Every Picture Tells a Story - Baron Wolman: The Rolling Stone Years Omnibus Press, 176 pp., $37.50
If you could point to one thing that makes today's music journalists most jealous, it would probably be the music journalists of the '60s and '70s. Back then, writers and photographers might spend days or even weeks hanging out with acts onstage, in studios, and at parties to get a story.
Complete access was the norm, and the artists themselves were often unguarded and accepting. Simply impossible to fathom in today's world of 15-minute hotel-room phone interview - that a frantic publicist usually cuts off just as they get interesting - and first-three-songs-no-flash photography.
At an upstart publication called Rolling Stone, Baron Wolman was the magazine's first chief photographer from 1967-70. He, along with shutterbugs like Jim Marshall, Henry Diltz, David Gahr, Bob Whitaker, and the recently-deceased Barry Feinstein, were among the era's chief visual documenters. Many of these men's images have become iconic, appearing on posters, T-shirts, album covers and more; a number of them are Wolman's and represented here.
This large, coffee-table book features photos of many of the major '60s and '70s acts across genres, including Hendrix, Zeppelin, Zappa, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, the Doors, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, Dylan, Rod Stewart, Aerosmith, the Who, the Stones, Santana, and the Stooges, along with Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, Miles Davis, Smokey Robinson, Lightnin' Hopkins, and many more.
Wolman's approach was interesting in that he rarely posed his subjects, preferring to catch an unguarded moment that said something about the performer and/or their music.
There's Joplin in one frame, seemingly lost in depression, only to brighten up with a smile for the next one; Johnny Winter and Jimi Hendrix lost in their six-string ecstasy on stage; Johnny Cash's commanding gaze of love, lust, and intensity at June Carter; John Fogerty looking like an old-time tent evangelist as the raises his hand to a frenetic audience.
A lengthy and enlightening essay and many captions by Wolman go through his career with personal remembrances. Other than leaving it hanging in the air if he ever slept with Janis Joplin, the most interesting theme is Wolman's constant, kick-himself-in-the-ass regret.
Because by his own admission, he was not a big rock fan, he often approached shooting shows as simple magazine assignments. Wolman could not comprehend the historical significance all those acts and any images of them would take on 40 years later, nor the incredible access he was afforded.
Thus, he is constantly chiding himself for the picture he didn't take, and the bands and shows he blew off shooting.
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Wolman also admits that an inherent shyness and respect for the artists made him less pushy than his peers. And while his friend Jim Marshall might take hundreds of photos of a band's set, Wolman might fire off a roll or two, then call it a night - for an explosive show by the Stooges, Woman shot just 10 frames because he felt he got what he needed!
Still, there are enough photos in Every Picture Tells a Story to reveal a gem in almost every page. And while Baron Wolman mayor may not have ever had his finger on Janis Joplin, he certainly had it on his shutter button for most of rock's greatest years.