JPG: I know you
posted on social media that photo of you with the bong resting on your chest.
Did you bring your camera that day?
JB: No, I didn’t own a camera. I was15-years-old. You don’t have a lot of serious interests at 15 years old.
JPG: That brings me
to this. You’re in the crowd at other shows. You’re taking photos of the
Grateful Dead. Did that influence you at all as far as your career choice to be
a concert and portrait photographer?
JB: In the beginning I really wasn’t taking pictures of the band ‘cause I wanted to make some prints and throw ‘em on my bedroom wall. I was just creating my own memorabilia. I was giving them to my friends. It took a few years before I realized that maybe this was my calling. This is what I wanted to do. This is what I really loved.
Also, in the late 1970s, early 1980s, you couldn’t necessarily go to a photography school and walk out with a degree and be like, “Okay, I’m a photographer now. Start paying me money.” You know what I mean? It’s one of those creative fields that you had to create your own reality and had to work 10 times harder than anybody else, just like being a musician. You could go to the Berkeley School of Music and be the greatest musician in the world and you could be selling insurance today. It’s the same thing for photographers and writers and filmmakers and anything else out there in the creative realm.
I definitely was thinking in the early ‘80s, “I would love
to make a living as a photographer as opposed to getting paid $7 for a photo
here in this newspaper, $12, $15 for a photo in this magazine” but I had
no idea how to approach that, create that, find that. It wasn’t until I moved
down to the [San Francisco] Bay area in ‘85, and by ’87 started really trying
to figure out how to make a little bit more money as a photographer because I
didn’t know what else I wanted to do. I knew I loved photography and that’s
when I really started pushing hard in terms of showing my work to other
magazines and trying to get work as a professional photographer.
JPG: During that period you were taking the Grateful Dead and Dead-related projects but what was so great for someone like me who loves the Dead as well as being a major alternative rock fan, you took photos of all those alt-rock bands in San Francisco clubs. It became this great historical overview that showed you were there for the music not just specifically the Dead.
JB: Absolutely. A couple things. First of all, I loved all that music. I really loved being against the stage, being crushed at a Jane’s Addiction show or the Pixies or the Butthole Surfers or the Red Hot Chili Peppers or whoever it might be. That was a really exciting time for music. There’s so much incredible stuff coming out from everywhere.
At that same time in the late ‘80s, ‘87, ‘88, ‘89, the mainstream media really didn’t give a shit about the Grateful Dead. So, even though I was really getting back into the Dead and shooting the Dead and was into it, I couldn’t really make a lot of money doing it. There was an assignment here, an assignment there, a story here, a story there but it was really the way I was making a living was shooting magazine covers and feature stories and working with the alt-rock bands such as the Chili Peppers and the bands of that time.
That music, that time, that is 30 years ago. I’m sure you follow me on Instagram and probably saw that post I did of a portrait I did of the Chili Peppers on Sept. 16, 1989 for the cover of “BAM” magazine. That is 30 years ago. (laughs) Don’t you feel like “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” came out yesterday? Don’t youfeel like Louder Than Love” is a brand new record from Soundgarden? “Been Caught Stealing” is still on MTV. All of that stuff is just…you think of the Grateful Dead and you think, “Oh, 1960s. 50 years.” You think of Jane’s Addiction, you think, “Oh yeah, they’re still around.” New band, Chili Peppers! But that shit was 30 fucking years ago, dude. (laughs)
JPG: Right, but that’s all still relevant to me.
JB: Me too. I don’t shoot as much of it because of a whole host of reasons, not that I don’t want to. But, I’ve made my name in the jam world and that’s where I’ve got my connections and my people and my access, and I love every minute of being at LOCKN’ and shooting those bands and mingling with those people. Maybe, if I pursued just shooting alt-rock and gave up on the hippie lifestyle and started eating pop tarts for breakfast and smoking cigarettes maybe I’d be just shooting alt-rock bands and old punk bands. (laughs)
JPG: Around that same time was one of your big breaks when you took the photo of Brent Mydland in Washington D.C. And then, didn’t you get a tip about a Grateful Dead video shoot?
JB: There were a couple of things that happened around that time. The Brent Mydland thing, I was a teenager. I was 17-years-old and stumbled upon Brent Mydland and Bob Weir backstage at a No Nukes rally on the front steps of the Capitol in Washington D.C. That photo I took of Brent was one of the first photos that Deadheads saw of Brent in Relix magazine maybe six months after I took it. That’s how quick information traveled back then.
I would say that one of my big big breaks was shooting a free U2 concert in downtown San Francisco when they were filming the movie “Rattle and Hum.” We had heard a rumor it was going to happen because they ended up using the Grateful Dead sound system for that show. It was the UltraSound people. That was on 11/11/87.
A week before that, 11/5/87, we had heard a rumor the Grateful Dead were going to be filming a music video for “Throwing Stones” somewhere in Oakland. I lived in Oakland, California at the time. We heard it was going to be an abandoned high school in Oakland. It just so happened that there was an abandoned high school directly across the street from my house, the apartment I was living in, and that’s where they were filming. I literally walked out my front door, crossed Martin Luther King Way and was at the high school and walked on set and pretended I belonged there all day long. After about five hours, somebody said to me, “Who are you shooting for?” And I said, “Relix magazine.” And they were like, “Okay.” Nobody questioned it. Nobody said, “Who’s your editor? Where’s your assignment? What are you doing here? What’s your name?” That’s what it was like back then. It was different. This is a band that was exploding on MTV and had the biggest record of their career and I could just walk on a video set and pretend I belonged.
JPG: The good ol’ days. Was that your Jerry Garcia photo from that shoot where he’s holding a sign and everyone’s co-opted it so the sign reads “I Need a Miracle” or other things?
JB: Yeah. Exactly. One of the crew guys on the video shoot took this piece of paper, cardboard, ripped it and wrote on it Happy New Year, handed it to Garcia and said, “Hey man, can I get a shot for my New Year’s card?” I was standing right there so I got the shot also. I’m pretty sure the guy who took the other picture did it with an Instamatic or something like that.
I actually was the first person to butcher that thing. Pre-computer, I took a piece of white paper and cut it out with an Exacto blade with all the rough edges and rubber cemented it on an 8×10 black and white print and I hand wrote on it, “I need a miracle ticket.” So, that was one of the first ones. It’s been everything from Happy Birthday, Happy New Year, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Christmas, Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Graduation, Happy Life, song lyrics, and everything in-between.
JPG: That’s what I thought. That’s funny. This nicely segues to bringing up your first portrait session with Jerry. Was it nerve-wracking or had you done enough around the band that you were just focused on the work at hand?
JB: My first portrait session was with Garcia in ‘91, and it was for “The Golden Road” magazine, which is a Grateful Dead fanzine. Blair Jackson, the editor/publisher of that was doing an interview with Garcia and [Robert] Hunter and asked me if I wanted to do the photographs. By that point I had already been doing portrait work just about three years at that point; studio lighting, shooting with 35mm as well as medium format, Hasselblad, stuff like that. So, I wasn’t necessarily nervous about being with Garcia. I was excited and I was very professional and could handle being around big rock stars ’cause I’ve been shooting rock stars at that point for a few years.
What I wasn’t expecting is for Garcia and Hunter to be so
completely uninterested in the creative process of a photograph. They just
wanted to go on and do the interview, go have lunch, whatever, and I was trying
to make a brilliant photograph because our job as portrait photographers was
always to get the brilliant photograph because if you didn’t get the brilliant
photograph why would that photo editor, art director, magazine, record company,
whatever it is, ever hire you again?
JPG: Right. Exactly.
JB: We always didn’t get the brilliant photo but we always tried to. That was the goal. Always. Fuck mediocrity. Go for the best, right? or the best that you can do in your situation. So, I was expecting to go in there and spend 20, 30 minutes with Garcia and shoot color film, black and white film, this format and that format, 35mm, medium format, hang out, shoot the shit…I got in there and they gave me three minutes with him and I blasted through 35mm color, black and white. I think I shot a roll-and-a-half of black and white and half a roll of color and – boom — that was it. The shoot was done. But, out of that shoot I got some of my most iconic photos of Jerry Garcia including the cover of this book.
JPG: That’s from that session?
JPG: I did not
realize that because, obviously, the one in the book of Jerry and Hunter…
JB: Same session. January 31, 1991. In ‘93 when I was shooting Garcia for the cover of “Acoustic Guitar” magazine in David Grisman’s living room in Mill Valley I knew at that point if I needed to keep Garcia occupied and in front of the lens, the best thing to do was to let him play music. So, Garcia’s out there playing songs and singing songs with Grisman, and he sat for me for 45 minutes while I was photographing him and got a ton of great stuff.
JPG: Was that something you just realized or did someone suggest that to you?
JB: I think I just realized it ‘cause I thought once he had that guitar, when he was posing with a guitar it was a little bit different than when he was actually playing the guitar and I could just sense it that when he played he could sort of ignore me and he can look in my direction and he can play songs but it didn’t necessarily make him want to run.
JPG: You could say some people, for lack of a better way of putting it, love the camera more than other people. Maybe it’s shyness. Maybe it’s just feeling that there are better things to do.
JB: By 1993, Garcia had already been in the public eye for a solid 28 years. We’ll call it ‘65 to ‘93, 28 years at that point. So, he had already done four million photo shoots. All of these artists that I deal with that have been around for that long — Carlos Santana, Neil Young — all of them are so over the process of a photo shoot because they’ve done it. Again, it comes back to me, us, the photographers, we still need to be brilliant. We still need to come up with a really great photo. If we don’t, then we failed. So, we’re doing whatever we can with whatever little time they want to give us because they’re over it and that’s pretty much how that works.
JPG: So, it’s a different way of being inventive with the process of portrait photography. As we’re talking about all of this it relates to your slideshow storytelling presentations. It seems as if you’ve been doing more of them in the past year or two. I know you did LOCKN’ and Peach Fest this year…
JB: I’m probably doing six or eight or 10 times a year at the most. I would like to do it more. I love it. Last November, I did like a little Florida run — JCC in Fort Lauderdale and JCC in Miami Beach. In Fort Lauderdale after I did my presentation, I actually sat down with Oteil Burbridge ‘cause he lives there and I interviewed Oteil on stage for about an hour. That was super fun. I did a little run last spring where I did Nashville and Atlanta and a little thing in Macon, Georgia a couple of nights before that with Kirk West, the Allman Brothers Band photographer. We did a storytelling Q&A in his gallery but not a slideshow.
JPG: Finally, what’s next as far as your next book?
JB: Yes, I have a few ideas, a few irons in the fire. The one that I think might happen next is…this is a working title but it really doesn’t work because there’s women involved — “Psychedelic Rebels and Other Cowboys.” It’ll be essays and photographs of people whose lives have been touched and changed by psychedelics. It’ll be a book of Leary, Kesey, Owsley, Terence McKenna, Jerry Garcia, the guys in the Grateful Dead, Carlos Santana…There’s a variety of women in the book — Denise Kaufman who was Mary Microgram in “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” and is in The Ace of Cups, Grace Slick…Different people. Photographs that I did with short essays that are hopefully going to be written by Nicholas Meriwether, Grateful Dead archivist at UC Santa Cruz when the archives moved down there. He doesn’t do that anymore so he’s out doing a bunch of different freelance projects. We’ve been talking and we’re hoping that he’s gonna write the text for it.
I do want to do a book with a loose title called “Festival.” That’s a pretty obvious one. It would be almost an update of my “JAM” book but just artists at festivals – LOCKN’, Peach, High Sierra, Mountain Jam…a whole bunch of different festivals and artists that have played at these festivals. That’s a book that I think would be really fun to do and resonate with our community.
I have a third one of a singular artist that I’m just starting to put together and seeing if this particular artist wants to do it.
My last idea, I want to do a Bob Weir book…
JPG: That was one I thought would be coming up.
JB: …and maybe a Phil Lesh book. But, I think, if I were to do a Grateful Dead book next or again, I think it would be a Bob Weir book. I’ve been shooting Bob for 41 years. I’ve been shooting Bob since 1978 and I’ve done a lot of work with him over the years, a lot of things. I think that it would be a really fun book and I think that people would really dig it because Bobby is very important to our scene.