Listening Through The Lens: A Conversation With Henry Diltz
Mike Ragogna: Henry, since childhood, I’ve been seeing your photo credits on so many of my favorite albums and magazine articles, etc., going way back to the days of The Doors and David Cassidy.
Henry Diltz: Yeah, I heard you were a guy who liked David Cassidy and I’m another guy who like David Cassidy. He was my buddy. I went all around the world with him for a couple of years.
MR: If it’s okay with you, I’d also like to talk with you about him in a bit. But first, let’s start with your exhibition at the Museum of Making Music, Listening Through The Lens: The Photography of Henry Diltz. How did it come about? Did they approach you?
HD: Well, I had some of my pictures exhibited at the last NAMM convention and I think maybe that was the start of it. One of my partners in the Morrison Hotel Gallery lives in Carlsbad–that’s where our headquarters is for the Morrison Hotel Gallery. He was talking to somebody, I think he went there for another exhibit, and my name came up. This has been in the planning for a while.
MR: Henry, you’re one of the forefathers of rock ‘n’ roll and pop culture photography, one of the first famous rock photographers. What will this exhibit be featuring?
HD: They’re iconic photos, a lot of them are from the late sixties, early seventies singer-songwriter Laurel Canyon days, but then it goes up. I know in ’79, I went on the road with Keith Richards and Ron Wood with the New Barbarians, Ron Wood’s solo group. That was like being on the road with the Rolling Stones without Mick, which meant that everything was allowed. It was so much fun. The bulk of the famous, iconic pictures I took were in ’69. I did the Morrison Hotel cover, I did the Crosby, Stills & Nash cover and the Sweet Baby James cover all in ’69. Then in ’72 began Jackson Browne and the Eagles. So all along I was photographing, but the big album covers are kind of the roadmap–the milestones, I guess.
MR: There were those album covers but you also gained the reputation for shooting great candids as well.
HD: Well, yeah, I guess like most things, they’re accidental. They just kind of happened. John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”
MR: You had your own musical career. How did that start?
HD: I was a folk musician in the early sixties. I was going to University of Hawaii studying psychology and I started singing in a coffee house at night. That was in the early sixties when folk music was the music of the day. Every college was having folk concerts every week and The Kingston Trio were at the top of the heap. So we had a four-part harmony folk group that came out of the Greensleeves Coffee House in Honolulu and we came to Los Angeles to seek our fortunes. We played the Troubadour when that was the Mecca. We went in when they had their Hootenanny Night, which was like “open mic,” no one had ever heard of us because we were way over in Hawaii. We got up and started singing four-part harmony folk songs and everybody stood up clapping. It was like, “Whoa, what is going on?” It was kind of scary because we had perfected this. Nobody had heard this coming up, so we had a good run for almost five years traveling back and forth across the country recording for Warner Brothers. We did a single for Phil Spector, we were on TV shows and clubs, that was all great. The single for Phil Spector, “This Could Be The Night” written by Harry Nilsson, he wouldn’t put it out because he was afraid it wouldn’t go to number one since we were a folk rock “experiment” of his…
MR: …didn’t he eventually put that single out?
HD: He did put it out, it’s on his box set. He put it out a couple years later on an album in England called Rare Masters. On there were some Ronettes hits that also had never come out before, with all this stuff that he was unsure of. It was a great album. But in the meantime, two of the guys went back to Hawaii. “Well, jeez, call me if something happens.” So I picked up a camera on our last tour and just started fooling around with it. I didn’t know anything. We all bought used cameras in a secondhand store in Michigan. We were just playing around, photographing each other, stopping by a field of cows in Arizona or a junkyard somewhere. We got back to L.A., developed the film and surprise, it was slide film! Transparencies. I had no idea of anything about film. I said, “Oh, wow, these are little transparencies. Let’s get a projector and have a slideshow on the weekend.” All of our hippie friends came and we had this slideshow and it blew me away that you could see these moments projected for all of your friends. It was magic. Of course, we were all smoking joints. Everybody was well-oiled. But they loved i, and more importantly, I loved the pictures. I thought, “This is absolute magic,” and then I vowed right there, “I am going to take more pictures so we can have more of these slideshows.” It was kind of a social event with all of my karmic pals. When I woke up in the morning in Laurel Canyon and started taking pictures of cats laying outside, and snails on the ivy–whatever I could see, no musicians were up yet–eventually, I was photographing David Crosby and Mama Cass and Stephen Stills just as friends. I would cross paths with them in the daytime and take a picture of them. That’s how it all started. I did this just for my own and friends’ entertainment. Then pretty soon, people would say, “Oh, we could use these for magazines or a publicity photo.” Magazines started calling me for a Buffalo Springfield picture I took. None of these were jobs, none of them were assignments, I was just doing it as a friend and then it developed into this. Pretty quickly, I met a guy named Gary Burden who designed album covers and we had a really good run of about a hundred album covers in the late sixties, early seventies. He was the guy who designed them. He was really good at looking through three or four hundred pictures and picking out “the one.” So there were several serendipity things. The first was that I picked up a secondhand camera one day, the second was that my only friends were all the folk musicians who lived in Laurel Canyon, and the third was that it was slide film in that first camera. Absent any of those, probably this all wouldn’t have happened. Then the fourth serendipity was meeting Gary Burden who turned these pictures into wonderful album covers. Back in those days, album covers were so important because it was where you got all your visual information and liner notes. We didn’t have MTV. That’s where you would sit and stare at that album while you listened to the music. So many people have said, “I don’t know how many hours I have stared at this picture on this album cover.”
MR: Think of all of the eyes that have stared at or been mesmerized by those album covers and your photography over the years. It’s so impressive. Do you have a couple of favorites?
HD: I love the CSN on the couch. We were just driving around west Hollywood trying to take publicity photos. The three boys had no pictures at all. They were still working on their first album. Gary and I drove them around, Graham had seen this old house, and they just jumped on the couch. I had taken pictures up close, just framing the couch, and then Gary Burden said one of the two things he always said to me: “Back up. Back up. Get the whole house.” I wouldn’t have done that. I always go tight, crop in to the person. But he said, “Back up, get the whole house.” The other thing he always said to me was, “Keep shooting everything that happens. Film is the cheapest part.” Those two things really served me well. I still shoot everything that happens, to this day. I have a little pocket Canon that I carry around and I easily average a hundred pictures a day–just stuff I see, people I meet. It’s kind of like my visual journal of the day.
MR: As photography techniques and technology have evolved over the years, how have your own approaches and techniques evolved?
HD: In ’05, I said, “I will never shoot digital. I am a film guy.” Then I picked up my friend’s big Canon with a telephoto lens and I went, “Holy shit, this thing focuses itself? It sets its own reading? You don’t have to have a spot meter and take a reading and set the numbers on your lens and focus?” If you do all that, it takes a couple of minutes and maybe the picture’s gone by then. The second thing was when you photograph with transparencies, the magazine or the record company would take all of them and you wouldn’t have them. There were no negatives. There was only that one positive. I lost so many pictures that I never got back. Who knew that they would become valuable years later? Luckily, I kept enough of them. But now with digital, you shoot five hundred pictures and an hour later, you can give a disc to the group, the manager, the record company, whoever wants them, and you keep them all. That’s the beauty of it. You can share them and yet you can keep them.
MR: In the past, didn’t they used to pay for ownership of all project-related photos?
HD: Often that was the case in jobs like that. But luckily, between Gary and I, we knew all the musicians, so we really worked for the groups and for the management, for Elliot Roberts, David Geffen, David Cassidy…
MR: Ah, there we are, Cassidy again!
HD: Yeah, I took photos of him for magazines but I more worked for him. I was his friend, that’s why I was there taking pictures. I would get paid when the magazines would run them but I owned them all. I didn’t do assignments, really. I just hung out with my friends who said, “Oh, take my picture and we’ll see what we can use and we’ll all get paid when you use it,” which was perfect for me rather than a photo session where the people who hire you own everything.
MR: Do you think that was one of the keys to your success, your personal relationship with the artists?
HD: Absolutely! When I picked up a camera in ’66, there weren’t many photographers, really. When I started photographing Jim Morrison at The Hollywood Bowl, I was the only photographer. Think about if he played there today. There would be thousands. In that particular one, I knew the program director at KHJ radio. In fact, it was his house where we had the first slideshow. He was a dear friend of mine from Hawaii. So we had a slideshow at his house and I was blown away by the slides. KHJ was producing concerts in the summer, so they did The Doors and he said, “Yeah, Henry, bring your camera and come down!” I don’t know if he paid me or not. It’s just as well that nobody paid me because now I own them all and I can sell them as prints.
MR: I remember when Morrison Hotel Gallery first opened. Actually, I don’t remember there being anything dedicated to rock ‘n’ roll other than the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame before that.
HD: There were a few startups. People would contact me and say, “We’re gonna start this rock ‘n’ roll gallery! We’re gonna make a million!” When we started this conversation, you said, “rock photographer,” but I always say, “I’m not a rock photographer.” Generically, you can say, “Yeah, I’m a music photographer, I shoot rock ‘n’ roll,” but really is Joni Mitchell rock ‘n’ roll? Is James Taylor rock ‘n’ roll? Not really. I see myself as a music photographer, Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter type. It’s just a warmer, fuzzier, more friendly thing. Back to the beginning, my style was that I had no style. I never went to photo school, I never used lights, I don’t know about backdrops and reflectors or any of that. It’s just me looking through that little lens, framing it up so it looks good and then pushing the button. It was so simple and so effortless, so invisible, that I could capture real life without posing it.
MR: So it’s intuitive to you.
HD: Oh, yeah.
MR: And I guess you’re using the “energy” from the acts to fuel it.
HD: Yeah. I know real “real photographers,” as I call them, famous photographers who say, “I made this picture.” I think, “Bullshit! The people in it made it. You just took it. You pushed the button and captured the moment, but it’s really what’s in the picture that’s important.” It’s the people in the picture and what they’re doing. I love observing people. I studied psychology, I’m very interested in human behavior and, “What is this life that we find ourselves in?” I’m very philosophical about that. It’s always a big question on my mind. I like to observe people and their behavior through my camera. When I see something that’s really interesting to me, I take the picture. I know people in reviews have said, “When you think of rock photography, you think of power and aggression. But in Henry’s pictures, they’re all smiling.” Sure because I wait until people look just the way I think they look best, and generally, they’re happy because I’m a happy guy.
MR: Some of your very first pictures of people you’ve brought up–Crosby, Stills & Nash, for example–went on to become covers of albums that sold millions and launched major careers that impacted culture. As you were taking those pictures, did you ever see your works having that kind of future?
HD: No. Never.
MR: You were never able to feel where these acts and artists were headed?
HD: Not ever because I was a fellow musician and we were recording and trying to get a hit, and so were Buffalo Springfield, and The Byrds. When “Mister Tambourine Man” played on the radio, it was like, “How great, our friend’s got a record on the radio!” It was that whole music game of writing and singing and entertaining people and trying to make a little money and trying to get popular.
MR: So it was always about being in the moment.
HD: Always in the moment. I never once thought in all those years, “Boy, someday, I will have this historical archive…” Oh, no! Perish the thought! I just thought, “Wow, I wonder what’s going to happen today! I’m going to get up, go down, get something to eat and see what’s going on.” You just followed your nose through the day and adventures would happen. It was because there were so many musicians hanging out and I was hanging out with them. You wet to lunch on Sunset Strip and Mama Cass is there. “Come on up to the house, we’re having a swimming party!” You go up there and John Sebastian would be there, or she’d say, “Come on over to my house tomorrow, we’re having a little picnic in the backyard,” and there was Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, David Crosby, and Mickey Dolenz. Just friends. It wasn’t, “We want to hire you to document this,” but they knew I’d bring my camera and I did and nobody even noticed.
MR: Did you notice when the tide changed a bit?
HD: People got married and had kids and moved out of Laurel Canyon, just like I did. Sometime in the middle eighties or early nineties, people started saying, “Well, you must have some archive,” and I’d think, “Archive? Ooh, that sounds a little too professional, but yeah, I’ve got all these boxes full of photos. That’s true.” That’s when it began to be a little bit apparent. People started saying, “Wow, you should do something with this. Make a book. Make a video.” But I still take pictures every day. I’ve been taking pictures of new artists. Millennials. I have a millennial work for me as a social media director–Facebook and Instagram–and she plays and sings. She makes singles and videos, she’s working on an album. Paige Calico, she calls herself.
MR: Does she play out? Do you go to clubs?
HD: I’m always going to clubs. I went a few nights ago to see her play and I’m meeting her friends and other musicians. It’s a whole new karmic group of young twenty-year-olds that I’m photographing. None of them are well-known. A lot of them are really good, though. I think back and it was the same way in the sixties. Nobody knew who Stephen Stills was or David Crosby. Mama Cass was the only one that was famous because The Mamas & The Papas quickly had hits. But they were all just friends of mine who still were not famous and I was photographing them. That’s what I’m doing now, same thing. Full circle.
MR: Do you think social or political consciousness has come full circle since then as well? Do you see that happening in these millennials?
HD: I don’t have a lot of political discussions, surely. I have discussions about life. This is the Aquarian age. I see life as a big adventure. It’s an adventure of learning and growing, and there are chapters in your life. My chapters were my childhood, my college days, psychology, the folk days, starting to take pictures, and now, it’s another chapter. When you do it for fifty years, it ends up being books, gallery shows, and museum shows, and that’s the chapter I’m in now.
MR: Henry, you’re revealing your spiritual side!
HD: I’m very conscious of life and wondering what it means and how to read it the right way. I read the Indian gurus a great deal. The Dalai Lama, Yogananda… He had a book called Autobiography Of A Yogi, which I read in the sixties and it completely opened me up in terms of the spiritual side. More recently, there’s a book by Swami Sachchidanand. He was at Woodstock and he’s since gone to the other side, but his book of daily parables is so precious to me. I read them and I think, “Thank you, sir, for passing on this wise way of looking at the world, and looking at life.” That’s what really consumes me almost every day. I think about it in those terms.
MR: It seems like these children of the people who were caught by the wave of spiritualism in the sixties and seventies, they’re the end result. They might not be practicing any techniques, but they’re evolving quickly.
HD: They’re the children and grandchildren of hippies and that does rub off. It’s not always evident but we are going in an upward direction because it’s the Age of Aquarius now. In the sixties, the song was played all the time. “This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius…” Well, it’s dawned, and now we’re starting into it for two thousand years. We’re only like twenty years into it. It’s going to get better but it sometimes gets worse before it does. I think if we survive, we’re in for more understanding of each other and of life. I believe in angels and I believe that there is a reason for everything. What’s happening now is going to lead to the next thing, which I think will be better. It’s got to be better.
MR: Does your photography lately pull into this “consciousness of consciousness”?
HD: What I photograph is what I see. I photograph many, many things that I see–it could be flowers, trucks, animals, babies, fire hydrants, you name it. I love street photography; I love photographing graffiti as well as people. At the airport waiting for my flight, I’ll take twenty or thirty pictures of people sitting in the waiting room. I love to photograph girls texting for some reason. I love to photograph fingernails with different colors. Everything I see is something that I want to remember, something meaningful to me. I’m not just snapping every minute, but the things that are meaningful to me, I take photographs of. It’s really life itself. Only half of it is music people. The other half of my archive is all those other things. There are sunsets, there are nudes, there are trucks and babies and flowers. I take pictures of flowers almost every day; when I see a great one, I pull out my little pocket Canon. I put it on “close up” and get an inch away and get a beautiful close up of the inside of the flower. It’s just so much fun. I don’t even think about it. I just have to do it. I have to grab that image, I have to look at that and think about it.
MR: When you look at your MoMM exhibit, are you seeing a theme that you hadn’t noticed before?
HD: I’m sure when I see them all on the wall, I think, “Wow, there sure were a lot of moments and there sure are a lot of different musicians.” I was there for every one of them, so every one of them is a moment in my life. Now, they happen to be moments in other people’s lives too because these are famous people who made music, and music is one of the hugest things in our lives. Of our five senses, seeing and hearing are the two biggest. We might smell and taste and touch intermittently but we are constantly seeing and hearing. Is music fifty percent of our lives? Is it seventy percent? One lady said, “No, it’s a hundred percent of my life because I have music all day long.” Or is it twenty percent for some people? You can’t say since it’s one of the pervading things about life. All of the music you’ve heard and you love and that reminded you of things that sweep you away, and to see the photos of people that made them, everybody has favorites. They say, “Oh my God, I love James Taylor and there’s a picture of him…it reminds me of that song,” It’s the visual part of the music, which is such a big part of our lives.
MR: The title for your exhibit is “Listening Through The Lens.” Does that kind of render your work as a form of music?
HD: It’s an interesting name. I’ve just done a video biography about me that a Swedish guy made and we’re trying to think of names for it. It’s hard. At one point, I thought The Musical Lens. When they came up with Listening Through The Lens, I thought, “That’s it!” That’s a great way of saying it. It’s not that I did listen through the lens, but it implies music and photography in one short little saying. It’s hard to do that. It is a combination. The photographs imply the music that those people made.
MR: In my question, I guess I was trying to make it a little more cosmic by implying that maybe through the years, you’ve been making a kind of “music” that was beyond photography.
HD: [laughs] Oh, no, I can’t say that, really. And I made music, too! I love to play the banjo. Modal tuning is so beautiful to me. I sometimes sit in front of the TV and plunk away because it’s soothing to me. I’m a musician in my heart and a photographer in my head. That’s the way I look at it. They are separate but side by side. There is a visual and an aural element to both of those.
MR: When icons like Mama Cass and Jim Morrison go away, when you look at your photographs, does it feel like a part of them are still here?
HD: They’re certainly there in my memory and they are there in the photograph, that is true. Their essence remains behind in the music and the photographs. I happen to think we never die anyway, we just go to the other side. We drop our bodies, our physical body being a shell, and then we move on to the next chapter, the next adventure. That’s what all the gurus say; you’re just walking from one room into another. I feel that way. I feel these people are all still here. They still exist. They’re not in that physical body singing those songs on stage right now, but… And here’s the other thing. While I went to school for psychology, I also took philosophy courses. One course was called “Existentialism,” and I really figure myself to be an existentialist. The moment is all there really is. The past is a memory, the future is a hope, but we’re only alive in this exact moment. I struggle with that, I feel that, but it always kind of bothered me that I was known for passed moments. That’s not very existential. Then somebody suggested to me, “Well, what you do is you bring the past into the present,” and I thought, “Okay… I can live with that.”
MR: From this fan’s perspective, I look at your photography and, for example, I think, “Okay, I will always remember The Doors’ song ‘Riders On The Storm,’ but I will always have the visual thanks to you.
HD: Well, I was the guy around. Sometimes I think, “Why me?” I don’t know if there were angels involved that day when we went into the secondhand store. Do I have a guardian angel who said, “Pick it up, Henry! Pick it up! Buy it! It’s gonna come in handy!” I don’t know! I don’t know how much of it is really all set in stone before it happens. We certainly have free choice, it can go in any direction but maybe there’s a best direction it can go in, and I like to think that I took that direction. It’s kind of metaphysical to me on the one hand, but it’s very physical as well. There’s a slide and a negative and a print, you know.
MR: Okay, let’s talk about David Cassidy. To me, David’s passing seemed particularly tragic. I wouldn’t have been in entertainment at all if I hadn’t connected with Partridge Family songwriters Terry Cashman and Tommy West at 14, and many in entertainment benefitted from his and that TV series’ success. Did you know anything was special about David when you traveled or spent time wity him?
HD: What you’re saying today is the most that I’ve thought about it, because I’m thinking, “Wow, he really did touch a lot of people.” Of course, when I filmed him, it was first on The Partridge Family for Tiger Beat magazine, and then we got to be good friends. I traveled around with him when he did his solo tours. It was like The Beatles, with crowds of teeny-boppers outside the hotel and packed arenas. I could see he touched the hearts of all those little girls who were screaming for him. I knew that he was wildly popular because he was a handsome young boy and he was the “big brother” of Susan Dey. It was kind of squeaky clean and the whole thing was very wholesome. It was perfect and he was the perfect person to play that part. It’s too bad that his life didn’t continue right along in that vein of being the boy next door. He got into the seamier things of drinking and stuff. I mean, when I was traveling with him, there was no drinking, really. We were going around the world and I don’t think I even drank wine with dinner at the time, nor did he. I guess to be a child star and then to try to hold onto that, there’s a certain impossibility to keep that image alive. That image is going to change and then your life changes, and if you’re not ready for that and embrace it in kind of a Zen way and understand it, it’s liable to mess you up.
MR: Were you there during the London concert where the girl died?
HD: Yes. She was up in the stands and she died of a heart attack, which could have been from the excitement. There were a lot of girls on that tour–it must have been ’74 maybe. He played a lot of venues in Europe and Australia and a lot of times, there was only the barrier at the front of the stage and the girls would jam each other and push forward and the poor girls who were standing against the rails would get kind of smashed against the rails by the weight of the whole crowd standing against them and then the security guards would have to run out and pull these girls up out of the front of the crowd because they couldn’t breathe. You’d go underneath the stage and there were stretchers laid out and you’d see twenty girls lying down there sobbing and getting their breath back and ambulance people running around. It was a dangerous situation. More than once, they had to stop the show and say, “Everybody move back.” He didn’t like that. That’s why he quit touring after that one girl died.
MR: The only time I met David Cassidy was when Universal was pitching a co-hosting role for him and Donny Osmond to promote a TV-advertised CD. He and Donny went into the restroom at the same time I did and they were side-by-side at the urinal. I was like, “Wonderful. He’s responsible for my career and THIS is my meeting with David Cassidy.”
HD: [laughs] You get to meet him and he’s taking a piss! It’s funny you mentioned Donny Osmond. At the same time I was photographing David and The Partridge Family for Tiger Beat magazine–for covers and big posters–I was also photographing The Osmond brothers. I knew Donny really well. You could say that David kind of succumbed to his demons, whereas Donny Osmond being kind of a squeaky clean Mormon and living a pretty upstanding life hasn’t succumbed to his demons as far as we know. He’s quite a bright guy, he always was. I always thought, “Wow, this guy has really great, open energy.” He’s just friendly. David, too. He had great energy. We had many an adventure. He was an adventurer. He really enjoyed it and loved it. We had many, many laughs and many adventures. I think he must have missed that later in his life. It’s only human that you would. If you peaked in your younger years, in your twenties, what are you going to do for the next fifty years? It’s a downhill slide unless you embrace life in a new, different, more understanding way. That excitement is going to disappear and I guess you’ve got to manufacture another kind of excitement. He wasn’t able to.
MR: Another reason I feel badly for him is when he did his first RCA album The Higher They Climb…, which was meant to be his big comeback, his songs were on rotation at WNEW-FM, the “cool” FM station in New York for decades. That album featured Flo and Eddie, a member of Firesign Theatre, members of the group America, Burce Johnson…
HD: …I love Bruce Johnson! I photographed him. I also love Firesign Theatre. They were all pals of mine. Some of them would be at my early slideshows. They were in my karmic group. There’s so much of that.
MR: Before we move on, let me add that the sleight of Clive Davis kicking him off Bell Records when he bought it and turned it into Arista, giving what was supposed to be David’s comeback hit, “I Write The Songs,” to Barry Manilow, then it becoming one of the biggest hits of the seventies, had to also take a toll on Cassidy.
HD: Yeah, I never talked to him about that specific event but that must have been galling, I suppose. The game of the record companies and all the big moguls, that’s a whole different scene. Not the purity of music but the business of music, there are a lot of stories about that.
MR: Did you ever see a correlation where you had to make the decision, “Well, no, I don’t want to do the business end of photography this because spiritually, I’m more connected with the art side?”
HD: No, I’ve never had those kind of quandaries. “Am I going to make a pact with the devil?” No, it’s never come up. I don’t look for it and luckily, it’s stayed away from me. I’m straight ahead, it’s all good. I took pictures and now people love them and that’s great. I’m happy.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists for both music and photography?
HD: Well, they’re different, of course. For photography, a lot of photographers come up to me and say, “I want to do what you do. You’re so lucky you lived in the sixties.” I say, “Yeah, it was a good time, but this is a good time, too!” Fifty years from now, people will be looking at your photos saying, “Gee, what was it like back then in the early 2000s?” You don’t know what’s going to happen. I was lucky to be around at a pivotal moment in the music industry, when singer-songwriters started. Before that, there were singers and there were songwriters. Frank Sinatra never wrote any songs, Elvis Presley never wrote any songs. There were people who wrote the songs and then singers would sing them. What happened after The Beatles and Bob Dylan in the middle sixties, people started putting their own thoughts and feelings into their own music and expressing themselves. That was a sea change in the music business. I’m so happy to have lived through that. When photographers say, “I want to do what you do,” I say, “Meet groups that you love. Make friends with musicians that you really believe in and then offer to take their picture.” Say, “Look, I’ll photograph you for free,” and just take pictures and let them use them and get known. Collect photos of young groups and maybe, in thirty or forty years, they’ll be famous and you’ll have all the early photos. Volunteer to come to their rehearsal or sound check or something where you can get a group shot or a shot that no one else has, whereas if you shoot them on stage, everybody sees that. It’s off stage…what is the real person like? That’s what the fans want to see years later.
For songwriters, gosh. To me, singers and songwriters are the same and yet different. I’m very fascinated by singer-songwriters. How do you write a song? Where does it come from? I was just photographing Ringo and His All-Starrs in Atlantic City and I met Graham Gouldman, who wrote “I’m Not In Love,” “Bus Stop,” “The Things We Do For Love.” Talking to him, I said, “Wow, you wrote that when you were nineteen years old.” He said, “Yeah. Very often, it would be a lark. You’d think of some little phrase and play it and sing it and somebody would hear it and say, ‘What was that?’ ‘Oh, it’s just a little thing,’ and they’d say, ‘That was great,’ and you’d turn it into a song.” He said that most of the songs were very offhand like that. “People liked it, so I played with it and turned it into a song.” That is fascinating to me. So for singers, I say songwriting is very important. If you want to be a singer and you learn how to play and sing, that’s great. Get a guitar, get a chord book, practice singing in the shower. But if you want to be a songwriter, you’ve got to really observe life. Put into your song the things of life, and embroider that into a song that makes people say, “Oh yeah, I feel that.” If you can do that, that’s great. It’s all being conscious. Just thinking about the whole thing. We’re all here to learn. We’re all in the process of learning. My favorite guru or the one that I read every morning, Swami Sachchidanand, said, “Of course we’re here to learn, so therefore, we are all students. But you should think of yourself as the only student and everybody else you meet is your teacher.” Wow. That sets me up for the day. I love that. Forget telling someone to f**k off and giving them the finger. Say, “Thank you very much for telling me that.” It changes the whole valance of life when you appreciate life and you see everybody else as your teacher and your friend. We can learn from everybody else. The theme of this is “connection.” We’re all connected-up. The sooner we all enjoy that and celebrate that rather than fight about it. It’s wonderful. Let’s celebrate our differences and our beliefs.
MR: So when somebody says “Henry Diltz,” what would you like them to think?
HD: There are many ways to answer that. “The guy who took my favorite album cover.” “A student of life.” “A nice fella.” I don’t know. I don’t care what people think so much, really. I enjoy this adventure called “life” a great deal. Every single day is amazing. Even the bad stuff is good.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
Visit NAMM’s Carlsbad, CA-based Museum of Making Music now through October 29 to see the Henry Diltz collection and also experience the ecosystem music making from 1900 to present day.