Legendary Rock Photographer Henry Diltz
This week we’re featuring another take out of Tommy’s FM 94/9 archives, this one with Tommy’s former morning radio partner, Mike Hansen. Their 2009 interview with rock photographer Henry Diltz came on the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, as well as the opening of Diltz’s new Morrison Hotel photo gallery location in Del Mar.
Sadly, while the original Morrison Hotel location on Prospect Street in La Jolla was open for years, the poor economy wound up closing the new Del Mar location at the Flower Hill shopping center barely a year after it was opened. However, the New York Morrison Hotel location remains open, located at 124 Prince St. in Soho.
Two Henry Diltz books worth your time, and worth picking up if you can’t visit the New York Morrison Hotel location, are California Dreaming, which came out in 2007, and Henry’s more recent black and white collection Unpainted Faces.
Folk-Rock Arrives On the Sunset Strip
In 1965 a good portion of the Los Angeles music scene was made up of folkies who, after having seen The Beatles’ meteoric rise and the reaction of audiences to A Hard Day’s Night, opted to trade in their folky Dylanisms for electric guitars and a revitalized commitment to rock and roll.
Two folkies working the L.A. circuit, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork, wound up becoming cast members on a new TV show based on A Hard Day’s Night called The Monkees, while bands made up of ex-folkies like The Byrds and Buffalo Springfrield came out of the gate with a sensational new twist on rock and roll, described by a not-so-clever record company promotion as “folk rock,” played as loud as the technology of the era would allow.
Many more veterans of the folk scene, including Glenn Campbell, Leon Russell, and future members of bands like Bread and Toto, were finding gainful employment as session musicians for acts like Sonny and Cher, The Association, and many others who caught onto the mid-60s folk-rock wave. It was this scene which directly led to the early 1970s singer/songwriter movement, and essentially solidifed the American acquiescence to The Beatles’ self-contained songwriting, record-producing and performing model.
A Musician With A Camera
Henry Diltz was a Los Angeles-area musician best known as a member of the Modern Folk Quartet, a band which saw some success with a pair of Phil Spector-produced albums in the early-to-mid 1960s, until their break-up in 1966.
Two of Diltz’s bandmates included Jerry Yester, who went on to join The Lovin’ Spoonful and produced The Association, and Chip Douglas, who became a member of The Turtles (the guys who did the “Happy Together” song) and later produced The Monkees when they broke free of their handlers and were able to arrange and play on their own records (Douglas was responsible for the-then revolutionary interlocking bass and lead guitar technique on “Pleasant Valley Sunday”).
Diltz was also pals with folkies like Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Mama Cass of the Mamas and the Papas, and David Crosby, who was enjoying massive success as a member of The Byrds. Another set of musicians Diltz was friends with were the guys from Buffalo Springfield, including Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Ritchie Furay.
An occasional photographer, Diltz accompanied Buffalo Springfield to a club the band were checking out in Redondo Beach, and used the band to photograph the scale of a mural painted on the outside walls. Within weeks he’d sold the photo to a number of publications, and was off with a new career as a rock photographer.
By the end of the decade, Diltz was one of the most in-demand rock photographers on the west coast, having photographed everyone from rising stars like Linda Ronstadt and Michael Jackson, to his growing family of musician friends in the Los Angeles scene. In 1969, he shot two of his most famous album jacket sessions, and was on-stage for what became the watershed moment of 60s youth counterculture.
Crosby Stills and Nash
While an earlier photo session with the band had been shot informally at Big Bear in the San Bernardino Mountains, the photograph of David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash sitting on a couch at an abandoned house in Santa Monica was part of the first official photo session for the new trio, and namesake album, Crosby Stills and Nash.
When the band realized they were sitting out of order in the photo, they went back to the house a few days later to re-shoot the album jacket, only to find the house had been demolished in the interim. So the original photo stayed, with drummer Dallas Taylor peeking out of a window on the back cover.
Another iconic photo session Henry Diltz shot in 1969 came at the end of the year, when The Doors asked him to photograph the cover session for their new album Morrison Hotel.
Diltz met the band at the rundown hotel on L.A.’s Skid Row, only to find the real Morrison Hotel management wouldn’t let them take any photographs inside. Despite this, the band quickly ran inside for a few photos through the window when the manager left the desk, and the now-famous shot was taken.
As notable are the photos Diltz took of the band loitering around the hotel entrance waiting to leap in for the cover shot, and the warmer reception the band received for a similarly quick photo shoot at a nearby bar, dubbed the Hard Rock Cafe.
Also in 1969, Henry Diltz was tapped by Woodstock organizer Michael Lang to be the official photographer for the planned music festival in upstate New York that summer.
As Diltz reveals in this interview with Tommy and Hansen, he was in Bethel, New York for two weeks before the show, enjoying the idyllic summer days on Yasgur’s Farm as the stage was constructed and the site made ready.
During the three days of Woodstock, Diltz rarely ventured far from the stage, photographing every act, including Ravi Shankar, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, the Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Mountain, and many others.
His photo of Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, playing with the Electric Sky Church, remains one of his most famous images from the festival.