Audience Feels At Home With The Rolling Stones, Beatles, The Who & Other Iconic Bands
By Kevin Wilkerson, PubClub.com Music Blogger
Halfway through rock ’n roll photographer Ethan Russell’s outstanding live show “Best Seat In The House And The Pictures To Prove It” I sat mesmerized in the Cal State Los Angeles’ Luckman Theater.
Russell was showing photos of the early years of the Rolling Stones – pictures of Mick Jagger without his swagger just being himself, of John Lennon and Yoko Ono at their house – and telling the stories behind these photographs.
But it was with either the second or third photo after intermission of the two-hour show that I finally got it, that I realized why I had been so mesmerized. It was a simple photo, one you’ve probably taken at your house of your family. It was a picture of a small table in a kitchen. A couple of band members of the Rolling Stones were sitting at it, having breakfast.
Suddenly, it hit me what was so special about Russell’s photos and this show – he was showing these incredible rock icons as regular human beings.
Russell – the only photographer to shoot album covers of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and The Who and who was the premier rock band photographer of the late 60/early 70s rock era – captured not the screamin’ awesome shots of these legendary bands on stage, but of the band members just being themselves. Casual, everyday moments.
Invited into their homes, the recording studios and even on tour (he was the only official photographer of the Stones’ 1969 North American Tour and he’s just published a massive coffee table book chronicling it), Russell has taken these larger-than-life music heroes and made them human. You realize that in some ways, they were not much different than the rest of us.
There’s Mick Jagger lounging around the four-room Rolling Stones office prior to doing a magazine interview and Keith Richards leaning against a water fountain under an anti-drugs sign. There’s John Lennon and Yoko goofing around on the steps of their house. There’s Mick and the band in a board room having a meeting with executives.
All the while, the humble artist is saying things like “and then I got a call one day from John Lennon asking me to come over to his and Yoko’s place” and “Mick walked out of a back room of this house and asked if I wanted to go on tour with them” as casually as you and I may talk about an old friend we ran into the other day.
You get the feeling Russell was – and still is – as stunned at the circumstances that led him to photograph these musicians and bands as the audience is listening to his stories.
There’s more, too. He got an album cover for Linda Ronstadt fooling around with some sunset shots on the beach in Malibu when a horse suddenly galloped behind her in the surf. He’s got a photo of the Eagles “before they were big,” Russell said, “back when they wanted to be big.”
He also tells the story of the unusual cover photo of The Who’s Who’s Next, still regarded by some critics as the best album cover in rock history.
For more on Russell, his book, his “Best Seat In The House” show (it’s an 18-city North American tour including another event in L.A.) and his gallery in San Francisco, visit his website, ethanrussell.com.
If you’re in Los Angeles – rock music capitol of the world – and want to see some of his works now, the Luckman Art Gallery on the Cal State LA campus – has several of his pictures on display for free thru May 26.