Baron Wolman Tells Stories Behind Photos of the Who, CCR, Joplin – Rolling Stone
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Rolling Stone’s First Photographer: The Stories Behind Iconic Rock Photos

What it’s like to shoot the Who, CCR, Janis Joplin, AC/DC and more

Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck 1968

©Baron Wolman/Iconic Images

We Sixties rock & roll shooters are getting old! No surprise there.  But years ago it occurred to me that when we, one by one, all go to that big darkroom in the sky, our photos remain but the stories behind the photos go to Heaven with us. That fact was brought home to me each time I had a gallery exhibit of my pictures. "What was so and so musician like," I was asked again and again. "How was it to be backstage or on the stage with Jimi Hendrix or Led Zeppelin and all the others?"

Related: Shooting Jimi: Photos by Baron Wolman

I decided to make sure that at least some of my stories were left behind with the photos, and enlisted the help of my friend Dave Brolan of London, the world’s most knowledgeable music photo researcher and a musician himself, to gather a selection of images for a book. In Paris, Dave and I sat around in the cafés with the photos; I told stories, he took notes. Once the notes were transcribed, I brought the rough draft of the book to Bangkok where I edited our wide-ranging conversation into cogent sentences.

In addition to the stories behind the pictures, I decided to tell how it was that I came to be Rolling Stone's first photographer, what it was like be involved with the birth of what has become both a significant and legendary publication. Furthermore, I asked two of my former associates at Rolling Stone to write some words putting me and my work and the magazine into context. Tony Lane, one of the magazine’s early art directors, wrote the preface. Jerry Hopkins, a staff writer with whom I collaborated on many early-day stories, wrote the introduction.

The book was published a while ago and met with considerable success. I traveled the world from Russia to London to Australia and all around America, signing copies, promoting it and talking about it on TV and radio, and in print. It has been translated into Italian, French and Portuguese, and will soon finally appear in a Spanish language edition. The book even has its own website, therollingstoneyears.com.

My tour of duty at Rolling Stone both changed and defined my life as a photographer. Although I've photographed subjects as diverse as aerial landscapes, auto racing and the NFL, it is my photographs for Rolling Stone with which I've long been identified, and for the privilege I thank the musicians I loved and memorialized, and, of course, Jann Wenner, who famously said to me in April 1967, "We're going to need a photographer. You wanna be our photographer?" And the rest, as they say, is history. . .

The Rolling Stones

Mick Jagger on the set of "Performance" with Anita Pallenberg, Shepperton Studios, London, September 1968

©Baron Wolman/Iconic Images

The Rolling Stones

Juliana [my wife] was with me on the 1968 trip to London. After the Who finished their work in the studio Pete invited us to dinner and later decided we should go over to the film set in which Mick Jagger was shooting his new movie, Performance. Dropping by the movie set had nothing to do with my Rolling Stone assignment; this was just Townshend's suggestion. I mean, I think it was his idea that we go over there; at least that's how I remember it. So we just showed up and, as you can see, the photos were very informal. I love the classic Polaroid camera Mick is holding, and Anita Pallenberg was gorgeous. The relationships were all a little complex; Anita was Keith's girlfriend who had been with Brian Jones before and was now in a movie doing love scenes with Mick!

Miles Davis

Miles Davis at Gleason's Gym, NYC 1969

©Baron Wolman/Iconic Images

Miles Davis

I started out shooting a portrait of Miles and his wife, Betty. After the portrait session was finished he said, "OK, let's head over to the gym." We climbed into his red Ferrari and sped down the West Wide Highway toward the famous Gleason Gym. Along the way I asked him to pull over for some more portraits, not with his wife, but with his beloved Ferrari. When we arrived at the gym, he growled, "Baron, you are totally out of shape. You're getting in the ring with me for a serious workout." Fortunately for my body and posterity the only workout I did was with my cameras, following him as he warmed up, worked out on the heavy bag and sparred with a friend in the ring. We talked about his love of boxing and how it related to the way he played. "Listen carefully to my music; I play like I box. You can 'hear' the jabs, the feints, the crosscuts, the uppercuts. You can imagine that I'm boxing when I'm playing."

Walden Brothers

©Baron Wolman/Iconic Images

The Walden Brothers

In 1969, Rolling Stone sent me and Stanley Booth to both Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and Macon, Georgia, to do a story about Southern rock. In Muscle Shoals we met the legendary record producer Rick Hall of FAME Studios. In Macon, we met the Walden brothers, Phil, Alan and Clark. Phil Walden, in particular, is legendary in the music world and much has been written about his career in general, the music of Macon and the South in particular. He and Alan managed Otis Redding, and formed a company with the great soul and rhythm and blues singer called Redwal Music (Redding/Walden). With the subsequent company, Capricorn Records Walden helped create the Southern rock genre. Capricorn, whose roster included the Allman Brothers Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, Elvin Bishop, Wet Willie and others, folded in 1980, although Phil eventually resurrected the label with the introduction of Widespread Panic. He even acted as Billy Bob Thornton's manager for many years. While in Macon, I and my cameras were introduced to the newly formed Allman Brothers Band, and I was fortunate to photograph them the very first time they were rehearsing in the Redwal/Capricorn studios.

George Harrison

©Baron Wolman/Iconic Images

George Harrison

September 1968 was a very good month for me and my Nikons. I spent several days in London, during which time I photographed the Who recording the rock opera Tommy, Mick Jagger on the set of Performance and the inside of the still being renovated Apple Corps offices at 3 Savile Row. It was at that address that I also made this photograph of a very quiet George Harrison (reading Bob Dylan’s book Don't Look Back).  I arrived at Apple Corps before Harrison, primarily to photograph him in conjunction with an interview being done for Rolling Stone. He arrived after I did, plopped himself down comfortably on a couch and continued reading the Dylan book. For once I was a bit flustered, maybe also a bit starstruck. After all, I was in the presence of a Beatle! (The only one I ever photographed, by the way.) A battle raged inside my head: Should I ask George to pose a bit for me or should I just let it be (pun intended). After all, he had already assumed the perfect pose. Long story short, I let him be and got this photo, one of my personal top-of-the list images.

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