Bob Gruen kicks off his column for Please Kill Me with the story of how he got his start as a rock photographer, and a selection of photos from his book ‘The Photography of Rock’ – featuring Ike & Tina Turner, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Labelle, the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Alice Cooper, and Elton John
Hello PleaseKillMe.com! I am very happy to have been asked by my good friend Legs McNeil to make a regular column feature for PleaseKillMe.com.
I’ll start with a few of my early pictures that show where my career began. Growing up in the 1950s, I heard rock and roll when it was first played on the radio and I was an immediate fan.
I went to the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 as a fan, but brought a letter saying I was photographing for a public relations firm so I could get a photo pass. (I couldn’t afford a ticket so my mom got a friend of hers at the PR firm to write the letter). I took my first concert photos there, and got a good one of Bob Dylan when he first played with a rock band there. But I didn’t know anyone in the music business, so I had nowhere to send the photos.
In the late 1960s, I was living with a rock band (the Glitterhouse) and started my career by taking pictures of them. They were discovered by Bob Crewe, who produced a record for them (Colorblind-Atlantic Records 1968). The record company used my photos and hired me to photograph more groups.
I went to see Ike and Tina Turner in 1970 at the Honka Monka Room in Queens and sat on the floor in front of the stage, taking photographs. At the end of the show, Tina danced offstage in a flashing strobe light and I tried a one-second exposure to see if I could catch several images of her in the one photo. It came out really well and a few days later I got to show it to Ike and Tina at their next show. They liked it and my other photos and introduced me to their record company publicist. He introduced me to more people in the music business and I was on my way. Soon I was working for many record companies, and in 1972 I was included in the first book of rock music photos (The Photography of Rock).
The writer who interviewed me for the book liked my photos and the following week brought me to take pictures for a magazine of his interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. John & Yoko liked the photos I took and used one in the package for their next record album, Sometime In New York City, and I’ve been very busy ever since.
For this first column I have chosen some of my photos that were published in The Photography of Rock – Ike & Tina Turner, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Labelle, the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Alice Cooper, and Elton John.