“This is my photograph of Bernie Leadon at the top of Laurel Canyon some years ago,” said renowned rock photographer Henry Diltz in a recent post, referring to the poster art for the “Laurel Canyon: Everything They Touched Turned to Music” documentary, premiering Sunday, June 1 on the Epix subscription TV channel at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
“I have a bunch of photos and commentary in it,” Henry said, understating: He’s featured in the opening segment, providing the viewer an absolutely perfect geographical, musical and social orientation.
“Part 2 will be the following Sunday,” he said. “Hope you enjoy!”
Separately, Leadon, a former member of Dillard & Clark and Eagles who was interviewed for the doc, mentioned it in an email last week (after our interview about his late, great bandmate Gene Clark and Gene’s son Kai for another story):
“Re the Rolling Stone story on ‘Laurel Canyon’…Nice quote from me opens the piece: ‘I’ve had a very long career, but I’m not dead.’
“‘Thanks for sharing, Bern.’
“Got to laugh about all of it,” said Leadon, who actually resided in Topanga Canyon, an even more rustic (and anti-Hollywood) bohemian-artist-hippie enclave between Hollywood and Malibu in the Santa Monica Mountains that was also home to Will Geer, Neil Young, Crazy Horse, Canned Heat, and Spirit, among other actors, musicians and bands. (Topanga’s worthy of another documentary; if one’s been done, please educate me.)
Tons of mind-blowing ’60s and ’70s rock ‘n’ roll stories have emanated from Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills over the years. And while many of the best tales have already been told in a half-dozen or more previous documentaries, the Epix doc will definitely spring a few more surprises on you.
Directed by Allison Ellwood (“The Go-Go’s,” “History of the Eagles”), “Laurel Canyon” features Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, The Mamas & The Papas, The Doors, Alice Cooper, The Monkees, Love, The Turtles, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, J.D. Souther, Eagles, Bonnie Raitt, Little Feat, The Flying Burrito Brothers and more.
“We were at the very center of this beautiful bubble of creativity and friendship,” Graham Nash says in the doc’s trailer. “It’s magic,” David Crosby adds.
“‘Laurel Canyon’ is a two-part doc series that pulls back the curtain on a mythical world and provides an up-close look at the lives of the musicians who inhabited it,” the description on the show’s website reads.
“Through a wealth of rare and newly unearthed footage and audio recordings, the series features an intimate portrait of the artists who created a musical revolution that changed popular culture. Uniquely immersive and experiential, this event takes us back in time to a place where a rustic canyon in the heart of Los Angeles became a musical petri dish.”
The new special includes original interviews with Roger McGuinn, Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Michelle Phillips, and other key players in the Laurel Canyon saga…including Henry Diltz, who’s featured in the “Laurel Canyon” opening segment providing a geographical and musical orientation.
Closeup: The Lens on Lookout Mountain
“When I first came out to L.A. [in 1968], my friend Joel Bernstein found an old book in a flea market that said, ‘Ask anyone in America where the craziest people live and they’ll tell you California. Ask anyone in California where the craziest people live and they’ll say Los Angeles. Ask anyone in Los Angeles where the craziest people live and they’ll tell you Hollywood. Ask anyone in Hollywood where the craziest people live and they’ll say Laurel Canyon. And ask anyone in Laurel Canyon where the craziest people live and they’ll say Lookout Mountain.’ So I bought a house on Lookout Mountain.” — Joni Mitchell, as quoted on Laurel Canyon Radio.
Henry Diltz also lived on Lookout Mountain Avenue back then and had photographed most of the artists featured in “Laurel Canyon” before and just as they were becoming famous.
Not all of them were comfortable with sudden fame; many went out of their way to protect their personal privacy when they weren’t onstage. Mitchell, Young, Browne, and Ronstadt immediately come to mind. Most distrusted the rock press – especially pushy rock photographers who got in their faces.
But they saw Henry as a close personal friend and fellow musician first. He was one of the nicest, most pleasantly disposed characters to walk the Earth, and lots of fun to be around. He fell into photography – and his lifelong career behind the lens – quite by accident.
“Many of my friends were musicians: Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Mama Cass, Linda Ronstadt. They didn’t see me as a photographer,” Diltz told me in 2011, in our extensive interview for “Unpainted Faces,” his first book of classic black & white images, published by Rare Cool Stuff in association with Morrison Hotel Gallery.
A singer and banjo and harmonica player, Diltz was a founding member of the Modern Folk Quartet in 1961, and a veteran of album sessions with producers Jim Dickson and Phil Spector and Jack Nietzsche over the next few years.
Like many other folkies who took Bob Dylan’s cue (who’d taken the cue from The Beatles and The Byrds) to go electric in 1965, MFQ attempted the transition from acoustic folk to big electric pop, but unfortunately, it didn’t fly. Henry says Phil got distracted working on and promoting Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” instead of MFQ.
By 1966 the quartet was ready to pack it in, but they had to go out on a final tour to satisfy booking commitments.
On a stop at a thrift shop between shows, Diltz bought a used Kodak Pony camera for $20 and started taking pictures of random stuff he thought was cool, just for something to do while on the road.
By the time the tour ended, he’d taught himself how to work the Pony. Back in Laurel Canyon, he kept taking pictures of what was happening around him, including his friends, who felt completely comfortable with him carrying around a camera instead of a banjo.
“I was just the same guy that had always been a part of the music scene, so they didn’t put their guard up, and this allowed me to take very natural pictures,” he said. “So during the next several weeks I constantly photographed them, their pets, old cars – just about everything I saw,” just being a “fly on the wall,” not injecting himself into the action. “I wanted to get images that would entertain my friends.”
Diltz first shared his images with a bunch of those friends at the home of Ron Jacobs, program director of the powerhouse L.A. Top 40 station KHJ, the original “Boss Radio.”
“He was a very good friend, and we had this huge slideshow,” Diltz said. “When I saw the first slide hit the wall, I thought, ‘This is absolute magic,’ that we could replay those scenes we had all just gone through in this huge, glowing fashion.”
The music and media hipsters assembled at Jacobs’ pad noted how beautifully and naturally Henry had captured so many of their rare, intimate and priceless moments. They encouraged him to keep shooting, so he immediately planned another slideshow and started taking more pictures.
Diltz segued from amateur to pro via a photo he took of his friends Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Richie Furay, Dewey Martin and Bruce Palmer – Buffalo Springfield – on the Venice boardwalk later in 1966.
“Stephen asked me along to a soundcheck at a club down by the beach, so I went along to get some new slideshow pictures on the beach while they were in the club,” Henry said. “A little while later, I was taking a picture of a giant painting on a wall on the back of the club, when the band came walking out. I asked them to stand in front of the painting and wound up taking the first ‘group shot’ of my life.”
Not long after that, an editor from the Teen Set fanzine called him.
“They heard I had taken this picture of Buffalo Springfield and offered to pay me $100 to publish it,” he said. “I could hardly believe someone would pay me to do what I loved. That was the simple way my career as a photographer began – all by accident.”
One of Diltz’s first assignments as a pro: “We’d like you to go to a soundstage and shoot these four guys in a band doing a new TV show….” He was soon The Monkees’ favorite photographer, and his photos of Micky, Davy, Peter and Mike were in demand worldwide.
Cass Elliott: The ‘Gertrude Stein of Laurel Canyon’
For many of Henry Diltz’s Laurel Canyon neighbors, the social and musical crossroads was the nearby home of Mamas & Papas singer Cass Elliott.
“Mama Cass was the Gertrude Stein of Laurel Canyon,” he has often said, referring to the celebrated American author who moved to Paris in the early 1900s and hosted visits by friends like Picasso, Hemingway and Fitzgerald.
In that role, Elliott factored into the lives of many artists associated with the L.A. folk, folk-rock, psychedelic rock and singer-songwriter scenes from the early ’60s to the early ’70s.
Elliott radically altered Diltz’s career trajectory as a rock photographer when, in 1968, she introduced him to another friend of hers, Gary Burden.
“Gary was an architect remodeling her house, and she needed an album cover,” Henry said. “She told him, ‘You can do this!’ and talked him into it.”
Gary’s goose from Cass resulted in the cover art for her debut solo album, “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” art direction by Gary Burden, photography by Henry Diltz. It was an auspicious three-way solo debut in October 1968.
“Gary and I formed a team that eventually created around 100 album packages,” Diltz said of his prolific six-year partnership with Burden. “I was traveling on the road with various groups, and my photos would become their album covers.”
Working with Burden, Diltz shot immediately recognizable covers and other memorable images for artists including The Doors, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young, Eagles, Jackson Browne, America, Steppenwolf, James Taylor and many more during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
You’ll find many of those classic prints and lots more about Diltz at the Morrison Hotel Gallery website.
You could call Henry Diltz the “Gertrude Stein of Laurel Canyon photography.” He crossed paths with and photographed just about every artist who was part of the Laurel Canyon scene in real time, and now they’re all here, in his massive archive of slides.
* * * * *
Bernie Leadon: Down the Hill at the Troubadour Bar
Speaking of Henry Diltz, Bernie Leadon, Eagles, and Laurel Canyon: Along with The Whisky, located a few miles west of the canyon on the Sunset Strip at Clark Street, Doug Weston’s Troubadour nightclub a few blocks away was a favorite local hangout for canyon-dwelling folk-rockers, singer-songwriters and music biz hipsters from the early ’60s well into the ’70s.
The Troubadour is on Santa Monica Boulevard just east of Doheny Drive and the Beverly Hills-West Hollywood border, and just a couple doors west of Dan Tana’s fine Italian restaurant and bar.
There’s always been lots of artist and entourage and industry traffic between the two venues, and back then the Troubadour bar especially was a more public version of Cass Elliot’s place, where musicians known and unknown met and mingled, formed bands and plotted conspiracies to take over the world.
Multi-instrumentalist and folk-bluegrass specialist Bernie Leadon, originally from Minneapolis and partly raised in Florida and San Diego, spent a lot of time, professionally and personally, at the Troubadour after he moved to L.A. in the mid-’60s, as he recalled in our interview in April:
“The Troubadour (scene) in the early ’70s came directly out of the ’60s when the Troubadour was one of the clubs on the folk circuit. Back then an act was booked in for an entire week, and you did one show on Tuesday through Thursday, two shows on Friday, two shows on Saturday, one show on Sunday and then Monday was dark – that was a travel day.
“I had a group on Capitol called Hearts & Flowers and I joined them in ’67 for their second album, that had a minor hit, in I guess early ’67, called ‘Rock and Roll Gypsies.’
“Larry Murray, the lead singer in my group, was also the so-called master or the head of the open mic night on Monday nights (aka “Hoot Night”) at the Troubadour. He determined who got to play and which time slot they got, so he was kind of a sought-after guy because of this power that he had to put acts in front of an industry crowd on Monday night.
“On Monday night it seemed like everybody in town showed up at the Troubadour bar, because it was everybody’s dark day, a night off. All the established acts would turn up from time to time. Aspiring acts, sometimes they would showcase at the Hoot Night on Monday.
“But here’s the cool thing: The Troubadour bar was the scene in the front, but there was the showroom in the back that held, I would say, 350 people. And it had a restaurant that served food. But the only bathrooms in the building were at the back of the showroom, so from the bar you had to walk through the showroom to get to the bathrooms.
“They had a ticket-taker at the door to the showroom, and nobody could get in without a ticket, unless you said, ‘I have to go to the bathroom.’ And they’re like, ‘Okay.’ And then there was a stairway to upstairs and you could stand on the stairs or find a little alcove to stick your butt in and watch the show.
“I saw hundreds of shows there for free. And also because my group was would be the opening act. We opened for Gordon Lightfoot for a couple of weeks, and we were the opening act for Arlo Guthrie on his first tour. But I just saw so many acts there. And then you’d see other Hollywood people, too. One night, kind of a quiet night, there was Natalie Wood sitting in the back of the bar by herself, waiting for somebody to meet her.
“Roger Miller, the Nashville singer, was in there one night and Gene Clark and I went up to his suite and hung out with him for half a night. So the Troubadour was a place where all kinds of connections would be made. And for me as a young musician, I could run into producers and other musicians that I could get recording sessions booked, just out of showing up. So I got a lot of work out of it.”
Indeed: As “Laurel Canyon” details, in the three head-spinning years between the summers of 1968 and 1971, Leadon was one of the long-haired hippie musicians who helped spark the era’s country-rock explosion. He went from Hearts & Flowers to Dillard & Clark to Linda Ronstadt’s band (assembled from various underemployed musicians/Troubadour bar regulars including Leadon, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and Randy Meisner) to the Flying Burrito Brothers to Eagles (the latter as a co-founder with his aforementioned Ronstadt bandmates).
And of course, there’s the famous story of the freshly minted Eagles partying at the Troubadour bar one night until closing time, then driving in the wee hours with Henry Diltz and his cameras in tow to Joshua Tree, where the bleary-eyed wild bunch all took peyote and tripped out watching the sun come up.
One of the images Henry captured that day became the cover pic for Eagles’ eponymous debut album, out in spring 1972. But some of the Joshua Tree outtakes were keepers, too.
The photo gracing the graphic for “Laurel Canyon” was shot seven years later, as Leadon told Rolling Stone:
“I was going to use it for an album that never got made. We had to stage it because you have the landscape down below. We looked at the city lights from different parts of the Santa Monica Mountains and decided you had to be pretty close. So we went into Hollywood and found a place to put me.
“Then — this is kind of cool — in order to have it be just the city lights behind but to get enough light on me, there was a time-lapse to expose the photograph. Henry was the photographer, but Gary Burden was the art director, and he was down in the bushes below me with a flashlight. The lens was open for a second or longer. Gary was painting my face with a flashlight, just illuminating it, while the lens was open. It was a neat effect.”
For more flashbacks, check out Henry describing the massive “California Dreamin’: The Sounds of Laurel Canyon” exhibit at the Grammy Museum in 2014.
Santa Clarita journalist and Grammy nominee Stephen K. Peeples was raised by career newspaper journalists and music-lovers in Miami and Los Angeles. He earned a Grammy nomination as co-producer of the “Monterey International Pop Festival” (Rhino/MIPF, 1992) box set with Lou Adler and Geoff Gans. Peeples was the original, award-winning producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for Westwood One from 1988-1990, and writer/producer of hundreds of WW1 programs in the preceding five years. • His first music industry gig was as an Associate Editor at Cash Box magazine in Hollywood in 1975. He went on to be a Media Relations-PR executive for Capitol Records (1977-1980), Elektra/Asylum Records (1980-1983) and Rhino Entertainment (1992-1998). • Moving online, he was Rhino’s first web editor (1996-1998), then elevated to content editor of Warner Music Group websites (1998-2001). • In the Santa Clarita Valley just north of L.A., Peeples was the award-winning Online Editor for The Signal newspaper’s website from 2007-2011, and wrote-hosted-co-produced SCVTV’s WAVE-nominated “House Blend” local music TV show from 2010-2015 (archived online and still airing in reruns). • He is now a News Editor at SCVTV’s SCVNews.com, SVP/New Media Emeritus for Rare Cool Stuff Unltd. and developing a biography of Texas artist Boyd Elder. For more info and original stories, visit https://stephenkpeeples.com/. For exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews, subscribe to Peeples’ YouTube channel.
Article: Bernie Leadon, Henry Diltz and Epix ‘Laurel Canyon’ Rockumentary
Category: News and Reviews
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Article Source: stephenkpeeples.com