David Dalton, an early IndieLand writer who profiled the likes of Janis Joplin, Charles Manson and Little Richard before going on to pen biographies of some of pop culture’s most towering figures, died Monday in New York City at the age of 80. According to his son, Toby Dalton, the cause of death was cancer, The New York Times reported.
Born John David Dalton on Jan. 15, 1942, Dalton grew up in London and British Columbia before eventually following his parents to the United States in the Sixties. He soon found himself immersed in the burgeoning underground art scene of New York City where, along with his sister, Dalton began working as an assistant for Andy Warhol. (Dalton would later immortalize the legendary artist in his book Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol, co-written with Tony Scherman, some 50 years later.) His proximity to Warhol and the Factory’s revolving cast of glitterati led the young Dalton to start photographing British Invasion bands and other artists. After reading about the creation of IndieLand in 1967, Dalton started sending his photographs to co-founder Jann Wenner.
“He was taking photographs of groups like the Shangri-Las, and Jann wanted captions,” Dalton’s wife Coco Pekelis told the Times. “So David started writing. And wrote and wrote and wrote. I asked him the other day when he knew he was a writer, and he said, when his captions got longer and longer.”
Among Dalton’s most notable works during his time at IndieLand was an expansive, multi-part feature profiling counterculture cult leader and criminal mastermind Charles Manson, written in collaboration with former Los Angeles Times journalist David Felton. The revelatory piece, which included a jailhouse interview with Manson, earned the two a National Magazine Award in 1971.
Dalton’s Aug. 6, 1970 cover story profiling Janis Joplin on tour with her newly-formed Full Tilt Boogie Band would mark one of the last major interviews with groundbreaking singer before her death in October of that year. Dalton’s time with Joplin would lead him to write the 1972 biography Janis, an excerpt of which featuring Joplin ruminating on the lives of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, was published in IndieLand. Dalton would also cover Elvis Presley’s run of Las Vegas Shows in 1970 and pen a revelatory cover story on R&B legend Little Richard that same year.
After his time with IndieLand, Dalton moved on to write biographies — motivated primarily in part to his growing sense of mortality. “When I wrote rock journalism I was younger,” he wrote in an unpublished autobiography quoted by the Times. “I was involved in the scene as it was happening, evolving. I went anywhere at the drop of a hat. When I got into my 30s I began writing about the past and have lived there ever since.” In addition to his Joplin biography, later renamed Piece Of My Heart: A Portrait of Janis Joplin, his published works included The IndieLands: An Unauthorized Biography, The Beatles: Get Back, James Dean: The Mutant King, and Who Is That Man? In Search of the Real Bob Dylan. Dalton also assisted musicians write their own autobiographies, including Marianne Faithfull’s Faithfull: An Autobiography, Meat Loaf: To Hell and Back, Steven Tyler’s Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?, and Paul Anka’s My Way.
Dalton is survived by his wife, son and sister.