Bob Gruen: 40 Years Of Rock 'N' Roll photography

Bob Gruen (born 1945) is an American photographer known for his rock 'n' roll photographs.

Gruen was born in New York City. He began photographing rock stars with Bob Dylan and served as John Lennon's personal photographer during his time in New York City. Gruen is best known for his photograph of Lennon wearing a New York City T-shirt. Other notable celebrities and rock bands photographed by Gruen include, Eric Clapton, Jerry Garcia, Led Zeppelin, Sean Lennon, Yoko Ono, Joe Strummer, and The Who.

If you want to know more about him check his Web Page or you can reach him at his MySpace page.

For a world-class photographer who has rendered rock's past indelible with his iconic photography, Bob Gruen has no patience for nostalgia. Gruen takes us through some of his most iconic images in his own words.

Bob Dylan, Newport, R.I., 1965: This was the first time I had a photo pass. I talked my way into the Newport Folk Festival and was down in front when Dylan came out with a rock band. It was quite chaotic; a lot of people were very upset that he was playing so-called rock 'n' roll music at a folk-music festival. In hindsight, I kind of think of it as the time when rock 'n' roll was declared to be the folk music of America. It was people cheering, it was people booing, it was people fighting with each other in the seats. It was really pretty emotional and pretty dramatic. People are very scared of any kind of change. And I love change.

Iggy Pop & Deborah Harry, Toronto, 1977: This was at the opening of a tour where Blondie was opening for Iggy Pop. And what was also unique was that the piano player in Iggy Pop's band was David Bowie, who at that time was a much bigger star than either of these guys but was really downplaying it. And Debbie and Blondie was still just coming up, which is why they were the opening act. And it just shows what two people who have fun with the media and know what to do instead of just posing -- instead of just standing there without touching each other, they really went for it and got close. And made it like a real rock 'n' roll, hangin'-out shot.

John Lennon, New York, 1974: I had actually bought that shirt a year earlier; I had given one of them to John. I used to wear them quite a bit; I had about 7 or 8 of them. I was very proud to be from New York, still am. And John wanted an album design that required a series of very similar photos of his face making all different expressions, and he wanted to do it very simply. He had a rooftop penthouse apartment on the East Side, and so we went out on the roof and took the pictures for the album cover. Then he suggested we take some more for the publicity pictures, and I said, "Would you still have that T-shirt I gave you last year? Because this is a perfect setting, with the skyline all around." And he knew right where it was and went and put the T-shirt on and we took this photo. We had no idea when we were taking it that it would become such a well-known picture.

Sex Pistols, Luxembourg, 1977: Yeah, the Sex Pistols scared a lot of people, but they don't realize how funny they were. This was a completely spontaneous picture. We were in a bar in Luxembourg one morning, they were gonna do an interview with Radio Luxembourg, and they met the disc jockey at a bar. They were having a couple drinks beforehand. When I see all four of them sitting together I go like, "Quick! Let's take a group shot." It's a lot easier than trying to round people up and get one from one room and one from another place and put them together. But when you work with people who have a real creative flair for media and for entertainment, when you say, "Let's take a group picture," they see what situation they're in and immediately turn it into something humorous. And something as simple as sitting there with a couple of drinks turns into a very funny moment when you get the right talented people putting it together. They were having fun. They didn't really tear anything down, they tore a few things up [laughs].

Green Day, New York, 2005: I published this book about my John Lennon pictures in 2005. I'm really proud of it: I wrote a long story, besides the photos, of what it was like to be John Lennon's friend. When I went to see [Green Day when] they played here in New York, I brought copies of the book to give to them. Then at the end of the evening, I went to take a group shot of all them and Billie said, "Oh, let's pose with the book." But being the kind of comedians they are, they lifted it up and made it look like it was a porn mag or something. A good group that really works together gets ideas spontaneously, and when one gets the idea the others just fall with it, and so Tre and Mike just immediately saw what Billie was doing and fell right in with it. And they're a great band. They're kind of like the Marx Brothers -- they really work together as a comedian team.

Tina Turner, Paris, 1984: Tina's fantastic. She's one of the best, original entertainers [and] performers in rock 'n' roll, in the world. I actually just happened to be in Paris, found out Tina was there shooting a video and went and met her there. It's kind of great, because Tina's such a classy lady. To have a picture of her in Paris in front of the Eiffel Tower is just kind of a natural, because she is such a world-class celebrity. Paris is the city of romance, and it's a great place for her to be.

Led Zeppelin, New York, 1973: This is interesting because I actually met Led Zeppelin the day I took this picture. I was on the first roll of film when I was working with them. We were flying to Cincinnati for a concert, and they had their own plane. When we go to the airport, I think it was Robert [Plant] ... who said, "Let's take a picture in front of our airplane." I don't think I took more than 10 shots between the color and black & white. And this one seems to sum up for a lot of people the excess and the decadence that was so rampant in the '70s. Inside the plane there was a brass piano built in, a lot of really comfortable seats and couches. And in the back there were two bedrooms, one of which had an electric fireplace. It was a pretty opulent plane, as those things go. Certainly for the '70s, it was pretty special. I can't tell you how many people have told me they grew up with this picture in their locker, in school or on their bedroom wall.

Ramones, New York, 1975: Well, the Ramones were a new group that we heard about that was just starting to play at this new club, CBGBs. I went out on assignment for Rock Scene magazine [with] Lisa Robinson, who is an editor of Vanity Fair now, but she was the editor of Hit Parader and Rock Scene magazine, and a big columnist for the New York Post. She had suggested I go out to Queens to meet the Ramones and take pictures of them, and so I went out to Forest Hills, where they lived, and we took some pictures out there at their house where they hung out. Took the subway into town with them and then got some pictures in front of the club, and then took more pictures later in the night when they played inside. People don't realize -- they think CBGBs was always famous, and that these bands came in and played there and became famous. Playing at CBGBs was no road to fame; playing at CBGBs was a road to meeting 20 people who went there. Fortunately, Lisa Robinson was one of them, and people ended up hearing about what went on down there.

The Rolling Stones, New York, 1972: This was my first photo pass for the Rolling Stones, when they played at Madison Square Garden in '72. But even with a photo pass, where you're down in the pit, it's not really as good as the vantage point from a couple of rows back, standing on the seats. I think I was on the second row standing on the seats when I took this. You get a much better perspective. The lights were a very special, unique staging that the Rolling Stones had, really bright lights. So I was able to get very sharp, clear pictures that day. The Rolling Stones were amazing; they always are. I don't know if they were more particularly amazing that year, but they seemed to be. Maybe it's because I was in seats in the second row.

Sid Vicious, San Antonio, 1978: This is another example of how they can help to make a photo. Sid was eating a hot dog when I said, "Oh, let me take a picture of you," and he said, "Wait a minute," and went and picked up the ketchup and mustard and poured more ketchup and mustard on the hot dog and smeared it around his face, and actually helped to create this photo. This wasn't an accident. He didn't just happen to be messy. He knew he had a button that said "I'm a mess" and he helped to create a photo that illustrated that. And then that's kind of a sense of humor, but a lot of people picked it up almost as a symbol of a messed-up kid.

Here is a great interview, with him, by Budd Mishkin for NY1.

Bob Gruen is currently touring with his photo exhibition "ROCKERS".

All photographs taken by Bob Gruen.

A few more words from the author...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gruen is almost as well known as his subjects. For a complete contrast, check out the book "For You" on Springsteen I just received, where the fans are the photogrpahers. I was really blown away by the whole thing. If any book can capture what it's like to be at a Springsteen show, this is it. The images are as good as concert photos get.