Saturday, April 26, 2008
When my good friend and fellow photographer John Cary (see his photo blog at http://www.randomframe.org/)called and asked if I was interested in shooting this concert called Farm Aid back in 1985, I was more than thrilled and a bit anxious too. He was a bureau photographer for United Press in Illinois and the concert was going to be in Champagne Illinois. He knew I loved shooting concerts and could handle stage shooting when he was busy with other work on site. My only concern was to not let him down.
Since most major concerts only allowed me the first three songs from a perfomance, it was going to be a kick to stay on stage and shoot act after act when they only got an average of three songs. A nice reversal of roles. I took the train up to Illinois and met John a couple days early. We covered opening events with the Governor, press events and even had a chance to have a beer in a bar with Hoyt Axton. Cool by me. We shot stage construction, whatever any subscriber to the wire service might use.
Day of the show unfortunately was overcast with occasional rain. I actually think some of the stuff I shot that day was helped by it. For all the things I didn't get to shoot during that day, what I did shoot easily makes it one of the most significant and satisfying days of my career. I was elbow to elbow with some of the best photographers in the country like Lucien Perkins of the Washington Post.
I did get a lot of photos on the wire that day that were played around the world. It was an important day in a lot of ways besides the beginning of a great concert series that works to benefit the smaller family farmers. It was the day that saw the genesis of the Traveling Wilbury's, one of my fav all time 'supergroups'.
But the most popular shots from the day were those of Jon Bon Jovi and his mates. He was riding the crest of his popularity, every teen girls dream. My two favorite shots of him are here. The first and most popular is him shot with a 200mm in profile, wind from the weather blowing in his face and sweeping his hair back. The second was from on stage as he went down to a lower lip of the stage right in the face of the crowd with his arms upraised, his blue cape swept back and those bright red shoes. I just love how that shot really wraps up the sense-of-place that makes all great photos for me. And he is still a favorite of many fans, still producing some great music. Still good looking, just ask most any woman.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Going in, I really didn't know who he was. My musical friend and co-conspirator in concerts then, Kelley Bass, knew more than I did. We dropped by the club mid-afternoon where Roy Buchanan was going to play that night. He was so soft-spoken, gentle and nice. I asked if he'd mind posing for a portrait and he was more than willing. He was patient and I tried to quickly set something up, light it with a couple old Vivitar 283 flash units. He smiled so openly and friendly.
That night I went back to shoot the show. The club, the SOB (shrimp-oyster-bar) was about 40 tables pushing up to the lip of the small stage. HE BLEW MY MIND! He out Jimi'd Hendrix, out Stevie'd MR Vaughan. I guess that was because I realized that he'd been doing it long before they picked up their instruments. He played lead on Dale Hawkin's (i'll add him in a later post) hit "My Babe" in 1957. Later he joined a Canadian singer Ronnie Hawkins eventually being replaced by Robbie Robertson in the group that went on to become The Band.
His guitar work stretched what people thought possible. Mostly playing a 1953 Telecaster, utilizing a technique I don't completely understand called Pinch Harmonics, a trebly sound emerged similar to a Fender Amp turned to 11. He counted John Lennon, Eric Clapton and Merle Haggard as fans and supposedly was offered a position with the Stones. PBS did a documentary on him titled The Best Unknown Guitarist In The World. I can't argue. I shot him touring behind his 12th album Hot Wires.
Even though he headlined Carnegie Hall a number of times, widespread fame eluded him. Sadly, he was arrested about a year after this show for public intoxication where he was found hung some hours later in his cell.
I suppose things have changed some since I shot concerts but I bet one thing hasn't...road managers. You're at their mercy. If they had a problem with a photographer the night before, or for that matter, are just in a bad mood, it can ruin your shoot. They see you as someone in the way, as someone getting something for nothing, just a work hassle for them.
I always arranged credentials with the record companies on arena shows. You can't count on 'friends' or the venue to get you in. But even with an 'official' credential from the record company, the road manager is the big man on site.
I shot AC DC twice, the first time in color on 400 speed ektachrome in the early 80's. When I had an opportunity to shoot them again a couple years later I decided that I'd like to shoot some black and white. I checking in at Will-Call, picked up my credential, got in an hour early, made friends with all the T-shirt security before the lights went down so they would know I belonged and wouldn't hassle me during the short three first songs I got to shoot. I also always made friends with the front row of fans behind the barricade. That way they weren't jealous but helpful, knowing I was a fan and wouldn't be in their way much. If not, they often pounded me with thrust body parts.
So this second AC DC shoot, I did all my usual routine. The lights went down, the crowd screamed in the dark, the amps and monitors at my face hummed with anticipation. Flashlights appeared on stage leading bandmembers to their spots. Slowly the lights came up on the center of the stage. A steaming rocket, ready to launch came up out of the floor like a atomic warhead. As it reached its height, a door at the top popped down and Angus Young stepped forward hitting his signature licks and the crowd really went crazy. As I shot my first three or four frames, someone grabbed my collar and yanked me backwards. I spun around only to find a 'huge' guy in my face screaming at me "NO PHOTOS, GET THE HELL OUT!" GO GO GO!" in his Australian accent. I tried in the dark to point to my credential plastered front and center on my shirt. I tried arguing but with 140 decibels in my ear I couldn't even hear myself complain as he dragged me over to the side of the stage and literally chunked me away from the stage.
Such is life. The color shot here is from the first time I shot them, the other is my last frame from this show, the moment he gripped my shirtcollar.
As the old saying goes, the third time is the charm. I shot this of B B King on my third time to shoot him in performance. The first two shoots went ok but I never felt like I got anything that hadn't been shot by everyone else. Nice shot of his expressive face, of Lucille. But I always hoped for something a bit more unique and special, trying to create THE iconic image of the artist. Few shoots every work out that way but it's always an aim.
On this third time to shoot him, I was in a convention center. I had shot the usual and, not seeing anything else, had given up. I was leaving the show through a side door stage-left when I turned back as I went out and saw, just for a moment, the main spotlight rim-light BB and his famed guitar Lucille. I immediately moved into position with the hope that the light and moment would come back and it did. I managed about 15 frames on Tri-X 400 speed black and white film before he moved to a different area of the stage. Most likely I was shooting with a Nikon FM2 with either a 180mm 2.8 or a 80-200mm 2.8.
B B has become a personal favorite to shoot. I've sense had a chance to shoot him in his club on Beale St. in Memphis. I was able to spend a day with him. When I went to that shoot and show, I made two archival 11X14 prints of this photograph. I never believed in asking for autographs usually but on this one, I gave him one print and he signed the other for me. It's a cherished framed print. At that shoot, I wanted to get a shot of him out front with 'lucille' with his neon BB KING sign over his head. By the time we made it happen, it was raining. He said he didn't care at all and said "come on!" I asked about getting Lucille wet. He grinned and said "no problem. I've got another in the back". He has to be one of the nicest gentlemen in the music industry. I'll post other shots and memories of him later.
My first post, my first blog. I worked days as a photojournalist in the 1970's and 1980's, while pursuing concert photography at night whenever and wherever I could get in to shoot. I changed to full time travel photography at the end of the 1980's and haven't shot concerts since. Recently I started scanning all my old boxed negatives that haven't see the light in years, some more than 30 years old. Labor of Love I tell you. Not all film was in good shape and I've learned a photoshop thing or two about film restoration. But some 2 years later, I find that I have a load of good stuff too. I started a website last month...artmeripol.com...to see if I can't sell some images. On my blog here, i hope to share memories or techniques for what I shot.
First up is this image I've always loved of Bruce Springsteen. This was shot on the Born in the USA tour in 1974 in Memphis, Tennessee. If you've never shot a concert, you might not be aware of the restrictions placed on a shooter. First, most shows limit you to the first three songs, about 10 minutes usually. Also there is no flash. So you have to be ready for anything, shoot fast and work the stage light. This one, unmanipulated, captured the Boss without any background. The only light was the spot and the rest of the background had no light, leaving him 'floating' in the frame. I like to think it was during a performance of the song Dancing in the Dark.
I'm going to try to post a photo every week or two and give a little background in some way to each one.