While out taking publicity photos, photographer Henry Diltz and the members of Crosby, Stills & Nash came across a ramshackle white house in west Hollywood with a little couch outside.
Unremarkable in just about every way, peeling paint and all, that house would end up on one of the most iconic rock album covers of all time.
"Graham (Nash) had seen this little old house, with a couch, and so we drove there and got out," recalls Diltz. "So, we took these pictures, and the next day, we looked at those pictures and thought, 'Jeez, that'd be a nice album cover.' I mean, we hadn't planned on doing an album cover. We were just doing publicity photos."
At this point, the folk-rock trio hadn't even finalized a name.
"Then, literally, the next day or so, they decided finally on the sequence of names — Crosby, Stills and Nash," says Diltz. "Maybe it was going to be Stills, Nash and Crosby, or something, you know? They couldn't decide which sounded best. So, they finally all agreed it would be Crosby, Stills & Nash, and then we looked at the picture and said, 'Well, jeez, that's backwards here.' So, they're not in the right order, and I said, 'Well, that's no problem. Let's just go right back there. It'll take five minutes. We'll retake the same picture."
But, there was a problem.
"We all went and drove back there, and the house was gone," says Diltz. "The house was totally gone, just a vacant lot there. And that was really an eerie feeling. So, they took the album out, with the picture being backwards. Nothing we could do about it, you know?"
Nevertheless, that simple photo of the band sitting on a beat-up old sofa next to a decrepit, and probably condemned, house wound up being almost as beloved as the band itself.
Diltz' eye for candid, spontaneous photography, and his utter lack of pretension — not to mention his beautiful framing technique — has made him one of the world's greatest rock photographers. And now, he's clearing the vaults for a new book titled "California Dreaming: Memories & Visions of LA: 1966-1975" from Genesis Publications.
A must for anybody who dug the L.A. music scene of that era, the book is an amazing museum of nostalgia and gorgeously shot imagery of rock's biggest names, like The Doors, The Monkees, The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Frank Zappa, Steppenwolf, The Turtles, Poco, The Mamas and the Papas, Joni Mitchell, America and a host of others.
As a member of the Modern Folk Quartet, Diltz befriended many of the stars he photographed. This book takes you behind the scenes, often showing the private lives of these stars, with backstage footage of Crosby, Stills & Nash warming up prior to a concert and a cool photo shoot of The Eagles in cowboy garb re-enacting an Old West shootout.
Diltz' work has taken him to many places. He spent an afternoon at Truman Capote's house. For a week, he relaxed on boats in the Virgin Islands with Paul McCartney and wife Linda while they recorded London Town. And then there were photo shoots with the band America.
Diltz went to Hawaii with them. He went to Big Sur with them, and also an Indian reservation. But, perhaps the most interesting place was an oasis in the middle of a desert.
"There were a lot of adventures with those guys," says Diltz. "There's the one picture of them holding a mirror with the moon in it that was really cool. We rode horseback for two hours to get to this palm oasis."
A beautiful place, with palm trees, a pond and frogs making a relaxing noise at night, it was where the group set up camp for the night.
"My partner, Gary (Burden), the graphic artist, wanted that mirror with us, so we had a cowboy, a wranger, who was our guide, and he had to carry that thing under one arm all the way out there," says Diltz. "And Gary wanted to put it on the ground, and have (America) lead over and look into it and me to shoot into it as if it were a hole in the ground, or a hole looking up at them.
"So, Dewey Bunnell, the guy who wrote "Horse With No Name," as soon as we got to this little place and it started to get dark, bats came out up on top of this hillside above the campsite. So, he said, 'I'm going up there. I've got to see those bats.' So, he walked up the hill, and the other guys followed him up, and Gary said, 'Wait, take the mirror with you.' I said, 'What the hell for, you know?' But I carried it up there, and then, they're standing there, and suddenly, I see this light flashing in the mirror as they walked. As the mirror wiggled, I could a light bobbing around in there, and it was a big moon coming up and behind me. And they could see the moon coming up above the other hill. I couldn't see it where I was, and so, I just said, 'Hey, stop you guys. Hold the mirror like that.'"
And Diltz shot the scene. He had an image he would never forget.
"And then, we took the picture," says Diltz. "I love that picture. It was like a total accident. That totally seemed like it was all contrived and planned, and it really wasn't. It was an accident all the way."
"California Dreaming: Memories & Visions of LA, 1966-1975" by Henry Diltz is a hand-bound, numbered, limited-edition book. Only 2,000 copies are available worldwide, each signed by the author. For more information, go to www.Genesis-Publications.com.