Allen's Blog

Posts tagged ‘rock and roll’:

Chuck Berry Performing Live in New York, 1972

A letter to Chuck Berry from Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan

Sad news this weekend, as we all learned that the great Chuck Berry had passed on at the age of 90. His contribution to modern music is such that the entire first page of a Google search for “father of rock and roll” features his name. Or, if you prefer a form of recognition less ephemeral, he was one of the few performers immortalized on the “Golden Record” placed aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft, now streaking through interstellar space at nearly 11 miles per second. “Go, Johnny, go”, indeed.

Chuck Berry live at Hofstra University (1972)

I was lucky enough to photograph Mr. Berry in concert (and fortunate enough to have the images close at hand, considering their age.) The time was November 1972, and the place was Hofstra University, on New York’s Long Island. It was a cool, slightly drizzly night outside, but you wouldn’t know it inside the auditorium, between the warmly-gelled stage lights and the energetic Berry, performing his signature “duck-walk” as he grinned and wailed away on his Gibson. The show was being filmed for ABC’s “In Concert” series, a new venture for the network, directed and executive produced by the legendary Don Kirshner.

Chuck Berry live at Hofstra University (1972)

Imagine my delight on finding that highlights from the show are available right here on YouTube. If you watch very carefully (pixels being so much larger and blurrier back then than they are now), you might be able to pick me out standing next to the TV cameras. (I’d much rather you gave your full attention to the music, though.)

And you’ll note that, were you an audiophile who wanted to hear the program in stereo, you were directed to tune your “hi-fi” to the ABC-affiliated FM radio station, which was simulcasting the show across the country. We were all a long way from carrying hi-def televisions in our pockets all day (which also happened to make phone calls and catch Pokémon), but the energy of those live performances was as good as ever – maybe even better.

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.