Gary James' Interview With The Author Of
The Lost Rolling Stones Photographs:
The Bob Bonis Archive 1964 - 1966
Undiscovered, unpublished and unseen for over forty-five years, hundreds of candid photographs of The Rolling Stones, taken by their manager Bob Bonis as they toured the U.S. from 1964 to 1966, have for the first time been published in The Lost Rolling Stones Photographs: The Bob Bonis Archive, 1964 - 1966 by Larry Marion. (It Books)
Larry Marion talked with us about these photos of The Rolling Stones.
Q - Larry, I interviewed Bob Bonis. I must be one of the few who did.
A - There was a Rolling Stones Radio Special in the '80s that was like a twelve disc or sixteen disc special from some company in Canada that did an interview with him, Mutual Broadcasting System, which aired in September and October of 1988. It was a twelve hour special, broadcast over several days. They did some excerpts with Bob Bonis. The only other interview I've been able to find was Larry Kane, the journalist who toured with The Beatles in '64 and '65. He basically interviewed The Beatles every day and also had some tapes of Bob Bonis. Other than that, in 1984, on the twentieth anniversary of The Beatles coming to America, he did about a dozen interviews with newspapers around the country. And that's everything I've ever been able to find about him speaking of The Beatles or Stones publicly. He was a very, very private gentleman who preferred not to tell stories out of school as it were, even years after it was no longer his job to protect The Beatles of Stones, he felt it was his obligation to. He thought it was a privilege to have worked with them. He became friends with members of both bands and he continued to feel it was inappropriate for him to talk or publish or write or do anything about those times. When I was first approached by his son Alex, he said "My Dad was The Beatles and Rolling Stones tour manager in 1964, 1965 and 1966" and told me his name. I went "What? Who? Tell me the truth." "No, seriously. He really was." I did a couple of quick seconds of research and confirmed that he was telling me the truth.
Q - In the course of my interview with him as he as speaking about The Beatles and Stones, he also told me he booked Cream and Jimi Hendrix. I'm thinking to myself, why haven't I heard about this guy prior to my interview with him?
A - Everyone I've met or spoken with who knew Bob over his lifetime speaks incredibly highly of him. They describe him as a man of extraordinary character and tremendously capable and just all around the nicest guy.
Q - Looking at the photos Bob took, this is really what The Rolling Stones were all about. Five guys onstage just playing music. No props. No elaborate lighting system. No dancing girls. Just the music.
A - It's really true. What's really extraordinary is this collection of photographs covers such an important and transitive period in their career. As I'm sure you know, The Rolling Stones started out as Brian Jones and Ian Stewart's R&B and Blues cover band and evolved into the Rolling Stones we all know today, with a major shift in direction particularly in those years '64, '65 and '66. By the time they came here in '64, Ian Stewart was no longer an official member of the band, although he continued to play on their recordings and go on tour with them and help them. He was their right-hand man for everything. When they came here in '64, it was Brian's band. Mick was the singer in the band. Keith was one of the guitarists in the band. By the time Bob stopped working for them in '66, it was Mick and Keith's band. Brian was falling apart and marginalized and losing his mind and drifting off into different directions. He was apparently not happy that they were taking this commercial and Pop direction instead of the roots Blues R&B band that he started just years earlier. When you see these photographs from '64, Brian is front and center onstage. By '65, Mick is front and center onstage. You really see this. There are some really remarkable photographs. There's one photograph in particular of the five Stones and Andrew Oldham (Stones manager) in the studio, RCA Studios in late '65. Brian is in the center of the photograph wearing a monogram sweatshirt with the initials BJ on it and he's nervously clutching his Firebird guitar to him, almost defensively, and Mick and Keith are almost standing over him looking down at him. You're looking at that photograph going "Oh my goodness. This is it!" This photograph really captures the transition from Brian's band to Mick and Keith's band.
Q - I'm such a purist that to me, Brian Jones was The Rolling Stones, not Mick Jagger.
A - And he was so much of their sound. Everybody thinks of The Rolling Stones as Keith's guitar playing and Mick's singing, but Brian's instrumental technique and the variety of instrumentals he played really defined The Rolling Stones' sound on all those records. All of those strange instruments and strange sounds, I say "strange" tongue-in-cheek. It's all Brian on all of those other instruments. It's just amazing.
Q - How did you find out that Bob Bonis had taken all of those pictures?
A - Well, for pretty much the last twenty years I've made my living and my career as one of the leading experts in Rock and music memorabilia with a heavy emphasis on concert posters. I went from being a pack rat collector who, when I was a kid and went to a concert, I would try to find like the poster on the wall that I could take home as a souvenir. My obsession with memorabilia grew into me being an advanced collector. I took a historical approach to it, so I researched the history of posters. I always looked at all of the history of the musicians and bands that I enjoyed and followed. Before I knew it, I became overwhelmed with my collection. So, like many advanced collectors, I became a dealer when I started to sell things that I knew I no longer needed to keep. I became recognized as one of the experts because as I said, concert posters were really my area of expertise and I started consulting to a variety of auction houses. One day about three years or so ago, I was working with an auction house as the consignment co-coordinator and catalog designer and I answered the phone and it was Bob's son, Alex. He said he had some memorabilia he wanted me to appraise and maybe sell for him because he had done some research and found that I had set world records prices for, particularly Beatles memorabilia and after I found out exactly who and what he was, we arranged a meeting. He came over to the office I had, over to Long Island at the time, with the modest amount of memorabilia that his father had saved. I appraised everything. Obviously I didn't have to authenticate anything. But I appraised everything and he decided that we would sell the memorabilia and then he pulled out a notebook with about a dozen or so contact sheets. I took my loop and looked at it and said "Alex, those photographs are really extraordinary, but contact sheets don't have a tremendous value. On the other hand if you have the negatives and own the copyright, then we're talking about a very significant, historical find here." While The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are the most heavily photographed groups in the history of Rock 'n' Roll, pictures of this nature, candid, inside view of the goings on of touring, especially from this period, are very, very, very rare. The photos are really extraordinary. He told me he did in fact have all the negatives and slides and he did own the copyright because his father and mother had both passed on and he had no other siblings. Alex and I decided we were going to form a company to unveil and reveal these photographs to the public because his father, during his lifetime, had resisted anyone who approached him to publish the photographs. They were really extraordinary and the world really needed to see them and Bob's legacy really needed to be honored. So, I formed a company with a few partners, Alex being one them, and the company acquired the negatives and the copyright to all of the photographs and that's where the journey begins.
Q - So, how many photos do you have of The Beatles and The Stones?
A - There are approximately 2,700 photos of The Rolling Stones and approximately 900 photos of The Beatles in Bob Bonis' archive.
Q - So there's room for a lot more photo books in the future.
A - There certainly are!
Q - Is the NFA Gallery an actual art museum?
A - We opened a physical gallery in New York City on the corner of 20th Street and 5th Avenue for about six or seven months to do a debut exhibition of these photographs. We closed the gallery six or seven months later, after we received world-wide recognition and acclaim for the photographs, having accomplished our initial goal. But we still have the website www.nfagallery.com where we sell prints and we're working with other institutions and companies to sell and market the prints.
Q - It looks like The Stones were very approachable at the time these photos were taken. You could probably have gotten their autographs or posed for a picture with them.
A - At that time, that was definitely the case. They went wherever they wanted to go without the pandemonium that surrounded The Beatles. The Beatles on the other hand were basically sequestered in their hotel room and transported often by armored car from one place to another. The Stones, there's a photograph in the book of the station wagon they toured in, which is a remarkable contrast to the fleet of semi-trucks they tour with now. There are photographs of The Rolling Stones at a bowling alley and you can see there are other people at the bowling alley and there aren't security guards keeping people from talking to them. They were a lot more approachable.
Q - Take a look at that photo Bob took of The Stones at The Manger Town And Country Motor Lodge in Savannah, Georgia in May of 1965. There's a guy in the background with an expression on his face that seems to be saying "Who the hell are these guys?" Did you notice that?
A - (laughs) Yeah. I'm sure. He was probably looking at them like everybody else was at the time, saying who are these dirty, greasy, long-hairs hanging out by the pool, drinking?
Q - How long has this book been out and what's been the reaction to it?
A - The book was published on November 16th of this year (2010) and it's gotten phenomenal response, absolutely phenomenal response. We've gotten terrific press, both online and in print, including Rolling Stone magazine, Spin's magazine, Vanity Fair. We've been in a tremendous amount of gift suggestion columns in newspapers all across the country, in Glamour magazine, in Star magazine. I recently spoke to someone at the Rolling Stones' office in England where I had sent over some books to give to each member of the band and I was told that they all absolutely love the book and it was actually quite disruptive for the meeting they had planned. They all sat around looking at the photographs in the book. The book has gotten a really terrific response.