Rockwood puts photos on display at Madhouse GalleryWritten by Betsy Woodruff | | email@example.com
John Rockwood has put over 50 original photographs of blues and rock musicians on display at the Madhouse Gallery.
He has attended hundreds of concerts and taken thousands of photos. Many have been published in books and DVDs, and one, of Bruce Springsteen, was published in Rolling Stone.
“It’s passion,” he said.
His first love was music. He wanted to meet his favorite artists, but didn’t know how.
“I gotta get close to these guys,” he thought. “How am I going to do that?”
The answer was photography.
He began taking pictures at concerts in the mid-60s when he was 15.
Luther Allison performed at one of the first concerts he photographed. Afterward, he went to a friend’s darkroom to develop the pictures. Nothing showed up because he used the wrong camera setting.
“I learned real quick,” he said.
He didn’t make that mistake again and went on to photograph some of his generation’s most popular musicians, including the Rolling Stones, the Allman Brothers Band, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, David Bowie, KISS, the Eagles, Elvis, the Who and Joan Baez.
“This camera gave me access to everything,” he said.
Rockwood, a Toledo native, said Springsteen had some of the most memorable concerts. They would last for hours, and the band’s energy never flagged.
In one show, Springsteen put his hand on his chest and said, “Oh, my heart!”
Then he collapsed onstage. Two men in white suits rushed on and put him in a stretcher.
Another band member yelled, “If you wanna save him, you gotta scream!”
The crowd roared and the men holding the stretcher flung Springsteen into the air. He landed holding his guitar and started playing again.
“People just went psycho,” Rockwood said.
As he continued taking photographs, getting backstage became easier because of the friendships he built with guards and sound technicians. When Deep Purple played in Detroit, he took photos onstage.
At one blues concert, he hung out backstage with Tinsley Ellis.
He travelled extensively to take pictures, from New Orleans to photograph piano legend Professor Longhair to a Buddy Guy show in Toronto.
“You’re alone most of the time,” he said.
He remembered driving up to Olympia for one show and arriving home at 4 a.m.
He said meeting his heroes was worth it.
One of those was Muddy Waters, who he said was friendly.
He got to photograph some performers that he first saw on the Ed Sullivan Show, including Otis Rush, Eric Burdon and John Entwistle.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
In the exhibit, one image seems incongruous: a black and white photo of a dingy wooden shack. No rock stars, harmonicas, or rabid fans here –– just a humble structure.
It is Muddy Waters’ birth place: a shack on a cotton plantation in rural Mississippi.
Rockwood said some locals told him about it, and after a trek down a dirt road, he found it.
The shed is no longer there. Rockwood said the House of Blues bought it. Part of it is in a museum and ZZ Top made three guitars from some of the wood.
“So wrong, so wrong,” Rockwood said.
Like the shack, the age he captured on film has disappeared.
When he started taking pictures, a camera was a ticket backstage; bands wanted as many photos taken as possible for the free publicity.
“There was a lot going on back then and people didn’t mind getting their pictures taken,” he said.
He said photographers no longer have the kind of access they used to get at concerts; bands’ publicity managers only want photos taken they can profit from, so backstage passes are difficult to acquire.
“The hardest part is now, realizing that era’s over,” he said.
He rarely goes to big concerts anymore. Instead, he has started a record label with friends, Blue Suit Records, and focuses on taking photos of smaller blues and jazz acts, as well as young rock ’n rollers. He also plays harmonica in a band.
The exhibit is open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. until July 23. The photos on display are for sale. Prices range from $120-$200. To see more of his pictures, visit www.backstagegallery.com/photographer/JohnRockwood.html.