Woodstock, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchel, Mama Cass, Crosby Stills & Nash, Neil Young, the Eagles, Brian Williams…Name a famous musician from the last 40 years, and there is a distinct possibility that Henry Diltz has photographed them! His lens, which chronicled life with his musician friends, many of whom congregated at his house in Laurel Canyon in the 60’s, is a wild, crazy, inspiring source of historical knowledge. These are true stories unheard anywhere else. Even though he is never seen without his beloved camera, Henry is also a musician with his band, The Modern Folk Quartet, and performs to this day. (Listen to the end and we’ve got a surprise for you!) This is a colorful, truthful, and eye-opening look at the rockin’ generations that formed a magical world resonating today with people of all ages and all over the world. No holds barred on his conversation with our host, Cirina Catania.
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In This Episode
- 00:00 – Cirina introduces Henry Diltz, the photographer who captured Woodstock and shot some of the world’s most iconic musicians. Henry is also a musician with the band, The Modern Folk Quartet.
- 01:34 – Henry reminisces about his life growing up as the son of a US attaché and traveling around the world.
- 06:42 – Henry shares how traveling around the world helped him get to know people better and how he got started with music.
- 11:49 – Henry talks about how psychology made him interested in photography and how he got started in it.
- 19:07 – Cirina and Henry talk about their Chinese animal symbols and horoscopes and their characteristics.
- 24:00 – Cirina asks Henry if Mama Cass was his first musical setup.
- 29:41 – Henry talks about folk music and how bands tailor folk music to their style.
- 34:22 – Henry explains how the musical explosion in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s led to a certain way of life.
- 39:42 – Henry shares some encouraging tips on how to keep moving on especially in our time right now – COVID-19 pandemic.
- 43:22 – Cirina asks Henry to explain how he captured a photo in Laurel Canyon with Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Eric Clapton, and a little baby.
This is part one of my interview with Henry Diltz. Welcome to OWC Radio. First of all, let me just welcome you and say hi.
Thank you, Cirina.
I’m glad that we could both finally sit down and do this because we have a lot to talk about. You have gotten an incredible amount of publicity for the amazing people you’ve shot over the years, and you’ve got lots of stories to tell. I do want to ask you about all of that.
I want to start at the beginning and talk to you about you as a person because what also is amazing to me is I think the reason you’ve been so successful is people just immediately love you. You’re just so friendly and charming. We’ve talked a little bit about our origins, traveling around a lot. Can you tell people about little Henry? What were you like when you were a kid, and what was life like?
I believe we’re the product of our parents, the actual cells in our body, which I’m all about the cells. They’re little living things that make everything work and give you a body, and so you need to communicate with your cells and thank them every day for doing a hell of a job. I realized one day, all these cells came directly from my mother and father. I’m living in a body made up of their cells. I think I had a really great mother and father.
My father was a pilot on TWA and then was in the Army Air Corps, and my mother was a stewardess on TWA. She was a very charming lady, a Michigan farm girl—Upper Peninsula, Michigan, where I have been a few times with my grandparents and I just love it up there.
I think I had a pretty cheery childhood. I was born in Kansas City, which was a TWA hub. Then I lived in a couple of other TWA hubs, and I think Florida and Pennsylvania. Then finally, we settled in Great Neck, Long Island, New York, where I went to kindergarten, first, second, and third grade.
Then when I was a little boy, my father joined the Army Air Corps and he was killed testing B-29s over Utah in, I guess, 43, 44, or something like that. Then my mom who had two little boys, a year later remarried a gentleman named Don Duke who was a lieutenant commander in the Navy. When I first met him, he had his Navy uniform on, and he was my hero. As soon as he got married, he quit the Navy and joined the government. He worked for the USIS, United States Information Service. Before that, it was called GHQ, General Headquarters.
Soon after my mom married him, he went to Japan to set up a whole film thing over there in Japan right after the war because he was in films in USIS. We followed him maybe six months later. When I was nine years old, I began living in Japan for five years. Of course, I went to school with all-American kids. They were all pretty much army brats and military brats and then a few of us state department people. It was great, Yoyogi Elementary School and then Meguro Junior High.
We went back to the states for a year to Upper Peninsula, Michigan. I remember the principal there at the school. He said, “You’re not in Japan anymore, Mr. Diltz.” Indeed, I wasn’t. Then we went from there to Bangkok, Thailand. As a teenager, I would spend a couple of years in Bangkok, Thailand. Same thing there, but it was more diplomat’s children that went to the school, international diplomat children.
I remember the daughter of the Chinese ambassador and then I remember the son of the Portuguese ambassador. We were all friends, all these people. It was called Bangkok International Children’s School. I went there for what should have been the 9th and 10th grade, but it was the 8th and 9th. I think they didn’t have 10th grade. Anyway, then we went back to the States and lived in New York for a couple of years, and then I graduated from Great Neck High School. I was going to go to Montana University and study Wildlife Technology and be a forest ranger.
The summer I was going to do that, and I had a dorm room and everything was set up. My mother said, “Well, your father has been assigned to Bonn, Germany. You can go to Montana or come with us to Europe.” I had to decide right there. I said, “Well, I thought I can always go back to Montana. I might as well try Europe for a year.” The only place to really go to college was in Munich, where there was an American college. It was a University of Maryland overseas branch.
Once again, they were all sons and daughters of army attachés and embassy people. It was another group, my third group of karmic friends, the fourth counting New York. I was what you call an army brat. Essentially, that’s what I was, even though it was the State Department. You move around a lot and so do your friends, they come and go. Your best friend is suddenly off to some other country, then new people come in, then you’re always the new kid, and you got to make friends again. You get to start over again, and you meet such a mix of people.
It’s an interesting life. I know you, and I have talked about that, Cirina because we share that background of growing up in different exotic places and making new friends all the time.We've all been born and reborn hundreds of times. We don't remember that but the soul that inhabits our body is much older than the way we think of it and treat it. Click To Tweet
You can be comfortable in any situation, and I think that helps you with a career in the arts. Now, you made friends with a lot of the people you’d shot, but there are lots of times when I’m sure you were called in by the record company to shoot a cover and you only had a few minutes. You have to get in there and make everybody comfortable. I think that comes from having traveled around so much, being able to just sit down and talk mano a mano, and get to know the real person in just a few minutes. I think that’s wonderful.
That sure does help. Being interested in people, not only the kids in the school growing up in Japan for five years as a young kid. I know that Japanese feeling, that reverence for each other. Then Thailand was a whole different culture, then Germany, Europe, and all that. I played music. I played the harmonica in the Boy Scouts in Tokyo when we’d go on camping trips. I played the clarinet in Thailand, and I met a little Filipino clarinet player in a nightclub. He was a little short guy, Celio, and he taught me how to play. I used to sit on the edge of the bandstand and play my clarinet quietly while he was playing for the club.
Then in Germany, I was with a choir. Our university there had an amazing choir that traveled all over Southern Germany. I always was really interested in music. Well, from the University of Maryland in Munich, Germany, I actually went to West Point for a year. It was a little side trip.
I can see you in West Point, for some reason.
Because I went to school with army brats, all my friends, many of them wanted to go to the military schools, the Air Force Academy, especially Annapolis and West Point. I remember one night I was reading a friend’s handbook and it said, sons of deceased veterans can automatically take the exam. You don’t need a congressional appointment, a senator to appoint you to do the exam. I guess I’m a son of a deceased veteran. They said, “Well, hey, write a letter because in a few months we’re going to Heidelberg and take the exam. We’re going to have fun.”
And I did. I don’t know, for some reason I pulled the trigger. I wrote a letter. They said, “Please report to Heidelberg.” Anyway, the gist of it was I got accepted to West Point. When I got that telegram, I was in bed in the dorm in Munich, Germany. I said, “God, hell no. I’m not going to do that.”
I mean, in fact, I had a plan to hitchhike up to Scandinavia with one of my friends, Rupert. We’re going to spend the summer up in Northern Sweden. We thought we might try to cross over the border into Russia, we were young college kids out for an adventure. Then everyone at the university, and the dean said, “Congratulations my boy, what a rare opportunity.” Everybody was congratulating me and I thought, “Oh, my gosh. I guess I better go and try it anyway.” I went for a year, tried it, and I loved it.
Did you really?
Well, it was military. I was used to that. I could do that. Well, there’s a thing about we’ve all been warriors in past lives. It’s part of human existence. I’m sure I have been. I went for the year but I really missed music. I wanted to play the banjo so badly. Finally, after the first year, I contrived to leave and I bought a banjo. I moved to Honolulu, which seemed to me a foreign country, but I could go to an American college. I went to Honolulu to the University of Hawaii and I was studying psychology, which was my major from my first couple of years in college.
While I was there, I heard about a coffee house. I was looking for folk music because I had bought a banjo and a Pete Seeger book on how to play the banjo. I went down to this coffee house called the Green Sleeves Coffee House. I went down in the daytime and the owner was there, Cyrus Faryar. I walked in and he said, “A banjo,” and he ran up. He’s probably been one of my very best friends of this lifetime since that moment.
For a couple of years, I would sing in that coffee house with Cyrus, alone, or with other people. Finally, we formed a folk group. This was the early ‘60s when folk music was huge. The music of the land.
Every college had folk concerts, and we were some of those folk singers. For several years, we traveled back and forth across the country in a van, in a bus, and later by airplane. We just sang a lot in folk clubs and TV shows, and we were in a movie. I guess we had a couple of albums out on Warner Brothers and then we had a Phil Spector single called, This Could Be The Night. We did a lot of singing and recording. That’s where I met all of my fellow musicians. You said it’s comfortable for me to meet people and get along with them because of my background in the military with army brats going to school.
But also, the second part of it was being a musician because musicians also have a club. If you’re a musician and you meet another musician, you’re automatically cut up. Yeah, you’re cool. You’re accepted, you’re in the club. Musicians, they’re cool, they’re laid back. For the most part, they know how to get along. It is an art, there’s a love of music, and you just make friends right away. Musicians hang out. Musicians know how to hang out. I mean, in recording studios, airports, vans, and backstage. I mean, it’s a life of hanging out. I can do that.
You’re good at hanging around?
Also, my interest in people. I mean, I was studying psychology really because of all the courses I took in Munich, that one was so interesting to me. Neurotics and psychotics. How does all that work? I mean, the big question of life is, well, here we are, what are we? What are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to live this life correctly and in a good way?
Therefore, psychology was offering me some answers about understanding my fellow man maybe and myself as well. It’s very interesting how the mind works, how we fashion our personalities, and how we feel about things is vitally interesting. That interest in psychology, I mean, also makes me very interested in people.
I don’t think of myself so much as a photographer. All my life, people would say, you’re a photographer. Are you a professional? I would say, no, no, not really. I mean, I just watch people and I take pictures of them. I don’t have a big studio with lights and helpers running around. I don’t set things up. I like to observe. I mean, they call it flying on the wall.
I think it’s one of the things that catch my eye when I look through your pictures is you capture the person. You capture these famous people as people, and in private moments because they trust you. I think that that’s another reason why people love your photographs so much because the concert footage, standing in the front there with all the other photographers, and getting the pictures of people up on stage, that’s great and it’s wonderful stuff. But you have some stuff from behind the scenes, backstage, in their homes, and on the grass in the yard, hence the hanging out.
It’s the hanging out that is absolutely amazing. You write about musicians. When I went to the studio as I’m obviously marketing films. But I didn’t want to lose the music, so I created this whole division for the music videos and the albums. Then I got to hang out with musicians because I always thought they were cooler than the film people. They were, to me—I’m going to get in trouble for saying this—they were just really cool to hang out with because they were real people.
I was there in those private moments by virtue of the fact that I was a musician. I would say almost more than that I was a photographer. I mean, I wasn’t there for a photoshoot. I honestly was there hanging out at Mama Cass‘s house, somewhere up in Laurel Canyon, or down at the Troubadour. Wherever I was, all of my friends were musicians, and I had a little camera that I loved. I love peeking through the little hole and framing things up. Being an observer and a student of life, that was a way of sectioning off a little piece of it and watching it.
Then by golly, it’s magic. You push a little button and bang, you save that moment. It’s very surreal now, years later to think that I have captured all of these moments, these past moments, and people are interested in them. People want them for their walls. I remember that day and for a while, it bothered me because I also studied philosophy in college, especially in Hawaii.
Existentialism was one course that I took, Kierkegaard, and all about how the moment is the thing. The past is the past, the future is yet to come. That’s dreams. We got memories from the past, but we’re here right now. This is the only real thing. This is the moment when you’re alive. I thought, well, to be known for saving these past moments didn’t seem very existential to me. Then somebody, a friend one time said, well, yeah, but you bring the past moments into the present.The moment is the thing. The past is the past, the future is yet to come. Click To Tweet
There you go.
I thought, okay.
I can live with that. As I say, I didn’t really do so many assignments as a magazine photographer even though my stuff was in magazines, but I was more working for the groups. Sometimes the record company, but more the management company. There were management companies that managed Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, The Eagles, Poco, all those groups. Then along the way, I met a partner, Gary Burden who is a couple of years older than me. He’d been in the Marines and he was an architect.
He was remodeling Mama Cass’s house, and they got to be really good friends. Mama Cass said, “Gary, I want you to do my album. I’m doing my first solo album cover. I’d like you to lay it out,” and he said, “Cass, I’m an architect. I’m not a graphic artist.” She said, “Well, you make a blueprint, you make an album cover. What’s the difference?”
Oh my goodness.
He said, “Okay.” Gary was a really cool guy. He was like the scoutmaster. Everybody liked Gary a lot. He was kind of like the leader. He was a Gemini. I mean, he was really, really good friends with David Crosby, Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell, Mama Cass, and all the people that I knew. He actually saw me on a Sunday in the park walking around colorful clothes and love beats taking photos of my fellow hippies.
With your long hair back then, right?
Beetle cut. He said, “You’re a photographer. Do you want to help me take a picture? I have to do this album cover.” I said, “I know Mama Cass really well. I met her on the road in The Mamas & the Papas when I was singing in my group. We were called the Modern Folk Quartet, by the way, and we did four-part harmony, folk songs. I worked on that album cover and then we just started doing album covers for all these people that we knew really well. It was easier for them to say, hey, you guys take pictures. Gary was great at planning an adventure.
The management office said, “Well, you got this new group, The Eagles recording and we need an album cover. Dude, take a picture, do something.” Gary was so great in planning and adventure. We’re going to drive out to Joshua Tree in the desert. We’ll get there at night and spend the whole day in the desert taking photos. That’s what we did. It was a way to get the group out of town, someplace where you were concentrating on being together, doing something, having a real adventure, and away from of course their managers, girlfriends, and phones. We didn’t even have beepers in those days.
The Eagles were ‘72. ‘67 is when Gary and I started working together. ‘66 is when I picked up the camera on the road. Incidentally, that’s how that happened, on the road. In the morning, we were leaving the University of Michigan. We had a little motorhome. It was a Clark Cortez Motorhome. As we were driving out of town, we noticed a secondhand score. Being musicians and being impulsive, “Hey wait, pull over. Let’s go in there. There might be some hidden treasures. We could spend a little money on stuff we don’t need, certainly.”
As we walked in the door, there was a big table full of secondhand cameras. The seller, Cyrus, that I met in the coffee shop in Honolulu was the leader of our group. He said, “A camera. I need one.” He picked one up and I was behind him. I never thought about it. I said, “Hey, me too. Why not? I just followed along and grabbed a $20 used Japanese camera.”
That’s what you started with?
That’s what I started, then Cyrus said, “Let’s pull into the next drugstore and I’ll buy a film.” We all bought cameras and he came out and handed us each a yellow box. I put the film on the camera. I said, “Well, how do you set these numbers, Cyrus?” Because he knew about it. He said, “Well, look on the box. It says sunlight, 250 at 8.” I said, “Okay, here’s 250, here’s the 8. Let’s go out in the sunlight.” For a couple of weeks, we photographed each other.
When we got home to LA after that trip was over, we’re driving across the country. We developed the film. Lo and behold, they were slides, little transparencies. I never thought about it. It’s going to be color, black and white, I don’t know. I guess I saw it was colored film. For me, it was just, I see a moment, I want to capture that and remember that. That’s really cool. It frames up nicely, it feels good.
Sometimes you frame up your friends and you’re watching for a minute and then they might turn around, laugh out loud, and bang, you get the picture. You watch a little bit like a tiger in the bushes, which I am actually. My Chinese animal is a Tiger, which I didn’t learn until a few years ago, maybe five years ago.
I mean, I know I’m a Virgo. I know I’m a number nine numerologically, but I didn’t know about Chinese animals until an assistant came to work for me the first day, Dola Baroni. She said, “What’s your Chinese animal?” I said, “Gosh, I think I’m a Tiger. I’m not sure. Great.” She said, “I’m a Tiger too. Tigers are playful, they’re sociable, but they’re loners.” I went, “Wow, does that ever feel like me?” She said, “We Tigers like to sit up on top of the cliff and watch the other animals.” I went, “Oh my God.”
That’s perfect for you.
My best friend for life. We talked about animals every day and she’s writing a book about it. It’s such a great way of just assessing people really.
I’ve seen some of her videos. She seems like an amazing woman.
Yes, she is. A dancer. She learned Butoh dancing in Japan, which is an organic form of body movement. She moved to Austin and she has a new baby girl right now. She was my assistant, but she was my teacher, really. I’ve learned about all the Chinese animals. I have a one-sentence description of almost all the animals. When I learned that somebody is a Horse or a Dog.
I’m an Ox and that’s not nearly as romantic as being a Tiger. Even the name Ox just doesn’t sound very appealing.
Well, they’re very steadfast. You can count on them. Dola’s mother was an Ox and she would have a one-word like a Rooster. A Rooster is declarative. “Wake up, everybody. Neil Young is a Rooster.” A horse and a dog are man’s best friends. Some people are pigs. They don’t want to say pigs, so you can say wild boar. A wild boar retains the information and says the information like Brian Williams on the news.
David Crosby is a Leo, the young prince. Stephen Stills is a Capricorn. Chinese New Year starts in February, so whenever the New Year is that year, the year of that animal is from February on. My mother’s an Ox. They’re stubborn and troubled.
That’s not a description of everybody. Do you know what I mean? It’s an aspect. I know some oxen that are just delightful people, you’re one. I have friends that are oxen and I have friends that are stubborn and troubled. My son is an Ox and he’s a bit stubborn and troubled. I have a lady friend who’s an Ox. She isn’t that way. I could see that with people. These are just general things. You don’t want to label somebody. It’s just an aspect. It’s a general possibility. They might be over here a little bit instead of over here.
If you’re telling somebody’s horoscope, there are other signs that balance them out differently because I’m a Cancer with a Virgo rising and a Capricorn moon. I think maybe the Capricorn balances out all the other stuff.
There is a balance of all those things. Whatever your moon sign is, it has to do with your emotional life feeling. Your rising sign they say is what you are when you walk into a party, what people see you as.
I guess that’s true. You’re a Virgo.
A Virgo, Aquarius moon, Aries rising. David Cassidy is my Aries example. He said, “You know what it’s like to be an Aries? If I see a brick wall in front of me, I put my head down and go for it. That’s a little description of what that feels like.”
Life has been an adventure for you. Was your first musical setup The Mama Cass thing your friend asked you to?
Immediately, I was photographing the musicians in my group. Then when we stop in a club, there’ll be another group there, and I’d maybe take pictures of them in the dressing room. I was exploring my surroundings, my environment by framing things up. I was shooting the coffee cup, a doorway, or sign outside the club—get just whatever I saw. Whatever tickled my fancy, I just took a little picture of it. In ‘66, I did pick up the camera. Later that year, I photographed Buffalo Springfield by accident.
I was walking out at Laurel Canyon Boulevard and I heard guitar music coming out of a house. I knew who lived there, I went up to the door, and it was Stephen Stills who was visiting this friend of mine and playing the guitar. I knew him really well from way back in the folk days. He said, “Hey, Henry, we’re going to go to a folk club this afternoon in Redondo Beach”—the Buffalo Springfield—”do you want to come along?” I said, “Yeah, great because I’ll go down on the beach while they’re doing their soundcheck and I’ll photograph people for my slideshow.”
By this time, almost every weekend I would have a slideshow, which is a party with all my hippie friends. At one point in the party, we turned all the lights down, put some music on, and started projecting these big huge photos. After a while, it was photos of them, the people at the party because I’d spend the week hanging out with them, then I would show them the pictures, and then they would say, I didn’t even know you took that. That’s great. That’s what I want to hear.
Stephen said, “You want to come along with us?” I went with him to Redondo Beach, went down to the beach, took pictures of people while they were doing the soundcheck. Then when I walked back to the club, I was photographing a huge mural on the wall of the back of the club a couple of storeys high of a guy riding a bicycle.
The little door opened in the bottom of the mural and the Buffalo Springfield walked out at the back door to the club. I said, “Hey, wait a minute, just stand there you guys. I want to show how big that picture is to have five little figures standing below it.” They all stood there, looked at me, and I took a few. That’s great. Then they started throwing shapes, doing shtick, and I just kept clicking.
I took a whole roll of film up there. I never thought, “Oh good, here’s a rock group. I’ll photograph a music group.” No. It was really the mural and them showing the size.
I love it.
A couple of weeks later a magazine called me and they said, “We hear you have a picture of the Buffalo Springfield. We’d like to run one of them in our magazine and we’ll pay you $100.” I went, “Whoa.” That was the second epiphany. The first epiphany was seeing the first slide hit the wall in a slideshow and go, “Oh my God. This is amazing. I can’t believe we’re right back at that moment when that happens.” The second epiphany was if somebody was going to pay me to do this thing. Now, I couldn’t stop doing it all day long.
Were you still singing at that time? You still had your group?
Our music group had recorded a single with Phil Spector, This Could Be the Night and the whole Wall of Sound. He wanted to experiment with a folk rock group because of The Beatles. All the folk groups became folk rock groups. We did this song, and that was near the end of ‘65. We waited and waited for half a year for it to come out. We thought oh, a Phil Spector single. Now we’ve made it. Our fortunes will be made. He never put it out. He never put it out. He was so paranoid that he would ever release a song that wouldn’t be number one.
But I ended up playing in the Wall of Sound. I played on the icon Tina Turner record and The Righteous Brothers record at that time. He liked the sound of the five-string banjo mixed in with all the other instruments. It was a good thing, and finally, it came out a year or so later on an English album.
In the meantime, a couple of the guys, Cyrus said, “well, I’m going back to Hawaii. Call me if anything happens.” We took a break. We did get together 10 years later in ‘76 because ‘76 was the bicentennial. We got an offer to play at the Honolulu Hilton or something for two weeks because they wanted folk music. That started us back up again. We sang more for about three years, recorded a couple of albums, broke up again until ‘88.
Somebody in Japan said, “You have a lot of fans in Japan. If you guys came over here, you could do a tour.” We did. We’ve done six tours of Japan since ‘88. One was a couple of years ago, the last one, and we made about six more CDs over there. We’ve continued to be active. It’s been a few years. The other guys are all record producers and musicians. They do their own stuff and I take photos.
Can I buy those CDs here in the States? Where do you go to get them?
Not all of them. I mean, you can look on eBay. Spotify only has one folk album.
You keep talking about getting the rights to some of the Japanese albums and putting them out. I mean, you’d have to hunt MFQ or Modern Folk Quartet under both names.
Well, let’s do that. Let’s see if we can find it. I would love to find it. I was talking to my granddaughter about folk music and she doesn’t even really know what it is. She didn’t know what Hair was. I put the album on and started playing Hair for her. I was thinking, Henry, that there’s a whole generation of people out there and when they hear it, they love it.
Sure, they do. Folk music got to be a big thing partly because of Pete Seeger and The Weavers. They were a folk group. You loved his banjo playing and his talking, and he was such a folksy down-to-earth guy. It just caught on. The Kingston Trio, they were like The Beatles for us. Every time a new Kingston Trio would come out and there’ll be a couple a year, you’d run down to the record store, buy it, run home, and listen to it over and over again. What did he play there? What did he say? Somebody yelled something in the background, what was that? We just pour over it minute by minute.
Folk music became very popular. You don’t write folk songs, essentially. They’re 100-year-old songs. They’re from miners, sailors, cowboys, and mountain men. You find an old folks song and you tailor it to your style or your group. That’s what all these people were doing. There were beatnik coffee houses all over the country where beatniks would play jazz, listen to classical music, and have poetry readings and stuff. Those became little folk havens because people would wander in with a guitar and sit in the corner and play folk music.
Pretty soon, a coffeehouse was a place where folk music went on. That went on for a while in the early ‘60s. Then when The Beatles played Ed Sullivan, all the folk groups watched that on TV and said, wow, look at that. Look at what fun they’re having. We need to electrify our guitars. Our group had a stand-up bass, jazz stand-up bass. After we saw The Beatles, we went out and got an electric bass. Kip became our electric bass player. I even electrified my banjo, but it wasn’t bluegrass. I would play it like a jazz piano plucking or playing certain chords.
Then you had folk rock because of The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan was writing talking blues a la Woody Guthrie. The idea that you could write your own music. Now, The Beatles didn’t write music right away, they sang Blue Suede Shoes and Roll Over Beethoven. Then they got the bug, maybe their manager told them it’s something. They wrote I Want To Hold Your Hand. That was brilliant. Bob Dylan wrote this Talking Blues and so it became a thing. It spread and spread.
You can write your own feelings, your own ideas, your own visions, and put that in the song. Then when you sing it for people, you’re really giving them a piece of yourself. You’re not just singing some old cowboy song. That was a Renaissance. That was a flowering that happened. Smoking God’s herb had a great deal to do with every single bit of it.
I do a slideshow nowadays. I’m showing pictures and I have to talk about what we did every single day, which was to have a little toke of God’s herb because it just brightened things up, spiced things up. I mean, what it does is heightens your senses. Musicians love that because then they feel playing and singing. They picked up their guitar. I haven’t touched that in a few days, but now I’m feeling great. Give me that guitar.
Artists, I mean writers it stimulates your mind, your eyes, in my case, your ears because those are your major senses. Pot, grass, or marijuana (as you call it) is a flower. It’s not a man-made thing. There are other drugs that are white powders and different things that are man-made, and they’re not good for you. They don’t have a balance. They throw you way out of balance. But smoking these flowers just not to overdo it. A fine glass of wine is great, but you don’t want to drink two bottles of this stuff, but one. You have a little toke.
Also, if you’re on the road and you’re driving 10 hours somewhere from one gig to another, it can be awfully deadly boring. If you have just a little taste, then your mind becomes alive. Maybe you start singing, maybe you all write a song, maybe you’re reading something. For me, I’m taking pictures out the window, and it’s a wonderful thing. I have to say that. Until I say, when I do my slideshow, I tell people that that’s what we did, I mean, every single day.
One time a guy came in, I had a little photo gallery in Soho in New York and a guy came in. It was only my pictures on the wall like 100 pictures. He said, “Did you ever smoke grass with any of these people?” I looked around and I said, “Every single one of them.” Literally, I said, “Except for Donny Osmond, Michael Jackson, and Mike Nesmith of The Monkees”–who smokes, but he didn’t back then.
Well, it’s legal now.
It is. Used in the right way and understood for the wonderful gift that it is. It’s a fantastic thing and it’ll help make the world a better place. It makes you relax. It makes you love life. They said no one ever had a fight when they were high. In my slideshows, I say, “How do you think all that music came out of Laurel Canyon?” I do think Smoking Gods really had a lot to do with the musical explosion in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s. It was certainly a way of life, that and love beads, peace and love, and brotherhood.
We’re taking a little zigzag. We’d zig and we got a zag back again. I think we will. We’re in the Aquarian Age now. This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Well, now we’re in it, but it’s 2000 years long. Somewhere in that 2000 years, slowly we begin to become better human beings. We remember things we’ve forgotten. We access our higher frequency, our higher vibration because we have that.
We’ve all been born and reborn hundreds of times. We don’t remember that but our soul that inhabits our body is much older than the way we think of it and treat it. You’re Cirina, I’m Henry, I take photos, you’re interviewing me, but it goes way beyond that. There’s so much more. That’s okay. We have to learn to understand that and feel that. That’s what being a human is, learning.
That brings me back to what I wanted to say about Dola and the Chinese animals. I said Dola was my assistant, but she was also my teacher. Indeed, everybody is your teacher. We are here to learn. Swami Satchidananda, a lovely Indian gentleman in his book of everyday sayings. He says, “Yes, we’re all here to learn. Therefore, we’re all students. But you should think of yourself as the only student and everybody else is your teacher.”
Everybody that you meet all day long, and indeed, it’s true. The ones that give you the most hassle and the most trouble are your biggest teachers because they’re making you react, they’re making you deal with a situation. You just think of that whenever somebody gives you a hard time.
Just think of that.
I had a spiritual teacher, Betty Walton. She said, “If somebody says something bad to you, you don’t get mad. You smile, and you say, thank you for telling me that. If somebody says, you’re no good. You just smile and say, thank you for telling me that. It disarms the situation right away.” They don’t know what to do. I started reading the gurus as a musician in the ‘60s. Around about ‘64 or ‘65, I picked up this orange book with a black and white picture of an Indian gentleman with long hair. It was called Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.
It’s a world-famous book about a young Indian boy who knows he’s born in a spiritual way and he spends his life looking for his guru all over India. It’s not like the Bible. It doesn’t tell you how to live, it just tells his story of meeting all these fantastic spiritual leaders, or these gurus in a cave up in northern India and what he learned from each of them. Then he came to America and established the Self-Realization Foundation, SRF.
I read that book and I said, “Wow, really? I mean, life could be this way? This is a possibility of how to live life? This is amazing.” From there, over the years, I’ve just followed various gurus, meditation things, and dabbling—taking a little bit from each of them. I love to read books like that.
You have such a big heart. I know the minute I met you I thought, this is really a cool guy. I’m glad we have a chance to talk because, during the pandemic, it’s really difficult for people because we don’t have that personal interaction. It’s hard to sit on a Zoom call and really feel the other person.
One of the reasons I do this is, everybody I interview is a teacher for me. I learn something. I take something away. Because I do it for them, I do it because I want to get their word out. You do a lot of interviews. But what I really wanted to bring out from you to a lot of other people is right now—creative people are having a hard time.
I had three people last week who were very well-known call me and asked me if I could help them find jobs or if there was anything I could do to help them. I thought you have been someone who has never stopped. You look like you really love what you do and it reflects back in your work. I don’t know what we can give to people to help them keep going on.
First of all, God made us all different, and hopefully, we’d share. That’s what we’re doing right now. You think of all the people in all the circumstances. I mean, there are people who’ve had dear ones pass away. Incidentally, I say they walked into the next room. When you leave your body and go to the other side, the gurus say, it’s no big deal. You just walk into the next room. It keeps going, only it gets better.
At my age, 82, many of my dear karmic friends have walked into the next room. I know they’re still somewhere. They’re just not right here, but they’re somewhere else. Sure, there are people who have had close dear relatives, close family friends walk into the next room. That’s something hard to deal with, but it’s a lesson. They’re your teacher from doing it because now you’ve got to deal with that grief somehow. But if you understand what it’s about and keep love in the forefront, now your mom’s on the other side. Well, now you can talk to her every morning. You don’t have to get on the telephone.
Yeah, some people who are used to a social life every night are just dying to get out and have a glass of wine with friends. I mean, it is hard, but life’s chapters, different chapters. You can think back. You can think back to 5, 6, 8, or 10 chapters in your life and there will be another 10 to come. This is one we’re in right now. It’s a chapter about being alone, that’s for sure. Gosh, there are books, there are movies, certainly the internet and texting instead of phoning people, which I find I’m doing constantly.
I’m in touch with so many people like old friends I haven’t talked to in years and they call you up. How are you doing? There is that. We just can’t go out and mingle. You know what, you can’t go out and meet a whole bunch of people, some of them friends and some of them new people. That’s a flow of life. When I think of going to a club to photograph somebody and I know I’m going to see old friends and that’s going to be great, and I’m going to meet some new people. They’ll say, wow, that’s a cool guy. That looks like a really nice young lady. There’s that flow of life, which is great. Right now, we’re hiding in our caves. We’re by ourselves.The ones that give you the most hassle and the most trouble are your biggest teachers because they're making you react and deal with a situation. Click To Tweet
Time alone is nice too, though. I’m finding that I feel much more creative. My mind is going 100 miles an hour and I’m thinking of all these things that I had set aside like writing, singing, playing music, and just experiencing this little bubble around me and allowing myself time to just think. You’re a Tiger. You must enjoy this quiet time a little bit too, right?
I do. I don’t really have a problem with staying by myself. I spent half the week in Laguna Beach and I spent the other half in North Hollywood at my little studio bungalow. I have an assistant who lives here, and I have a lady friend in Laguna. I’m not always totally alone. There’s somebody. I mean, I guess some people are just flat out alone month after month. I know some people just order all their groceries on Amazon. They never even go to a grocery store. I go once a week with a mask, buy a few things. Basically, it’s easy. Stay away from the bug and then you won’t have to go through all of that stuff.
One of my favorite pictures of yours is the one on the grass in the yard. I think it’s in Laurel Canyon, and it’s Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Eric Clapton, and there’s a little baby in the shot. I looked at that and I thought, that’s what I miss, a little bit of that. Tell me about that shot because I love that picture.
That is a fun shot. I mean, that all started out because Mama Cass, who we call “the Gertrude Stein of Laurel Canyon” because she was always getting people together. Like Gertrude Stein did in Paris with all the artists, she would do that. Being in The Mamas and Papas, they were constantly on big TV shows. Very often, there would be a group from England, young boys, for the first time in the States. That happened with Cream, with Eric Clapton’s group.
They did a show together and they’re backstage and musicians, they talk. She found Eric to be very interesting, but very shy and very quiet. That brought out the mother hen instinct in her and she said, “Listen, Eric, you don’t know anyone in town. Why don’t you come up to my house tomorrow afternoon? I’ll invite some friends and we’ll have a little picnic in the backyard.” He came up and he was very quiet and very shy. She invited a few friends, Micky Dolenz came from The Monkees because he was a dear friend of all of ours in Laurel Canyon near me.
My friend, Gary Burton, was there with his wife and daughter. She invited David Crosby who came with his young protégé, this girl he’d met in a club, Joni Mitchell, and he produced her first album. I mean, he’d seen her playing there and said, you got to record this stuff. Somehow got a record deal and he was producing the first album. No one had heard her play. Her album wasn’t done yet. She sat on the lawn and David said, “Yeah, play something.” She sat there and played her entire first album. I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now.
Amazing music. Eric Clapton is sitting there, mesmerized staring at her, not only with the words and music just angelic and very, very beautiful, interesting, compelling, and mesmerizing, but she played the guitar in a very different way. Joni Mitchell tunes her guitar to a chord so that she didn’t play those complicated chord situations with her fingers. All she did was she just laid her finger right across the fretboard up and down and that would change the note to a different chord. Eric had never seen that before.
I mean, the great blues player had never seen that. It’s kind of Hawaiian slack key tuning. It’s like folk tuning. She always tunes her guitar to some kind of a chord. David Crosby did the same thing. It’s a certain style of playing. He sat there for the longest time. It was right under the birch trees at the edge of the lawn right there up in the hills of Laurel Canyon. The little baby is Owen Eliot, it’s Cass’s little girl who’s about a year old. If you see that picture, you can see she’s holding one of my little Kodak film cans when they used to be metal and have a yellow top. She was holding that and biting it or something in the picture.
I just sat there. I mean, I was mesmerized as well. I took photos while they were doing it. A few close-ups of her, some of her and David, and then the wide-angle that had all of them in it. That would just mean enjoying it, watching it, and wanting to remember it. It’s not so much, gosh, I want to remember that. It’s more like, boy, this is a beautiful situation. I want to see it squared off. I want to see just Joni and her guitar. I want to see Joni and her guitar with David over her shoulder. Now, I want to see all three of them. It’s a game that I play, which is a balancing game.
It’s a framing. I have a framing jones. It makes me feel good physically. Of course, we had a little taste of God’s herb. I mean, my gosh, in the picture, you see David leaning against a tree in the background smoking a big old joint. There’s one picture where he’s holding his hand out, offering it to me. We were all in a wonderful, pleasant mood. I mean, it was a lovely day up in Laurel Canyon, the beautiful music playing, Mama Cass making lunch. It was great.
Those were the great days.
That was only part one. Next up, we continue our journey with more crazy cool stories from photographer and friend, Henry Diltz. Please subscribe so you can get notified when each episode of OWC Radio is published. If you like the show, give us a five-star review.
Thanks to you, our audience. Thanks to Other World Computing for sponsoring these amazing behind-the-scenes journeys. Until next time, this is Cirina Catania signing off and reminding you, get up off your chair and go do something wonderful today. Oh, by the way, I found the Modern Folk Quartet’s album. I’ll play you a few seconds of it as a special surprise to Henry. This will get your energy going. Have a great day. Bye.
- Henry Diltz
- Henry Diltz – Facebook
- Henry Diltz – Instagram
- Henry Diltz Photography
- Modern Folk Quartet
- Cass Elliot
- Cyrus Faryar
- Dola Baroni
- Donny Osmond
- Ed Sullivan
- Gary Burton
- Gertrude Stein
- Gertrude Stein
- Graham Nash
- Joni Mitchell
- Michael Jackson
- Michael Nesmith
- Micky Dolenz
- Neil Young
- Paramahansa Yogananda
- Pete Seeger
- Phil Spector
- Stephen Stills
- Swami Satchidananda
- Tina Turner
- Woody Guthrie
- Autobiography of a Yogi
- Blue Suede Shoes
- Hair (musical)
- I Want to Hold Your Hand
- Roll Over Beethoven
- Talking blues
- This Could Be the Night (1966 song)
- Wall of Sound
- Crosby, Stills & Nash
- The Kingston Trio
- The Mamas & the Papas
- The Monkees
- The Righteous Brothers
- The Weavers
- Green Sleeves Coffee House
- Self-Realization Fellowship
- Warner Brothers
- Be thankful to your parents for giving you the life to enjoy and experience this world.
- Wherever you are, be open and make friends. Friendship is an important part of your life because it is a way of molding yourself into what you want to be.
- Be an observer and a student of life. Enjoy your present, leave your past behind, and anticipate your future.
- Capture the moments in your life with your camera, be it an event, a thing, or a person. These captured moments will heighten your awareness of the good things in your life.
- If somebody says something bad to you, don’t get mad. Just smile and say, “Thank you.” A positive reaction to a negative action will disarm the situation right away.
- Read books about life and continue to be amazed by all the possibilities of life.
- Share what you have with the less fortunate. Think of all the people who are having a hard time right now because of the pandemic. Sharing does not only mean tangible things, it can be words of encouragement to them.
- Always get in touch with your family and friends, especially in times like this – COVID pandemic.
- Spend time alone. The act of being alone with oneself isn’t bad, it can even benefit your social relationships, improve your creativity and confidence, and help you regulate your emotions. This can help you better deal with adverse situations.
- Check out Henry Diltz’s website for his amazing photos.