Why Does Rolling Stone Love Baron Wolman So Much?

| SantaFe.com - June 17, 2015

SantaFe.com asked Rolling Stone Magazine photo editor Jodi Peckman why Baron Wolman is such a big deal. The collaboration between Wolman and Stone began in 1967 when he was made their first Chief Photographer. These images were Peckman's reply. We asked the Fotobaron himself to tell us what was going on at the time, and he shared some details of how he guided the creation of these rock star personas from concert to cover to icon.

Jerry WavingIt was early in 1969, that Jann [Wenner] finally decided to do a Rolling Stone cover story on the Grateful Dead.  We all wondered why it took him so long - of all the homebrewed bands in San Francisco, the Dead was the one with the greatest mystique, the ones with the fans, the delightfully rabid Dead Heads. The editorial crew asked me how I wanted to shoot the Dead.  I decided I would make the photos in the style of one of my photographic heroes, Richard Avedon, one by one, with a plain studio grey background and simple studio lighting.  There is much more to this story but this shot of Jerry Garcia tells a lot of it.  The entire band was relaxed when they showed up at my home-based studio, a couple of blocks from the Dead’s house at 710 Ashbury St.  It was an even more relaxed Jerry who opened his hand to me, the one with the missing digit, for, as far as I can tell, the first time he publicly showed his imperfect picking hand.  I call the photo, “Jerry Waving.”

Jimi Profile Talking in MotelFor some forgotten and endlessly regrettable reason, I did not attend the Monterey Pop Festival in June of 1967, so I did not experience Jimi Hendrix or see him light his guitar on fire.  Six months later, however, he and the “Experience” came to San Francisco to play Bill Graham’s Fillmore and Winterland auditoriums.  Prior to the first concert the Rolling Stone writer and I visited him at his motel on Fisherman’s Wharf for a short interview and some photos.  I was surprised at the quiet and pensive young man I met that afternoon, more so when I compared my first meeting with the fiery performance he put on that same evening.  Truly a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde moment.  Many years after taking this photograph, my friend, the talented music photographer, Lynn Goldsmith, informed me that the silver band that adorned Jimi’s hat was, in fact, a belt she had been wearing in Jimi’s presence, one that he admired and that she had gifted him.  I photographed Hendrix on several other occasions; he was my unqualified favorite musician to shoot, always photogenic in expression, style and performance, an absolutely uniquely talented artist in every sense of the word.

Mississippi Fred McDowellIn the summer of 1969, the “other” well-known music photographer, my friend Jim Marshall and I set out across the country to shoot pictures for a book called Festival: The Book of American Music Celebrations.  One of many that we attended was the Memphis Blues Festival, a very poignant gathering of the best of the blues musicians, young and old alike.  Again we were privileged to shoot wherever we wanted and we spent a lot of time backstage hanging out, especially with the old blues guys who were both hugely talented, enormously photogenic and very hospitable in the way that only bluesmen can be.  At the time, Mississippi Fred was 65 and still going strong.  I’ve always loved this photo – it’s simple, graphically strong and direct, and I feel that it pretty much captures the essence of the man beyond his talent as a musician.  In reviewing my many images of blues musicians, there seems to always be something of their heart and soul in the picture.  I’m not talking about my ability as photographer, it was their generosity in giving us something from within themselves, both in their music and in their willingness to allow us to photograph them just as they were, without pretention.

Steve Miller with FeatherIn 1967, we did a big story about Steve Miller signing a $50,000 contract with Capitol Records, a humungous amount of money in those days.  Jann [Wenner] sent me over to Steve’s house to make some photos of him and the Steve Miller Blues Band. As I was shooting some portraits of Steve alone I noticed a feather lying on the table in front of him. “Hold it up, Steve, so I can get a shot.”  After this and other photos ran in Rolling Stone I received a call from the record company. They wanted to use this photo on the cover of Miller’s next album AND they were willing to pay!  And so began the money side of my career as a music photographer, a side that’s allowed me to live a most fascinating and intriguing life, a life for which I am eternally grateful…both to Jann and to Rolling Stone.

Janis with CatBefore she moved from the Haight-Ashbury across the Golden Gate Bridge to Larkspur, Janis Joplin lived within walking distance from my home, my home studio.  I loved photographing Janis – she had such an expressive face and was so animated both on and off the stage.  Although there were dark and light sides to her personality – understandably if you’ve ever read about her “pre-San Francisco” life – I preferred the light Janis and I usually worked to nudge her that way in front of my camera.  When she smiled her body relaxed and she just glowed.  She’s on her bed here in her Haight-Ashbury flat with her cat, a spot where I made many photos of Janis, with hippie material draped everywhere, those colorful ubiquitous Indian prints that everybody was bringing back from their ashram visits.  One wall of her bedroom was papered with a poster of a tasteful semi-nude Janis, a photo made by the acclaimed sixties photographer Bob Seidemann.  When I asked about the poster, Janis said, “Hey, man, I’m like the first hippie pin-up chick ever!”  As we all know, Janis was more, much, much more than a pin-up chick…

Frank Zappa TractorWriter Jerry Hopkins and I drove up to the top of Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles to interview and photograph Frank Zappa for a Rolling Stone cover story.  The home in which Frank and his family were living at the time was the log cabin house once owned by silent film star Tom Mix.  The landscape around the house was as unique and eccentric as Frank himself.  There were adjacent hill-caves into which Frank would periodically disappear, moments later to suddenly poke his head out glaring at me, waiting for me to take his picture.  There were tall trees onto which were hung heavy swinging ropes (presumably for his children), ropes upon which Frank climbed and swung back and forth as I tried to get some action shots.  And then there was the collection of old rusting road grading equipment left in place by a construction company which had abandoned an earth moving project. These machines were magnets that drew Frank to them, especially the old D7 Caterpillar bulldozer. He quickly climbed aboard and started operating the various levers as if he were going to take the dozer for a spin. It was a most exceptional and wonderful photo session, with Frank directing himself while I was left to simply document his playtime.

Bill Graham TalkingWith his unique and eccentric personality, Bill Graham was the consummate concert promoter. He respected both his audiences and his musicians, believed in giving the audience a quality product and demanded that same mutual respect from the musicians he hired to perform at his several venues, the Fillmore Auditoriums East and West, Winterland in San Francisco, and, for me, at least, the pièce de résistance, the “Day On The Green” series at the Oakland (California) Coliseum. Bill was always talking…and yelling. His conversations and directions to both staff and musicians were peppered with four letter words. Graham also understood that the musical roots of most rock and roll could be found in the blues and wanted his audiences to understand that, too, so he regularly booked southern delta blues musicians to open for the current popular bands playing their contemporary interpretations of blues music.  Bill also gave me the gift that about which every music photographer dreams, total access to all his concerts at all his venues, complete freedom to photograph wherever I chose, on-stage, back-stage, in the front of the stage. I loved the man and his early demise broke my heart.

Tina Turner Dancing“Back in the day” - I repeat that phrase often and for good reason. For music shooters, “back in the day” represented the most wonderful, most glorious time to be photographing music and musicians. Access wasn’t a problem – in fact, many of the musicians were our friends who also lived in the Haight-Ashbury, just plain people we saw regularly on the street. Promoters didn’t consider us parasites, understood we had a job to do and, in fact, knew that the better we did our job, the more their clients benefited from our quality photos, pictures that were published regularly in the music magazines. Up close and personal was possible, as it was one night in 1967, when I photographed Tina Turner in San Francisco’s famed North Beach nightclub called the “hungry-i.” I positioned myself and my cameras at a table that was perhaps ten feet from the stage, a stage that was hardly higher than the table itself. Ike & Tina Turner and the Ikettes headlined the show that evening, giving a raucous, ribald performance, with everybody (except Ike) in constant motion. A picture like this would have been impossible not too many months later, with security and management barring access to the stage and to the performers. As I said, “back in the day…”

Steve Winwood SmokingWe started publishing Rolling Stone in late 1967. Our offices were housed in two tiny rooms above the plant that printed the magazine on newsprint every two weeks. Next to our offices were the Linotypes, noisy hulking machines that turned solid lead ingots into type; that’s the way we composed the paper back in the day. Our first “celebrity” visitor to the Stone was Steve Winwood, the UK lead musician of the band “Traffic” which was touring at the time.  Here is Winwood, holding his cigarette in a slightly effeminate manner, watching the big bruisers who operate the Linotypes, men who after work would rush down to the bar to end their work days sitting with their pals drinking beer, men who wondered about this kid standing there with his long hair, scarf and beads, tough men who unexpectedly often refused to set in type for us the very same four-letter words that peppered their own conversations. It was a moment when two completely opposite worlds met, each openly curious about the other.

Dead on the StepsMy very first assignment for Rolling Stone was to photograph the Grateful Dead at their Haight-Asbury home at 710 Ashbury Street. The occasion was a press conference the Dead were holding following their bust for having something to do with pot. In those days, prior to the publication of even Issue Number One, people weren’t sure who we were: The Rolling Stones or Rolling Stone or maybe both… After the press conference I urged the band to come out on the front steps of their house to get a group photo. They were wired from their media performance and I could hardly calm them down. I needed to get the shot but they didn’t know who I was. “Baron who…???”  And they didn’t know what Rolling Stone was since we were still an idea, not yet a magazine. “What’s Rolling Stone,” they asked me… Clearly I had no credibility…and they had guns. As I wrote in my book, The Rolling Stone Years, “When they came out, they wouldn’t settle down, pointed their guns this way and that, flipped me the bird, threatened to kill me. It was all great fun for them but not for me. In the end I did get [this] one great shot. I call it ‘Dead On The Steps.’”

Johnny Cash, Circle Star“This is one of my favorite photos from the late sixties, Johnny Cash (with June Carter Cash reflected in the mirror) backstage at the Circle Star Theatre in San Carlos, California, 20 miles or so south of San Francisco. The Circle Star was a theatre in the round, featuring a stage that rotated 360° - the performers continued playing during each revolution so the entire audience, seated in a large circle, would get a front-and-center view of them sooner or later and probably more than once. The photo reveals a very pensive Cash prior to his performance, so pensive, in fact, that I wondered if he would be able to get it together to go on stage when the show began. I need not have worried - he and June put on a stellar concert to the delight of both me and the spectators… I must admit, however, it was a challenging shoot, waiting each time with camera at the ready for Johnny and June to come around again so I could catch a few good frames as they passed by. The photo is quite grainy because I was using a new film, Kodak Recording film, rated at ISO 1000, very fast for the day, but very grainy, too. I think the graininess adds to the grittiness on an image of which I am very fond.”

While Baron Wolman continues to travel the world, Santa Fe is his landing pad. He stands as a luminary and mentor for local photographers and art lovers, and, of course, is out and about supporting the local music scene. In his words, "Nobody doesn't love Santa Fe." SantaFe.com celebrates the Fotobaron as a Santa Fe treasure.

Thanks to Wolfgang's Vault for access to more of what makes Baron Wolman click. See more of Baron's archive at his website. And big gratitude to Rolling Stone Magazine for putting Fotobaron on the beat all those years ago.