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Fender Guitars and The Master Builders

  In the mid 1980’s, Fender Guitars needed something to perk up their image and reputation, having languished for some time under the ownership of CBS, who had purchased the company in 1965. Guitar buyers thought the products coming from Fender weren’t all that they could be, profits were down, and the company was suffering.  A group of investors led by Bill Schultz purchased the rights to the Fender name, distribution, and some machinery, and started searching for something that would return this once great brand to its prior status as America’s preeminent builder of guitars. In 1987 they created the Fender Custom Shop and hired two men to staff it. Known as the Master Builders, John Page and Michael Stevens set out to build something the world had never seen. Originally envisioned as a facility that would produce one-off and special-order instruments, within a few months the number of orders had risen above six hundred. Subsequently the decision was made to expand the custom shop, sell the guitars to the public, and create musical art. And so, the Fender Custom Shop grew to legendary status, making guitars for everyone from Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, and just about every other guitarist you can think of. Eventually, the number of what they called the Master Builders grew to eight, and Fender has been creating masterpieces ever since.

Recently, Fender brought back together the original Master Builders to commemorate the thirty-year anniversary of the shop’s founding.  The eight Master Builders were asked to design and build some of the most beautiful guitars that had ever been made, basically letting them right some of their perceived wrongs (combining the best of the Stratocaster and the Telecaster, or sprucing up the Jazzmaster), and just creating what each of the eight thought of as the “ultimate guitar” in their minds. Each Master Builder was asked to build thirty guitars from their design. One of the world’s most acclaimed photographers, Henry Diltz was tapped by Fender to document the event, using both his camera and his words. His words? Henry is known to the world primarily as a photographer, but he is as adept with his words as he is with his rig. With Henry Diltz, it’s all about observing people, the camera is just a means to an end.

“Having a camera is like having a passport into other people’s lives.  You end up hanging out with people you normally wouldn’t be hanging out with Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, all the people I’ve met and been on the road with, the camera is what allows me to be there and observe it all and kind of have an adventure. People are very fascinating to me.  When I was in college I majored in psychology and I did it for the same reason; I found people fascinating and I wanted to know what made them tick.  I went to a couple of colleges and studied psychology.  I never actually graduated but I took all the classes.  Not that it taught me anything about photography, but it fed my interest in why people are the way they are”.  

Getting the master builders back together was no easy feat. Two of the Master Builders, J.W. Black and John Page had gone north for the more laid-back environs of the Pacific Northwest, another had moved to Texas. Henry’s first assignment was to travel up to Oregon to get a feel for Black and Page.

“Accepting this job to go and meet these guys, I knew it was going to be interesting.  I love to go on the road, so I drove up to Oregon.  J.W. Black had this lovely house up in Eugene. I took pictures of him in his house, in his yard, and then in his studio workspace where he designed and built these guitars.   It was so interesting to watch him do what he does, and while he went about it, I just photographed him.  He was a really interesting guy because he was very Zen-like. He had a bunch of stone Buddha’s out in the yard, some in the work studio, and when we went out to dinner that night, I remarked about that.  I thought that in his past life he must have been something like a Japanese craftsman, a woodworker or something”. 

JW Black

J.W. Black

I asked Henry what he thought he’d been in his previous life; if you get to know Henry, you’ll know him as a very spiritual person. He did after all come of age in the 1960’s.

“I know I was a caveman, I can almost remember that.  In a past life, I think I spent part of my boyhood living in Japan, so I think I can assimilate with that.  Japan feels like a close thing to me. I think I must have also spent some time in Scandinavia, Sweden or something.  In the sixties, I read a book called “The Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramhansa Yogananda, and it kind of opened up my spiritual side   more recently I’ve been reading Satchi Gawanda.  He was the swami of my friend John Stewart, the guy who wrote Daydream Believer for The Monkees.  He has a quote that says, “We are all here on the planet to learn, we are all students”.  So, you should always think of yourself as a student, and you should think of everyone else as a teacher.  Even someone who calls you an asshole, they can be teaching you something, even if it’s only how to deal with that by pushing your buttons.  So, therefore, J.W. Black was my teacher.  

Now, if you want to talk about learning something from someone, sit down and have a two-hour conversation with Henry Diltz, it’s never an interview, no matter how much time you’ve spent formulating questions. Henry is far too interesting with a plethora of stories to tell. To constrain him to a list of questions would be missing the point. So, I asked him what he had learned from J.W. Black, other than how to build one of the most beautiful guitars he’d ever seen.

“J.W. was the first Master Builder that I saw, so I was amazed to see what a guitar workshop looked like.  His workshop was filled with all these different kinds of woods, different woods for different pieces of the guitars.  One bin was wood for necks, another one was filled with wood for the bodies, and then there was the place where he worked on the guitars with all his lights and tools. J.W. was very Zen, he had his tools laid out in a very neat way, and I was amazed to see all the work that went on, I’d never been to a guitar workshop.  He was a terrific guy and we had a great time.

 After leaving J.W. Black’s workshop in Eugene, the next stop on Henry’s list was the lair of John Page, in Wolf Creek, Oregon, about a two-hour drive south down Interstate 5, then off the beaten path, “through the snow and down dirt roads, and into the trees” to John’s house.

John Page was one of the original Master Builders hired into the Fender Custom Shop back in 1987. Originally hired by Fender in 1978 at the tender age of twenty-one, Page was originally hired to buff guitar necks, but was soon promoted to Model Maker, where he started to build special guitars for Fender artists. Two years later, he ended up working side-by-side with Freddie Tavares, one of the creators of the legendary Stratocaster. Freddie treated him like a son, mentoring him and helping him to hone his skills as a designer. After nine years at Fender, Page decided to go on the road and see if he could make it as a gigging musician, and then heard that his dream of a Fender custom shop had been realized. He immediately rejoined Fender, working alongside Michael Stevens, another of the founding Master Builders, and stayed with Fender for twelve years.

“John was the second master builder that I met.  He was more like a hot rod/surfboard kind of guy, from California.  He had a big Fu Manchu beard and long white hair. He lived out in the woods in this little place, and his workroom was even bigger than J.W.’s was.  He just had a bigger workspace, and there are lots of half-built guitars hanging on the walls.  All of these guys have their favorite works hanging on the walls.  Now, in his space he had a lot of hot rod things, paintings, and surfboard stuff.  He was that kind of guy, more of a designer.

 The guitar that John Page created for the program was simple, stunning, and practical. Page came up with a double F-hole Esquire with a body made of genuine roasted Mahogany with a natural finish, and a Koa-wood top, which was a tribute to his mentor, Freddie Tavares. Every single detail of the wood grain is visible through the crystal-clear finish. The practicality of the guitar comes from the fact that you can play it without plugging it in.

John Page

John Page

Next on Henry’s odyssey was a flight to El Paso, Texas, followed by a four-hour drive to Alpine, a town nestled in close to the Mexican border, for a meeting with Michael Stevens. Within the Custom Shop, let alone the guitar-maker communities, Stevens has achieved legendary status. His was the first guitar to come out of the Custom Shop, guitar number 0001, a stunning blonde and white double-necked guitar which was actually the first double neck to be produced and sold by Fender. The body featured the gentle curves of a Stratocaster on top and the edges of an Esquire or Telecaster on the bottom, both six-string models.

The model that Stevens designed for the 30th Anniversary program was a very simple-looking Fender Squire made from Sassafras wood with a semi-clear White Blonde finish + vintage-style gold hardware. Under the bridge cover is a pickup in a left-handed bridge – reversing the traditional Telecaster orientation. On the back, there are cutaways for the player’s wrist and thigh for comfort when sitting.

   “I had to fly to El Paso and then drive four hours to Alpine.  That’s where I met Michael Stevens.  He was a real cowboy.   He had a stable and a quarter horse, real cowboy stuff.  He had a painted cow skull up on this tan wall, with a little cactus plant; it looked just like a Georgia O’Keefe painting.  He was very quiet and self-assured.  His workspace was filled with a lot of antique guitars from the 1800’s and the early 1900’s.  It was great; he turned on his machine and cut some guitars for me, just to show me how that was done.  He showed me how to put the pegs and the strings on, he walked me through the entire guitar-building process.  Each guitar had its own spray-painting booth, where he painted and hung each guitar.  

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens

At the conclusion of Diltz’s road trip, it was back to sunny Southern California, for the short drive to Corona, Fender’s factory, where the remaining Founding Master Builders had gathered under one roof to discuss what they had done in the past, and what they had done for the 30th anniversary program while Henry documented it all.

Henry Diltz has been part of the Rock and Roll scene since the sixties and he has a unique and unobtrusive style of shooting. Henry likes to blend in and never appear where he’s not wanted.

“I’m not a paparazzi photographer, I don’t ever go where I’m not welcome, I’m there because people hire me, I’ve never tried to sneak my way in.  When I shot Woodstock, Chip Monck called me one day while I was in my kitchen in Laurel Canyon.  Chip was the lighting guy at Woodstock and he called me out of the blue one day and said, “Hey, we’re having a big concert here in New York this summer, you should be out here shooting when it happens”, and I said, Chip, I don’t know those people, how am I gonna get in on that?  He said, “I’ll talk to the people, don’t worry”.  And the next day, Michael Lang called me and said “Chip says we need you here. I’m sending you a ticket and five hundred dollars, see you there”.  So now I’m invited, now I can go”.

So, armed with camera and notepad, Henry met with the other five Master Builders in Corona to see what they had come up with.

“They were interviewing the other five guys.  I met two of them on one day and three the next day.  They were giving a video interview, so I got to stand there and listen as they told their stories.  It was right in the middle of this giant factory, multiple floors, huge rooms, one where they just cut all the blanks, another room where they’re putting the pegs on, each process seemed like it had its own room”.  

 “They had a custom shop where these guys were creating these guitar masterpieces in their cubicles.  Many famous musicians want their guitars made a certain way.  Some want the whammy bar a certain way, others want special necks, more frets, you name it.  They all have their favorite things that they want.  So, while most of the Fender factory is for mass assembly, these guys are off to the side doing custom work.  I think there were about eight cubicles there where they were doing custom work.  Each one of them had their favorite pictures on the wall, a couple of guitars hanging up.  You could get the personalities of each guy just by looking at their cubicles.  But these were the current Master Builders, not the original Master Builders, they had to bring those guys back in for this 30-year anniversary.  The whole thing was a big eye opener. Their hearts and souls went into constructing some of the finest guitars ever built, and I wanted to know their stories”.

 The guitars produced by the other five builders that Henry met were:

  • The George Blanda Jazzmaster, a white guitar with white pickups and a tortoise-shell pick guard, inspired by the Jazzmaster series of the 1960s.
  • The Fred Stuart Herringbone Telecaster, a natural-wood goodie inspired by a pre-war Martin D28, which is where he got the herringbone motif from.
  • The Mark Kendrick Stratocaster, something that looks like it’s right out of the Kustom Kar shop that made George Barris famous. According to Kendrick, the design is something right out of “the Cholo low-rider culture in Santa Ana in the 1970s”. Finished in a dazzling teal sparkle-burst with nickel-plated hardware.
  • The Alan Hamel Sparkle Telecaster, a take on the traditional Telecaster finished with Alan’s signature black sparkle-burst finish and a clear pick guard.
  • The Gene Baker Stelecaster, a cross between a Telecaster and a Stratocaster, finished with a Wide-Fade Chocolate 3-Tone Sunburst. 

Given the fact that Henry has seen and photographed just about every known band (except for The Beatles), I would have thought he would have seen this kind of thing before, and been more of a “gear head”. So, I asked him why he wasn’t more immersed in the designs of guitars. I personally have used the guitar as the focal point for many shots in the past. I used to use the strings to focus the shot (pre-auto focus).

“I don’t play the guitar; I play the banjo.  I’ve never even owned an electric guitar.  I’ve certainly photographed a lot of them.  I’ve photographed some pretty iconic people playing Fenders certainly, Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix”.

“If I’m shooting Neil Young or Jackson Browne, typically I’m in front of the stage. I’ll frame the shot from the top of the head to the bottom of the guitar, kind of from the waist up, and it’s usually a vertical shot, like a page in a magazine.  I always try to frame the guitar and make sure not to cut the neck off or anything like that.  I try to fill the frame with the person and the guitar, but I never focus on the strings. I always focus on their lip or a shirt collar, or if they wear glasses, I’ll use that.  The guitar strings are too far down for me, and unless you have really good lighting and can use f/8 or f/11 or something, it wouldn’t work for me, I’d risk the face being a bit out of focus”.  

“Now there have been occasions where the guitar was the subject.  Stephen Stills has a huge collection of guitars and there have been times when he wanted me to just shoot his guitars.  There used to be this Japanese magazine that would send me around to just photograph guitars.  Stephen Stills has a lot of his guitars hanging on his wall, and a lot of times he would want me to just shoot that wall.  Both Stephen and Neil [Young] like to play their white Gretsch Falcons, and Gretsch is a sister company of Fender, they make them right there in the factory too”.  

Henry and I continued our discussion into the evening where I asked him as much as I could about guitars, how he shot or thought about guitars, and his legendary career.

(IL): Do you have a favorite guitar you like to shoot?

(HD): I would have to say the Telecaster; it’s like a big chunk of wood, a big no-nonsense, solid body kind of guitar.

So, if you’re not much of a gear guy then, did the Master Builder program school you?

I know there’s a whole sub-culture around the equipment and everything, but it’s never been my thing, that was never my niche.  I collect photos of people, photographic quotes if you will.  I also collect quotes in the literal sense; I’ve been doing that for 50 years.  I have reams of paper and notebooks filled with things people have said.  I’ll hear someone say something poignant and I’ll say, “there it is” and I’ll just write it down.  It’s like found poetry.  In a conversation, someone will say like fifty things, and then they’ll just say this one thing, and the way they say it, it will just be so well put, it’s like a found poem, and I’ll just write it down.  I’m way more into that than all the gear, and what kind of strings, etc.

Do you ever associate some of the players with a guitar?  We both shot The Doors reunion in 2016 at The Fonda Theater and at one point I found myself face to face with the guitar rack that Robbie Krieger was using, and I started to shoot his red SG.  Everyone who saw that image knew immediately whose guitar it was.   

Yeah, that was the guitar he wrote “Light My Fire” on.  That’s interesting what you’re saying, it sounds like you’re more into the gear aspect than I am, but like I said, I’m much more into the people making the guitars than the guitars themselves.  I was really excited when Fender contacted me about this, because I knew they were going to be interesting people, I mean, how could they not be exceptional people if they were building these exceptional guitars?

Tell me about the many boxes of slides on this wall behind you.

I have a lot of Crosby Stills and Nash over here, David Cassidy, a lot of The Eagles, a ton of America.  I think I did six or seven of America’s album covers.  I’ve travelled all over with them, from the early 1970s when they started out.

Whom did you shoot most extensively?

Probably David Cassidy.  Back when I started photographing all my musician friends in Laurel Canyon and they all became famous; I would get contacted by all the teenybopper magazines.  The first time was for The Monkees.  They would call and say, “Can you go down to The Monkees set and shoot them”?  I ended up becoming close friends with them, and after a few weeks I became their exclusive photographer, they didn’t want anyone else, mostly because I was roughly their age and lived a similar lifestyle.  That was in 1967.  After that I shot The Jackson Five, the Osmond Brothers, Bobby Sherman, and I made a good living shooting these guys for all the teen magazines.  For one year, almost every single teen magazine poster and cover was mine.  And then a few years later, history repeated itself and I found myself shooting The Partridge Family.  I’d go down to the Columbia Ranch and spend the day shooting them. That’s where I met David Cassidy.

What was it like working with him in the middle of all that “Keith Partridge” mania?

I told David I’d just been over to England shooting Stephen Stills, and he was awestruck.  He got really excited and said, “Let’s go to my trailer between takes, I want to show you some songs”.  He was very excited by the fact that I worked with all these famous musicians because he was a frustrated rocker playing Keith Partridge. He wanted more than anything to be a rock star.  We became fast friends.  Eventually David started doing concerts on his own, and I would go with him to shoot the shows.  I ended up going around the world a couple of times with him.  I was his photographer and I was also his friend.

Are you still in touch with him?

Yeah, we’re still in touch after all these years.

A lot of those photos of David Cassidy look posed.  Was that your direction posing him?  You’ve said you rarely if ever like to pose your subjects.

You’re right, those photos were totally posed, and that was what the studio wanted.  They wanted the candid stuff from the show, but they also wanted full-page pinups and covers, so every day we would go out at lunchtime with a picnic lunch and a bunch of shirts.  We’d take a bunch of photos with one shirt on, then he’d change the shirt and we’d take another dozen or so shots, and we’d keep changing his shirt.  That kept the magazines going for months.  So yeah, it’s not candid, but that’s what you had to do. Even if it was staged like that, I always tried to have a conversation with the subject when shooting them.   I’d carry on a whole conversation with them while I was shooting them.  The famous photo of Crosby Stills and Nash sitting on the couch, that was posed.

How did that photo happen?  

We were driving around Los Angeles shooting publicity photos; we weren’t even trying to get an album cover shot.  They didn’t even have pictures of themselves; they were still working on their first album.  We found this old bungalow with a couch in front of it, and they just sat down on it and I just started clicking.

So, you’ve been at this for quite some time, do you still find a passion in it?  

I’ve been doing this for more than fifty years and I still take pictures every day.  I don’t go on the road and there really aren’t album covers any more.  People still call me and say, “Hey, we’re doing this album and we don’t have any pictures”, so I’ll go over to their houses and shoot for them.  It’s pretty casual now, I don’t go on any big shoots like I used to. What I didn’t plan on is that I ended up having an archive of historical photos.  It takes on a very historical importance, and you end up having to hire people to help you go through it all.

How did you come up with the name “Morrison Hotel Gallery”?

In the early 2000’s is we opened up a little gallery just to show my photos.  We travelled all around the country and we’d rent a little space and put my pictures up on the wall.  People would come and buy prints, and that kind of grew into the Morrison Hotel Gallery.  The name came up because we put the Doors’ Morrison Hotel print in the window and couldn’t think of a name.  My partner said, “We should just paint Morrison Hotel Gallery on the window”, so we did that and it grew from there.  The whole thing just kind of happened by accident.

It seems like your whole career was just one big happy accident.

It was.  I didn’t plan any of this.  My biggest plan out of high school is that I was going to be a forest ranger.  I was already accepted into the University of Montana, I had a dorm room, everything.  Then one day my mom told me my father, who was in the state department had just been assigned to Bonn, Germany.  So, I was given the choice to either go to Montana or Germany.  Now, I was really gung-ho to go and study wildlife and be a forest ranger, but I thought, “I can always go to Montana later, this was an opportunity for a free trip to Europe”, and of course I never looked back.    Then I got into folk music and studying psychology, and that took me on a whole new path.

What do you do with the photos you shoot currently?  

There are two kinds of photos now, there’s this wall of slides (gestures behind him), and these drawers filled with proof sheets.  That represents my past.  In 2005 I went digital, so now it’s all put onto hard drives.

Do you ever shoot on film?

Oh yeah, I still have the big rig.  Just yesterday I had to take it out of mothballs, pick up some film and do a shoot.  The film is out as we speak, being processed.

Where do you find film today?

Valley Photo over at Whitsett and Magnolia.  Film can be hard to find but I know where to find it.  I used to go to Studio City Camera on Ventura until they closed.  I went there for thirty years, I did my purchasing, my processing, everything.  I knew the grandfather, the father, and the son, three generations that ran that place, and then one day the son finally sold it, and I thought that this was the end, until I discovered Valley Photo.

It’s kind of like Dutton Books; do you remember that gem of a bookstore on Laurel near Magnolia?

Yeahhhhhhhhhhh!  I used to love that place and now it’s a yoga studio.  What a shame.  I was so unhappy when they closed.  You can always count on change, but I kind of like things to remain the same, although change is exciting too.

What was the worst photography experience you ever had?

The time Jimmy Webb and I crashed in his glider while we were filming.  We were up over Pearblossom filming in his glider and we went up into the mountains to get some dramatic shots.  We got caught in a downdraft, and Jimmy says, “We’re going down”.   We crashed into the trees and should have been killed, but somehow we survived. As far as photography, there’s can be the occasional hassle at a concert when you have some big wrestler type security guys going “NO PHOTOS”.

You have restrictions at your level?

Sometimes. I’ve had it happen even when I’ve had an all access pass. The group has me as their photographer, and they don’t want anyone else taking pictures, and security doesn’t know I’m working for the group, so it happens.  When it does, I have to go through the whole production of “OK, call your people, have them call the band, etc.”.  I end up losing twenty minutes of shooting time.  I don’t like having people tell me “YOU CAN’T TAKE PICTURES”, and I’m like “Oh yeah?  Just watch me”.

Do you ever have to bust out the “Do you know who I am?

I would never do that. If I did they would probably say “I don’t give a shit” or “who’s that”.  I have people asking me to get them into concerts, asking me if I can get them a ticket, and I don’t even have tickets myself.  They tell me to just “tell them who you are”, but I would never do that, that’s not my style to ever say that.  I went on the road with Garth Brooks, and when I was shooting, his road guy would take me out and introduce me to all the security people and tell them “this is our guy, you let him do whatever he wants”.  Garth was really good about that kind of stuff.

Now that every single concertgoer is shooting video with his or her phone, you wouldn’t think anyone would care.

Well, in the 60’s, you could just show up with a camera and nobody thought anything of it.  Then people started taking pictures and making money, bootlegging band photos and the bands started to get pissed and started limiting who could shoot. They made you sign contracts stipulating where you could sell the photos, and that kind of thing.  So, when all that started happening, I would only work for people I knew. I never did work for newspapers or magazines where I would just shoot three songs and then have to leave.  I never worked for agencies or other people like that.

One time I was at a Bon Jovi shoot way out in the hills somewhere; they were doing a big shoot with motorcycle gangs and all sorts of people. Jeff Beck was in it.  Jon Bon Jovi had his own photographer but I was there working for the production company, and nobody had introduced us.  I’m just there doing my thing, and Bon Jovi kept looking at me. After a while, one of his guys came over and said, “Jon wants to know who you are and what you’re doing here”, and I had to tell him, “I’m here working for the production company”.  He didn’t like that because he had his own guy.

I had my own agency, Onyx Agency, and as soon as my agency started sending the shots out, I got a CEASE AND DECIST order from them, saying “YOU CAN’T USE THESE, THESE ARE UNAUTHORIZED”.  I don’t like to tell stories, but there it was.

Well, if you don’t want me to include this in the story…

No, you can go ahead and write it, I don’t care, I don’t even know the guy.  I mean, I have a little attitude about it, because it kind of pissed me off y’know.

Considering all that you’ve shot, if that’s your worst encounter, that’s pretty good.

Another time, Chip Monck is doing the Bangladesh concert, the one at Madison Square Garden, and I happened to be in town.  I called him up and he said, “Tomorrow we’re doing this concert, you should be here”.  I told him “I don’t know The Beatles, I never met George Harrison, how am I going to get in”?  He said, “Don’t worry, just show up tomorrow, I’ll give you a crew pass, you bring your cameras hours early and hide them under my lighting console”.  So, I did, and I took all these photos without having a photo pass. That’s the one time I kind of sneaked in, maybe with a little help.  I never want to make anyone uncomfortable, or be responsible for anyone’s grief or unhappiness.  I’m not going to be the cause of anyone’s bad time.

Tell me about the photo shoot you did with Ron Wood and Keith Richards, The New Barbarians tour.

I had a friend who did PR for Columbia records, and one day he called me and said, “Ron Wood has a new group, and he’s looking for someone to go out on the road for a week, would you be interested”? So I said, “Yeah, sure I would”. It was Ron’s solo group, and he got Keith to play with him because it was between Rolling Stones gigs. They had Stanley Clarke on bass, Ian McLagan on keyboards, and Bobby Keys on Sax. It was like the Rolling Stones without Mick.  So I went on the road with them the first week and got to know them.  We’d fly to big cities in their plane, and stay in big hotels, and they’d go out and do concerts every night.  At the end of the week I got to know those guys so well that when my week was over they still had two weeks of concerts left, and Ron Wood’s manager said “Henry, the guys know you so well now and like you, why don’t we just hire you for the next two weeks”?

There’s a series of shots where Richards and Wood sitting in a tiny plane mugging for the camera, tell me about that.

It was a tiny little plane.  After the whole three weeks were over, their last concert was in San Diego and we were in Los Angeles.  They were going to drive three buses down there, a three-hour bus ride from L.A.  The band, the roadies, the girlfriends, everyone was going to go down there on these buses; everyone except Keith and Ronnie. They were going to take a 45-minute flight.  The road manager for that tour was a guy named Charlie Fernandez, and Charlie had been the Eagles’ road manager in the early days when we all flew around in small planes, and he was my pal.  So, on that tour he was always putting me in that limo with Ron and Keith because he knew I’d get good pictures.

It was a four-seater plane, and Keith had a girlfriend going, and Ron Wood’s wife backed out at the last minute, so Charlie said “Henry, you come and jump in the plane and fly down there with them”.  He saw me photographing the Eagles on their small plane, and I got great shots of Glen Frey and Don Henley in the days when we flew around in these little airplanes.  So, there’s a passport into somebody’s life.

What stood out about that shoot?

The fact that they just had so much fun, they just laughed and had a great time. They were like a captive audience, sitting two feet in front of me for forty-five minutes carrying on, telling stories, laughing and joking, while Reggae music came out of the boom box they brought along. I didn’t get in their face; I would wait until they were really animated and pick up the camera. I didn’t want them to say, “Hey man, would you knock it off”.  They were so much fun; it wasn’t all about shooting.  You know Cockney guys have their whole other language that nobody else can understand, and their whole attitude was just to take the piss out of everything.

Did you run into Keith during the Desert Trip last summer?

I saw him on stage like everyone else. They had separate areas backstage for each individual group, and I only had a pass to go to Neil’s area, so I couldn’t go into the Rolling Stones or The Who’s area.  I ran into one guy who worked for Golden Voice and he was telling me he had the same problem.  So, security was tight.  I haven’t seen Keith a whole lot since The New Barbarians tour.

There are a few people who have remained through all of this. Jerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell from the group America, they’ve been my best friends through it all.  So many people have died, moved away, quit the business, and had a family.  So many friends I never see any more.

I hope we get to see you and your friends for many years to come Henry!

All photos courtesy Henry Diltz

Here’s a link to the documentary that Fender produced:

To see Henry Diltz’s famous photographs:



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About Ivor Levene (3 Articles)
Ivor Levene likes to interview musicians, write about music and musicians, play music, listen to music, read about music, photograph musicians, and anything else you can think of with music. He has been involved with the music scene for over thirty years and his posts have appeared all over the place! Ivor says "I'm going to write about music as long as I have something to say".

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