Find a young band you like, and grow old with them.
This is Robert M. Knight's advice to aspiring rock photographers. Back when he was getting his start, Knight says, his camera was a "crowbar, [a] pass code for getting and fitting into the music world." Nowadays, at least in the music world, a camera is more incriminating than it is empowering.
"I first met Elton in Hawaii when the promoter told me to head to J.C. Penny, where Elton was doing an in-store performance. He said, 'This guy is going to be the next big thing.' I'd never heard of him. ... I couldn't figure out his clothes. Elton John, mid-1970s.
Eric Clapton, Honolulu, 1970.
Johnny Cash, Los Angeles, 1990.
Joni Mitchell, Honolulu, 1970.
Alice Cooper, RockWalk Induction, Los Angeles, 1991.
"I was always a Stones guy," says Knight. "I mean, I really, really liked that band. Being a missionary's kid, they seemed wicked and therefore held a lot of appeal to me." Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones, Honolulu, 1972.
Ray Charles, Honolulu, 1973.
Sheryl Crow, Tampa, Fla., 2006.
Slash, 2005, Las Vegas.
Mick Taylor, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Los Angeles, 1973.
Van Halen, Costa Mesa, Calif., 1995.
Led Zeppelin arriving in Honolulu, 1969, carrying master tapes for the album Led Zeppelin II.
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Knight lived in an era when, as long as you looked important, you could sneak in anywhere. He was the only photographer at a 1968 Jimi Hendrix show, and was gutsy enough to bring just one roll of film. That's 36 total frames, which, at the time, seemed like more than enough. Today, some photographers are shooting 20 frames per second.
He was the only photographer at Stevie Ray Vaughan's last performance in 1989. And he practically discovered Led Zeppelin. Needless to say, he's seen it all. Born in Hawaii to a Baptist minister, rock photography was an unlikely path. But Knight knew two things: He loved rock 'n' roll, and he couldn't play the guitar. Photography was his way in.
He continues his work today, much in the same way — keeping an eye out for promising musicians, and following them as they grow. It's the focus of a recent documentary, Rock Prophecies, currently circulating through the indie movie scene. Knight says he can't help but feel nostalgic for both the heyday of rock 'n' roll, as well as the nascent, freewheeling form of rock photography. Fortunately for him, and us, he has an enormous collection of images to keep the memories alive.
Photography excerpted from Rock Gods: Forty Years of Rock Photography by Robert M. Knight (c) 2008. Published by Insight Editions. All rights reserved. Used with permission. www.InsightEditions.com