Rock-n-Roll Crash Course

with Stephen Stills

Tom Zimberoff


Stephen Stills at Caribou Ranch in the Colorado Rockies / ©1975 Tom Zimberoff / All Rights Reserved

The tortuous path to this portrait of Stephen Stills high up in the Colorado Rockies initially led downhill a year earlier and a thousand miles away.

Lookout Mountain Avenue — not really an avenue per se — is a steep and narrow lane that snakes up and down the west side of leafy Laurel Canyon, a rustic residential enclave in the bosom of the Hollywood Hills. Before there was Silicon Valley, this was Vinyl Valley. Looking back at the LA music scene of the late sixties and early seventies, it’s fanciful to think of this place as a haven for rock-n-roll bands the way we think about tech startups today. Managers were the CEOs. Record producers were the VCs. Bands frequently proffered a garage origin story, and a demo tape was the equivalent of a PowerPoint deck. The pitch to record companies went something like: We’re the Beach Boys of Country Folk.

My friend Donnie Dacus was a guitarist and singer I’d first heard rehearsing in a garage. He was eager to show me the Laurel Canyon house he’d just rented in 1974, five doors down from the Eagles. I was a rock photographer eager to show off my new Mercedes-Benz. Donnie had recently begun collaborating with Stills, co-writing and recording songs.

To say that Donnie plays a mean guitar is to trivialize his virtuosity. And his voice . . . The guy’s got pipes like a Wurlitzer organ. We’ve been friends since 1971, two years after he blew into LA from Cleburne, Texas. I was still in music school at USC. But as I grew more attached to the camera and honed my skills, so did Donnie tune up his guitar and tune in to the LA music scene.

Photographers and musicians have always traded off each other’s talents and connections, promoting each other for career advancement. We were artrepreneurs making our bones. So I jumped at the chance when a former high school classmate asked me to take some publicity pictures of a band he managed. It was a trio in the contemporary mode of Cream, the Doors, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. They called themselves Westbourne Drive.

Westbourne Drive / ©1971 Tom Zimberoff