During my 20-year stint with High Times—I held numerous titles, including co-editor and music editor—I coordinated more than three-dozen photo shoots with celebrities, mostly musicians. Many are featured in the 500th issue of High Times.
It all started with Cypress Hill in late 1991. Columbia Records had just signed the Los Angeles-based hip-hop band, which had also hooked up with NORML to promote the organization. They arrived in New York for a concert at the Apollo Theatre (they were fifth on the bill). The next day we had scheduled a shoot with photographer Andrew Brusso.
Managing editor Judy McGuire wrote about the shoot in the March 1992 issue that featured B-Real, Sen Dog and DJ Muggs on the cover: “The band rolled in around 10:30 am and we were ready to go. Cypress Hill were the best. Extremely polite and nice, they showed nary a trace of rock-god obnoxiousness.”
In addition to the cover, we shot B-Real rolling a blunt, which appeared in the centerfold. It was a first for High Times.
Several months later, it was the Black Crowes’ turn. If Cypress Hill were the leading weed-smoking rappers, Georgia’s Black Crowes had established themselves as the No. 1 pot rockers by performing at that year’s Atlanta Pot Festival, which I attended. For the cover story, I was invited to interview lead singer Chris Robinson at his house in Atlanta. We spent the day (keyboardist Eddie Harsch was also there) getting high and listening to music.
However, we weren’t able to organize a photo shoot, so instead we used a distorted image of the band (provided by their publicist at Robinson’s suggestion) by Mark Seliger with Robinson hitting a joint on the July 1993 cover. It’s the kind of image that would never pass for a cover today at High Times.
With these two covers, the floodgates had opened. Suddenly, bands were lining up to appear on the cover. For the next few years we repeated the formula, with hip-hop covers in March and rock covers in July. For the March 1993 cover we set our sights on Redman and Brand Nubian, who were instructed to go to Michael Benabib’s studio. Brand Nubian—Grand Puba, Lord Jamar, Sadat X and DJ Sincere—showed up first, and photos were taken. Then Redman came walking up the stairs with a boom box blasting on his shoulder. Reggie Noble’s charismatic personality translated into a cover with him lighting a blunt. Brand Nubian’s publicist and the band weren’t too happy that the cover went to Redman, but that’s sometimes how shoots go. Redman’s photo was simply more compelling. It was the first of many cover stories written by Greg Casseus.
The next rock cover went to Skid Row lead singer Sebastian Bach. I’d never been much of fan of the band, but once HT contributor Brijitte West brought Bach up to the office, we made a quick connection and arranged for a photo shoot, also by Benabib. During the shoot, we decide to pull a prank on Bach. We lined up some bleach on a mirror and told him it was coke and we wanted him to pose with it. In the ’70s and ’80s, that would have been de riguer at an HT shoot, but no longer in the ’90s. We all got a good laugh out of that one at Bach’s expense. The cover, with Bach wearing a crown, titled “King of the Kind,” appeared on the July 1993 issue.
The next year was a big one for celebs on the cover of High Times. It started with Ziggy Marley in the January 1994 issue. For the last couple of years I’d been knocking on his record label’s door for an interview and had been rebuffed. But for the Joy and Blues Melody Makers release, I received a call from the Virgin publicist, who said Ziggy wanted to do the interview and photos (taken by Andre Grossmann). This was the beginning of a beautiful relationship with the Marley family and High Times that lasts to this day (Damian Marley recently purchased partial ownership of High Times).
MTV’s Beavis & Butt-head was hugely popular at the time. I saw a cool image of them dressed as hippies with Beavis smoking a joint in the book, This Book Sucks. I asked the publisher if we could use the image; surprisingly, they agreed. The daffy duo appeared on the April issue cover.
The July “rock” cover went to Fishbone. I had a huge hand in this one. My idea was for the group’s lead singer and saxophonist Angelo Moore to wear his “hemp zoot suit” and to fill his sax with large cola buds. It went off just as planned, with photos by Anneli Adolfsson and cover story by Casseus.
We followed with another rock cover in October. Since the Spin Doctors couldn’t get it together for a shoot, we used a photo provided by the band for the cover. The next month we did get to shoot Milla Jovovich, the model and soon-to-be-actress, who was working on her music career at the time. Just 19, she visited the office with her publicist and played us a few songs. Joshua Jordan shot Jovovich’s “Women on Pot” cover, which rivals the Debbie Harry cover from 1977.
For the August 1996 issue we focused our pens and lenses on Wu-Tang Clan. This was a fun shoot in Shoalin, the Staten Island home base for one of New York’s most notorious hip-hop posses. Casseus, photog Dennis DiChiaro and I arrived at the house early in the day. Many hours passed before the shoot could begin, because Method Man was not there yet. We smoked blunts to the point where we could barely see. Meth finally arrived, stole the shoot and ended up on the cover, holding a blunt.
We continued with reggae-themed issues in January 1997 (a great photo of Culture’s Joseph Hill in a pot field in Jamaica by Brian Jahn) and January 1998. The latter featured Ziggy Marley’s younger brother and fellow Melody Maker, Stephen Marley. I wrote the story and Bob Berg took the photos.
The next month, February 1998, the cover was reserved for comedian George Carlin. We picked up a classic photo of Carlin and Rick Cusick conducted the interview. I met Carlin around that time; he was particularly friendly and a longtime fan of the mag.
We returned to Cypress Hill for the February 1999 cover, catching up with the band on the Smokin’ Grooves tour in Maryland. Raphael Fuchs focused his camera on frontman B-Real and I wrote my second Cypress Hill cover story.
Around that time, I received a call from Ozzy Osbourne’s publicist inquiring about a photo shoot and interview. Of course, we jumped at the opportunity. It wasn’t the easiest shoot. Everyone from High Times wanted to be there, but the publicist had other ideas and kept several editors, including interviewer Chris Simunek, out. Ozzy was particularly playful that day, running around Dennis Kleiman’s studio with a huge bag of buds like a kid in a candy store. It turns out he and other members of the Sabbath entourage pocketed a lot of them. When the March 1999 issue came out, publisher Mike Edison leaked the story to the New York Post, who ran the screaming headline, “Drug-Addled Rock Star Pilfers Pot, Chaos Reigns at Stoner Photo Shoot.” The Osbournes gave High Times the cold shoulder for the next few years, but the issue was hit.
I’d been trying to score an interview and photo shoot with Snoop Dogg for several years. After a number of false alarms, it finally came together for the first issue of the new millennium, January 2000. Snoop was already at Benabib’s studio when we arrived. The only problem was we still had not secured the high-quality buds needed for the shoot. About a half-hour later, several High Times staffers arrived with a big smelly bag. Snoop buried his head in it and came out with a big smile. The shoot was on. Most shoots were fairly fast, but this one went on for hours, to the point that I had to wake Snoop up from a catnap on the couch when it was all over. Pat Charles penned the cover story.
Senior editor and staff photograher Dan Skye was a big fan of Kevin Smith's stoner films like Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Dogma and Clerks. The Feb. 2000 issue featured Jason Mewes on the cover, and Skye followed that with Smith on the Oct. 2001 cover.
Snoop repeated the feat on the July 2002 issue. This time, rather than smoking a large joint, he had a blunt hanging from his lips and was holding two Stony Awards he’d received at the High Times movie awards show in March. Jahn took the impromptu photo backstage and I wrote the Stonys cover story.
The following month, August 2002, we were offered Jack Black and Kyle Gass, also known as Tenacious D, for the cover. It was a quick shoot. Black was appearing on Saturday Night Live that Saturday and had to get back for rehearsal. While Black didn’t smoke (he pocketed a bud), Gass was all over the pristine photo shoot weed. The big issue, raised by the Epic Records publicist, was not to separate the two in the photos. She was fearful that we’d just use Black on the cover, which was tempting, but we followed her wishes. Duke Lobos took the photos and Chris Parker wrote the cover story. We also featured Staind’s Aaron Lewis on the January 2002 cover (photo by Lobos, story by me).
The next year, 2003, was another big one for celebs on the cover, starting with Beenie Man in the January issue, photographed by Jahn in Beenie Man’s hotel room and written by Casseus. For the May issue, our subject was actress Frances McDormand, who was promoting her upcoming stoner movie, Laurel Canyon. She showed up at Lobos’ studio by herself wearing a potleaf t-shirt and ended up holding a lit joint on the cover (I wrote the story). The July cover featured Pauly Shore (also by Lobos), who’d hosted the Stony Awards, and for the October cover, Will Blochinger shot Sacha Baron Cohen in full Ali G character. Skye flew out to L.A. to document the shoot and write the story.
You’d figure that High Times would’ve targeted Willie Nelson for the cover and we did, but Nelson was never available… until he recorded the marijuana-themed album Countryman in 2005. “I think I’ve got Willie for you,” his record label’s publicist phoned with the good news. We dispatched Cusick and Jahn to Washington, D.C. for a shoot and interview that appeared in the October 2005 issue.
My last High Times cover shoot would bring me pretty much full circle. We’d featured Bob Marley many times, and his sons Ziggy and Stephen. Now, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley was becoming the next Marley superstar. Jahn and I went to his hotel room and nailed the cover for the June 2006 issue.
There were other shoots that weren’t for the cover—like the one where Jamiroquai’s Jay Kay got so stoned he couldn’t do the interview—but the celebrity cover shoots are the ones that stand out in my mind the most. They were always special occasions, as they remain today.