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Henry Diltz: The Stories Behind Iconic Photos of Dolly, Garth and More

Famed photographer shares legendary photos and stories from shoots of musicians such as the Eagles and James Taylor

Henry Diltz photos

Henry Diltz poses with a copy of one of his music photography books at Nashville's Bluebird Cafe.

Rick Diamond/Getty Images

How Henry Diltz went from banjo player for the Modern Folk Quartet in the early Sixties to one of the most important music photographers of all time is no mere accident. But it actually sort of started that way. Traveling with fellow musicians and friends, Diltz first picked up a camera in 1966 and began creating slideshows for everyone to enjoy. Since then, the photographer's images have graced more than 200 album covers, not to mention books, magazines and galleries throughout the world. From stunning stage shots of Chuck Berry, Crosby, Stills and Nash and the Rolling Stones, to warm, candid images of Paul McCartney, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, Diltz has captured some of music's most familiar faces in some extraordinarily intimate moments, all without a single lesson in photography. "My old friend, Harrison Ford — who I knew when he was just a carpenter before he became an actor — he said, 'Henry, you have a framing jones,'" Diltz tells Rolling Stone Country. "I don't know much about book-learning photography. To me, it was just about the eye, filling the frame in a pleasing way."

In 2001, Diltz and his partners, Peter Blachley and Rich Horowitz, founded the Morrison Hotel Gallery in New York City's SoHo district. The gallery takes its name from the legendary 1970 Doors album, the cover of which was slyly shot by Diltz after the Los Angeles hotel's owner had already denied the group permission to shoot there.

While the bulk of Diltz's photos capture undisputed rock royalty, the Laurel Canyon scene toward which his lens was pointed also helped shape contemporary country music. These days, you might just spot the affable, pony-tailed 76 year old snapping photos at a show on one of the most talked-about country tours of the year. A longtime friend of Garth Brooks, Diltz accompanied the musician on more than a dozen of his shows last year, and was on hand in 1997 when Brooks was shooting a TV special and touring in Ireland. That's just one of the memories Diltz shares with Rolling Stone Country in this exclusive photo gallery that spans five decades and features some of country and rock's most important (and photogenic) figures.

Dolly Parton

Henry Diltz

Dolly Parton

"Dolly is always laughing. She just bubbles with energy; she's very joyful. I always enjoy being around her. I was shooting pictures of her right outside a Nashville studio, and she was sitting on a little wall. I said, 'Dolly, it would be better if you had your feet on the other side of the wall.' She said, 'OK, sure Henry.' She swung her legs over, opening up her dress and everybody laughed. She said, 'Well, I have shown my ass before!'"

Eagles

Henry Diltz

Eagles, ‘Desperado’ Shoot

"This was 1972 and it could easily have been 1872. It just looks so real. They were going to back out of the bank with their guns blazing, and the roadies and manager and Glyn Johns, their producer, were all there. They were their posse. They were having a great big gun battle. In the end, the Eagles were laying dead in the street. Glyn Johns is on the far right in the white hat and Gary Burdon is on the far left. That was on the back of the album. We always try to have an adventure. We take pictures to get something happening and just shoot away."

Eagles

Henry Diltz

Eagles, Desperado Album Cover

"My partner, [graphic designer] Gary Burdon and I had done their first album, which had been out in the desert. For Desperado, their second album, they had written this cowboy suite. We got them dressed up in real movie cowboy clothes that you can rent in L.A. We got a bunch of guns, blank ammunition and some horses, and went out to an old deserted Western movie lot in the Malibu hills. All the guys just wanted to shoot their guns all day — they played cowboys like kids would, clutching their chests and falling in the dirt, 'Bang, bang, bang!' We did it so much that a big cloud of smoke began to rise above the Malibu hills and the fire department came. People thought the hills were on fire."

Kris Kristofferson

Henry Diltz

Kris Kristofferson

"That was at the Caribou recording ranch, up in the hills above Boulder [Colorado]. It was like a summer camp. The producer of [Eighties pop band] Chicago, he bought that property and put the recording studio in it, a kitchen and dining hall, and then lots of little cabins where you could stay on a horse farm. He basically built it to record Chicago and then, between their albums, other groups would rent the place for a couple of weeks. They could live and stay right there. Richie Havens lived up there, Stephen Stills lived up there for while, Dan Fogelberg, Chris Hillman . . . that's a very popular area for musicians. We went horseback riding one day. I took photos of [Kristofferson] horseback riding with his little daughter in the saddle with him. Everybody was pretty mellow. My approach is not overly aggressive. It's more just hang out and tell a few jokes, and I take a few pictures."

James Taylor

Henry Diltz

James Taylor

"[Taylor's] manager, Peter Asher, called me one day and said, 'I've got this new singer who just came over from England. Will you come over to my house and take some black-and-white publicity photos?' We went to my friend [and fellow Modern Folk Quartet member] Cyrus Faryar's farm, sort of like a creative commune that was out in the hills in L.A. They called it the Farm. I just went there because there were these old sheds, barns that I liked to photograph against. That was one of my favorite trucks that I photographed a number of times. I just said, 'Go stand by that truck,' and he sat on the running board."

James Taylor

Henry Diltz

James Taylor, ‘Sweet Baby James’ Album Cover

"He was a big, tall guy. He leaned on this big post that was in the ground and I just thought, 'Wow, his arms on the posts in this blue work shirt and sort of a rusty red background — man, that looks so beautiful.' I reached for my color camera, which I wasn't using because they only wanted black-and-white. I took a few pictures in color for my slideshow and showed them to [Taylor's manager] Peter Asher who said, 'Can we use these for the album cover?'"

Kenny Rogers

Henry Diltz

Kenny Rogers, ‘Wild Horses’ Shoot

"He did a movie in 1985 called Wild Horses, in Wolf, Wyoming. One of my favorite actors, Ben Johnson, was in that movie. That was a big thrill for me. I was there for a week. How great to be a photographer and join in on these adventures and just document them."

Kenny Rogers

Henry Diltz

Kenny Rogers

Kenny was a photographer as well, and he set that shot up. He had his own camera on a tripod. I kind of sneaked in and took some photos at the same time. I don't usually set things up very much, but if somebody else does, I'll slip in and take the picture. So it's a pirated picture! Those were real cowboys. They were horse wranglers in the film.

Garth Brooks

Henry Diltz

Garth Brooks

"Capitol Records called me to shoot a showcase for a new artist that they had signed, and that was Garth Brooks. I got to know Garth a little bit. One day I showed him a book of pasted-in photographs and there was James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg. He looked at those and said, 'Man, you took these pictures? This is why I'm writing songs and playing music, it's guys like these. These are my heroes.' From that, he started calling me all the time to come out for the weekend and fly to Atlanta or wherever. We were in Dublin, and he was playing a huge soccer stadium. We were there for a week and I was photographing all the rehearsing and setting up the stage. One day, we got on a bus and drove out of town because they wanted to film some stuff. So, we drove out through the green fields and the sheep herds. It was so beautiful. We went way up in the mountains. We went out to a place called Sally's Gap [in the Wicklow Mountains near Dublin]. We went in a pub one night and I photographed just whatever happened. I was there being a fly on the wall. I would say it's approaching about 100 shows I've shot with him."

Glen Campbell

Henry Diltz

Glen Campbell, Jimmy Webb and Harry Nilsson

"They were all great friends. Glen and Jimmy, that was a great partnership, all those great songs they did that Glen sang. Jimmy Webb is pretty much my favorite songwriter of all time. When I hear a Jimmy Webb song, I get tears in my eyes. I don't know how to explain it . . . it just happens spontaneously. Right now, while I'm talking about it, I'm getting tears in my eyes. They touch something deep inside."

John Sebastian

Henry Diltz

John Sebastian

"John Sebastian wrote that fantastic Nashville classic, 'Nashville Cats.' I love that song. I had met John when I photographed Lovin' Spoonful in '67. I spent a whole summer traveling around on the road with the Lovin' Spoonful. Then a few years later, they had broken up and John moved out to L.A. and lived on the Farm. He moved there and set up a tent. Among the people that lived at the Farm was a lady named Tie-Dye Annie. She taught John how to tie-dye. He got so into it that he ended up tie-dyeing every single piece of clothing that he owned, including his sheets, his pillowcases, even the sheets he hung inside the tent he lived in."

Emmylou Harris

Henry Diltz

Emmylou Harris

"That shot was done in North Hollywood. My friend had a little studio and her road manager, Phil Kaufman, the 'Road Mangler,' he had that three-wheeled motorcycle parked outside the studio. I think her manager asked me to shoot some publicity photos of her. We were shooting in that studio with one light. But I always like to go outside, to use God's light. I just wanted to get her out the back door and into the alley, and there was Phil's motorcycle. She sat on the motorcycle and I thought it looked great to see that beautiful feminine figure wearing a white lace dress, sitting on this big old white motorcycle that the Road Mangler owned."

Poco

Henry Diltz

Poco

"I photographed Poco for their 1970 album, Pickin' Up the Pieces, that looked like an orange crate label. Timothy B. Schmit [pictured above in the striped shirt] was the young, long-haired guy that played the bass in Poco and years later became one of the Eagles. They've always been really good friends of mine. Richie Furay lived on a big ranch in the mountains above Boulder. We all got up there one day and took a bunch of photos."

Holly Williams

Henry Diltz

Holly Williams

"With about 45 years of taking photos, I had a couple of friends and we put together a gallery show of my photos and ended up in New York. We had this little place which eventually became the Morrison Hotel Gallery. We didn't even have a name for it the first year. We just had a room with all my photos in it. Holly Williams came in there one day and got talking with my partner Peter Blatchley, who I met in the Eighties at Capitol Records. Holly was talking to Peter and said she was doing an album and he said, 'Why don't you have Henry do the cover?' So Peter and I flew to Nashville together and spent the day with her. We went out to her granddaddy Hank Williams' house, which was a great big antebellum mansion way out in the countryside outside of Nashville. The wallpaper was peeling off the walls and the place was empty except for a chair in one room. It was just a beautiful old sort of ghost house. We took a lot of pictures and ended up photographing in her apartment where she wrote songs. One of those became her album cover."

Travis Tritt

Henry Diltz

Travis Tritt

"I was on the road with Travis Tritt and his whole band. It was a lot of fun. He had his beagle on the road with him. At one point on the bus, one of the band members pulled out a bottle of moonshine – white lightning in a Mason jar. His uncle had made it. We were passing it around the bus. Boy, that sneaks up on you. I had maybe a few gulps too much, and I ended up passing out. I was standing by the driver in the little well where you walk off the bus so that I could take a photo of the whole bus as we were roaring through the countryside, and I just put my head on the front seat and passed out standing up. The guys in the group took my camera and took photos of me."