I met Jim Marshall just after he’d shot someone.
And bam! I’ve discovered that, knowing it or not, a writer might be waiting all his life for an opening line like that. Although I’m not really sure how true it is. I could have asked about it over the years, but it just never came up. That’s how he was introduced to me, he didn’t deny it, and the person introducing us had known him for many years, so I believed her, and meeting him that first time gave me no reason to doubt it.
I said in a previous essay that I admired passion in art. This is about an artist beset by his passion for music, and whose axe was a Leica. While some songs become memorable, some photos go straight onto the American heritage landscape. Whoever you are, you’ve seen his art.
Jim was loud, demanding, belligerent, arrogant, dictatorial and profane (he used to say “fuck” more than Joe Pesci in Goodfellas) and yet, god-dammit, somehow he was lovable. What a package! My pal Tim was talking to our host at CA, Chris, who told him about my connection to Jim, and Chris got in touch, wanting to know more about Jim. Apparently, Chris is a photographer of note and a collector of the form, so he knew about Jim and he knew the photos, but I know a bit about Jim, himself, and I’m here to share. Anyone can see and admire Jim’s photos in books, magazines, museums, homes and galleries, but this is the backstage tour. I’m going to be indiscreet because I know Jim would approve.
Many articles, blogs, essays, books and photography compilations have devoted so much space to Jim, and they’re all consistently respectful of his art, as am I, and that has been my habit in this space. Today, rather than extol the obvious virtues of his abilities, I’d rather impart my personal experiences with Jim. Throughout the essay, I’ll post some links, including to a show of his photos currently running in San Francisco until June 17, 2017. As I spent many an afternoon with Jim looking over his contact sheets, I’ll also post a link to a bunch of those, and invite you to browse, as I used to. Until then, it’s about me and Jim in the world we lived in at a crazy time. What made it crazy? Well, a lot, as it turned out, but among the variables are two stand-out components: cocaine and people like Jim Marshall.
Swarthy, big-nosed, rarely clean-shaven, Jim Marshall somehow always looked almost well put-together. Well, I just wrote that, and I apologize because I was putting off deciding on how much to tell you. The Jim I knew was just this side of frumpy, as a matter of fact. What’s funny about that is if he were still alive and I told him what I wanted to write, I believe he’d laugh his ass off and tell me to go ahead. No, that wouldn’t be Jim; he’d laugh his ass off and then threaten me with violence if I didn’t write it.
Threaten? For someone new to Jim, what might sound like a threat was his normal conversational tone. He could intimidate you while sitting, standing, speaking, yelling, whispering or, I’m here to tell you, leaning over your right shoulder. To meet Jim was one thing; to hang out with him meant you had to know what he meant. And what he meant was either harm or no harm. He was loud, he was in your face, but once we had each other in focus, our times together were almost always fun. Except for the time he dared me to come over and meet the .45 caliber bullet that was waiting to meet me. It didn’t seem like a good time, so I said no thanks and called back a few days later. But that was just the once.
In the mid- 80’s, a friend was an admirer of Jim, and when he found out about my connection to him, he plied me with questions. I told him about the times I spent with Jim in the small room between his kitchen and his living room, where he had those oak artist’s file cabinets, the ones with all the two-inch-high drawers. He had all his contact sheets in there, all sorted, dated and accessible. I’d ask about a band or an artist and we’d sit at that small table with lines and some wine or some single malt I might have brought and go over the sheets, and he’d tell stories. No one had better stories than Jim Marshall. He’d been everywhere I wanted to know about, and he’d had more access than anyone.
Which became a problem for Jim in the 1970’s: he demanded full access. When he started out, his attitude—okay, belligerence—got him backstage for shots that no one else was getting, and because it was so early in the 60’s, no one else was competing with him for those shots. Jim got total access at a time when that was still available, but by Springsteen, access to the stars or the stage had tightened to the point where everything was a tense negotiation with handlers, managers and agents before anyone ever got to shoot anything. That was a problem for Jim.
Yeah, he’d taken those candid shots of all the greats, and many of those shots became iconic: Johnny Cash giving the camera the finger at Folsom. Jimi at Monterey, Mick Jagger or Keith Richards anywhere, Miles in the ring after a workout, The Beatles’ last concert at Candlestick Park, Cream and so many more. But when the business of rock went corporate, no one was getting the access that Jim still demanded, and there were so many others by then who would get the shots and charge less and be less of a headache to deal with because Jim had this arrogance thing you may have heard about.
By the 80’s, Jim still had work, but a lot of the high-paying gigs dried up. I assume Jim used a clipping service as he diligently maintained a relentless regime of monitoring newspapers and magazines for his photos that had been used without his permission, and then he’d demand payment or threaten to sue them. The threat was usually enough, because Jim knew the laws, he knew the language, and there were the offending shots right in front of him. Plus, he sounded like an angry Jim Marshall, and if they already knew who he was and about his fascination with guns… But those were never our issues, and hanging out with Jim, alone in that small room with him and those contact sheets…
Ah, those afternoons with the contact sheets! There was Hendrix backstage, seen in sequence, maybe ten minutes of shots of him hanging out, talking with has band-mates, or alone and thoughtful before he went on, and then he’d put that sheet aside and show me the next sheet with the next few minutes as Hendrix walked onto the stage, and then the next several sheets of the performance, all of them Jim Marshall-level exquisite shots, all well-timed and exposed, and almost all of them unseen by the public. No one knew that he was going to light his guitar on fire that night, but as Jimi walked onto the stage, he whispered to Jim, "Just have a lot of film ready." And don’t even ask about the San Francisco bands! All of them! And don’t forget about Jim’s shots of Led Zeppelin or The Who! And more! It could be overwhelming to spend an afternoon with Jim Marshall. God, how I miss those afternoons!
My friend asked, so I told him about those afternoons, and he verily salivated at the prospect of meeting Jim, and asked me to introduce him. I said I would, but he had to know two things before he went. He had to know that Jim would seem belligerent and threatening because he was, especially about his art. I told him not to be put off; he had to allow Jim to say whatever he said, and just go along with it, and please try not to disagree with him. The other thing, the most important thing, was that he’d better bring some cash, because Jim Marshall was going to hound him into buying something. I meant it, so he’d better come prepared to part with a few hundred dollars. Cash. He listened, he went with cash, and when he left—unharmed—he had a photo he’ll always treasure and an afternoon he’ll never forget.
Let’s go back a few years to the late 70’s and early 80’s, when a substance I mentioned earlier seemed to be everywhere, and you probably won’t believe me if you weren’t there, but it was, and several people I knew were, uhh… hobbyists, weekend warriors, as it were, where Jim was passionate. As long as we’re Back In The Day, so to speak, does anyone remember those little coke bottles that came in two sizes? Gram and half-gram? Small, clear glass bottles an inch or inch-and-a-half tall, with black plastic tops? Anyone? Anyone remember that they came with those cheap, tiny spoons connected to the tops by a thin, cheap chain? Remember those tiny spoons? Well, everyone had those bottles, so everyone had those spoons, but Jim had a shovel. It was custom-made of silver, and it fit exactly inside one of those bottles. Yes, a shovel. Everyone had those bottles and everyone used those spoons, but I had a friend who used a shovel. Ladies and gentlemen: Jim Marshall.
Have I mentioned the profanity? Jim swore a fuck of a lot (sorry, couldn’t resist), and when I interviewed him for my talk show on KFAT radio, I reminded him that it was not us just sitting around like we used to, this was for broadcast, and could he please watch his language? Thankfully, Jim was respectful enough to curb the profanity, and when Joan Baez’s mother heard the interview, she called the station, claiming that it couldn’t have been Jim on the show because “the guy didn’t say ‘fuck’ once!” Ladies and gentlemen: Jim Marshall.
He lived above an art store in a fashionable part of Union Street in the City, and I remember more than once sitting in my car near his place, transferring half of my stash into a second container because I knew as God was my witness that nothing of what I took inside with me was coming out again. You know what we’re still talking about… right?
Look, I’ve got stories I can tell and more that I can’t, and I’ve been pretty open so far, haven’t I? So I’ll tell you two more Jim Marshall stories and then, even though this is usually a column about my connection with music, I’ll take you on a tour of some of my Jim Marshall shots. The almost last story:
I’d recently moved into San Francisco and there had just been a series of tremors. I was thinking: what if that had been a big one—or worse yet, The Big One—what sort of civil rule might prevail? Would there be any rule? I’d never thought of myself as either a pessimist or a survivalist, but, I mean… and what if no disaster had happened, it was a normal night, but there was someone rooting around in my house at three o’clock in the morning? I mean, whoever it was, they weren’t there for the suntan, so… so I decided to get a gun.
Did I want a revolver or an automatic? Or a rifle or a shotgun? I knew nothing about guns, and I didn’t want to ask a salesman what I needed. What I needed was a friend who knew about these things. I needed Jim. I called—Jim wasn’t someone you popped in on—drove over and parked out front. Yes, yes, I switched half my stash and rang his bell. He stuck his head out of his second-story window, saw me and yelled, “Gilbert! Come on up!” and the buzzer sounded. He waited for me at the top of the stairs and told me to follow him. No, that’s not it; he barked, “C’mon!” and led me to his bedroom. On the way, he told me he was watching a movie and it was almost over.
He got on the bed with his shoulders against the headboard, facing the TV, so I sat on the other side, facing the TV. It was an old black & white film from the 40’s, and ten minutes later it ended. Jim looked over and said, “What’s goin’ on?” I told him I was thinking about getting a gun, and didn’t know what kind, how big, or anything. He nodded and said, “Okay, look,” then he leaned forward and with his left hand he reached behind him and from under the pillow behind him he took out a gun. I…I… I don’t know what to tell you about it. It was, uhhh… medium size, I guess, and mean looking, and he said, “If you want stopping power with a decent recoil, this is a good gun,” and then he went on about its details.
I’d always thought all you needed to know about a gun were two things: was it loaded, and did I want to shoot it? Jim went on about its recoil, then he covered its reliability, cleaning, various bullets and their different effects, their accuracies at what distances, and the list of legal and illegal additions, modifications, alterations and the benefits and disadvantages of each. So I sat there and listened, trying to take it all in, telling myself to remember all this.
Then he slipped it back under the pillow, took his left hand out, held up his left index finger and said, “But if you’re looking for sheer stopping power…” and with his right hand he reached under the pillow on my side of the bed and took out a gun so big that it seemed to take a lo-oo-ong time easing out from under the pillow. I remember thinking it seemed like a battleship reversing out of its berth, and when it was finally all out and pointing at the ceiling, he went on about stopping power and what would be shattered and what ammo would assure utter devastation no matter where it hit because of something about arteries or something, and how far it would go into an automobile engine block, and then he went on about the recoil, which could be a real handicap, and why it took periodic use at a practice range to be comfortable with this gun, and how strong was my wrist? He took about the same amount of time with this one as the last, and I sat there trying to absorb it all. After putting away the second gun, he told me to follow him, then led me around the rest of his apartment, pulling out two other guns and two knives from their hiding places. Ummm… uhhh… okay, thanks, Jim, uh, thanks!
Now that I’m warmed up and into it, I wish you were here and I could tell you the other stories, but I feel that would lead to yet another regret, and I already have too many of those. Although I think it’s great that I have so few regrets, few are still a few too many, and we’re almost done, but here’s one now:
As I approached 70, I had, perhaps like others, looked back on those years to see if I could judge how my life had gone. I think you have to look at how much good you’ve created, how much harm; is the world better for your presence or not? One of my metrics has been always been how much regret I’ve accrued. While this is almost certainly too much information, I have long considered among my blessings that I have so few regrets, and lucky that many of those were minor gripes, and sadly here I must add that Jim Marshall is a named co-respondent in one of my regrets, and therein also hangs a mystery; so Jim’s passing has left me with an unanswered question and a regret. Observe:
High on that list of regrets (and this will tell you how lucky I am that something relatively minor rates so high) is that back in 1971, I had a ticket to see the Allman Brothers Band at the Fillmore East, and I didn’t go. I was driving a cab back then to get through college, and my shift started at 7AM and lasted twelve hours. I knew that the show wouldn’t end until after two, and I had a 90-minute drive home, which gave me maybe two hours of sleep before a long day of driving, and I already knew that the company discouraged sleeping while driving. I remember once complaining to the dispatcher that twelve hours was a damn long shift, and he responded by pointing out that it was “only half a day,” so I knew there would be no sympathy for a day off or coming in a few hours late. I needed the job, so I gave my ticket to a friend, and I’ve regretted it ever since. I loved the Allman’s, and Duane Allman is among my favorite guitarists.
The show became legendary, the live album of that show became the standard of live concert recordings, almost all the tracks were in heavy rotation at every hip radio station in America, and the cover of that double album became one of the most iconic images of the 60’s, and it was shot by Jim Marshall.
Over several years of friendship with Jim, I acquired, as you will see, a modest collection of his shots, and I always, always, always wanted that shot of the Allman Brothers Band. But I never got one, and lo, these years later, it is too late to get it from Jim, and I do not know why I never asked about it. I could have gotten it from him anytime. Anytime. If Jim were still with us, I would get on it in a trice now, but….
So there. I regret not going to that show, and I try not to blame Jim for it. You might say that he was just an innocent bystander, but that night the band was in New York, Jim was in New York and I was in New York. Alright, he was busy, he didn’t call, I get it. But now I regret not going to that show and I regret that I never asked Jim for that photo, and I don’t know why. I love the ones I have, and I got to pick out all of them, and some are rare and some are one-offs, and I love them all, but… that show! Do you know that show? Look, I know there are people out there who will want better audio than YouTube provides, and I know there is better audio available on other platforms, but man, it’s this incredibly iconic album and you should know it. The band was on fire that night, on fire! and Duane Allman is an amazing musician. And even if you know it, how long has it been since you’ve heard it? Don’t you think you should listen to some of it again? Here’s a link.
I’ve said some harsh things about Jim, and he might have been made to appear as anti-social or worse, but he wasn’t. He was an intelligent, highly moral man and a loyal friend with a great sense of humor, who cared deeply about his art and would never strand a friend or leave them in need. You might not get it from this article, but he could be charming and he was as funny as anyone I’ve ever met. Of course, you wanted to be on the right side of Jim at all times, and even if I didn’t have these photos I would still have been lucky to know him.
The last time I saw Jim was in December, 1995. It was New Year’s Eve, I had a nightclub in San Francisco, and we were open. Jim came by—unannounced, of course—with two pretty black ladies, one on each arm, and he barked, “Gilbert! Take care of my friends here!” I said I would, and Jim turned back the way he’d just come in and yelled over his shoulder, “Happy New Year!” and he went back out into the night. The two ladies seemed unsure, and it was nearing midnight, so I got them some hats and offered whatever assistance I could. I brought them into the bar, signed for their drinks and introduced them to the bartender. I told her their names and told her they were friends of mine, to please look after them. Then I went back to work, as it was closer to midnight and I had… what were those? Oh, yeah: responsibilities. I knew they wanted to be somewhere for midnight, now they were, and I had responsibilities. An hour later, with the festivities still at a frantic pace, I got back to the bar, but they were gone. I’d lost track of them and Last Call was coming up, and that needed my attention. I hope they had a good time. I hope they had a good year.
When the party was over and we closed for the night, my bartender told me she’d spoken to the two ladies. They told her they’d never met Jim before, that he’d found them wandering on Haight Street, unsure where to go. He came up to them and told them that he saw that they were all dressed-up, but looked lost, and he demanded to know where they were going. When Jim decided their answer wasn’t satisfactory, he walked them straight into my place, knowing they’d be taken care of if he asked me to, and he went back out to greet the new year. As usual, he was alone that night. Later that year, I moved out of town and I never saw Jim again, but I’ll never forget the back of his head nodding as he waved his right hand over his head and gave me the backwards wave.
Ladies and gentlemen: Jim Marshall.
Late Fun Facts:
- Jim said, “When I’m photographing people, I don’t like to give any direction. There are no hair people fussing around, no make-up artists. I’m like a reporter, only with a camera; I react to my subject in their environment, and if it’s going well, I get so immersed in it that I become one with the camera.”
- Jim was the chief photographer at Woodstock and Monterey.
- In 1967, he dated Folgers coffee heiress, Abigail Folger, who was murdered in 1969 by the followers of Charles Manson.
- In 1973, a man offered to buy the camera that Jim used to shoot Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock for $25,000. Jim refused. In 2017, that would be approx. $142,018.82.
- Dennis Hopper once said that he based his character in Apocalypse Now on Jim Marshall.
- In 2014 Marshall was posthumously given a Trustees Award (part of the Lifetime Achievement Awards) at the 56th Grammy Awards, the first photographer, and as of 2014 the only, to receive one.
- Annie Leibovitz said “Jim Marshall was the rock ’n’ roll photographer," and when Rolling Stone hired her to put together Shooting Stars. The Rolling Stone Book Of Portraits (which now sells for $1,000), she said ‘if I couldn’t get Jim Marshall in the book, it wouldn’t be worth having the book.’
- His photos appeared on the covers of over 500 albums and even more were published in Rolling Stone and other magazines.
- Jim Marshall was born in Chicago in February, 1936, and lived in San Francisco. He died on March 24, 2010. He was in Manhattan to promote his new book, Match Prints.
Want more photos? Go: http://www.jimmarshallphotographyllc.com/
I regret losing Jim Marshall like I regret not going to that Allman Brothers show.
Here’s a tour of most of my Jim Marshall photos:
Grace Slick and Janis Joplin. This is from his site. I have it framed and signed.
Joni Mitchell in her house in Laurel Canyon. Same as above. These are better images than I could take.
The Beatles at their last concert, Candlestick Park, San Francisco, 1966. I sat with Jim for over an hour on this one. I wanted what I wanted, and Jim let me be the picky jerk I can be. I wanted George at the mic in one shot, I wanted Ringo in one shot, and I wanted Paul and John sharing a mic. I knew which shots I wanted with Ringo, and Paul and John, but I couldn’t find the George shot. So Jim offered to use a Paul/George shot I liked, and black out Paul. I know on paper that sounds like sacrilege, but it solved the problem, and here’s what I have: a one-of-a-kind triptych of The Beatles.
Another Paul and John. I chose this because John and Paul were watching each other as they sang, and if that ain’t The Beatles, friend, then there ain’t no Beatles. Here’s a lesser shot that sells for $6,500! Holy jeez, Jim would roar at that! But he’d insist it was worth it.
Contact sheet of Mick Jagger. It was printed in 1980, but the shots were from 1969 when Mick was in Los Angeles. This is #9 of 10. By the way, all of these are signed by Jim.
BAM Magazine (Bay Area Music) gave Jim a show, and I asked him to blow up the invitation and sign it. To my knowledge this is the only one. Don’t ask why, but I have two of these. Long story. Two!
Jim took this shot of your reporter presenting an award at the First Annual Bammies (1978). That’s Dusty Streets, formerly of KSAN, with me. I know you’ll understand why I am so honored to have this photo.
Photos of Jim over the years:
Gilbert Klein has enough degrees and not enough stories. He’s been a radio talk show host, a nightclub owner, event producer, and has written two books: FAT CHANCE about the legendary KFAT radio, and FOOTBALL 101. He threatens to write one more. He spent 25 years in New York, 25 years in San Francisco, and is now purportedly retired in Baja.