Rock Shots: Behind the Bands, Behind the Lens Tom Wright traveled as a road manager with the Rolling Stones, the Faces, the Who and other bands from the late '60s through the early '80s. But Wright is also a photographer — so while he was collecting indelible experiences in those decades, he was also collecting extraordinary images.

Rock Shots: Behind the Bands, Behind the Lens

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The history of rock and roll is filled with people like Tom Wright. From the 1960s to the '80s, Wright traveled with the Rolling Stones, the Faces, and The Who as both a manager and a photographer. Wright's memoir comes out this summer. And as NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, he recently donated 500,000 prints and negatives to the University of Texas at Austin.

NEDA ULABY: UT's center for American History threw a party at the top of an Austin skyscraper to celebrate this addition to its archive.

(Soundbite of music)

ULABY: A guitar duo played Beatles covers(ph). Pete Townshend of The Who regaled the crowd with tales of meeting Tom Wright, then a young American art student in England.

Mr. PETE TOWNSHEND (Vocalist, The Who): Without Tom coming into my life, I don't think I would have heard the music that I heard that was so important for me when I was a kid, particularly R&B, which Tom exposed me and a bunch of people at Ealing Art School to around '62 and '63, but also drugs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

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ULABY: In 1967, Wright managed The Who's very first U.S. tour. Wright says he met the band in Florida. They got on the plane. It started to take off.

Mr. TOM WRIGHT (Photographer; Band Manager): And I guess we were doing 80 to 100 miles an hour. And this guy is riding along the side of the runway on the grass in a station wagon, and so we were waving and yelling but then he pulled out a shotgun and he was aiming it at us.

ULABY: Apparently, drummer Keith Moon had slept with the guy's daughter the night before.

Mr. WRIGHT: We couldn't hear the shotgun go off but we could see the blast of flame out of the two barrels, you know, one and then the other.

ULABY: All that in the first 10 minutes of Wright's job managing the tour. He still travels with The Who. Back then, he says, it was about what you would imagine.

Mr. WRIGHT: You're permanently hung over, but being exhausted on the road with The Who lasted only until the first note of the show. It was just hypnotic.

(Soundbite of song, "I Can See For Miles")

Mr. TOWNSHEND: (Singing) I know you've deceived me, now here's a surprise. I know that you have 'cause there's magic in my eyes.

ULABY: When Tom Wright wasn't booking hotels and limos and making sure his bands made it on and off the stage, he took photos — hundreds of thousands of them.

Mr. WRIGHT: I basically had a camera around my neck with no flash and no meters, so I had just like a split second to guess at what the exposure might be. And I pushed the film, which is making it faster than it was manufactured to be. So there's always a lot of grain and camera movement and stuff in my shots.

ULABY: Shots of the basement rehearsals, backstage shenanigans, and preening groupies of some of the era's greatest bands. Sitting down with Tom Wright to look through his photos provokes a stream of memories.

Mr. WRIGHT: That was the first photo session with the Faces, that had Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart and Ronnie Lane and Kenny Jones — he wound up playing drums for The Who. This guy went with the Rolling Stones.

Dr. DON CARLETON (Director, Center for American History, University of Texas): It's sort of like being there.

ULABY: Dr. Don Carleton directs the Center for American History at the University of Texas.

Dr. CARLETON: It's sort of documenting and preserving a very important part of our history.

ULABY: What will scholars get out of the groupie photograph?

Dr. CARLETON: Well, isn't that part of history too? When we study the concubines of Rome, you know, not that every groupie was a concubine; I'm sorry out there, those of you who are groupies. You know, sex is an integral part of life, and that was an integral part of the lifestyle.

ULABY: Wright shared the lifestyle of the bands whose tours he managed, says the Eagles' Joe Walsh.

Mr. JOE WALSH (Guitarist, The Eagles): He was so transparent that you didn't even know he was taking pictures. Tom was just there, and you didn't even know that there was a camera on you.

ULABY: In this era of celebrity image, it's difficult to imagine stars on the, sort of, goofy candid shot that Pete Townshend is about to describe. A grainy black-and-white photo of The Who's Keith Moon in a — well, not exactly a pair of jeans. One leg is entirely ripped off.

Mr. TOWNSHEND: And that's not at all posed. He didn't tear his trouser leg off and reveal his left testicle…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TOWNSHEND: …with a French horn in his hand because he knew that Tom was taking a picture…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TOWNSHEND: …this was just a constant, evolving thing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ULABY: Townshend said it's a relief that Tom Wright's photographs will be preserved for posterity.

Mr. TOWNSHEND: To warn future generations…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TOWNSHEND: …of Americans that this baby-boomer thing that happened must never, ever, ever happen again.

ULABY: For his part, Tom Wright says his pictures are good because he had good subjects. He says he hopes his upcoming memoir will remind people of a time when people made music not to succeed in an industry, but to live gloriously through art.

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ULABY: Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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