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January 29, 2018

Rock Gods: Fifty Years of Rock Photography: By Robert M. Knight

rock gods by robert m knight big2

By Harvey Kubernik

Insight Editions is pleased to announce the recent publication of Rock Gods: Fifty Years of Rock Photography.

This new, updated and revised edition displays the rich visual universe of Robert M. Knight’s work, replete with visions of guitar gods, monumental performances, and speaker-shaking solos that chronicle the greatest moments in the evolution of rock music and culture.

These terrific photographs define generations of rock stars, from the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin to Jeff Back and Green Day.

Knight’s Rock Gods captures Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Jimmy Page, Elton John, Slash, Eric Clapton, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, Rolling Stones, Freddie King, Little Richard and James Brown, among other subjects he has lensed.

Owing to his intimate access and friendships with many of his subjects, Knight’s photography offers a unique perspective on the world of rock stars, creating some of the most compelling and evocative portraits of popular musicians witnessed to date.

Robert Knight’s career spans from the 1960s to the present as one of the premier photographers for the music industry. He made his mark in 1968, when his legendary shots of Jimi Hendrix propelled him into a career as a professional photographer working with artists such as Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Slash, and Green Day.

Robert M. Knight interview

HK: I’d like to know about the music scene and record business in Hawaii while you were growing up.

RK: Back in the day there was a pretty cool music scene as local radio station KPOI and promoter deejay Tom Moffatt was doing lots of shows with Elvis, the Ventures, the Beach Boys and other bands from the early 60’s coming to Hawaii often.

“The first rock band I ever shot was Jeff Beck with Rod Stewart in San Francisco The next was Jimi Hendrix. When Jeff Beck and I met he told me about this band Jimmy Page had that would blow my mind called the new Yardbirds, so I had a heads up. I called Moffatt in Hawaii and said he needed to book this band. And they had changed their name to Led Zeppelin. I ended up shooting them in L.A. and hanging out with the bands.

“There was this very famous house at the foot of Diamond Head called the Otani Mansion and that’s where Zeppelin and Hendrix would stay for long periods of time. I ended up helping various promoters looking after the bands, taking around town and have dinners. Had some really fun nights out with Zeppelin.

HK: Rock and roll seems to become a religious experience for you very early. You said in the book people go to a rock concert to commune and worship. Does the audience come for engagement?

RK: This came from Jimi Hendrix who called what he did as “Electric Church” I liked that idea and fans back in the day would go to this amazing church! It was amazing back in the day as we were seeing archetypes and it was transfixing. Pretty much today everything I see or hear I sort of seen it long before.

HK: What is your role or function at a music event you are shooting? It became a vocation and a career but that was not the initial game plan whatsoever.

RK: I looked after the bands that came to Hawaii and I started to have pretty cool relationships with artists and would get the call from them when they hit town or others would get my name and say “Elton or Jimi Hendrix said to give you a call.” I had that happen with Rod Stewart. I had two weeks of fun hanging out with Alice Cooper playing golf, tennis and deep sea fishing.

HK: What sort of cameras and film did you employ in the sixties and seventies?

Group 66

RK: From day one I said I could not be a photographer unless I had Nikon Cameras, I carried golf bags for days until I had enough tip money to buy my first Nikon F and three lenses. Until this day I am a Nikon guy. For me it was Tri-X and Acufine rated at 1200 ISO. I processed my own film color and black and white and did my own prints for years.

HK: Is there one theory of shooting or a philosophy? Henry Diltz told me it’s about “Point and shoot.”

RK: For me it was try and develop a friendship so that I could get the advantage of also getting shots off stage as well as live. Get to go to sound checks. Also, when you are into the music of who you are shooting it helps to predict great shots. In the early days I would only want to shoot bands I liked and not the ones whose music I hated.

HK: Is camera position or location a factor? Shooting upwards or a specific angle?

RK: I liked the pit for sure but as others started shooting I would figure out how to get on stage or back stage to shoot. Have some amazing shots of Hendrix, Stones and Elton from on the stage.

HK: As touring developed, did arena lighting play a factor in how you approached or shot musicians.

RK: Early days the lighting for the most part was band and I used flash bulbs and later strobe lights on the cameras, but as concerts got bigger so did the light rigs and we really could get great stuff, Zeppelin and The Stones had some of the best light and sound.

HK: Because of your contacts and secured friendships, you really show us an off-stage world of Led Zeppelin, the Yardbirds, and Elton John, for example. Access and restriction are so different today. You knew Jimmy Page and Robert Plant and they understood the music business and would be around for a long time.

RK: Back in the day there were only a few real rock and roll photographers and the bands knew us and let us shoot. Since I was able to support myself as an advertising photographer as well I now own all my negatives from the early work as it was not work for hire from the record companies.

“The bands needed us but today it is out of control. Everyone is a photographer and the bands are so over it all that they know limit who and how long you can shoot and who owns the material. So happy about the first 20 years I shot!!

HK: Talk to me about Jimi Hendrix. You really had a deep connection with him as evidenced by the photos. Was Hawaii a place where he could relax and play a different show?

RK: Hendrix was great and Hawaii was the place he could hang out and not be bothered. He came many times and spent a long period on Maui. When he was at the Otani House I would go down and hang out with the band and talk about very strange things so of which I only now really understand.

“When I first met Janie Hendrix she asked me what her brother was like as she was a very young girl back when he was alive. We talked a lot about UFO’s which Hawaii had a lot of!

HK: You were a self-proclaimed “Stones guy.”

RK: When I was young and the Beatles came out they were would be would call today a boy band that the girls went crazy for, safe and not too wild. The guys my age were Stones guys, they were wild dangerous and put on amazing shows. It was years later that I really got into the Beatles but not at the time.

HK: Tell me about seeing the Stones in 1972 and the 1973 Nicaragua event at the Inglewood Forum. Does Mick Jagger understand the media of presentation and visuals and photo documentation better than most of them?

RK: I shot those shows both in Hawaii and L.A. Mick was in the early days very clued into photography and the value of it. One of the smart guys for sure. I remember seeing him at a U2 show when they started the big extended ramp gigs he watched it all and learned and next time you saw the Stones it was even better.

HK: Your work with seminal blues and R&B legends to me is the spine of your book. What drew you to the blues?

RK: Always loved the blues and went out of my way to track down as many of the legends I could. I was co-director of Hollywood’s Rockwalk at the Guitar Center Hollywood and we tried to get as many of these guys as we could to be inducted.

“Willie Dixon was a prince and he did his induction with Bo Diddley. They played in front of the store on Sunset Blvd. and Bo made barbeque for everyone after. Willie was royalty. I also made friends with Solomon Burke and was able to get him inducted along with Robert Cray, another amazing guy.

HK: You connected with Carlos Santana and he is a part of your 2009 Rock Prophecies documentary.

RK: It was strange how that came about. Some guys I know where wanting to do a reality show on Ronnie Wood and I have known Ronnie over the years and he has actually painted images based on some of my photos. They called me in to see if I thought the idea of Ronnie doing a reality show.

“I was sitting in the offices of the Will and Grace producer and after spending hours talking about the music he asked if I would do a reality show.

“There was no way I wanted any part of that. He called several times and asked what I would consider doing and I said perhaps a documentary on guys that helped me over the years. He said who can you get and I said who do you want? I called Jeff Beck first and he said yes.

“We flew to England and shot Jeff and once we had that in the can started to all other amazing artists and they would say who do you have? I would say Jeff Beck and they said well I am in then.

“Carlos was amazing and I had worked with him many times in Hawaii at the Crater Festival and Richard Upper and I did the photos for the album he recorded live with Buddy Miles who I knew from Jimi Hendrix and Electric Flag.

“Since I moved to Las Vegas 13 years ago my wife Maryanne Bilham has really been the one working with Carlos. We are good friends and we visit Stevie Ray stories while my wife has been shooting his new promo ads. I have always liked Carlos and he’s been very helpful meeting young guitar players I have brought to him to meet.

HK: The one guy currently who reminds me of musicians from the sixties is Slash. Probably traced to his upbringing by his mother and father. I knew his mother Ola. She was cosmic. Slash penned a great introduction in your new book.

RK: Slash in a way is the last real rock star! Such a great guy and many people don’t know he is English and grew up around David Bowie and other very interesting people. His dad was a photographer and mother worked with Bowie.

“He is so loved by the English rock stars like The Stones! Ronnie Wood and Joe Perry wrote the forward to the book I did on Slash. I have spent a lot of time with him over the years and he always stays the same.

HK: Do you have 2018 events and appearances?

RK: I have a big gallery show March 22 in Toronto. We are in the talks at the moment of doing something in New York and The Grammy Museum. My wife and I are currently working on opening our version of the famous club in London called Ronnie Scotts. It will hold about 150 people and we will be show brining in the best of U.S. and New Zealand talent as well as jazz and blues. It will be called Elegantly Wasted Lounge.www.ewlounge.com

“My wife is such an amazing photographer and people should check out her web site www.maryannebiham.com. Our photography will be all over the new club.

“I also have been working with amazing young artists via my Brotherhood of the Guitar program I do with Ernie Ball Guitar and Guitar Center. Try my best to keep the guitar live and well.

Harvey Kubernik is the author of 12 books. His debut literary music anthology Inside Cave Hollywood: The Harvey Kubernik Music InnerViews and InterViews Collection, Vol. 1 was published in December 2017, by Cave Hollywood. Kubernik is also writing and assembling a multi-voice narrative book on the Doors scheduled for publication the first quarter of 2018.






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