This is the foreword for the limited edition catalog accompanying the show. It gives you a little more information on how this whole thing got off the ground.
I found Alec Byrne on Craigslist. Or rather he found me. I was between photo agency gigs at the time and doing freelance tech support to pay the bills. Alec phoned after seeing my online ad and we arranged a time for me to stop by. While sorting out his Mac woes, we discovered our shared background in the photo business and found we had a lot to talk about in addition to wireless “notworks” and hard drives gone bad.
Alec became a regular client and on my second or third trip to his house, as I was leaving, I finally asked him about the Beatles print on the wall near the front door which I had admired on every visit. “Where did you get that?” He smiled, as if he were remembering something he hadn’t thought of in a while. “Oh, I took it,” he said, and went on to explain that he had covered the rock & roll scene in swinging 60s London as a freelancer. “I shot everyone.” When pressed, he proceeded to recite a list of 60’s and 70’s rock artists: “The Stones, The Who, Hendrix, Bowie, Zeppelin, The Doors…” I’m a big fan of music and was curious to see the photos since I hadn’t come across his name before in connection with this kind of material.
“Where is all this stuff?” I asked, wearing my photo business hat again temporarily and meaning, “What agency did you place it with?”
“Oh it’s all out in boxes in the garage,” he said.
Some time later I decided to start über ARCHIVES and Alec was one of the first photographers I called. He graciously allowed me to begin sifting through the film and what followed has been a gradual and steady coaxing of these wonderful pictures out of those boxes in the garage and into the light.
Initially I was concerned with the archive’s syndication potential, but then I saw the 2 1/4 inch color transparency of Chuck Berry laughing with his drummer, shot from the stage, placing the viewer in the fray like a fourth band member. That, I thought, was a rock and roll moment that needed to be printed, framed and up on someone’s wall. Then what cinched it was the backstage portrait of Jimi Hendrix, capturing an unposed, casual moment, the guitarist smiling, looking a little nervous, playing with his ring, and yet regal in his psychedelic jacket and scarf, cigarette smoldering: a stately rock king.
And it just continued: a young Bob Marley in the studio with Johnny Nash, working on the I Can See Clearly Now album; a barely-drinking-age David Bowie; Paul McCartney talking on a hotel lobby phone; Keith Richards in socks, crashed in front of his amps at the soundcheck for the Stones 10th Anniversary gig at the Marquee. And on and on. Peering into box after box I feel like a modern day rock & roll Howard Carter, only instead of King Tut’s gold sarcophagus it’s Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix hanging out backstage or Roy Orbison doing a soundcheck.
I don’t mean to overstate the importance of any of this. We are not fixing the economy, saving the whales or curing disease here after all. But I can’t help thinking as I look at these pictures that, like the music that permeates them, they have to be a cure for something.
As the song says, it’s only rock and roll but I like it.