In September of 1987, my copy of American Photographer arrived. It included an article about the dean of music photographers, Jim Marshall. Being a long time fan of his work, I eagerly started reading. I soon came to a statement that changed my life:
“ I care so much about the music business that I don’t care anymore,” says Marshall. “I won’t be part of a pack, I will not work that way. I won’t shoot just two songs at a concert. That wouldn’t be Jim Marshall pictures.”
Two years later, I found myself on the road with the Rolling Stones, on the Steel Wheels Tour. One morning, I called my answering machine for messages. One message stood out. “This is Jim Marshall. I heard you were on the Stones tour and I wanted to know if you could help me get credentials for the upcoming show in San Francisco. I figured that it wouldn’t be a problem; that someone as famous as Jim would easily be approved to shoot anything he wanted. Imagine my surprise when the publicist told me that because she had never heard of him, if he wanted to shoot more than two songs he would have to send her his portfolio, and she would decide at that time. So my first conversation with Jim was to tell him I was very sorry but I couldn’t help him. He laughed and said that was OK, and asked me for my address. When I got back from the tour there was a box waiting for me with a beautiful print of Mick, Keith and Brian sitting in their dressing room, taken in 1963, with a note saying “Thanks for trying.”
A few years later, he called me one morning. He was in town, traveling with LIMP BISKET!!! and wanted to have lunch. During a great meal and a great conversation, he asked me if I still did that “three song bullshit.” I told him that after reading the article, I had cut back, but still agreed to that at times. His very subtle and classy response was. “You are a fucking moron. Your name is going on those photos.” From that moment on, I stopped going to shows unless I could shoot the whole show, or at least most of it.
In 2002, I was sitting at my computer one day when the phone rang. “This is Marshall. Did you ever hear of a store called Urban Outfitters? You did? Great. Go there right now and buy me a t-shirt with my Johnny Cash flipping the bird photo on it and Fedex to me tonight. I need it tomorrow!” Bam- he hung up the phone. So of course I drove over to Urban Outfitters, bought the T shirt and Fedexed it to him. The next day he filed a lawsuit on behalf of himself and Johnny Cash for unauthorized use of their image and likeness (and won very quickly) A week later a box arrived in the mail with a print of the Johnny Cash photo and a thank you note.
In 2003, I invited him to Farm Aid in Columbus, Ohio, and got him total access. The night before there was a dinner with about 12 people at the hotel, and a gathering at the hotel bar until late into the night. As was always the case, Jim left to go to his room with 12 new friends for life.
The next day, about 2 hours into the show, Billy Bob Thornton was introduced and came walking out on stage with his band. Standing directly in front of us was his guitar player, Stephen Bruton, wearing one of the Johnny Cash T shirts. Jim and I looked at each other and cracked up. After the set, we went backstage and found Stephen and told him the story. He motioned Billy Bob over, and he immediately asked Jim for his card. About a month later, a box arrived in the mail with a note that said “Thanks for the fun time at Farm Aid.” In the box was a print of a portrait session Jim had done with Billy Bob in Los Angeles duplicating the finger gesture. The two photos hang side by side proudly in my living room.
Jim passed away in his hotel room in New York last week, leaving a huge hole in the world that we know. He would probably not want me saying this, but he was the nicest person I ever met in the photography business (contrary to his public image) and I will try to follow in his footsteps for the rest of my career.