Across the decades dozens of music scenes have been named after the towns, cities or districts which birthed them, from Scotland’s very own Bellshill Beat to Merseybeat, Madchester, Greenwich Village and beyond. But few names are as evocative of the sound they represent as the Laurel Canyon scene which burned brightly, if briefly, in the Los Angeles district of that name in the mid-1960s. Now, half a century on, a new film celebrates the scene’s prime movers, the music they made – an infectious form of folk-rock centred on the jangling sound of the Rickenbaker 12-string electric guitar – and interviews those of them still standing.

Directed by former music label executive Andrew Slater, it features musician Jakob Dylan, son of Bob Dylan, in conversation with luminaries from the era. Among them are Brian Wilson, Michelle Phillips of The Mamas And Papas, David Crosby and Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, and Stephen Stills, founder of Buffalo Springfield and later a member of the supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young with Neil Young and ex-Hollies guitarist Graham Nash. Also featured are Nash himself, Ringo Starr, Jackson Browne and, in his last filmed interview, Tom Petty.

Although Dylan senior is firmly associated with the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s, his son was raised mostly in Los Angeles by his mother, former model Sara Dylan. She was married to Bob Dylan from 1965 until 1977 and the couple had four children together. Jakob Dylan, born in 1969, is the youngest. His own musical career didn’t scale the same heights as his father’s, perhaps, but his band The Wallflowers released six albums between 1992 and 2012 and won two Grammys with a sound firmly entrenched in the classic folk-rock canon Echo In The Canyon celebrates.

“I don’t know when I was growing up in the 1980s that I was aware of what you’d call the Laurel Canyon scene and that they were all associated with each other, but I knew the songs and I knew the bands,” says Dylan. “I did know they were from Los Angeles but I didn’t know who was necessarily influencing who, and who was trading ideas. I don’t even know that anybody was talking about them. I think it’s more topical now and that’s one of the reasons we made the film and made the record.”

Threaded between the musicians’ recollections and observations is footage of Dylan recording an album of duets with artists such as Norah Jones, Cat Power and Fiona Apple – a Laurel Canyon greatest hits, if you like – and organising a concert at which those same songs are performed. Other musicians featured include Beck and Regina Spektor.

“When we were putting the songs together and choosing parts for the actual recording that was what we wanted, a record of duets,” says Dylan. “You play a song and you figure out pretty quickly whether it works or not, and then [you think] ‘Is it a duet between two men or a man and a woman?’ Some songs don’t work well in that context and some work better than others.”

The idea of the concert came mid-way through shooting the documentary, in part because Dylan wanted “to make something that was more of a hybrid than just a documentary. I don’t think we ever set out to make an all-encompassing documentary about Laurel Canyon. That would be a very large undertaking that somebody will eventually do. But in an effort to make it a little different from the traditional documentary the concert scene seemed like a good idea. And it seemed like the way to take these songs forward and put them in a new context – to show artists of today playing them and show how powerful the songs still are.”

In telling the story of Laurel Canyon the film concentrates on the period between 1965 and 1967 during which a cast of soon-to-be-famous musicians left their home states and, inspired in part by success of The Beatles and the sound of the Beach Boys, headed to California. Many of them found their way Los Angeles and specially to Laurel Canyon, where there were cheap houses to rent and, crucially, a growing community of bohemians, musicians and fellow-travellers. The area is also close to Sunset Strip, centre of the city’s rock and hippie counter-cultures and home to legendary clubs such as Whisky A Go Go, launchpad for so many iconic 1960s bands.

“I think California represents a sense of freedom,” says Andrew Slater. “Los Angeles is the ultimate horizontal city, New York is the ultimate vertical city. I think people came here from all walks of life to chase whatever their dreams were and as far as music goes I do feel like there’s a sense of openness, that you can try anything. Perhaps the electric 12-string transforming folk music wouldn’t have happened in New York. Perhaps they would have rejected it. In California at that time there was a sense of optimism and openness and that’s why they came.”

The film’s title, meanwhile, is a reference to “the echo of people’s idea and the echo of creativity going on inside these bands with their multiple singers and songwriters. And then across the street and then across the ocean where it changes the course of the Beatles. As you learn in the film, Roger McGuinn electrifies The Bells Of Rhymney [first recorded by Pete Seeger], then George Harrison hears that and he writes If I Needed Someone, then Brian Wilson hears that on Rubber Soul and he writes Pet Sounds. So it’s about that and it’s also about the echo of time. And clearly this music has influenced the music of The Wallflowers, Beck, Fiona Apple, Cat Power, so I think the homage to that era is also a nod to the influences that it has had on each of those artists.”

The Laurel Canyon scene ends, at least as Dylan and Slater see it, with Neil Young writing Expecting To Fly, which appeared on Buffalo Springfield’s 1967 album Buffalo Springfield Again. In the film, Stephen Stills tells Dylan that it was when he heard the lyrics for that song – “All the years we’d spent with feeling/Ended with a cry” – that he knew Young was going to leave the band.

Of course it’s hard to think of Laurel Canyon and not be reminded of Young’s fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell and in particular her 1970 album Ladies Of The Canyon. Inspired partly by her friendship with Crosby, Stills and Young it features songs such as Big Yellow Taxi, The Circle Game and Woodstock, later recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young and a chart-topper for Mathews Southern Comfort Band. On that same album you’ll also find the song Willy, a hymn to Mitchell’s sometime lover, Graham Nash. But Neil Young features in Echo In The Canyon, albeit briefly, there’s no sign at all of Mitchell. Why?

“It has been noted that Joni Mitchell is absent from this film,” says Dylan, “but it’s about [a period] before her arrival in Los Angeles and Laurel Canyon. No disrespect to Joni Mitchell, who we’re both fans of, but the film just isn’t quite about that. That’s a much broader documentary because you’re talking about The Doors and a lot of other people we didn’t get to. We concentrated on Laurel Canyon and it’s really more about that specific time in the Canyon, which each of them trading ideas and influencing one another. That’s why it’s bands and it’s mostly guys. Someone said to me ‘Where’s the women?’. Well, Michelle [Phillips] is there but it’s only about five or six different bands and they all just happen to be mostly guys, and that’s what we represented. When Joni comes along that’s when it changes.”

Instead, says Slater, the film is intended not as “some kind of educational, instructional film that examines all the factors of what was happening politically and socially. It’s more of a mirror. It’s more about Jakob’s journey. It’s more like a poem to the era, one made by songwriters and record-makers honouring songwriters and record-makers – and honouring the age of innocence.”

Echo In The Canyon is on digital release