Henry Diltz gallery: The Doors, Keith Richards, Macca and more
“I was a musician before I was a photographer,” says iconic snapper Henry Diltz. “So I started out photographing my friends who then all became famous.”
Diltz, an affable US-native now in his mid-70s, made his name operating out of Laurel Canyon, an LA neighbourhood that helped spawn and inspire a generation of incredible singer-songwriters - Neil Young, Jim Morrison, David Crosby and many more. As Diltz prepares for the release of new movie Legends of the Canyon, which delves into the heart of the area and its imprint on the wider musical landscape, we spoke to him about his memories of shooting pop and rock royalty.
Of the image above Henry says: "This was on a 1970 tour and [David Crosby] was in a hotel and Graham Nash opened the door and said, ‘Hey Crosby, some girl fan made you this stuffed toy American flag gun.’ He tossed it in onto the bed and Crosby just picked it up with one hand and held it to his head while he took a toke with his other hand. I was sat at the end of the bed and just took two shots and that was one. It was just a momentary thing.”
"I went to meet The Doors about doing their album cover and asked if they had any ideas or a title - they had neither.
"But then Ray Manzarek said he and his wife were driving and had seen this hotel with Morrison Hotel written on it. We went and it looked great. Couple of days later we went back with the whole band, walked in the lobby and found that this was a wino flop house - a transient’s hotel.
"The guy behind the desk said we couldn’t shoot any photos in there. I told the guys we had to go outside and just as we went I saw the guy behind the desk getting in the elevator - the light you can see on the picture is the elevator light - so the band ran in there and got behind the window. We took one roll of film and got the hell out of there. And that was the cover."
"This was a CS&N concert in 1969, a big outdoor concert in a football field. There was no backstage and he was sitting at a piano out on the stage out in the open.
"He was changing the strings on his guitar so I got on my knees so I wouldn’t be in his face and I took photos while he changed his strings. Here he is tuning his guitar up. I was very close to him with a wide angle lens so the guitar comes right out in your face."
Paul and Linda McCartney
"I was friends with Linda. I met her in a photo lab in New York City some years before she met Paul.
"After she married Paul I got a call from her asking if I’d go out to their beach house in Malibu and take some shots for their new album, Ram. She took all the pictures of Paul so she had me to take pictures of the two of them. We spent the day by the swimming pool, Paul sitting there in the sun with his ukulele making up songs about his daughters. At the end of the day we took this lovely portrait of the two of them.
"Linda said they were looking for a cover for Life magazine, so I went back the next morning with the photos and they picked this one out. The lady from Life magazine took the one transparency, got in a cab to LAX and flew straight to New York with it because these were the days before scanning, email or even FedEx! That became my accidental Life magazine cover."
"I spent three weeks touring with Ron Wood’s solo group the New Barbarians. He put a band together to tour and it was between Rolling Stones gigs so Keith came along.
"He made a band up of his friends. We toured around the country on a commercial jet and in every big city we’d get off the plane and there would be limos surrounding the planes. You’d walk off the steps and find your limo to go to the hotel.
"Keith had gotten off first and he was standing by his limo waiting for Woody to get off so he’d know what car to go in. I was standing there with him and just clicked this shot - it was just candid. It was a fly-on-the-wall, un-posed shot. That’s what I saw and I pushed the button."
"This is at Joni’s house in Laurel Canyon. It’s the house that Graham Nash wrote about: ‘Our house is a very, very fine house’. That’s the house.
"We went over there to shoot publicity photos and she was leaning out the window talking to Gary, my partner, and that just gave me the chance to click away. Again, it was just life. It was very candid."
"I spent a week with Stephen in a mountain cabin in Colorado. One night he got a phone call to say that Jimi Hendrix had died. He was so distraught that he sat up all night playing piano.
"In the morning we looked out the window and it had snowed - everything was white at dawn. He told me to grab my camera. He wanted a picture in the snow. We took a few shots then he ran in the house and grabbed a pink giraffe and sat it in the snow next to him. I took a few shots and said, ‘Ok, we’re done with the giraffe’. And he said ‘No, I want this in all the pictures’.
"That stupid giraffe! Later that year he picked this photo out for the cover of his first solo album. I think that giraffe was a secret message to one of his girlfriends that he had broken up with. Maybe he wanted her to know he was still thinking about her, but he never said."
George Harrison and Bob Dylan
"George did that famous charity concert for the people of Bangladesh. It was the first kind of rock 'n' roll charity that had been attempted. Now rock musicians are constantly doing good and raising money, but this was the first one.
"My friend Chip Monck was the lighting and staging director. He said I should go to this great concert but I said that I didn’t even know if I could get a photo pass. He told me to turn up on the day and he’d give me a crew pass and I could take my cameras in and hide them under his light board, which I did.
"I spent the whole day there as a crew member and when the concert started I took my camera out and took that picture. I didn’t want to be kicked out because they only had one or two people shooting, so that was a pirated shot!"
"James had just come over from England and his manager called me and said that they needed some publicity shots. I went over to his house and as I walked in James was sitting on the floor finger picking the old folk song Oh Susanna.
"He was finger picking like I had never heard in my life. It totally blew me away and I sunk to my knees and started taking pictures of him. I was so mesmerised by it. On that day we then went to a friend’s farm and took the Sweet Baby James album cover."
"This was an adventure. We rode horseback through the desert for two hours and arrived at an oasis with a bubbling brook.
"Just before darkness Dewey Bunnell wanted to walk to the top of the mountain and look at the bats that were flying around. My partner Gary said, ‘Why don’t all three of you go?’. Gary had brought a mirror out there because his idea was that they would peer into the mirror as if it were a hole in the ground.
"When they climbed up the mountain I was looking up from the valley to this small mountain and I saw this light flashing. I shouted, ‘Wait, stand still!’. We could see it was the moon coming up on the other side of the valley. That picture is the sun setting in the background and the moon coming up on the other side. It was completely accidental. Sometimes the universe sets these things up."
"A teenybopper magazine hired me for the day to go to the Monkees’ TV set and shoot whatever I saw. I went down there and instantly became friends with them.
"Previously they’d had these old farts taking photos of them and they didn’t relate to them. I was a young guy like them. We hit it off and from that day on I was their photographer. There was a lot of downtime on the TV soundstage while they reset the lights and camera angles.
"That day I bought a book to give to Peter Tork, it was called Autobiography of a Yogi and he is reading that book. That book changed my life and opened me up to spirituality, so I was really happy to see him reading it."
"We were trying out ideas for album covers. We took a limo from Hollywood in the middle of the night and drove for three hours to Palm Springs.
"We got there at the break of dawn and set everything up. The sun came up as we started shooting and it was so hot that her makeup was running down her face. We had to stop shooting. We checked into a motel, sat around the swimming pool and went back out when it cooled off. That was the picture we got. It never got used as an album cover but it was a billboard out on Sunset Strip."
Legends of the Canyon
After sharing stories with us Henry turns to his latest project, the Legends of the Canyon movie.
“A couple of years ago I got a call from England. It was Jon Brewer, a film producer, and he wanted to do a film about the music of Laurel Canyon. I became an associate on the making of that and I introduced him to the people he wanted to interview. He put my photos in it and I ended up being a narrator. It’s a fantastic look back at how that music started; how that renaissance of the singer-songwriter came to be in LA in the late '60s and early '70s.”
Legends of the Canyon is released on Monday 27 May.