Wednesday, January 22, 1997

Henry Diltz, Classic Rock Photographer

Harris: Joining me now on the guest line is classic rock photographer Henry Diltz. Henry worked on a whole bunch of classic rock album covers and has just come out with a CD-ROM of his work called Under The Covers. It has incredible behind-the-scenes stories and home videos and lots of his old photographs and some rare home movies as well. Henry joins me live from Los Angeles now. Good morning, Henry.

Diltz: Hello, Paul. Good morning, and thank you.

Harris: A minute ago I was playing a tune off that first Crosby, Stills, and Nash album and one of the questions I wanted to ask you -- since you're the guy that photographed it -- was why didn't you put the guys in order. I mean everybody knows that legendary album where they're sitting on the couch in front of that old beat-up house -- but instead of sitting them Crosby-Stills-Nash, you have them Nash-Stills-Crosby.

Diltz: Right. Because they were recording the album at the time we took the photo, and they hadn't finished the album yet and they hadn't actually decided what to call themselves. So we were out taking publicity pictures and we found this old house with this couch and we took these photos, had a slide show and decided to use one of them for the cover. So we said let's go back and take it in the right order now that you're going to call yourselves Crosby, Stills, and Nash. So we went back about a week later and the house was a pile of sticks. [laughs] And so we were stuck.

Harris: Why did it have to be that house, why couldn't you go someplace else?

Diltz: Well, that house just had that kind of funky charm to it. You know, that couch was sitting right there and, I don't know, we couldn't find anything like it.

Harris: OK. Who is the guy on the back cover looking out the door?

Diltz: Well, most people think it's Neil Young, but it's really Dallas Taylor, the drummer.

Harris: I never knew that until today. I've been playing that album for 20 years on the radio and I never knew that.

Diltz: That's right. You know what? He really wasn't in the house. He was actually standing in David Crosby's kitchen door and we put him in there graphically.

Harris: Really?

Diltz: Yeah! He was added about a week after that.

Harris: Which would be very easy here in 1996, but in 1969 that must have been cool to do.

Diltz: Yeah, it was a bit different then. I think now it only takes a few minutes.

Harris: A couple of the other guys you worked with were The Doors and The Eagles, and we'll get to Morrison Hotel in a second. But you also did The Eagles second album Desperado, which as I recall and from looking at home movies which you have here on the CD-ROM -- which I love, by the way -- the guys are all dressed up looking like they're desperados. Did they feel like were the outlaws of rock 'n' roll at the time?

Diltz: Oh, absolutely. You mean on that day?

Harris: Yeah.

Diltz: They absolutely did when they put those clothes on, and started shooting those guns, yeah. [laughs]

Harris: They look like old western stars and when you actually look at that cover, Don Henley actually looks like he would gun you down in the street. Don't mess with him. [laughs]

Diltz: Absolutely. It was their premise that if they had lived 150 years ago they probably would have been gunslingers rather than guitar players.

Harris: And on the CD-ROM you have a home movie of them acting it out like it's an old Jesse James western.

Diltz: That's right.

Harris: I don't know if anybody has ever seen this before. But I was looking at it again last night. Why in those days were you acting it out on the street with gunplay and everything when you're only going to do still photographs?

Diltz: [laughs] Good question. You know that album was supposed to be a fold- out and the inside, the inner picture, which was to be a double spread, was going to be them with all their guns blazing there in the street. So you had a beginning with them posing outside the bank. The middle was the big gun fight and the end they were lying there dead with the posse.

Harris: Which is the back cover now.

Diltz: Right. And then David Geffen at the last minute decided to pull the inner sleeve part, the inner spread.

Harris: Right.

Diltz: To save you know, 3 cents an album.

Harris: [laughs] And that's why he's that multi-millionaire today.

Diltz: [laughs] That's right.

Harris: All right, let's move onto The Doors' Morrison Hotel, which I think is one of the all time great covers. Was this a real place, the Morrison Hotel?

Diltz: Oh yeah, it definitely was. You know The Doors first called my partner Gary Burden who is the graphic artist on all these, and he and I did all these things together. We went to a meeting at The Doors' little funky office in Hollywood and we were trying to discuss ideas what to do. And Ray Manzarek spoke up and said "My wife and I saw this great old hotel downtown called Morrison Hotel." And we all went, "Woo, that sounds great, let's go down and take a look." So we went down and it looked great and it was only Jim, Ray, Gary, and I. So we said let's do this, we'll come back down here tomorrow. So we got everyone together and went down. We went in and told the guy behind the desk look we're just going to take a photo by your window there and he said "Oh no, no! You have to talk to the owner." Well were's he? "Oh, he's not here, he's out of town." So we went outside and said "What are we going to do now?" and just then I looked in and noticed the guy left the desk and got in the elevator. So I said quick run back inside and just stand by that window. And they just ran right in and just kind of hit the place where they were standing. We didn't plan it, they just kind of went up to the window and kind of kneeled on the back of the chairs that were there. We went click, click, click and took a roll of film and they were out of there and nobody was the wiser. [laughs]

Harris: That's great and actually on the CD-ROM you have some of the other photos you shot that day. What I love is, there's a story -- I guess it was Jim Morrison who referred to this place, which was really kind of a flop house. It says rooms $2.50 and up.

Diltz: Right.

Harris: Even in 1969 that was a really cheap place and Jim Morrison said, "It was the kind of place you could start a religion -- or plan a murder."

Diltz: That's right, yeah. That's the story Ray tells.

Harris: Now what was the neighborhood reaction going downtown and looking for a place to shoot and you with Jim Morrison and The Doors? In 1969 a lot of people had to know who these guys were!

Diltz: Well, I don't know. In the first place it's not a very heavily travelled part of town. I remember when we took that cover an old lady walked by and I took her picture walking by and then a guy delivering pizza walked by. Or some kind of delivery boy with a box walked by and that's the only two people that walked by. So one day we were in Venice taking pictures on the sidewalk and a little kid on a tricycle, maybe about 8 years old rode up and stopped and we took a bunch of pictures of him posing in front of The Doors and we always look at those and think, where is that guy today? [laughs] What he's 30, 35 years old?

Harris: But if you went out to take photos of a major rock band today, you would have to put up police barricades in order to get that photo done.

Diltz: That could be true, yeah.

Harris: On the back of Morrison Hotel there's a thing called Hard Rock Cafe, which everybody of course today knows as the international restaurant chain, but that was the original Hard Rock Cafe wasn't it?

Diltz: That's right, it was. Right after we walked out of the Morrison Hotel, Jim said "Let's go get something to drink, let's go get a beer." We were in this little funky Volkswagen van which the drummer owned.

Harris: Of course it was 1969, you had to have a Volkswagen van.

Diltz: So we drove down to skid row to look around for a place to get a beer. We don't remember who but someone looked out the window and said, "Look at that around the corner, the Hard Rock Cafe." So we all said, "Hey we've got to go in there." So we parked the van went in for about half an hour having a beer or two talking to all the old wino guys that were in there because it was in skid row.

Harris: Right.

Diltz: And you know there were just guys in there drinking away the afternoon.

Harris: And at no time in there did they try to sell you a Hard Rock t-shirt or anything? [laughs]

Diltz: That's funny. Oh no they didn't even have Hard Rock coasters. [laughs] I guess though sometime the next year after the album came out with that picture on the back, they got a call from England and this guy says, "Hello. Would you mind if we use that name on the back of your album? We're starting a cafe over here in London and we would like to use that name." And they said no, go ahead, and that was the beginning of it. Now every time I go into a Hard Rock Cafe, whatever city I'm in, I always feel like I should get a free hamburger. [laughs]

Harris: What I love about the CD-ROM, Henry, is obviously you didn't just take pictures in photo sessions. You were taking pictures all the time. There were pictures from inside the Hard Rock Cafe that day and other stuff behind the scenes and there's great home movies and rare video stuff on here. I'm really impressed with it and I've been playing with it on my computer at home.

Diltz: Thank you very much. I really appreciate your saying that.

Harris: If you're a classic rock fan and have the technical equipment to check this out, I really think you'll enjoy it. Henry, thanks for getting up early and talking. I really appreciate it.

Diltz: It was a pleasure to link up with you.

Copyright 1997, Paul Harris.
Transcript by Nicci Murphy.