San Francisco in 1967 is forever remembered as the Summer of Love. For Jim Marshall, it was the summer of work. But what exciting work he did — standing beside the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and Carlos Santana and recording them for posterity with his Leica camera.
When he died in 2010, Marshall left about 6 million contact prints from a decades-long career. An exhibit at Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury includes a tiny fraction of that output, just a few dozen prints. Still, the exhibit vividly conjures up that brief period in the history of music and of a city, as seen from the vantage point of a man who got full onstage and backstage access to legends in concert and at rest.
In today’s pop-music climate, photographs as intimate as Marshall’s are unlikely ever to appear again.
“In his late ’60s, he wasn’t working any more. He didn’t have to and he didn’t want to. The music scene had changed so much,” says Amelia Davis, who was Marshall’s assistant for the last 13 years of his life and is now steward of his legacy. “He demanded all access or he didn’t take the job. Then restrictions started coming in over the years. Nowadays, all photographers go into a pit and shoot for five minutes.”
Rock legends didn’t just like Marshall, they trusted him, Davis says.
“They knew he would never betray their trust. He had some compromising photographs of people doing drugs and partying. But he would never think of publishing one of those images. They could relax and be themselves.”
Janis Joplin was a particular favorite of Marshall’s, and the feeling was mutual. Five photographs of the doomed rocker are seen in the exhibit: on stage, in the heat of a performance; backstage, goofing around with Hendrix; laying in her bed, gazing thoughtfully; sharing whispered secrets with good friend Grace Slick; and an unforgettable image of Joplin backstage, exhausted, a bottle of Southern Comfort in her hand. The wall text quotes her on that day: “Honey, some nights, that’s how it is.”
Marshall and Joplin related to each other, Davis says.
“He and Janis were both flawed individuals. Outwardly they came across as harsh, heavy-drinking drug people. But inside they were very vulnerable and emotional. They connected with each other,” she says.
“Janis really opened up for him and allowed herself to be photographed. He would say ‘she wasn’t the prettiest chick in the world but man she was so photogenic.’ He was one of the only photographers who really made her look beautiful.”
Hendrix, too, is caught in a variety of moods, giving his all to the music, posing at a drum set during a soundcheck at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, and in an extraordinary photo taken the next day, playing with his bandmates in a San Francisco park during a free concert for one and all.
When the concerts were over, Marshall didn’t stop shooting. He would then turn his camera to the world around him, capturing the youths who flocked to Haight-Ashbury, a family gawking as the spectacle as they drive past, Hell’s Angels riding, a pay phone posted with an anti-authoritarian warning: “Don’t say anything on this phone you wouldn’t say to a cop.”
Most of the photos in the show were taken in 1967, but a few were taken later. Davis, who was born in 1968 in San Francisco, says this focus reflects the counterculture hippie scene that began in January with Golden Gate Park’s Human Be-In and lasted all year.
“The music scene started in 1965 when the Grateful Dead formed and Jefferson Airplane. They started getting known in 1966 and in 1967 it exploded,” she says. “It exploded so quickly and so much, it pretty much overwhelmed the city. You had all these kids coming in from all over United States. San Francisco is a small city. It couldn’t handle it.
“In 1968 the Grateful Dead moved out. They said ‘we’re out of here’ and they moved to Marin,” she says. “I don’t think people realize how quickly it came and went.”
“PEACE: LOVE, ROCK AND REVOLUTION: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM MARSHALL” is at Mattatuck Museum, 144 W. Main St. in Waterbury, until April 22. On Thursday, March 8, artist and journalist Alan Bisbort will hold a talk, “Picturing Rock ‘n’ Roll,” at 5:30 p.m. Admission to the Bisbort talk is $10. mattmuseum.org.
Here’s a playlist to enhance your viewing experience.