BEHIND THE LENS, BEHIND THE MUSIC
VH1 – Behind The Music – 1998 (TV)
VH1 – Mötley Crüe – 1998 (TV)
ROCKSTAR: 2001 (movie)
GUNS N’ ROSES – 2007 (TV)
VH1 – REINVENTING BONADUCE – 2009 (TV)
and many more
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — In the rock n’ roll business for more than 40 years, photographer Neil Zlozower has watched more than his fair share of rising stars from behind the camera.
Having spent time with the likes of Motley Crue, Ratt and Van Halen, as they made their way to the top of the charts, “Zloz” got to know the behind-the-music business of rock long before VH1. Beginning his career as a glorified fan, Zlozower has gone on to become one of the most sought-after photographers in the biz.
Talking rock n’ roll with Zloz is like discussing tan lines with Hugh Hefner or escort services with Charlie Sheen. During the course of this conversation Zloz was bombarded with calls concerning a magazine cover featuring Korn that he’d just taken for a guitar magazine, an assignment that will have him shooting Alice Cooper for his latest, a producer from VH1 regarding a “Behind the Music” special on Bon Jovi and a call from one of the guys in Laidlaw.
Obviously being a rock n’ roll photographer keeps him busy, but being “Zloz” is a full-time job. He shoots who he digs, so working with Zloz is not just working with a pro, it’s an official rock n’ roll endorsement. In his own way, he’s become as much of a Hollywood legend as the bands he’s worked with.
Zloz took a few minutes out of his busy day to sit down with the DLR Army and talk shop. From MTV to Van Halen’s early days on the Sunset Strip, Zloz pulls no punches.
DLR ARMY: So how did you get started in this business?
ZLOZ: ” I used to take the bus up to Hollywood Boulevard and the highlight would be going to this English record shop called Lewin’s Record Paradise on Hollywood and Wilcox Boulevards.”
“My father took me to a pawn shop in East L.A. and bought a Honeywell Pentax H3V. I was already going to concerts and started bringing my camera along with me.”
“They didn’t have the big, fat bouncers then so you could just buy cheap seats and walk to the front. We used to make these phony backstage passes and we’d show them to the ‘venue ushers’ and we’d sit there all night and shoot photos just for fun.”
“Then I started selling them at a record shop across from my high school. I got 60 cents and the owner got 40 cents. In a month’s time I got $35 for doing that. That was sort of the beginning.”
DLR ARMY: Do you remember the first time you heard Van Halen?
ZLOZ: “I was working with some other photographers, I was in the office one day in 1978 and I heard (mimicking the intro to “Runnin’ With the Devil”) ‘neaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar… bomp, bomp, bomp’ and I was like ‘What the fuck is this? This is fuckin’ bad ass!'”
“Back in 1978, don’t forget, we were dealing with Donna Summer, Village People, Bee Gees, all that crap. I hated that shit. Zloz has always been a hard rockin’ type of guy. I heard ‘You Really Got Me’ and I was blown away. I said I’ve got to work with these guys.”
“My philosophy about working with bands has always been that you’ve got to work with them while they’re young, because by the time they get big everybody wants to work with them. That first VH album just blew me away. That’s fuckin’ rock n’ roll history as far as I’m concerned.”
DLR ARMY: Being a homeboy, you must have had the chance to catch VH at The Whiskey or one of the other local bars?
ZLOZ: “I remember seeing them at a club called the Starwood once. One of my girlfriends was like ‘You’ve got to see this band Van Halen, they’re so good!’ She used to work at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go and they were the house band. I remember going to the Starwood in like 1977, which was in the ‘Quaalude Days.’ I think I probably took a couple of quaaludes and fell asleep during the set and woke up going ‘… that band… wasn’t sooo fucking…. good…’ I don’t even remember seeing the show.”
DLR ARMY: Do you recall the first time you worked with the guys on a shoot?
ZLOZ: “The first time I really met them and worked with them was backstage at a show in Oakland… I can’t remember, either Cheap Trick or Ted Nugent, maybe AC-DC. They were second opener on the bill. I had to go to show them the photos. I guess at this point they didn’t deal with any ‘professional’ photographers. But in 1978 I was already shooting for about 9 years. So when they saw what I did, and considering it was a fast backstage thing, they were excited. They never had people pose them and do what I did with them. When I had to go meet them in the publicist’s office they were sort of blown away with what I did in such a short period of time… I don’t know if you ever saw the pictures. They were in front of a red, yellow and green fence backstage (* one of the pictures is featured at www.zloz.com under “Classic Shots”). Dave was pretty funky back then. It was Van Halen at their purest, rawest form.”
DLR ARMY: You must have impressed them right away. Your relationship grew from one gig?
ZLOZ: “They dug what I did, and at that point I started working with them a lot more closely.”
DLR ARMY: You all got to be quite close. More than just the hired gun photographer, you and the band started to hang out and ended up being pretty tight.
ZLOZ: “We used to hang out a lot in those days. Eddie and Dave used to stop by my house all the time. I remember going to a Judas Priest show at the time at the Santa Monica Civic, I think there was a big party back at my place after. After Eddie started making some money he got himself a Jeep, a CJ-5 or -7, and used to park it in front of my apartment. I had the very front unit and he used to pull up on the grass, right there. Nobody else did that but Eddie.”
DLR ARMY: What a great time. You had become an established photographer, these guys were literally living their dream. That must have been a very special period for all of you. Both parties at the top of their games…
ZLOZ: “They were young, they were crazy, they liked to party and they liked to hang with the pretty women. I used to have great times with them, basically those were some of the best times of my life. Going on tour with Van Halen in 1978, 1979, 1980, those were the days. I was about 25 or 26 years old. Dave is actually nine days older than me.
“We just got along great, they’re like family. Even now when I see Ed, he’s like family. Dave treats me like family. Mike Anthony is about the best guy in the whole world. You won’t find a nicer guy than Michael. I’d like to think my 20-some year relationship has endured through the years.”
DLR ARMY: Did you ever shoot any of the Black Sabbath shows when VH opened up for them?
ZLOZ: “I shot one that was at Anaheim Stadium, where the Van Halen guys supposedly parachuted in and then came on stage. They blew Black Sabbath away. Van Halen, in their day, was the most brutal band out there. They were untouchable, nobody could compete with them. By 1978 even The Rolling Stones had come to pass, Van Halen’s tours were incredible.”
DLR ARMY: You’ve watched a lot of great performers up close; Elton John, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix. What is it about Dave that made an impression on you?
ZLOZ: “Dave is probably one of the best showmen ever in the history of rock music. Yeah, Mick Jagger is a showman, but Dave knew how to stroke that audience, man. He knew what they wanted and he knew how to get them going. He was fuckin’ amazing, he was the ultimate rock star.”
DLR ARMY: Did you sense that things were coming to an end in 1984.
ZLOZ: “They all seemed to get along, but during the 1984 tour there was a lot of tension. Up to that point (VH) were fairly happy. It’s not like during the day they would all be chumming around with each other. They all had their own interests.”
“Take Ratt for example. I shot the cover of their first album (their self-titled E.P.) and they were living in a one bedroom apartment, they were hungry and the music was the most important thing in their lives. Then you start making money, and you start to acquire the important things in life; like cars, women, houses… It gets to the point where everyone starts driving each other crazy and everyone is a ‘unique’ individual. They have different likes and dislikes.”
“I could see the (VH) growing farther and farther apart, though. You’re dealing with very individual people, like any band.”
DLR ARMY: I’m just trying to fathom the fun that you guys must have had on the road together!
ZLOZ: “It was a fucking incredible experience. I’ve seen things and done things that no other human beings will ever do in their lives. Me and Alex probably hung out the most out of everybody. Me and Al had some great times. There would always be kids hanging out in front of the hotel or at the gig. We’d grab a couple of kids and say ‘You got a car? Take us to get some beer!’ It was a free-for-all. Anything went in those days.”
“You wouldn’t believe some of the shit we used to do… I can’t get into details otherwise the cops would come knocking on my door.”
“It was the most fun time of my life. I’ve been on tour with bands like Poison, Motley Crue, Ratt — as far as I’m concerned Van Halen put them all to shame, as far as girls and good times.”
DLR ARMY: It sounds like all of you were close. Did that become tough maintaining your friendships with all concerned when Dave split from the rest of Van Halen?
ZLOZ: “It did get tough, even though I didn’t take sides. I’m a photographer, I didn’t go ‘I’m going to work with Dave and alienate the VH guys’ or whatever. I don’t know about Eddie and Al, but I think the manager at the time (Ed Lefler) just tried to clear house and get a whole new camp going. I know Alex’s drum tech Gregg Emerson, who was with them before I ever met them, got the boot. I don’t know if he got the boot, but I know the ‘organization,’ — not so much Ed and Al — made it so unbearable, he bailed on them. Things definitely changed.”
“I never thought there was any problem between me and the Van Halen guys. They came out with their product before Dave came out with his product. I was working with a writer when they started doing press and whoever she was talking to at the time, probably the publicist — not Ed or Al — said ‘Oh no, Neil can’t work with Van Halen, there’s some really bad blood between them. He’s not allowed to work with them.’ I was like ‘What!’ That’s the first I heard of it.”
DLR ARMY: So you didn’t work with them while Sammy was in the band?
ZLOZ: “Basically between 1985 until 1995 I never worked with Van Halen. Finally after their manager passed away I went up and did a shoot up at the house. They had an album coming out, they had a press day. It was like the family again. They were very cool with me.”
“David Lee Roth is Van Halen. Period. No ifs, ands or buts.” -Neil Zlozower
DLR ARMY: After the break-up you relationship with Dave never faltered. As he put “Eat Em’ and Smile” together, he asked for your help?
ZLOZ: “Six or seven months after the Van Halen guys came out with their product, Dave came out with ‘Eat Em and Smile’ which to me just fucking kicks ass, it’s a great album. The band was just phenomenal. You can’t put together a better band than that.”
“I personally was not into any of the albums that Sammy did with Van Halen. I don’t have any of them, there’s one or two songs I like. ‘Best of Both Worlds’ is about the only song that I can tolerate from that period of their career. It just, to me, was not Van Halen.
“David Lee Roth is Van Halen. Period. No ifs, ands or buts.”
“Dave came out with ‘Eat Em and Smile’ and from Day One I did all their photo shoots. Dave called up (doing a dead-on impression of DLR) ‘Hey, we need to do some shoots Zloz…’ and I did 99% of all the work for the David Lee Roth Band until (A Little Ain’t Enough).”
DLR ARMY: As a frequent visitor to Club Dave, what are some of your memories?
ZLOZ: “Girls, girls, girls, more girls. Having a good time. People drinking, girls dancing. The whole purpose of Club Dave was to get the cream of the crop of girls at that particular show and deal with them… however anyone wanted to deal with them. It was usually about 30 to 40 people, depending on what the town or the show was like.”
DLR ARMY: So what do you think of all this reunion talk? Lots of people what to see classic Van Halen hit the road, at least do a couple of new songs. Knowing them as you do, what do you think the chances are that we’ll see that?
ZLOZ: “I have my thoughts on the whole thing, but I don’t really want to comment. I think the tour would just be huge, it would put all the tours of the last 10 years to shame.”
“Dave’s last tour, he was in fine form, he was singing as well as ever, jumping around as much as ever. Everyone I know who saw that tour just fucking loved it, they thought it was the best thing.”
“I went to one show in San Diego with my friend, who is tour manager for KISS, and a couple of friends of mine from the band Hair of the Dog. They just loved it. The tour manager for KISS was in the front row and thought it was just the greatest thing since bubble gum.”
DLR ARMY: One of the controversies regarding the band since 1996 has been whether or not Dave could contribute anything to a reunion, if there ever was one.For my money, the “DLR Band” c.d. was as good as it gets. You heard the disc, you saw the tour. Do you still think he’s got what it takes to front VH?
ZLOZ:“I love Dave, he’s one of my heroes in life. After ‘Skyscraper’ he had some albums that were less spectacular than ‘Eat Em and Smile.’ Dave’s last solo album is fucking incredible though. As far as I’m concerned it’s as good as any album he’s ever done, ever. He had great musicians, great songs, great lyrics, just kick fuckin’ ass. The attitude was back, he got back to his roots.”
DLR ARMY: How was Dave changed through the years? Is he still pretty much the same guy?
ZLOZ: “You know what, there’s two Daves to me; there’s Dave and there’s David Lee Roth. I know Dave!!! I’ve seen David Lee Roth before. Dave to me is ‘Dave,’ you know, and as far as I’m concerned he hasn’t changed much.”
DLR ARMY: All the bands you’ve shot, all the concerts you’ve seen… is there one gig that sticks out in your mind as being a favorite shoot?
ZLOZ: “The Motley Crue ‘Blood Session’ I did, that was a lot of fun. Not necessarily doing the group that day, but more shooting Nikki that day after everybody else left. Nikki hung around and we just got fuckin’ wiped out. We had a lot of fun. The ‘Blood Session’ (*some of those pictures are also available for view at www.zloz.com) is one of my all-time favorite shoots.”
DLR ARMY: What do you think of MTV nowadays?
ZLOZ: “I haven’t watched MTV in the last 10 years. Sorry, nothing on MTV for Zloz.”
“The whole industry has changed. Nowadays I don’t go on the road much. I own my own studio in Hollywood and do a lot of studio work. The jobs I’m doing now pay me a lot more.” “Musically there’s much that I like. As far as new bands, Hair of the Dog, I like. One of my favorite bands is a band called Laidlaw, which I think is just incredible. They’re on Nikki’s label. Actually one of the guitarists, Craig, used to be Michael Anthony’s bass tech for a long time. There aren’t many new bands, if you start talking Blink 182, Korn, I just don’t get that shit. No offense, that’s just not Zlozower’s cup of tea, you know.”