more than a decade and a half of countless interviews, I have
never ended up with a beginning transcript nearly so long
as this in length. It's rather hard to explain why so much
of what Bob Gruen has to say is of such interest that it was
so hard to edit it down. The quality and integrity of Bob's
photographic work is worthy of considerable attention, and
so too the longevity and depth of a career now spanning thirty
Cab Calloway and Chuck Berry to The Boss and Madonna, from
the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin to Bob Marley and Ozzy
Osborne. What's significant is not simply that he is the single-most
important photographer of record to document the Punk, proto-punk
and New Wave scenes of America and England, but that this
seminal body of work reflects a profound commitment and long-standing
personal friendship with the artists and personalities who
shaped and defined the music of that remarkable era.
a friend, fan and photographer of rock without peer, Bob Gruen's
relationship with the fringes of this medium has continued
with an unrelenting intensity of devotion and vision from
the Sixties to the present. To this day, where as yet unknown
bands still play before new generations of rock devotees,
Bob and his camera can still be found.
for all the legendary figures with whom Gruen has struck such
strong bonds of collaboration and compatriotism, what is perhaps
most fascinating in talking with him is all the lesser-known
personas who make up the important links in the unwritten
history of the underground. More than merely telling the story
of rock, his tremendous wealth of personal experiences and
uncanny memory provide one of the most illuminating and comprehensive
histories of rock youth-culture in New York.
did your photo career start?
the first concert photos I took were at the Newport Folk Festival
in '65. I was still a kid and a big Bob Dylan fan. I talked
my way into getting a photo pass so I could be down front.
That was when Dylan played electric guitar and claimed rock'n'roll
was American folk music and got booed off stage for it. After
that I began taking photos a lot.
1964 I was living with a Folk-Rock band in Greenwich Village.
We used to walk around Bleecker Street, hang out at the Gas
Light and the basement of Figaro's. I got to know The Loving
Spoonful, The Magicians and other New York bands. The band
I was living with was breaking up, but they got one last gig.
They were offered $100 to play a party on St. Marks Place.
It was for Paul McGregor who was opening up a new unisex hair
is now where the Coney Island High nightclub is?
I was there for the opening night of that building in 1965.
it also the site of NYC's first roller disco?
was later in the '70s.
claim to fame was that he invented the shag haircut.
Paul McGregor invented the shag. He did Jane Fonda and all
the celebs. Anyway, that opening party was also thrown by
Bob Crewe for a book called 'Birds of Britain', about English
models. Bob Crewe was also a big record producer renowned
for his work with the Four Seasons...
R74 - Chuck Berry
(C)1996 Bob Gruen
R50 - Tina Turner
(C)1996 Bob Gruen
love the Bob Crewe Generation, his "Music To Watch Girls By"
is a classic.
liked my friends' band, Glitterhouse, and decided to produce
them. We got to know him, and my friend sang on the soundtrack
of the movie Barbarella, which he produced. When he put out
the album, they needed pictures. I'd been living with the
band and taking pictures all along, so they sent me over to
Atlantic Records with them. Bob Rolontz, the publicist there,
liked my pictures and hired me for the next job which was
the Bee Gees celebrating their tenth anniversary.
must have been a trip, to go from shooting your friends to
the Bee Gees.
I think the first job they hired me for was to shoot Tommy
James & the Shondells who were opening up for Hubert Humphrey
at a political rally in Yonkers. I remember it was freezing
cold. It was in a parking lot and we were all there waiting
for Humphrey. After that it was the Bee Gees, and all of a
sudden one thing led to another. I'd get hired every other
day. Everyone liked my pictures and introduced me to other
people and other bands.
that early work, perhaps the best known is the work you did
with Ike and Tina Turner.
friend of mine was a huge fan of theirs so when they played
the Felt Forum we had to go. They were opening up for Sam
& Dave, and as she danced off the stage to the strobe
we were all chanting Tina! Tina! Sam & Dave came on and
off and I hardly saw them. I was just watching the side of
the stage where Tina had left.
next day we went out to see them again at the Honka Monka
Club in Queens. I was sitting on the floor taking pictures
of them. At the end, when Tina danced in the strobe light,
I opened the camera up to one second exposure and let the
strobe flashes expose the film. Four of the frames were useless,
but one turned out to be one of the best pictures I've ever
taken. I made some prints and when we went to see Ike and
Tina's show in New Jersey I brought them along to show my
friend. I didn't think Ike and Tina would be interested in
seeing my pictures but after the show we ran into Ike and
my friend pushed me in front of him. Ike took one look at
my shots and said, "Come and show this to Tina".
dragged me into their trailer to meet her, I just couldn't
believe it. I've always been lucky that way - being in the
right place at the right time. Ike introduced me to Marv Greifinger
at United Artists who gave me a lot of work and through him
I met Jane Friedman, who worked with a lot of the English
bands and later managed Patti Smith. I also met Billy Smith,
who brought me to take pictures of Elton John on his first
US tour, when Elton was the opening act for Leon Russell.
Elton liked what I did, and hired me each time he came back.
the consensus that is history, it's accepted that Punk was
born in the mid seventies. When you talk about the New York
Dolls in 1971, you were privy to the emergence of that sensibility
a half decade before. Wasn't that also around the time when
you met the spiritual forefathers of Punk, John and Yoko?
met them in early 1972. I had been included in a book, The
Photography of Rock. Henry Edwards, who wrote the text, told
me he liked my work. He was interviewing John and Yoko for
a story on The Elephant's Memory band (who were recording
with John and Yoko) and asked if I would take the photos.
John and Yoko had been in New York since the Fall of 1971
in an apartment just around the corner from mine on Bank Street.
met them at a hotel on 59th Street where they had gone to
get away from their home and get some rest because so many
people knew where they lived. The story was about The Elephant's
Memory, so I asked Yoko if I could take pictures of them all
together and she let me come to the studio that night. A few
weeks later I heard from the drummer, Rick Frank, that I was
the only person who had taken photos of the band with John
and Yoko and they wanted something for the album cover. He
brought me over to their house. That was the first time I
actually met them to talk. I showed them my work and we sat
around talking for hours. As I was leaving Yoko told me I
would always be their friend, and even if they had people
working for them whose job it was to keep people away I should
never take it personally, just wait and call back the next
day, to be always in touch and be their friend.
R2 - John Lennon
(C)1996 Bob Gruen
a pretty intense high-stakes level of conversation for Yoko
to lay on a relative stranger.
you don't expect that when you first meet someone. But she
was right. This March it will be 24 years that we've been
friends, and we're still in touch on a weekly basis. This
also led to working with the NY Dolls. I went to show The
Elephant's Memory photos to their managers Steve Leber and
David Krebs and I met their assistant Tony Machine. Tony told
me I ought to come down and see another band they were managing
who were playing at the Mercer Arts Center -- The New York
curious about your impressions of the Mercer Arts Center.
Everyone talks about the importance of Max's and CB's, but
few seem to know how pivotal Mercer was in its brief heyday.
was a really important place. That's where I first saw the
Dolls. The place had a couple of different rooms. The club
was really the ballroom of the Broadway Central Hotel, but
you came in from the back on Mercer Street. One room was a
boutique with wild plastic miniskirt clothing like I'd never
seen before. The kitchen had video machines all over the place
showing all this experimental stuff, and that's where The
Kitchen (a world famous alternative art space now on West
19th St.) got its start. There was a room in the middle with
a bar. I was there maybe ten minutes when I saw a guy with
eye-shadow! I was out the fucking door! I talked to Tony later
that week and he convinced me to give it another chance, I
just had to see the band.
I came back, and this time I stayed long enough to get a beer.
And this time I noticed the place was packed with the sexiest
little girls I'd ever seen. So wild, so cute, so open. I never
did see the band come on that night.
went back the next week, and this time walked around a little
bit more, checked out the store, the videos, the girls. I
was still looking for the band when I noticed a door with
people walking in and out. It was like a Fellini movie in
there. There was bleacher seating that was so steep it looked
like a wall of people, and a stage with The New York Dolls
playing in the middle -- the loudest, fastest most exciting
music I'd heard. There were even more people on stage than
in the seats. Everyone seemed to know each other. It was a
big crowd and in the middle a band that was just so wild.
The way they dressed, they were wearing some things that girls
might wear, but they weren't dressed like women. No woman
dressed like that!
how did you come to work for them?
went back to see them a couple of times after that and was
just beginning to figure out who was who when Toby Mamis,
their publicist at Leber Krebs suggested I do a photo session
with them. He brought me to a rehearsal one afternoon where
I met Johnny (Thunders), Syl (Sylvain) Arthur (Kane), and
Jerry (Nolan). Billy (Murcia) had already died and Jerry had
just joined the band. David (Johansen) was late so I didn't
meet him that day. We scheduled a shoot, and it was the only
photo session in my life that I totally forgot and didn't
show up. We had planned it for three one afternoon, and at
about six that night I got a call from Toby saying he was
really sorry the band hadn't shown up but they had completely
forgotten. Could we re-schedule it? I thought, "saved! maybe
we have something in common."
R47 - Debbie Harry
at Max's 1976
(C)1996 Bob Gruen
R233 - The Ramones
in front of CBGB's 1975
(C)1996 Bob Gruen
did you start making videos?
1971, I bought a Sony Portapack video tape recorder and started
going to clubs and making tapes. I became friends with Pat
Kenny, the owner of Kenny's Castaways, which used to be uptown
on 84th street. I went there a lot to record because they
had such an eclectic choice of bookings-- Larry Coryell, Mother
Earth, Willy Dixon, The New York Dolls, Howling Wolf, Isis.
Video was brand new then. It was very funky, black and white,
one microphone. After I would tape a show the performers would
want to see it. Most of them had never seen themselves on
TV before. Now it's documented history, for me, back then,
it was just a hobby.
you feel this is a valuable archive that you'd like to do
doing things with it now. I'd love to make a deal to distribute
the NY Dolls video, because we edited it down to a half hour
documentary. I have an hour documentary we did on Ike and
Tina before that.
about Lennon and Ono?
made a video of Yoko's show at Town Hall because John wanted
to see it but couldn't be there. John and I edited it together
into a one hour program. We showed it on public access cable,
which was okay back then because nobody had VHS recorders
yet to tape off the TV. I had a regular show twice a week
on the public access channel from '72 to '76. It was mostly
music, but occasionally I'd do something else. One show was
a half hour tape of a waterfall in Vermont. I got the idea
from the Yule Log. They had a log burning in the winter, so
I thought, why not have a nice waterfall in the summer? In
1974 I made a video of my son being born. It was a documentary
on the Lamaze method, including all the classes we took, and
close-up shots of the baby actually coming out. It was really
exciting and I thought the most natural thing, but a lot of
people were really freaked out and shocked by it.
seen the genesis of video art at The Kitchen in the Mercer
Arts Center, were you thinking of doing this work as part
of that emerging conceptual art medium?
was aware of that, but I'm not really committee oriented.
I don't work well with a lot of people making decisions. I
liked the portapack because it gave me complete freedom. I
could make and edit videos on my own. In the mid '70s, as
more people got into video making, it became more of a group
project I stopped making videos. I had started because it
was fun, I never saw it as much of a money making thing. I
have sold some pieces of my videos to people like the BBC
and Time Warner for documentaries.
old tapes are really fragile , have you preserved and restored
like the Dolls, Blondie and Patti Smith, I transferred to
Beta. But it costs seventy-five dollars a roll and I have
a few hundred rolls, so it's far from complete. It's also
a difficult process because the tape is literally falling
off the plastic. But it's important to do because it's the
only visual history we have of a lot of those bands.
R122 - The New York
(C)1996 Bob Gruen
R128 - The Sex Pistols
(C)1996 Bob Gruen
the thirtieth anniversary of Max's Kansas City.
first entered the Max's scene in 1971. An artist neighbor
of mine was going there. He said I should go with him, it
was a great place and we'd have lots of fun. I said, 'the
restaurant? I've been there for dinner, no big deal, the food's
decent'. He said 'no, you've got to come at one in the morning'.
I wondered who'd go to a restaurant at one o'clock in the
morning, but sure enough, after midnight the place was quite
different. That was the end of the Andy Warhol time and the
drag queen crowd was thinning out and the rock and rollers,
the NY Dolls and Patti Smith crowd were coming in. That's
where I first met David Johansen. I had made some videotapes
of the Dolls at Kenny's Castaways and invited him to come
over and see them. He liked them a lot, and I started working
with the Dolls, making more videos and pictures for them.
it wasn't a rock club back then.
it was just a back room, and upstairs they were trying to
do a disco for a while. I remember the first band to play
there was the Dolls, then Suicide, the Miami's. It wasn't
until much later, maybe '75 and '76, when Blondie, Patti Smith
and the CB's bands started playing there.
then, wasn't there a real distinction between CBGB's and Max's
in that Max's was primarily booking only bands that were signed
to major record deals?
that I remember. Max's started its own label to put out the
bands who were playing there, because nobody else would give
them a record deal. The difference between CBGB's and Max's
was that CB's was a very downtown Manhattan scene and Max's
was more bridge and tunnel. But there wasn't so much of a
division between the bands as some people say. There were
some that were definitely CB's bands, and a few, like the
Dolls who only played Max's. One important thing about the
scene then, and I don't know if it was because there were
just fewer bands or what, but Patti Smith, or Debbie, or The
Talking Heads would play for a week at a time. Sometimes five
days in a row, or at least a four day weekend, Thursday through
Sunday and you would go four days in a row, two sets a night,
at nine and midnight, (which meant 10:30 and 2:00am)
great thing for me about the band doing two sets was that
a lot of nights I'd have to photograph a band at the Madison
Square Garden, the show would end at eleven, there would be
an after-show party. I'd be photographing until 1:00am, and
at 1:30 I could still see a show at Max's or CBGBs. After
working all night with these uptight record industry people,
I could go downtown, have a beer, hang out with friends and
see a band, which was much more fun. This was a separate scene.
The idea of those bands downtown being signed was out of the
question. You didn't start a band to do a record, go on tour
and do all the stuff that people who watch MTV think you're
supposed to do. You had a band because you had no money and
you had no job. You had nothing to do, no where to go, so
you might as well make some music and have some fun. They
weren't making the rent money by playing at CB's. The main
thing was to be in a band, to hang out with your friends and
have fun. The fact that a few of them got signed was phenomenal.
That some of them got big was just beyond anybody's dreams.
They dreamed more realistically, hoping to play Max's and
maybe get laid after the show.
Lisa Robinson, Danny Fields and a few others who were hip
to the scene managed to get some labels to take a real interest
in these groups, and some of them began getting record deals,
did you think they were all crazy?
I didn't, because I was part of that crowd. These were my
friends. Clive Davis once told Lisa not to talk about the
NY Dolls uptown because if she did she wouldn't be able to
work in the music business. They were so scared of the Dolls.
They thought they were homosexual. It wasn't just a matter
of being homophobic. It was illegal to be homosexual. People
don't remember this, it wasn't hatred or fear, it was the
law. To say that the Dolls, guys who wore makeup, were your
friends was like saying you knew a criminal.
that criminality what they were trying to push when they made
that last attempt to resuscitate their careers with their
Red show at the Hippodrome?
was an attempt by Malcolm McLaren to politicize the band.
They had been getting attention by skirting the homosexuality
issue, if you'll forgive the pun.
that Red show was pathetic wasn't it?
not at all. It was a great show. They had met McLaren when
they went to England and he was fascinated by them, by the
excitement, energy and the teasing. Here they were creating
controversy, but Malcolm wanted to make them political. They
were never that big in America. They were big in NY and had
their fans in a bunch of other cities, but they never made
it into the towns. They would show up hours late and their
audiences were wild and rowdy, so even though they were on
the cover of every magazine around the world they couldn't
get a job, nobody would book them. Their management were sick
of them. Malcolm tried to resurrect them.
had been so excited when he saw them in Europe band, he wanted
to make clothes for them, everyone in the band wanted a different
outfit, but he made them all in the same bright shade of red.
He decided have a red party, to debut their red clothes. And
since it was a red party, he made a red flag, which was a
communist flag. He was thinking, what shakes up Americans
the most? Communists! He put out a press release that he called
a manifesto, saying the New York Dolls were no longer being
booked by the paper tiger managers Leber Krebs worded as a
take-off on Chinese communist propaganda. Whatever he did,
it was too late anyway. Malcolm gets credited for managing
the Dolls, but as David has said, he was their haberdasher.
Malcolm made a couple of outfits for them, and put together
some shows to showcase the clothes, but the main thing he
did was he kept them alive. He got Jerry and Johnny into a
hospital drug rehab program. and Arthur into a dry out clinic,
and saved their lives.
how did you first make it over to England?
met Malcolm here in New York when he was working with the
Dolls. I went to England because I had made a lot of money
working with the Bay City Rollers.
of my all time favorite bands.
I made more money with them than I did with John and Yoko,
or the Dolls or anybody else I've worked with. I photographed
a lot of bands back then, and when I was traveling in Europe
or Japan I could go to the magazines and sell them two or
three pictures each of Kiss, Debbie Harry, The Rolling Stones,
maybe one or two of the Dolls, and thirty-seven or sixty-four
of the Bay City Rollers. They might do a story on some of
these bands, but they'd do a whole special issue on the Rollers.
I was cleaning up. One of the first things I did with my Roller
money was buy a 54 Buick Special. In '76 my son was in Paris,
which was my original inspiration for going to Europe. Jane
Friedman was there with John Cale. I went to his show and
met Patti Palladin and Judy Nylon and some people from the
French press. I ended up working out a deal that lasted for
years with one magazine there which printed many of my pictures.
Because French laws made it very difficult to send money out
of France, I'd wait until they owed me for several issues
and then go and pick my money up, have some great meals, travel
around Europe and the trip would pay for itself. I went to
Paris with Blondie, toured England with the Clash, and had
a great time. When I first got to London, Malcolm's was the
only phone number I had. He had just started the Sex Pistols.
He found me a rooming house that was really cheap and took
me to a place called Club Louise, where he and a lot of the
kids who were buying his clothes were hanging out.
R35 - Mick Jagger
at MSG 1972
(C)1996 Bob Gruen
R52 - Led Zeppelin
(C)1996 Bob Gruen
was a lesbian club and they were used to unusual people coming
in. The punks, kids who were cutting and dyeing their hair
weird, who would get into trouble looking like that in a normal
pub, started hanging out in the basement of Club Louise because
they felt comfortable there. The Sex Pistols were the local
conquering heroes by this time. They'd played a few gigs.
Johnny Rotten was sitting around with an attitude like he
was some cool guy. I met Billy Idol, Siouxie, (who was part
of a bunch of girls called the Bromley contingent with Sue
Catwoman) and Marco, who later played with Adam Ant. I remember
Marco looking over at the Sex Pistols and saying-- 'gee, I
wish I had a band'. I just told him, 'why don't you start
one? I mean, look at the competition, it doesn't seem that
next time I came over he was playing in his own band. I remember
Joe Strummer and Mick Jones had just gotten together, and
I went with Vivien (Westwood), Jon Savage and Carolyn Coon
in Vivien's tiny mini to the ICA to see the Clash play their
second show. I have pictures of that. I thought they were
a fucking great band, and after I came back to America I started
to hear more about them. I liked them and wanted to see them
again the next time I went to London. I remember calling up
the record company and saying I wanted to see the Clash and
being told 'oh, not the Clash, they're impossible to deal
with, we can't get you any photo passes, they won't do anything
we ask them'. I asked if they could just tell me where they
were. (I liked getting paid by the record companies, but I
also liked to work for the bands.
had an in between role that way, it was great for the company
to finance it, but I'd rather be with the band. That way you
have more access back stage, you do things that they want,
you get better shots) They told me where the band was staying,
I took it from there, and somehow it worked out. I went to
see the Clash and I met Mick (Jones) and Paul (Simenon) in
their hotel lobby. Mick was looking me over and said "You're
that guy from New York, right?" I said "Yeah," and Paul, who
I hadn't met that night at Club Louise looked at me like 'oh,
a journalist,' and he said, "Well, you better watch out 'cause
we're cunts" I just said "Yeah, you look it." From then on
we were friends. The thing that really helped me was Malcolm
had told them I was doing a story for Creem magazine and working
for Rock Scene.
were a big part of Rock Scene.
Rock Scene was a magazine Lisa Robinson was putting out with
her husband Richard, Lenny Kaye, Danny Fields, Leee Childers
and a few others. It was a magazine and fanzine at the same
time. I made a lot of photo stories for them. It was very
hip. Lisa always had the inside line on who to see and where
to go, she was way ahead of everybody else. It was kind of
underground, but made a joke out of it. We didn't take anything
seriously. It was like a twelve year old's scrap book. All
the captions would say these cutsy things, but it was all
double entendres and little cynical asides, inside jokes that
if you knew who we were talking about you'd fall out of your
you were also working for Creem?
I did a lot of features and covers for Creem. They were pretty
wild, into the new bands like the Sex Pistols and Iggy, and
they had a great sense of humor which was important. So when
I went to England what really helped me were these three things
that Malcolm had told the people there. I didn't realize it
at the time, and didn't find out until much later that I'd
had this sort of introduction. At the time I felt nervous,
not knowing who these punks were or if it was okay to take
their picture. What I didn't know was that Malcolm had told
everyone that I worked for Creem and Rock Scene, which were
the only two magazines that they had any respect for in England,
and that I was friends with John Lennon, the one person who
had respect across the board with everyone in the Punk scene.
One time I went to see the Clash live at Leeds, and it was
really amazing because Joe Strummer started this chant with
the audience where he was yelling "No more Queen Elizabeth"
"Yeah!" "No more Rolling Stones" "Yeah!" "No more Led Zeppelin"
"Yeah!" "No More Beatles" "Yeah!" "But John Lennon Rules,
Okay!" "Yeah!" I was standing there with Lester Bangs, and
I looked over at him asking "How did John get away with that?
Everybody sucks, but John's okay?" They just had great respect
for John Lennon and as his friend I was OK.
would you compare what was going on in London versus New York?
New York scene was, well, more New York. England seemed louder
and brighter. We didn't really consider "Punk" a fashion.
In New York we were just dressing in t-shirts and blue jeans.
One night Richard Hell apparently had a fight with a girl
friend. I don't know if it was over drugs or whatever. There
were a lot of rumors as to what the reason was, but one way
or another somebody cut up all his clothes. He had to go out,
so he took a bunch of safety pins and just pinned them together
where they were ripped and went out, because he didn't give
a shit. Well, Malcolm saw that and he was fascinated by the
"unique design." This wasn't fashion, it was more like how
do you get out of the house when you've got no clothes left?