NEW YORK - If you are a fan of Rock and Roll, a visit to the studio of photographer Bob Gruen is a treat.
One of the first things you’d notice is a series of silk screens made from the famous picture of John Lennon at the Statue of Liberty in 1974 — a time when the United States government wanted the former Beatle out of the country. It’s just one of the many iconic Rock and Roll images captured by Gruen, who tells the story behind the photos in a new book aptly titled, “Right Place, Right Time, The Life of a Rock and Roll Photographer.”
"Every time I tell a story people say, ‘You should write a book,’” said Gruen, who has released more than a dozen books of his photos, but never sat down to write one.
He did it with help from prolific Rock and Pop music writer Dave Thompson. It covers a lifetime of snapping pictures, starting with his childhood in Great Neck, Long Island. It was there he learned photography from his Mom, an attorney who liked to develop and print her own pictures.
I just was fascinated with the whole process” said Gruen, who was gifted his first camera when he was eight-years-old. It’s the only present he remembers opening and being excited about.
He writes about talking his way into the photo pit at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, where Bob Dylan famously played an electric set, with a mixed reaction from the crowd.
In 1970, after meeting Ike and Tina Turner after a show at a club in Queens, he started photographing them, and his career took off.
He chronicled the rock stars of the day and New York’s burgeoning punk rock scene at clubs like CBGBs and Max's Kansas City.
Then there was his relationship with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. He tells the story behind the iconic 1974 photo of Lennon with a New York City t-shirt, purchased for him by Gruen a year before for $5 in Times Square. Gruen had cut the sleeves with his buck knife.
During a photo shoot for an album cover at Lennon’s penthouse apartment, Gruen suggested he put on the shirt for some photos.
"He knew right where it was so I know he liked it and he put it on, and he just looked great” said Gruen, who added that they had no idea at the time that the picture was going to become so well-known and so iconic.
Gruen said he was able to get such great shots of the artists over the years because he was good at being part of the situation, not intruding on it. He spent night after night at clubs and theaters seeing bands, and catching their private moments in the dressing room and at after parties.
"I went to a lot of great concerts. I went to a lot of great parties, but it was a lot of work,” said Gruen, later noting that carrying a 50 pound camera bag and always having to be in the right place at the right time to get a picture wasn’t easy, but it was fun.
Gruen said Rock and Roll is about freedom, and that he has always tried to capture that moment when the whole audience is screaming and happy, and no one is thinking about paying the rent.