Gary James' Interview With Photographer
Rowland Scherman

His photographs have appeared in Life, Look and Time to name just a few. He photographed the 1963 Newport Folk Festival, the March On Washington, D.C, The Beatles' first U.S. concert and Woodstock. He traveled with Bobby Kennedy on his campaign for the presidency. He went on tour with Judy Collins and was in the studio when Crosby, Stills And Nash recorded their first album. In 1968 he won a Grammy Award for the cover photo of "Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits". And now his photos will be part of a display at The Morrison Gallery in support of Ron Howard's new Beatles documentary Eight Days A Week. His name is Rowland Scherman and we spoke with Mr. Scherman about his life behind the lens and his coverage of The Beatles' first U.S. concert.

Q - Mr. Scherman, did you travel with The Beatles?

A - My travel with The Beatles equals about twenty steps. I never traveled with them. I just stumbled into their concert by mistake. My sister lived in Britain. She hung out with a lot of British artists. One of 'em was a photographer, Russ Freeman, who also was a Beatles photographer. When The Beatles went on tour, Freeman went with 'em and my sister went with Freeman as his assistant. Their first gig was in Washington, D.C. where I lived. She said, "You better get down here. These guys are great." I knew that because she'd already sent me a couple of their records. We loved 'em! So, sure enough I went down to the concert. I didn't have a press pass or anything. I just got in the back door with them. I watched from about a hundred yards away, way up in the balcony. It was really exciting then. I was running low on film and I got a little closer. Nobody stopped me. So, I got a little closer than that and still nobody stopped me. Pretty soon I had my elbows on the stage and I only had about twenty frames of film left, so I photographed this great stuff, the close-up ones that I got. The first three rolls were zero and the last half-a-roll was pretty good. Then, we all went together to the British Embassy after the concert, which was unheard of for a Rock band to go anywhere after a concert. But The Beatles were special and the Brits knew they were special. They were invited to the British Embassy and there was nothing but those mustachioed, blue blazer, white tie diplomats and their wives who were all dressed up just like ambassadors do. The Beatles were there and the wives of the ambassadors were giggling and squealing just like the girls were at the concert. In those days no digital of course. I had fast film, but not fast enough to shoot anything like that. I think I got a picture of Ringo being surrounded by press and diplomats, but it would be hard to find it.

Q - Didn't someone clip a lock of Ringo's hair?

A - That's where it happened. It happened on the stairs of the British Embassy. Believe it or not, some ambassadors's wife had scissors and clipped some of George Harrison's hair off.

Q - George, not Ringo?

A - No. It was Harrison. And was squealing about it.

Q - And that made George so mad...

A - I can imagine. It would make me insanely mad.

Q - They left that reception.

A - I guess it must've been really strange to be those guys and have the whole world go gaga to the same degree that it did. All they had to do was show up and people started screaming.

Q - You're right. When you think about it, what did they do? They grew out their hair and put on a suit and tie. People thought they landed from another planet.

A - Well, the hair style was one thing. You can call that important. It's sort of important. It's a style change which exists to this day. I mean, they sort of started it, didn't they?

Q - They did.

A - High school kids started growing their hair long and freaked everybody out, but that wasn't what was important about The Beatles.

Q - I know, it was their music.

A - I was there. I was living in D.C. The headlines every day were about the gloomy aftermath of the Kennedy assassination. Here it is late November, December, early January. There was like two months of gloom. When The Beatles showed up, it was the first thing that took the gloomy assassination headlines off the front page. Now, I think that is a plus for them, for music, for the human spirit.

Q - I don't know if you were aware of this, but "Meet The Beatles" (album) was released on November 22nd, 1963. Had President Kennedy not been assassinated, would the President have invited them to The White House? One can only wonder.

A - Wow! Yeah, it's one of life's unsung melodies.

Q - Your sister went on tour with The Beatles in 1964?

A - She was on the train with them from New York to Washington after The Ed Sullivan Show. I think there were a lot of photographers there. I think there's a lot of pictures of her sitting next to Paul. She was quite a babe and still is quite a babe. She was really a fox in those days. I guess they liked having her around. She didn't travel with them. She was Freeman's assistant on that one trip. Eleven years later, I'm living in Britain at this time. I was walking around Hyde Park and there was a big crowd of people. Being a journalist I went to the front of it to see what it was about. There was John Lennon leading this whole crowd of anti-war in Northern Ireland, Peace in Northern Ireland parade. That's when I shot the best picture I ever shot of him. He looked like a working man's hero. I miss him every day. I really do. He was quite the guy. Nobody else, not Frank Sinatra, Laurence Olivier, or anybody, wrote giant posters and put 'em in New York and full pages in The New York Times saying "The War Is Over If You Want It". Lennon was the real deal.

Q - I agree. How many photos of yours will be in this exhibit at The Morrison Gallery? Are you going to be attending that exhibit?

A - They're not the only ones who have my stuff. So, there's going to be a couple of things. I think there's going to be a media thing starting soon. I don't know when, but soon. I think there's going to be a little discussion about this stuff. I think it's in New York. I've got a portfolio that's going to be for sale on Paddle8, the online auction house. That's really going to be something. Ten of my best shots from the time I talked about in that final concert. One is a long shot and the rest are all neat stuff. Pictures of the crowd. Pictures of all the Fab Four together and separately. The lead picture is the really good one, the one of all four of 'em playing and Lennon is looking down at one of the speakers. It's one of the Morrison Hotel ones. I've been with Morrison for four or five years. It was great for the first couple of years. There was only about ten or fifteen of us. Now they've got about eighty-five photographers. That pool has sort of been diluted. It seems like everybody's a Rock photographer now.

Q - You were on Bobby Kennedy's campaign trek. What was that like?

A - I was pretty close to most of the Kennedys. I worked with the Peace Corp. and "Sarge" (Sargent Shriver) and I were pretty close. Sarge donated my services to the family from time to time, like when they would do their Christmas cards. So, I was pretty tight with them. When Bobby started his campaign, Life magazine knew I was associated with them 'cause I did some terrific stuff for Life with Bobby. So, I was the Life magazine guy on his campaign. I was in Washington, editing the stuff when I heard the news that he was killed in California. I thought I had enough, but there was no place to put it because he was dead. It was an essay that wasn't going to go anywhere. So, Life magazine shelved it and put it in the drawer in New Jersey for forty years. They started cleaning out their drawers and said, "Do you want this stuff?" I said, "What stuff?" They said, "The Bobby Kennedy story." I said, "I forgot all about that stuff. Yeah. I'd love to have it." It was the best essay I ever did. God, what wonderful pictures. I had this amazing access.

Q - You were at Woodstock.

A - Yes.

Q - You got around! I guess if you were a photographer living in the 1960s, that really was the best era.

A - It was because the i-phone hadn't been invented. Now, everybody's a photographer. They're taking wonderful pictures. Millions of them. Billions of them, every single day, but in my day the camera had dials and numbers and you had to know which ones to push and then you had to do it. Now that everything is automatic, everybody's a photographer. Not that that's a bad thing 'cause there's a lot of wonderful pictures being made. But you're right, it was great for a guy who wanted to make it a career 'cause there weren't that many of us out there.

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