Home Music Country Music Lists

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.

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."