Rock’s most famous photographer, Jim Marshall, has died at age 74. Look back at his remarkable life and career in our obituary and gallery of his most iconic shots of Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and more. Read Rolling Stone executive editor Jason Fine’s introduction to Jim Marshall’s book Trust here:
The first time I met Jim Marshall, he hugged me. The next time, he screamed and cursed me out. The circumstances don’t really matter, the emotions do.
Jim is an intense dude: volatile, unpredictable, hilarious, sometimes infuriating, always charming and incredibly generous. Jim’s force of personality comes through in all of his photographs, which are some of the most intimate and iconic portraits of jazz, folk and rock & roll musicians taken over the past fifty years. Most of Jim’s photographs would not have happened had he not cajoled and charmed his way into the lives of his subjects. They definitely would not have happened if Jim’s subjects hadn’t trusted him.
Unlike a lot of the major rock photographers that followed in his path, Jim’s pictures are very straightforward — they don’t come with elaborate concepts, studio props or professional styling. They are really just moments: on stage, in recording studios, hotel rooms, restaurants, buses, or backstage dressing rooms. Most of his shots are taken in natural light, with an old Leica camera. The only demand Jim makes on his subjects is access — a lot of access. “If someone doesn’t want me to shoot them, fine, fuck ’em,” he says. “But if they do, there can’t be any restrictions.”
Back in rock’s glory days — when Jim was the house photographer at Monterey and Woodstock, when he dropped LSD with the Dead (actually, they dosed him) and he toured with the Stones in ’72 — Jim’s appetite for booze and drugs was legendary. In fact, one of the secrets of his success was that he kept taking pictures after all the other photographers went to bed.
What’s most striking about his photographs is how even in the most chaotic moments he finds clarity and candor. Jim’s photographs are remarkable for the ease with which they convey something deep and real about their subjects.
You can see this in his most legendary shots — Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar on stage at Monterey in 1967, or Miles Davis in a boxing ring, but you can also see it in his quieter photographs, many of which are collected in this first-ever anthology of Jim’s color work.
What comes across is a deep empathy for the musicians he photographed, and an ability to capture their pride and sense of purpose, even when circumstances were less than ideal. I love the shot of Muddy Waters, for example, looking almost amused as he sits on a threadbare chair in one more ratty Chicago nightclub or Johnny Cash, heavy and brooding before his 1968 performance at Folsom Prison, with the guard tower looming over his shoulder.
Recently, over scotches in one of Jim’s favorite New York bars, I asked what he sees in this collection of his work. “How the fuck should I know?” he said. “I was there. I took some photographs. This is them. I don’t know what it means. I never had an agenda.” Jim likes to talk tough — and make no mistake, even at age 72 he is a badass dude — but he’s also got a more reflective side. As he told me the stories behind these photographs, he started to smile and laugh, and even teared up when he remembered his relationships with some of these artists.
“I love all these musicians — they’re like family,” he said. “Looking back, I realize I was there at the beginning of something special, I’m like a historian. There’s an honesty about this work that I’m proud of. It feels good to think, my God, I really captured something amazing.”