View more photos in Neil Zlozower's Six-String Heroes slideshow.
“Talking rock n' roll with Zloz is like discussing tan lines with Hugh Hefner or escort services with Charlie Sheen,” boasts the Van Halen fans in the David Lee Roth Army (yeah, that's right, army). Not like we'd want to pick a fight with Diamond Dave's soldiers anyway but they're right; Over the course of his 40-year career, LA-based rock photographer Neil Zlozower has seen and heard it all, shot most of it, and been flipped off by the biggest names behind even bigger power chords.
From the first concert he photographed in 1969 (Rolling Stones at the Forum in Inglewood when he was just 14-years-old) to touring with Van Halen in his mid/late 20s to now publishing his fourth book, Six-String Heroes: Photographs of Great Guitarists, Zloz's career has been nothing short of epic.
“I'm a rock and roll photographer. That's probably what I'll do 'til the day I die, even though I'm still trying to figure out what I'm going to do when I grow up,” Zloz laughs as we wrap our interview. For the past half-hour we've been discussing Six-String Heroes in advance of Saturday's book signing and launch party at Mr. Musichead Gallery in Hollywood, an event that's bound to turn into a live-action Guitar World magazine spread.
“Slash will be there, [Steve] Vai is coming,” Zloz says casually. “I've been talkin' to Nikki [Sixx of Motley Crue], hopefully he's gonna come, there's going to be a lot of rock and rollers.” And that's the thing — whereas many photographers spend huge chunks of their career trying not to get their lens smashed in by some inebriated camera-phobe rocker, Zloz pretty much gets along great with everybody and is seen more as a friend and peer by the artists he shoots, rather than just a glossy gun for hire. Read our interview below for details on Zloz's new book, why Dimebag Darrell once showed up for a shoot dressed like Uncle Sam, and why photographing double chins is a major faux pas.
L.A. Weekly: One thing about your photography, there's a certain group of musicians that you tend to work with again and again. You've shot fuckin' everybody but who have you really been able to develop an artist-to-artist relationship with?
Neil Zlozower: They sort of come and go, to be honest with you. Right now I'd say Zakk Wylde, Slash — I love Slash, he's the nicest guy in the world. Every time I see Slash I think he just gets nicer and nicer. And with a name like Slash, I remember the first time I met him. He came to my house in about '83 and I'm like, “Who the fuck is this guy?” Like he just crawled up out of the gutter. He came with Marc Canter from Canter's Deli. But I just love Slash. And Chad Smith, I love Chad. Joe Satriani, Steve Vai is amazing, love working with Steve. At one time I was obviously tight with Van Halen but haven't really done anything with them recently. Love Michael Anthony, great guy. The Motley Crue guys, the Ratt guys. I've worked with a lot of people. I get along great with everybody.
L.A. Weekly: Out of all the books you've done, this one being Six-String Heroes, were there any parameters you had in mind when it came to the players that you chose to include?
Neil Zlozower: Honestly, there were some people in the book that I didn't want to put in and there were some people we just couldn't put in. Tom from Cinderella, I wanted him in. You know, after the book was closed we came up with a couple more people but it was too late. There were a couple people in the book that we pulled at the last minute and there were some people that we added at the last minute. But one thing about my books, I never just want to do a photo book like, “Here's photos of Van Halen, here's photos of Motley Crue, here's photos of these guitarists…” I try and give my readers a little bit more. With the Van Halen book I went to all my “rock star friends” and got quotes from them on what Van Halen meant to them, how Van Halen affected their career, how Van Halen changed the world musically, or if they had any good stories about partying with Van Halen. With the Motley book, I changed it a little and went to people who worked really closely with Motley in the beginning, like clothing designers or Doc McGhee who managed them or Tom Zutaut who signed them to Elektra or Nikki's first bass tech.
For this guitar book, like I said, I didn't want to just have photos of guitarists, that gets boring, so I went to my buddy Steve Rosen who I've known for 30-plus years. Myself and Steve used to go on interviews together, he was the writer and I was the photographer, and after he got done interviewing the person I'd be like, “Excuse me Mr. BB King, can I get you against this wall?” Steve and I were a team so I went to Steve before I started this guitar heroes book and said, “Look, I'm going to do this guitar heroes book and it's going to be the sickest guitar book ever made and I want to use quotes of yours that you did in interviews with these people.” I wanted to take different quotes on what the guitar means to these people, how the guitar has affected their life, what the guitar is as an instrument… I didn't really want them talking about their playing, [but rather] their philosophy and view point on the guitar as an instrument. I'm not a big ego person but personally I think this guitar book is the guitar book that all other guitar books in the future are going to have to try and top, at least [when it comes to] guitar books by one photographer. Other than Stevie Ray Vaughn who I never shot and other than Jimi Hendrix, I think this book has 99% of all the great guitarists that have passed before us.
L.A. Weekly: Do you regret not shooting Hendrix? Are you kicking yourself now?[Neil Zlozower: No, I don't regret it. I saw Jimi play four times. That was an amazing experience in my life. He died in 1969 and that's pretty much the beginning of my photography career… 1969 in November shooting the Stones at the Forum in Inglewood. And that was just being a glorified fan bringing my camera into a concert. I was a little 14-year-old punk but they didn't have the bouncers back then so I just walked down to the front of the stage with my camera and shot my idols. I loved the Rolling Stones when I was a kid. I'm still a fan of great music. if you said, “Neil, you either have to give up shooting photos or listening to music,” it would be give up shooting photos, period.
L.A. Weekly: Looking at some of these photos, you've got young Joe Perry…
Neil Zlozower: That was backstage at the Forum. Look at Joe, he's young there with that little Les Paul Jr. I love that shot of Joe. He looks so sweet and innocent.
L.A. Weekly: It looks like his arms couldn't hold a guitar much bigger.
Neil Zlozower: He was pretty skinny but not as skinny as Randy Rhoads!
L.A. Weekly: Then you've got Dimebag Darrell.
Neil Zlozower: Dimebag, tragic loss. So unfortunate what happened to Dime. But yeah, I love those photos of Dime. I think it was '96 when we did that because it was the year of the bicentennial. He came in and brought this top hat that was the American flag and he colored his beard silver and he sort of dressed up like Uncle Sam. It was pretty cute.
L.A. Weekly: Are there any rules as a rock photographer that you see others breaking all the time?
Neil Zlozower: Breaking the rules… the biggest problem I see is, even when shooting live photos, people just don't know when to shoot and when not to shoot. One of my biggest things is I don't want to see any of the people I shoot having double chins. When you're a guitarist, when you're playing you aren't posing so a lot of the time you're making pretty unflattering facial expressions. At this point in my career, I'm not going to come out with anything new that's never been done before. In the '80s I would come up with different back drops and new effects and things like that but, you know, I'm 55-years old and been there, done that. Maybe I've been an innovator, maybe I haven't. But now my biggest thing when I do a photo shoot or shoot live is to make the people look as great as possible. In the grunge days I'd see these photos where the artist looked like shit but the photo was really cool. I'd rather have people say, “Wow the artist looks really great.” That's what I do, I'm a rock and roll photographer. That's probably what I'll do 'til the day I die, even though I'm still trying to figure out what I'm going to do when I grow up.