Bob Shell: Photographing Music Stars

Photo of blues singer Cathy Jean topless for Tony Ward Studio magazine
Cathy Jean. Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2022

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2022

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Photographing Music Stars

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Back in the early 1970s, I was a photographer for PBS for a couple of years. One of my jobs was photographing musicians before, during, and after concerts. Music stars were a lot more accessible back then, less protective of their images, and I had very open access to most of them. 

The producer and I would meet the performers at their hotel several hours before the concert for candid conversation and photos, then we’d ride with them to the concert venue. I’d have a stage pass to be on stage during the concert and catch them in action. Then, after the concert we’d go back to the hotel with them and hang out, or go to the after party, if there was one. Those parties weren’t lavish events back in those days, just some tired musicians and a bunch of roadies, groupies, and assorted hangers on, drinking, smoking (tobacco and pot), and some catered munchies. There were no orgies, or if there were, we weren’t invited. I suspected that the musicians were just too tired to really do much partying, and mostly just sat around in a haze of smoke relaxing.

Here are some of the musicians I have photos of in my archive:

Ozzy Osbourne: I photographed Ozzy when he was fronting Black Sabbath on their first U. S. tour. He and bassist Geezer Butler were both very nice, friendly, talkative. Not stuck up at all. Tony Iommi was less friendly, but not really standoffish, just maybe more reserved. They were in their transition to the band’s new name and dark image, after being a hippie ‘Earth Band” originally. Sorry, but I can’t remember the band’s original name. The concert was good, mostly songs from their first album that had just been released.

On stage, I had to rely on the stage lighting, since flash was not allowed. The musicians found it too distracting, and it would have destroyed the mood. Back then the fastest films we had were Kodak Ektachrome 400 and GAF (Ansco) 500 in color films. For black and white I used Kodak 2475 recording film, which, if I remember correctly, I rated at EI 1,000. We had none of these super high ISO speeds offered by modern digital cameras. 

That meant shooting wide open with my 50mm and 135mm lenses, with slow shutter speeds. Lots of ‘creative blur’ in those shots, which we pretended was intentional artistic effect. Drummers were worst since their arms were never still. I don’t think I ever got a picture of a drummer in which his arms weren’t blurred.

Rod Stewart: I thought he was an insufferable prick. Difficult to photograph due to top heavy ego. At the time he was fronting Faces, originally called Small Faces, and the lead guitarist was Ron Wood, called Woody by his bandmates back then. He was very nice and laid back, and I got some good photos of him. I could tell, even then, that he was looking for bigger and better things, and he found them when he joined Jagger and Richards.

Black Oak Arkansas: A much underrated group today that never got the acclaim they deserved. Jim Mangrum, ‘Jim Dandy,’ was one of the most dynamic performers I’ve ever watched on stage, with an energy level that infected the audience immediately when he walked onstage. Offstage, he was relaxed and friendly, and very intelligent. I asked him why they’d named the band Black Oak Arkansas, and in his lazy Southern drawl he told me that was the name of a town they’d once been run out of.

Traffic: A short-lived ‘supergroup’ put together by Steve Winood and Jim Cappaldi, with a little Nigerian drummer named Rebop Kwakuu Bhah. 

Now all the names in this blog post are from memory, so they may not all be spelled correctly, and I hope you will forgive me any spelling errors.

Iron Butterfly: The original light/heavy group. We didn’t get to hang with them, so all I got were the concert shots. Their song “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida” was supposed to be “In The Garden Of Eden,” but singer Doug Engle was so stoned during the recording sessions that he couldn’t say it. I’m not 100% sure, but I think guitarists Mike Reinhart (“Rhino”) and Pinera (don’t recall his first name) had replaced the original guitarist by that time. “Rhino” later did some work with the Allman Brothers. Ron Bushy was also with the Butterfly at the time. In-a-Gadda-da-Vida was famous for being up to half an hour long in concert, with an interminable drum solo. I have their “Live in Copenhagen” album where Engle forgets the words and sings the same line twice. That version is only 27 minutes long!

Redbone: The only Native American rock group I’m aware of. Leader Lolly Vegas played his guitar through a Leslie speaker, which had a revolving sound cone for a very unusual sound. They also did some Indian chants. Lolly is probably best known for writing “Niki Hokey” which Neal Diamond made popular. Lots of Redbone is available from music services today and is worth giving a listen, although the lyrics are often incomprehensible. Try “Maggie,”if you want to sample their unique sound. They were excellent in concert.

Fairport Convention: Their album “Nine” had just come out when they were on a U. S. tour. We hung out with them in their hotel suite most of the afternoon of the concert, smoking some excellent weed. Violin (Actually a viola, I believe) player Dave Swarbrick and singer Davy Pegg were two of the nicest people I’ve met anywhere. Their version of the old truck driver song “Six Days on the Road” is one of my favorites and I listen to it often. Peggy’s vocal really owns the song, although I think he got the words of the first line wrong. He sang, “Well I pulled out of Frisco down on the eastern seaboard.”. Maybe, as an Englishman, he didn’t know that Frisco is on the west coast. But I still love the song. I also like his “George Jackson.”. As a prisoner, that song speaks to me.

There were many others I photographed, but I’m out of room for this post. More another time.

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author, former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine and veteran contributor to this blog. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read additional articles by Bob Shell, click here:https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/bob-shell-hes-different-lock-him-up/

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com. Here’s the link:  

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