With a new book out, “Forever Young: The Rock and Roll Photography of Chuck Boyd”, Santa Monica Press is helping to immortalize the late Chuck Boyd, one of the finest rock ‘n’ roll photographers of all time. TREATS! drops by their offices to talk to author and editor of “Forever,” Jeffrey Schwartz, about how Boyd took his camera everywhere and recorded everything, how he never broke confidence with his subjects, who his favorite band was (hint: Jimmy Page was in it)—and why his friends called him “Chuckles.” by Harvey Kubernik
How did you become aware of Chuck Boyd’s work?
I moved to Los Angeles in 2004 and settled in Santa Monica, where a mutual friend introduced me to Chuck’s brother. At the time, Chuck’s estate had only recently recovered Chuck’s vast collection of film and they were just beginning to dig into his collection of nearly 30,000 photographs—a daunting task to say the least. Over the course of the next few years, I became friendly with Chuck’s family and began casually assisting in their archival efforts and business affairs. Our collaborations soon evolved into a more formal partnership and I’ve been working full-time with the Chuck Boyd Photo Collection for the past two years.
What attracted you to his work?
From the first time I saw Chuck’s work, I recognized that his images were unique in the world of rock ‘n’ roll photography. Chuck’s archives are not full of portraits, posed shots, and album covers (although there are a smattering of photographs that fit this description in the collection). The overwhelming majority of Chuck’s shots are of musicians doing what they do best: performing. Chuck frequently shot his subjects from just a few feet way, both on stage and in the studio. These artists invited Chuck into their world and allowed him to document them as they practiced their craft. Chuck’s access to dozens of rock legends was incredible and it was evident from the photographs that he was a friend of many of his subjects.
His ability to capture rock legends in iconic poses, during intimate musical moments, and in the midst of a candid hangout session was truly remarkable, and I was hooked from the first time I saw his work.
He was the ultimate insider and friend to a lot of these people. What were his assets as a photographer?
Since starting my full-time work with Chuck’s archives in 2010, I’ve had the opportunity to get acquainted with a handful of people who worked with and knew Chuck. A few themes have developed as they have shared their memories and anecdotes.
First, Chuck was a huge music fan. He wasn’t just a photographer working a gig—he was a fan, and he knew and cared about the music. Chuck was on the cutting edge of the L.A. scene and knew where he should be on any given night in Hollywood. As the sixties progressed, Chuck became a true “hippie” and was authentically embedded in the scene.
Second, Chuck apparently had a great sense of humor. I’ve heard several people refer to him as ‘Chuckles,’ as they’ve shared tales of common adventures, and I have no doubt that Chuck was a blast to be around. He was a risk-taker, an adventurer, and never turned down an opportunity to have a good time. As a photographer, I’m sure that his energy and charisma served him well.
Third, Chuck’s low-light photography techniques made him unobtrusive, so musicians didn’t mind him snapping shots while they were in the studio or performing on stage. This technical aspect of his work surely allowed Chuck incredible access throughout his career.
This is a black and white collection of his pieces. Why are we attracted to black and white pictures of musicians when we see the world in color?
Black and white photographs solicit a sense of nostalgia. They tend to “feel” historic. I also think that black and white images stimulate our imagination and allow us to paint the picture ourselves. Additionally, the contrast of light and dark forces and the depth of shadows in black and white imagery sometimes create power and texture that color shots fail to convey. Chuck was clearly drawn to black and white photographs as only a few hundred of his shots were taken using color film. It seems that black and white remained his artistic preference throughout his career.
Take me through the process of curating and assembling this book with Santa Monica Press.
Chuck’s archives are so extensive that coming up with a theme or organizational device for this book was our first challenge. For this volume, we decided to showcase rock stars in their prime and at the launch of their careers. Initially, my task was to survey thousands of images and hundreds of artists that Chuck photographed between 1965 and 1979. After assembling a list of bands and musicians for consideration, the photo selection process began. Once we had selected about 500 prospective shots, several weeks were spent working with Chuck’s original black and white negatives scanning film, sifting, and comparing images. Ultimately, the publisher and I began assembling the book from about 400 images, tinkering with different layouts and organizational methods until we narrowed the scope to about 250 shots.
As things came together, we settled on a chronological image sequence that we felt best-showcased Chuck’s career arc and the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll along the west coast. Unfortunately, Chuck did not leave behind detailed notes with dates, locations, or personnel, so determining dates and venues for many photographs was a significant challenge. With the help of a handful of Chuck’s notations, conversations with a few of Chuck’s friends and colleagues, and a great deal of research, we developed captions for each shot and assembled a book that we’re very proud of. The icing on the cake was getting a few words from Chuck’s longtime friend and a true rock ‘n’ roll insider, Buck Munger.
Tell me a little bit about some of the stories behind his most iconic images. First, James Brown on “Shivaree” (June 1965).
“Shivaree” was a local television show filmed in Los Angeles and hosted by LA radio personality Gene Weed. ABC owned the syndicated program, and although it was only on for a couple of years, several impressive artists graced their stage. This shot was taken as Mr. Brown primped himself prior to his performance in June 1965. James Brown was known for being immaculate in his presentation and he ran his act like a well-oiled machine. You can really see his intensity in this shot.
Jim Morrison at Devonshire Downs (July 1967).
This photograph was taken during a performance by the Doors in Northridge, California. Apparently, the park at Devonshire Downs saw a lot of action during the late 1960’s as it was far enough away from the city that the hippie kids could have a good time at the park without being hassled. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and other greats are known to have gigged at this Northridge location, too.
Tina Turner with the Ikettes on “The Smothers Brothers” TV show (March 1969).
Chuck spent a fair amount of time on set at the “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” and captured some pretty amazing shots. This photograph was taken during a television recording from March 1969. Tina is performing “River Deep, Mountain High” in this shot. Chuck has a few color slides from this performance, and let me tell you those dresses were something else.
Bob Dylan (December 1965).
This shot was taken during a Los Angeles press conference at Columbia Records studio in Hollywood on December 16th 1965. A few weeks earlier, Dylan had done his now-famous interview in San Francisco; the only interview he did during that era that was televised. Chuck was taking pictures for KRLA at the Los Angeles event, and surprisingly, these press conference shots are the only photographs of Bob Dylan that we have in the archives. It doesn’t appear that Chuck ever had the chance to photograph Dylan on stage.
Frank Zappa at the Whisky a Go Go (July 1968).
Chuck took some great shots at this show. A very young Alice Cooper opened for the Mothers of Invention at the Whisky, and I’m sure that these shows were unique musical experiences to say the least. Frank appears to be having a great time in these shots and I love that he’s smiling.
Jimmy Page at the LA Forum (March 1970).
Chuck’s unfettered stage access during several Led Zeppelin performances yielded some fantastic shots. Zeppelin had played at the Whisky in 1969, and returned to California in 1970 ready for arenas and auditoriums. Chuck took some amazing stage shots at the Forum, including this shot of Jimmy Page as Chuck crouched alongside the stage monitors.
Besides these pictures picked for display, do you have a couple of favorites?
You picked a few of my favorites. I’ve always loved that James Brown shot. Chuck’s other Zeppelin shots are pretty amazing as well. Chuck and Jimmy Page were friends going back to Jimmy’s first trips to Los Angeles with the Yardbirds. Of all the bands in Chuck archives, there are more Led Zeppelin shots than any other band. They were also Chuck’s favorite band and happen to be on my short list as well, so I’ll always have an affinity for Chuck’s Led Zeppelin shots. I’ve also always been drawn to Chuck’s early shots of the Rolling Stones from 1965 and his shots of Cream during their farewell tour in 1968. He has some images of B.B. King and Ray Charles that I find pretty remarkable, too.
What does the book mean to you and the legacy of Chuck Boyd?
I know that music fans will appreciate this book for all of the amazing photographs and the scope of remarkable talent that Chuck worked with during his career, but for Chuck’s family and I, this is really an opportunity to celebrate his talent and to share a piece of his story. More than anything, this book is a testament to Chuck and his body of work. If Chuck hadn’t died of AIDS in 1991, I truly believe that people everywhere would already be familiar with his photographs and he would already be recognized as one of the great rock and roll shooters of his era. Unfortunately, fate did not play out that way for Chuck. As a music fan and rock historian, I’m excited to share his pictures with the world. But on a more personal level, I feel like Chuck deserved a book like this a long time ago and I’m truly pleased that it finally exists.
What can young photographers and students learn from this book?
While I’ve never worked as a professional photographer, there are a few technical aspects of Chuck’s photography that I believe are noteworthy.
First, Chuck was often taking shots while on stage, surrounded by bizarre and oft-changing stage lighting. I find it remarkable that Chuck was able to capture such incredible moments and imagery working with low light, colored lighting, and rapidly changing stage lighting, without use of a flash or the digital tools that photographers have available today. Part of his professional success was due to his ability to roam the stage and shoot performers without using a flash, making himself a compliment to his subjects instead of becoming a nuisance.
A second aspect of Chuck’s work, albeit less technical, was the comfort level that he shared with many of these musicians. It is evident from looking at Chuck’s work that his subjects enjoyed his company and frequently invited him to “hang around” while they were in the studio or performing at an outdoor festival. When the photographer and the subject have a rapport, it tends to appear on film. These two qualities contribute to the unique nature of Chuck’s work and are certainly worthy of noting for aspiring photographers.
Los Angeles native Harvey Kubernik has been an active music journalist for 40 years and the author of 5 books, including This Is Rebel Music (2002) and Hollywood Shack Job: Rock Music In Film and On Your Screen (2004), published by University of New Mexico Press. In 2009, Kubernik wrote the critically acclaimed Canyon of Dreams The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon published by Sterling, and in 2011 he co-authored the highly regarded A Perfect Haze: The Illustrated History of the Monterey International Pop Festival published by Santa Monica Press.