Gary James' Interview With Rock Photographer
Robert Knight has photographed the biggest and best Rock stars of all time. He's photographed people like Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, John Mayer and Maroon 5.
Robert Knight is the subject of a documentary film titled Rock Prophecies, which has been shown on the P.B.S. network.
Q - I saw this Rock Prophecies on P.B.S. a few weeks ago and I just have to tell you, I was very impressed. There has to be more to it than just the one hour show I saw.
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - Is this something that's going to be shown on one of the pay networks? Is it going to be released as a feature film?
A - No. We cut a deal with P.B.S. Distribution and on some stations they're showing the DVD, which is an hour and 15 to 20 minutes long, but they wanted a 59 minute version. I think we could become a pledge drive later in the year from what I'm hearing. But the reception has just been unbelievable. I got a couple hundred e-mails a week from either young bands or aspiring photographers or people whose family members have Alzheimer's. At first I was really flattered, but now it's becoming so overwhelming, I'm frightened, (laughs) just because so many people are looking for advice. You gotta be careful what you say.
Q - It's a different ball game than when you first started. Photographers today are going to run into different obstacles than you did.
A - That's for sure.
Q - One thing that struck me as I was watching Rock Prophecies is that you seem to have this skill for spotting talent on the rise. Why haven't you aligned yourself with a management company or a booking agency or a record label? I'm sure you could continue your photography career as well.
A - Well, the situation is in fact, I am. If you saw the movie, there was a young manager of the band Sick Puppies, who are going through the roof right now. It's their fifth charted single. There were two outstanding artists that I turned over to that manager. Then I had a young guitar player come in to me who is so astonishing, I actually do manage him. I've got him in Japan right now with the biggest band in Japanese history, touring as their guitar player. He's become a guitar hero in four months in Japan and he's 18 years old (laughs).
Q - Are we talking about the kid from a rural area?
A - He's actually from San Diego. The boy you're thinking of is Tyler Bryan, which is the kid from the film. We took him to Nashville and I helped him find a manager and I helped him get a booking agent, which is C.A.A. (Creative Artists Agency). He's now opening for Aerosmith, Heart and REO Speedwagon, so he's well on his way.
Q - What's the name of the kid in Japan?
A - His name is Josh Gooch. He's out of San Diego and he was in a competition called The King Of The Blues, which is where I saw him play and he was so unbelievable that my jaw dropped. This band called The Bees, which sold over 100 million albums in Japan alone, over twenty years, and yet no one in America has ever heard of them, which is probably bigger album sales than Van Halen, Jeff Beck and all of them combined. I don't know. 100 million is a pretty astonishing number of records and they happened by coincidence to call me and say "We're doing this tour. We need a guitar player 'cause the guy we work with and use is not available. Do you know anybody, since you're kind of the king of young guitar players?" I turned them onto Josh and at first they were very taken aback because of his age, but then the had him come in and audition and now he's become a major part of the agenda for them and they just filmed a DVD at Budokan four nights in a row. (laughs) So, the dream is happening and of course I'm getting, like I said, hundreds of e-mails a week 'cause every single night I can tell where the movie's shown because within fifteen minutes of it ending, my phone goes crazy with e-mails, my Facebook and everything else I've got. It's just they're invading me, but it's very touching. I haven't received a negative e-mail yet and that in itself I think is kind of interesting. No one has said "you know, this really sucks." (laughs) So, everybody's been positive. The e-mails can be as short as "God Bless You. I love what you're doing," to I've gotten about a twelve paragraph e-mail from a woman in Hawaii who has a sixteen year old son who she feels it's his destiny to know me.
Q - Sure, why not!
A - Yeah. A lot of these parents have got a lot of money invested in these young artists, $50,000 to $60,000 in some cases that they've tried to break their kid and they can't get to that level where they got a record company booking agent or anybody to take their call. They don't know how to get that next leap.
Q - What are parents spending $50,000 to $60,000 on?
A - Well, they do a lot of deficit touring to support their kids. I've seen 14, 15 year old boys that their parents drive them across the United States. Then enter every competition you can think of. They record albums for $20,000, $30,000 that are independently produced, yet no one picks up. They just sell 'em at gigs. I know one kid that his dad was $100,000 in and I was working with this kid for a long time when he was really young, but my advice to him was he should join Creed. They just said "there's no way Creed would ever do that." I introduced him to Mark Tremonit and he became Mark's best friend and guess what? The kid's in Creed right now. But now he's 24. (laughs) And he just joined this year (2010). I mean, it took ten years for it to happen, but from day one I knew where he should be.
Q - You must know all the agents too.
A - Yes. In some cases I know the presidents of these agencies, like Rob Light at C.A.A., John Huey at Nashville. I know the head of B.M.I. Nashville. That's the thing of forty-two years of business, I've met all these people, but I've met them in another context. I met 'em as a photographer or I met 'em in a social situation just because the level of people I hang out with, like Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin. You take a guy like Joe Bonamassa. Joe I've been pushing since he was 13. He's now 33 and he's going through the roof. But it's literally taken him twenty years to go through the roof. I spotted Joe at 13 when he played for Leo Fender at a Tribute To Leo Fender. And I've been telling everybody about him forever. I'm not going to take credit for it, but let's just say behind the scenes, some things went down that enabled him to play at Royal Albert Hall. He sold it out all by himself and Eric Clapton came and played and he made a DVD. Joe Bonamassa has a model that works in an industry that isn't working and Bonamassa is a working model on how to make it in the record business right now. I use that, I cite that when I teach in front of a school. I've been teaching at the University Of Montana and middle Tennessee. I come in and talk to the couple of classes, but I use the Bonamassa model. Everybody says the industry is all screwed up. I said it may be screwed up, but there's never been a better time for an artist to make money if he understands what's going on. The Mafia's skim has kind of disappeared. When you look back at old record deals Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck had, it was pathetic what they were taking from 'em.
Q - The Mafia was really involved in record companies?
A - Yeah. I don't want to get my head blown off, but I say wherever there's this kind of money, you definitely have it. Now, we had the Payola scandals in the '50s, right? People were paying to get records rigged in the charts. Well, that changed when the Payola thing happened, but what the record companies did is they created cut-outs and they basically hired independent music promoters. They would give them a budget. OK, here's a million dollars. Go out and try to break our record. They never really asked for an accounting of how that independent record guy did it. Of course how they did it, we don't know. There are guys that specialized in that.
Q - And still do.
A - Well, yeah. I don't want to get my head blown off. They're still there.
Q - The music business is such a fickle business. The Mafia likes sure fire ways to make money; loan sharking and gambling.
A - I think Mafia is disingenuous. You can't blame it on the Italians. It's the difference between the Mafia and the Mob. The Mob connotes any group of organized crime people that maybe aren't Italian. In this case it could be other folks besides the hard core Italians. There are other groups of organized crime figures that know how to work this thing. And so, when you got a traditional record contract and you did twelve songs on a record, the record company would say "we're only going to pay you for mechanicals on ten." And you'd go "Why is that?" And they go "Well 'cause that's the way it's always been." So, most artists never got paid for two mechanicals on their record. And then there's 10% taken from your royalties from breakage. Well, that goes back to the days of vinyl when they would ship them and chip them. That's the breakage thing. They couldn't be sold. The buy-backs. But they're still deducting that to this day. So you've lost two mechanicals as 10% off the top of your royalties for really no reason other than that's the way it is.
Q - And today it's even worse. Record companies take a piece of the action for your songwriting and merchandising as well.
A - Yeah. They take 40 to 50% on international and they claim there's buy-backs or "we have to hold it in escrow to make sure for five years that your numbers..." It's like a game on your international thing. And then you got to go through the accounting of a label. The Eagles were probably one of the few people that could afford to do that. Accounting of a major label is going to cost you $250,000 or better. So you better have some serious missing royalties. I think The Eagles recovered a huge amount of money.
Q - And again, the publishing and merchandising are now part of a record contract as well.
A - Well, I can give you a simple reason why: they'll tell you because of downloads they can't make any money, so now they want this 10 or 20% on each aspect. But the reality is, none of these bosses at any of those labels are taking any less of a salary. They're still getting the same salary plus the bonuses. That hasn't changed. The main players are still getting the big money. They're not taking any pay cuts.
Q - It's enough to make a person not want to be a part of the music business.
A - Figure the model out. It works. And that model is: you build up your hardcore audience in America and Europe and Joe is good for 200,000 units to his fan base. 100,000 in America. 100,000 in Europe. He produces his own records. He sells direct to his client base. He has nobody he's paying in-between. He four walls most of all his concerts in America. He doesn't pay the promoter. He gambles and he wins. He's got no life. He's on a bus 300 days a year, but that's what it takes. That model works. If you got; if you understand social networking and you can make that fan base respond to every Twit. It's like Slash has 3.8 million followers on Twitter and I forgot how many he's got on all those other things. You go direct to your fan base. You don't have a record company between you and it and you can do it. And then of course if you sell 100,000 units yourself, well then the record company will make you a traditional record deal on distribution. You pretty much have done the work. The big key for the young artist is, how do I deficit tour? In the past, record companies would pay for this deficit touring, only temporarily because it always came out of your royalties if you ever hit a home run. So now, this new model is, you need to find corporate sponsorship that will pay you and help support you on the road, but they don't want you to re-coup it. In other words, they got the co-branding and there's no recoupment on your part. That's the model that works for a young band.
Q - You've really got this stuff down.
A - Well, that's because I've watched it. This is kind of what Rock Prophecies is all about. I've been a photographer. I've met these songwriters. I've met these producers. I've watched all of my friends get ripped off. Then Peter Grant came along with Led Zeppelin and he turned the tables. In the old days a band would get 10% and the promoter got 90%. And he flipped that deal. He's like "No, man. You get 10%. We get 90%." That's what turned the corner for bands.
Q - How well did you know Peter Grant?
A - I knew him well.
Q - He truly was a giant of a manager, in more ways than one.
A - It's like having Hulk Hogan as your manager. He was a professional wrestler. He wasn't against going out in any parking lot and absolutely slashing within an inch of a life, anybody who bootlegged Led Zeppelin t-shirts. So people thought twice (laughs) about fooling with anything to do with Led Zeppelin. And he made that band money. But then it got very scary because the money got so big that I think it got the better of him in the end.
Q - You're talking about Peter Grant?
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - I never heard anything bad about Peter Grant.
A - Bad in what way? As your manager he was a great manager. If you had to come up against him, you had nothing but bad things to say. Ask Bill Graham. (laughs)
Q - I was going to mention Bill Graham. You must've known Bill Graham as well.
A - Yeah. I knew Bill Graham before. I met him when I first hit San Francisco in '68. Actually I met him in '67. I wasn't even a photographer yet, but I flew all the way from Hawaii to go see Cream play at The Fillmore. I was outside there at 3 in the afternoon and he came in, "What are you doing here?" "Like, I've flown from Hawaii." "Well, come on in." (laughs) It was cool.
Q - Did you ever meet Colonel Parker or Brian Epstein?
A - I met Colonel Parker. Brian Epstein I never met because The Beatles had pretty much gone by the way by the time I was shooting in '68. They had already broken up. But subsequently I met two of the Beatles. I know Ringo pretty well. I met Paul McCartney at Jeff Beck's house. He was an interesting fellow.
Q - Why do you say that?
A - He had a real interesting thing to say about Jeff Beck, which was basically he was Jimi Hendrix before Jimi thought of being Jimi Hendrix. He said Jeff was playing like that when The Beatles first toured. Their first tour they had The Yardbirds for support and Ike and Tina Turner I think.
Q - Are you talking about the U.S. or England?
A - England.
Q - What did you think of Colonel Parker?
A - Well, I grew up in Hawaii. So, Tom Mofat, who was the big promoter in Hawaii and Elvis was in and out of Hawaii a lot. I would see Colonel Parker with Tom Mofat or I would see Colonel Parker outside the Hilton Hawaiian Village. I never met Elvis. There was like a ball of security around him, but an opportunity came up where he was gonna do this first satellite telecast from Hawaii to the world. And the promoter said "I only have two tickets. One's in the first row and one's in row 100." I had a young assistant. I wasn't keen on Elvis. I really didn't like Elvis at that stage of his career. I thought Elvis was only cool in the '50s. So I wasn't really an Elvis fan at all. So we flipped and my young assistant, he won the coin toss to sit in the front row. I never bothered to shoot Elvis and he got all these wonderful pictures of Elvis from that concert in Hawaii. But I saw the Colonel around there. I would come in contact with him, but in talking with people, it turns out that Elvis had probably one of the worst deals in history. This guy was not a Colonel. He was an illegal immigrant, so therefore Elvis never played outside the United States because Colonel Parker couldn't get a passport.
Q - Had Colonel Parker played his cards right, he could've gotten that passport. He provided security for then Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson of Texas. So, had he asked, he might have gotten that passport. Did you know that?
A - I knew that Elvis had this obsession of becoming a DEA agent and he was meeting Nixon. I know Led Zeppelin went to see him (Elvis) in 1970 and he had no idea who they were. (laughs) I live in Las Vegas and we have a gallery over at the Hilton and that was the site where Elvis did every show he ever did. I've actually decorated the 3,000 square foot of the bar area in that showroom with my work. It's a very historic place.
Q - Do you have a traveling exhibition of your work?
A - Not at this point. We did a lot of film festivals for Rock Prophecies and we would then put it on exhibition. We had Samsung as a corporate sponsor. This is what I was talking about with the young artist. My film, and I'm the subject of the film, when I say film, I'm not the film maker, but we actually had a ginormous corporate sponsor in Samsung who allowed us to fly in all these bands and throw all these parties and do all these magnificent things that got us attention by the critics and other people and we didn't owe them any money. In other words, it was a non-recoupable sponsorship, but I had to do some things with a cell phone for them, did a couple of in-stores and they subsequently got this tour bus wrapped and some tour support money. So Samsung really came into the equation for us. It allowed us to bring Rock Prophecies to where it is right now. That's a good example of "we did it ourselves," where you go out and you talk to these corporate people and they're always looking for something in the music industry that's young, happening and potentially nothing that will cause them embarrassment.
Q - Well, now that seems like it would be a problem. So many of today's artists will get attention by doing something shocking like slugging somebody out or getting arrested for drugs.
A - Yeah, but those kinds of artists are more like Pop cultural people. Even Justin Bieber got into it the other day playing laser tag with somebody and popped somebody in the mouth. Samsung asked me a lot of questions about artists. They say "Do you think it's a safe bet to back this person or that person?" I can usually point them to the band that I can go "You're not going to have any trouble with this band. You're not going to have any trouble with this artist." See, the problem with Rock music, and it's a stupid broken record and I've watched so many of my friends die or lose their career, and that is people don't treat it like a business. If you had a clothing store, you certainly wouldn't go to work drunk or stoned. You wouldn't let your CEO be drunk or stoned and all your employees be drunk or stoned. But yet Rock bands seem to have this atmosphere where their management and their publicists and the band, everybody's doing drugs. They're completely out of control. Then they all reach a point in their career where they get sober and go "Where'd the money go?" (laughs)
Q - That's right.
A - What happened? Well, you signed all this. Well, I don't remember it. Well, you signed it. And it's a broken record. Think of the artists today that are broke and had the biggest selling albums of all time. Without naming names, you know who I'm talking about.
Q - Are you asking me to name someone?
A - No. I can name a couple, but there's some big people out there who had some of the biggest selling records in history and ended up with no money.
Q - I believe Peter Frampton is in the category you're talking about. I was told years ago by a publicist whose name I've long since forgotten, that his manger took his money.
A - That's what I was talking about, but you said it, not me. He was a dear friend of mine, but I don't know what happened to his money. Something happened. How is it that his manager managed to take it?
Q - That is the mystery, isn't it?
A - As with all these guys, they were all in the good life and were all indulging themselves and they weren't paying attention to it as a business model. But, this is the thing when I talk to these young artists today. This is what I tell them; there's two things in play. I had a conversation last night with one of the kids from Aerosmith. His dad is in Aerosmith. He's one of the young kids who's about to join a band. He's like, "Well, what do I need to do?" Well, there's two models here. There's the model of the airy fairy artist who's got my head in the clouds, but there's the model which is the business model and everything you do needs to be in writing 'cause this whole idea that he's my brother, he won't hurt me or we shook on it or we got a verbal agreement. It doesn't fly.
Q - That's the way Brian Epstein used to make deals.
A - Well, but that was the old model. The Beatles lost their publishing, didn't they? Think about what they got paid. Think about what Sid Bernstein paid them compared to what they could have got if Peter Grant was managing them. (laughs)
Q - Would Peter Grant have been in 1964, the kind of manager he was in 1969, 1970, 1971? It took him awhile to get that managerial knowledge.
A - I don't know, but in '66 people were pretty savvy then, 'cause I was around. The thing is, it's been a corrupt business and there were some pretty powerful people, particularly in the British music industry that were borderline thugs running a business. People who controlled juke joints, bars and clubs. It's always been borderline. I'm not dumping on those people. It's a historical fact. The Rolling Stones lost their first ten records. The Beatles lost their publishing. How could Allen Klein completely rob one band and then go on to the next and do the same thing?
Q - Those groups put their trust in a stranger. I always say if you're smart enough to make the money, you should be smart enough to invest it.
A - Well, that's unfortunate for the Hip Hop culture 'cause they spend most of it on Bling, which when it comes time to hock that stuff, you're only gonna get ten cents on a dollar and each one of those things could be a potential real estate investment. I'll tell you one of the smartest guys in the business, who doesn't get enough accolades is Duff McKagen from Guns 'n' Roses. He invested everything.
Q - How about David Bowie?
A - He was smart because he did an IPO on himself and became a billionaire in one day. (laughs) He created a business model. He treated it as a business. He was starting to wane. He thought, OK, how do I pick this thing up with my publishing, my future work, everything. He created an IPO and took it public.
Q - Or how about Dave Clark of The Dave Clark Five, he actually owned the masters to all of his recordings and licensed them out to the record companies. In the early 1960s, no one did that.
A - He proved you could do it.
Q - Or Madonna, instead of entrusting her future in the hands of an attorney, she will hire an attorney and pay him or her by the hour for advice.
A - Smart. And then the other thing Madonna did, which is one of the things I'm talking to Joe Bonamassa about, is that she signed her competition.
Q - Who would that be?
A - Alanis Morissette.
Q - That's right, Madonna did start her own record company.
A - Yeah. She was signing her competition. If a young girl came along that was going to compete with her, bang! She's sign 'em. Joe Bonamassa said "all these young kids want to jam with me. They want to take my job from me." I said "Yeah, just like you were trying to take B.B. King's job when you were 13." He went and opened for him. I said "Joe, the play would be to sign these kids. If any of 'em are any good, sign 'em."
Q - You're telling him to create his own record label.
A - Well, he has one. What I'm telling him to do is go beyond himself.
Q - It takes a special person to be able to do that. Most of your energy has to be focused on your career. When you're signing other people, that's taking away time and energy from your own career.
A - It does, but I think you have to be realistic in this climate because the shelf life of a band now, even a successful band, is about three years. I could just do a laundry list here of bands that were big three years ago that you never hear of anymore. It doesn't mean they're not making money on touring, but they're just off the chart. Last night Bob Lefsetz was sending out record sales. I'm looking at the new Maroon 5 record, which is about what, 38,000 units. Eric Clapton, three weeks on the chart and he's sold 70,000 units. Bob reviewed it and put one word down; "Boring." (laughs) So here's Clapton, who can sell out Albert Hall, sell out Madison Square Garden in every permutation you can think of. I'll do it with Cream. I'll do it with Blind Faith. I'll do it with Jeff Beck. Yet his album comes out and it's not many units. And you could say illegal downloading has destroyed my career. I don't think so. The fan base of Jeff Beck and those guys, they're gonna buy anything that comes out if they like it.
Q - From my perspective as a writer, you cannot get Eric Clapton or Jeff to give an interview and that has to hurt when it comes to promoting a new release. They don't do a lot of P.R.
A - That's why it was unusual to get Jeff in my movie. He's never even done this for himself. I as the first person that ever got what I got in his house with him opening up like that. We got eight hours of stuff. I mean we got a ton. The overshoot we have on Rock Prophecies is huge. But these guys wanted to talk to me 'cause I've known them so long. I've stayed at Jeff's house for twenty years. I've been a guest there. I'm part of the landscape I suppose.
Q - You're absolutely right about Jeff Back. He once said he'd rather have a root canal than do an interview.
A - Well, because he keeps getting the same interview after forty years. It's unbelievable. He keeps having the same interview.
Q - Is that the fault of Jeff or the interviewer?
A - The interviewer. I've taken a young guitar player to dinner with him in England about two years ago. I didn't tell him where we're going for dinner. I just said "I'm gonna meet a friend for dinner." He's like, "OK." Jeff Beck shows up and sits down. And he was just stunned. So Jeff went away to the bathroom for a minute and he said "Robert, what should I say to Jeff?" I said "whatever you do, don't talk about guitars. Don't go there." Everybody says the same thing to Jeff, "Oh my God. You're my favorite guitar player in the world!" He's sick of it. I think he knows or doesn't care. But he doesn't need anybody else to tell him he's great. That embarrasses him actually. But if you're there and Jeff goes "What do you do?" And you say "I work on cars," prepare yourself for eight hours of Jeff. He'll sit there and talk to you all night. Or if you want to talk about welding or talk about cooking or comedy, he's there with you. You want to talk about The Yardbirds, the guy will get up and walk away.
Q - He's a Renaissance guy then.
A - Yeah. For him it's like ex-wives. All these things he's done in his life, Yardbirds, Rod Stewart, all these bands he's played in, people tend to want to talk about the past. And Jeff's like, I've given everything I can say about The Yardbirds or Rod Stewart. Why don't we talk about the future or now? And people want to talk about the past.
Q - I want to talk a little about your past. You became a travel agent at sixteen. How'd you do that? Were you a high school graduate at that point?
A - No. I was still in high school. The weird thing was, I didn't like Hawaii. People must think that's crazy. I grew up there not liking it. I didn't go to the beach. I didn't swim. I didn't like the heat. It's not my favorite place. Whatever I thought about, it was about getting off of Hawaii. I wanted to get out of there as soon as I could. One day I found outside of this travel agency they had discarded the IAG guide, the International Airline Guide. I picked them up and one of them was the schedule of every airline going to every destination in the world. The second one was learning how to fare structure. I looked at these things and I would hallucinate and invent travel ideas and scenarios. I'd learned there were some pretty tricky things you could do and get free added on trips. For instance, if you bought a trip to Los Angeles, first class, you could get a free first class trip to Seattle. I worked this out where I could fly first class for the price of coach, 'cause coach was point to point. So I went into the travel agent in Hawaii and said I'd like this fare where I can fly first class cheaper than coach. They said there was no such fare. Then I opened the book up and showed the. It was the owner of the agency and he said "you ought to work here. How would you like to start part-time?" I said "fine." So I started as a part-time travel agent and was working in outside sales at school and my dad's church. The basketball team needed to go to the outer island. I booked the ticket, hotel, people from the church. Eventually it became more of a full-time job and after working six months, they recognized me as a full-fledged travel agent. So, what I did was, when I was sixteen, I went to London on an agents discount pass. I flew first class, my first time going outside the country. (laughs) I sat next to Noel Coward and flew to London. (laughs) Which is how I ended up in swingin' London in '66.
Q - How much money did you have on you?
A - Nothing. I was staying with some people in a guest house and maybe it cost me ten pounds a week. I don't know. I can't remember. However I did it, I did it. I stayed there for a summer. This is when all that music was happening. The whole thing would blow up and the inspiration from that and the photographers studio they used, these people had looked after it. It's just one thing led to another. The bell went off in my head and said I can become a Rock 'n' Roll photographer. I can't play guitar. But that one day might allow me to be able to shoot Jeff Beck. So that was my goal. I went back to Hawaii and immediately I started working on caddying and doing those things to get that money. Then my parents and the Vietnam War and all that other stuff was pressing about go to school or go to Vietnam. I needed to get into college and I noticed that Bill Graham had all these shows booked that summer of '68 at the Fillmore of all the people I ever wanted to photograph. I just convinced my parents this where I needed to go to school, San Francisco Art Institute, but the cover was really to get access to these bands. So, the first concert I even went to with my camera was Jeff Beck. (laughs)
Q - Where did you learn how to take photos?
A - I went to photography school a little bit at the University Of Hawaii. I was shooting models 'cause that was the only thing you make money in, in Hawaii. I was shooting girls that were trying to be models. It was interesting. I was getting down the technical ability 'cause I was having to do a lot of printing every day of these girls. I did the pictures myself so I could make the money.
Q - You're talking swimsuits, not nude shots, correct?
A - Oh, no. None of that. I was working with the modeling agencies that actually had two hundred or three hundred girls every two or three months that would graduate from the Patricia Stevens Modeling Agency. They all needed portfolios and I would shoot their portfolios. They had three offices. One in Hawaii, one in Vancouver and one in Seattle. I would make the rounds and I was making a tidy little income doing this stuff. I one day, a model took her portfolio to an ad agency in Seattle and we had our name stamped on the back of the foil and the art director called me and said "How much would you charge me to shoot a loaf of bread?" I went "Excuse me? I don't know. Make me an offer. What about $800?" I shot this thing and they started giving me more work. I was working for the phone company and I had a pretty good portfolio. I went back to Hawaii and started doing advertising photography, went to San Francisco Art Studio and the whole thing kind of grew. I was always a successful advertising photographer in the background 'cause there was zero money in Rock 'n' Roll. I got $50 for doing a Grateful Dead poster back in the day.
Q - Were you with a magazine when you were taking photos of Rock bands?
A - No.
Q - Where did you get your credentials from?
A - You didn't need credentials. I bought a ticket to go see Jimi Hendrix and I had a camera. People literally got out of my way as I walked down to the front of the stage. They assumed I must be there for some purpose. This was the day before we had a million photographers. You actually had to be a photographer to be in the room. Nowadays you just buy a digital camera and you're a photographer. So, I walked down, went to the bottom of the stage and stood there with Jim Marshall, (laughs) looking at me like "what are you doing here?" and I shot. No one ever questioned it. There were no backstage passes then. I don't remember seeing any. I think it might've been Led Zeppelin or someone like that when I first got a backstage pass.
Q - There's Peter Grant thinking again.
A - How to control. I think Bob Dylan was so annoyed as the photographers started to proliferate that all he would hear is these cameras clicking. So he started this three song thing when you could only shoot the first three songs. And then in some cases it gets reduced to only one song. So nowadays most young photographers get three songs if they're lucky. To shoot a whole show is virtually impossible. You got to be on somebody's "A" list to do that.
Q - Would I have seen any of your photos in a magazine like Circus or Hit Parader?
A - No. Not back in the day. Which is why I own my own stuff now. If you were working for those magazines it would be constituted as work for hire and you probably wouldn't own your copyright. So, I did a Hendrix album posthumously. I did a Stevie Ray album posthumously. I did John Lee Hooker posthumously. That's all stuff that was negotiated after the fact. I shot that stuff. I owned it and they came looking for it. I get calls every day from people looking for something. Yesterday it was Duane Allman. I got Maxim Magazine calling asking if I had any Duane Allman, which I didn't.
Q - They were around in your era.
A - Yeah, but being in Hawaii and being more West Coast based, I didn't get access to some of those Southern bands.
Q - And he was gone in '71.
A - Yeah, and I didn't leave Hawaii until '80. I would occasionally come over to L.A. or San Francisco or Seattle, but rarely would I go further East. So I wasn't that into 'em. And also there was a lot of music that I hated and I wouldn't shoot the band even if I had the opportunity. I just hated the music so much I wouldn't shoot it. Janis Joplin lived right near me in San Francisco and I wouldn't shoot her. I thought she was awful. I promised myself my whole career. I would never work with The (Grateful) Dead.
Q - Now see, I always thought Janis Joplin had an unusual voice and she was very good.
A - She was, but the band was absolutely dreadful. It was just a terrible band. I was into guitar. I was into really cool guitar. Stuff like the Betts, the Hendrix's, the Zeppelin's and all of that. Savoy Brown, Humble Pie. But you go back and listen to the live Big Brother And The Holding Company stuff, it's like dreadful. Quicksilver actually hung out in Hawaii a bit. I was actually hanging out with them, but I never shot 'em. Again, I'm having to ask myself why. They were all Virgo. I'm a Virgo. They used to come up to my house. In fact, John Cipollina came up to my house one time. He brought a fifteen year old boy with him who was sort of asking for some photos. I gave him some photos. So then, forty years later, or thirty years later I'm at this concert and this guy walks up to me and says "Robert, do you remember me?" I said "No." He goes "I'm Hutch Hutchinson." I said "You're the bass player for Bonnie Raitt. He said "Yeah, but I was that fifteen year old boy that came to your house." (laughs) That's pretty cool. And then there was this other kid on a skate board who wanted to be a photographer in Hawaii. He was hanging out. I don't know, I just didn't pay any attention to him. He turned out to be the President of AOL, Steve Case. (laughs)
Q - You couldn't fit all these stories in Rock Prophecies, could you?
A - Nobody would believe it. And this is just one specter of my life because there many other things that I did that are just so unbelievable. I've literally been on most places on this earth being an advertising photographer and shooting for the biggest clients in that world. Airlines, cruise ships. Those big people. I did that. That's where I made my money. But because of that I was able to go all over the world and see what was out there and see concerts. I saw The Who at Hammersmith Odeon. Those were the kind of cool things I got to do back in the day. But it gave me an appreciation. I can't get caught up in politics 'cause I know there's a different life out there. We talk about we live in the greatest place on earth, yet we're the thirty-first in infant mortality. It's like, wait a minute!
Q - Where do you base yourself out of these days?
A - Las Vegas. My wife is also a photographer and an unbelievable one as well. She's from New Zealand and I got to go down there a lot. I got to see another really cool place. That's a really cool country. But, I'm about the future like Jeff Beck is too. I'm really about all those young bands. Seriously, if I hear Led Zeppelin and it's not because I don't like Led Zeppelin, they're all my friends, I still see these guys, but if I hear "Stairway To Heaven" on the radio, I have to turn it off. So, one of the things I've been doing at these film festivals is people say predict the band. So I say OK, I guarantee you within a year this band will be big and you'll hear about them. And I have been uncannily correct the last three or four years.
Q - I can predict you're going to be the next big manager of the future.
A - Oh, I don't know. I don't know if I could go that far. I think the part of it I really like is finding these kids, getting 'em hooked up. I won't buy into the drug thing. If these kid are into that, I won't have anything to do with 'em. It's waste of my time and theirs. Just get 'em going and step back. Put 'em on the right path. Educate 'em. Tell 'em how to look after themselves, what to look out for and give 'em kind of a manual. A cool book to do. A Rock 'n' Roll manual. (laughs)