Allen's Blog

Posts tagged ‘blues’:

In the Studio with Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, T-Bone Walker, and Legendary Jazz Musicians

I’ve never thought of myself as a ‘music photographer,’ but there is some evidence to the contrary. The latest reminder came early last week while watching NBC Nightly News and seeing an affectionate obit for Jerry Leiber, half of the legendary music-writing team of Leiber and Stoller. More articles appeared later in the week in print.  Much of the popular music I had listened and (poorly) danced to in high school and college came from their collaboration. Leiber wrote the lyrics and Stoller the music for the Coasters, the Drifters, and lots of groups as well as for Elvis Presley. Much later on, their music was turned into a hit Broadway musical, Smokey Joe’s Café, which opened in 1995.

Dizzy Gillespie

Our paths crossed just once, in New York in 1973, when I was assigned to shoot the studio production photos for an album by the great blues guitarist, T-Bone Walker. Leiber and Stoller produced the album, titled Very Rare, and the guest artists included Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims, and Herbie Mann, among others.

Leiber & Stoller working at the mixing console

Over the years, my own musical tastes had changed, moving much more toward jazz, so it was a real thrill (no exaggeration) to be in the studio at the same time with the composers who had written the first tunes I knew by heart and, almost 20 years later, the artists whose music I had come to appreciate just as much. So it seemed a good idea to dig into the archives and put up a bunch of images to remember those days…

Gerry Mulligan

Herbie Mann

Zoot Sims

Jerry Leiber leaning on the mixing console

Steve Miller Band at the Fillmore East, Halloween 1969

I’m starting a new feature of this blog called “Close your eyes and win a prize.” A couple of weeks ago, I was going through old picture archives after seeing the HBO documentary, Smash His Camera, which was the subject of an earlier post. Any photographer who’s been shooting as long as I have can find a few gems just by reaching into the files. So in a quiet moment, I did just that — reached into the files and pulled a handful of contact sheets and negs, this time from 1969.

Steve Miller Band backstage at the Fillmore East, Halloween 1969

I was never much of a rock music shooter, but a German magazine I had done a lot of work for sent me to New York’s Fillmore East to photograph the Steve Miller Band, backstage in their dressing room. I’m not sure just when the band got its start, but here we are more than 40 years later and the Steve Miller Band is still going strong — they are on tour now with their first new album since 1993.

From the time the famed concert promoter Bill Graham opened the Filmore East on the Lower East Side until it closed in mid-1971, the venue was the east coast Mecca for live rock and blues. A quick perusal of any single month’s performances will instantly take you back in history — aside from that night’s co-headliners Mountain (of “Mississippi Queen” fame), earlier shows that October featured The Kinks, Chuck Berry, King Crimson, and The Who. It was early in the Nixon presidency, several years into the Vietnam War, and a lot of the music reflected the growing anti-war sentiments in the U.S. as well as increasing use of drugs.

Steve Miller and friend review the set list for the evening

In fact, it was backstage at the Fillmore East that I first saw cocaine being used. It may seem unbelievable, but if you finished college in 1963 or earlier, it’s entirely possible you’d never had any experience with illegal drugs. Political awareness (and interest) at the time was minimal, protest against government actions pretty much unknown, and unless you were living in The South, the civil rights movement was happening far away.

So from those very different times, I thought it would be amusing to share a couple of the images from October 1969 (Halloween night in fact) at the Fillmore East. Other pictures from random excursions into the archives will follow.