Photographer Henry Diltz captured the SoCal music scene in the 60’s and 70’s with classic photos of The Doors, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young. A musician himself, he had unprecedented access to his musical heroes. He tells KCRW DJ Michael Barnes that he could have easily ended up with a career in the U.S. Military instead, if it wasn’t for a song that got him to pick up the banjo. His picks also include what he calls an “American anthem” and a jazz classic. Henry is a partner in and is exclusively represented by the Morrison Hotel Gallery.
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1.) Gerry Mulligan & Chet Baker - Line for Lyons
2.) Bob Gibson - Boatman Dance
3.) James Taylor - Sweet Baby James
4.) Peggy Seeger - Chickens They Are Crowing
5.) Modern Folk Quartet - Reach Out
Michael Barnes: Hi, this is Michael Barnes from KCRW and I'm here with photographer Henry Diltz, who captured the Southern California music scene in the late '60s and early '70s with classic photos of The Doors, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and many more. We will be talking about music that has inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ project. Henry, what did you bring for us today?
Henry Diltz: I tried to pick a few pivotal songs that had something to do with changing my life.
Michael Barnes: Why don't we start with Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan. We chose the song "Line for Lyons." Why did you choose that one?
Diltz: I went to college in Germany, and I really, really loved the West Coast jazz scene. I wasn't here for it, but I had it all on a little Pacific Jazz 10-inch LPs. And when I was in Germany, I sang in choirs and glee clubs, and I loved harmony and counterpoint --- and I mean, I love Bach. There was something about the Chet Baker/Gerry Mulligan Quartet, you know, without a piano; it was just the two horns and the rhythm section, and the way they intertwined, you know, the contrapuntal thing that they did. The harmony was what really got me. And this was one of my favorite songs. I even learned to play it on the clarinet and the trumpet [laughs] to try to imitate these two guys. But you can hear the way their horns kind of intertwine and do this contrapuntal thing.
SONG: Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan’s Line for Lyons
MB - Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan performing together live in their version of Line for Lines. What do you have next for us?
HD- I went to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for a year and while I was there there were the marches and the John Phillip Souza things you know ba-da-da …. And to this day when I walk across a parking lot those songs play through my head - those marching songs. And every morning we would be awakened by a fife and drum core playing old revolutionary songs. So there was lots of music all around but my favorite music of that time was stuff I got from the Columbia record club. And I first heard about Bob Gibson who was this young fellow in Chicago who played the banjo and there was this song called Boatman Dance. And it just stuck in my head, just the way the banjo sounded. You know it has that fifth string, which is a drone, kind of like a bagpipe. He played it with this sort of a technique, it was "double thumbing." It was great banjo playing and this song influenced me so much, that I actually left West Point bought a banjo and became a banjo player.
SONG: Bob Gibson’s Boatman Dance
HD- I left military school, bought a bango, and actually moved to Hawaii and went to the University of Hawaii to continue my studies but I would leave class in the middle of the afternoon and rush home on my little Vespa motor scooter to grab my banjo and sit there and play. I was obsessed with this banjo sound and eventually sang in a coffee house there and got a group together. We came over to L.A. in the early '60's and recorded and were in the folk music craze doing college concerts around the country.
MB- You just heard music from Bob Gibson. Boatman Dance was the song and that was a pick from our guest Henry Diltz, photographer. You've chosen James Taylor's Sweet Baby James can you tell us why?
HD- Well, I've been involved in the singer songwriter renaissance that went on in the '60's and '70's beginning as a musician in the folk days and then as a photographer and I photographed all of my heroes. Sweet Baby James was a song…I was lucky enough to do the album cover. I had never heard the song when I did the cover because you do the cover before the record comes out. But then when it came out and I heard it I just loved that song. I sang it to both of my children when they were babies and would wake up at 4am and I'd have to put them to sleep I would walk around singing Sweet Baby James. It's just one of my favorite all time songs. I think that it is an American anthem.
SONG: James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James
MB- I was really wondering about that transition in the '60's from musician to photographer and how that happened.
HD- Well, we had been playing together for five years and we did a single for Phil Spector called “This Could Be The Night,” a Harry Nilsson song. And we couldn't wait for it to come out and our fortunes would be made. But it didn't come out. And all summer long we waited and in the interim a couple of the guys said ‘You know what while we are waiting around we're going back to Hawaii. Call us if anything happens.’ And we all kind of pursued our own interests. I had just gotten interested in photography because I had bought a little funky camera on the road. I started photographing everybody around me all my friends. Many of them were well known musicians like David Crosby, Neil Young, Steven Stills and Mama Cass. And before long I started getting calls from magazines and finally record companies saying ‘We'd like to use your photos.’ I didn't set out to do that and I still feel like a musician at heart, but my hobby is photography and it has supported me for the last 40 years.
MB- You just heard James Taylor and the song Sweet Baby James. And what do you have next for us Henry?
HD- Another banjo tune and this is by Peggy Seeger who is Pete Seeger's sister. Of course, for any banjo player Pete Seeger has to be the Godfather. Most of my friends learned to play the banjo from the Pete Seeger record "How to Play the 5-String Banjo." But his Sister, Peggy plays these Appalachian modal tunings and stuff--which are very "music-box" sounding, just so delicate and melodic--I just love this song called, "The Chickens They Are Crowing."
SONG: Peggy Seeger’s The Chickens They Are Crowing
Peggy Seeger plays so well I could never approach her playing. However, one time I took a lot of photos of the group America and they wanted me to play banjo on one of their songs, called “Don't Cross the River". So I actually adapted the same little riff from "The Chickens They are Crowing" to play in "Don't Cross the River" which you can hear on the America album…Don't tell her…
MB- You just heard Peggy Seeger and "The Chickens They Are Crowing". What do you have next for us Henry?
HD- Well, I thought that finally I would pick a song from my own group. My group is called "The Modern Folk Quartet" and we started in the early 60's. We've had 10-year separations but we've gotten together 3 or 4 times and we've done quite a few CDs for Japan in the last 10 or 15 years. The Japanese asked us one time if we would do a Mozart album…We had done little Bach Chorales , but we said, well Mozart didn't write a lot of vocal music. He wrote symphonies, concertos and stuff like that. The two guys who write and arrange in the group both got "Best of Mozart" CDs. Listened to it and then they picked their favorite songs and wrote words. What we sang was all Mozart's notes. So we would sing the cello and the viola and the violin, you know all the instruments…We would sing put to our own words. Which is a little bit cheeky, but we think Mozart might understand. So this song is actually from Symphony Number 33 and we call it, "Reach Out."
MB- Has there been a different approach for you in taking photography for album covers as opposed to live festivals? Because you were the photographer for the Monterey Pop Festival, for Woodstock?
HD- My whole thing is that I just love to photograph everything I see. If I'm at a festival, really one of my most favorite things is to shoot the crowd. To walk around in the crowd and shoot people you know in t-shirts and tattoos and all the things you can see.
My approach to album covers -- I had a partner named Gary Burden who was a Graphic Artist and the two of us would team up and we'd plan some kind of adventure. Like lets go to the desert with the Eagles and spend the night. I would just photograph everything that went on and we'd pick an album cover from that.
MB- Henry, it's truly been an honor to sit with you for a little bit and talk about music and photography. I really, really appreciate it.
HD- Well thank you Michael, it's my pleasure.
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