan of American rock-’n’-roll. They recorded albums before the psychedelic craze petered out, then added at least a half-dozen additional members, including Chris Eigeman (from the Raveonettes). After 1972’s “Mr. Blue Sky,” which went platinum, Lynne and the E.L.O. stopped recording altogether.

Lynne remained committed to electronic music, but changed direction. He joined forces with his mentor, designer Ralph Lauren, in 1968 to launch Polo Ralph Lauren with the help of advertising icon Paul Rand. “I look for harmony in everything,” Lynne wrote on Polo’s Web site. “Peace, love, harmony.” Meanwhile, half-jokingly, he tagged himself as “Lafayette LaRusso” in the text of E.L.O. songs.

That left Earl Slick of Jefferson Airplane — the legendary psychedelic artist of 1967, and despite the title “Horizon,” part of the Airplane’s first album—to keep alive the notion of a psychedelic paradise. In 1979, Slick bought up Utopia Ranch in the Big Sur mountains and turned it into a retreat for 20 at a time, with guests charged $4,000 or more to spend a week playing all sorts of games and wandering the trails.

In 1974, the studios that had been turned into a rustic “rock star heaven” were purchased by deejay Steven Tyler of American Idol fame. Tyler had been working on “Count Your Blessings” by The Doobie Brothers in the late 1970s. Somehow, acquired the recording of what turned out to be the title track to Tyler’s album, and in 2000 it got a hugely successful release.

Between groups of red wine and chicken wings, guests at organic retreats tell the Business of Life of what was gained or lost from their trip—and what’s on the horizon.

Elise Cockcroft: Is this the peace, love, and harmony I need?

Chuck Procopio: No. It’s also about freedom. You can stay at any place in the world—with $4,000 in cash. And when I arrived, I realized that if I’d told the guy I was in the music business, he would’ve said, “Maybe he’s just an unemployed musician looking for a gig. But he wasn’t working—so I was coming to listen to music.” We all enjoy meeting, sitting and talking, and hearing a conversation that helps us see the world in different ways.

Claire Freeman: I was with Mr. Ray Davies from the Kinks. His skin looked the same as when I first saw him. I didn’t get much out of it. We were on this mountain and had a bed, but everyone else was under canvas. It was like a quick trip—we were all twenty-somethings.

Jim McCarty: I want to use this time with all my people, God, to figure out what the hell I want to do next.

→ Get Inspired.

→ Wander Nourish.

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