Monday, November 23, 2015

Guitar World

Steve Brown of Trixter, Parkdale, April 1991

PUNK ROCK GOT ME TO PICK UP A GUITAR, and while I was never very good at it, I spent twenty years playing in bands and collecting instruments. I could tell a sunburst Les Paul from a pre-CBS Strat, but that was about as good as I ever got on six strings. The peak of my enthusiasm happily coincided with a brief spell of work for New York-based Guitar World magazine.

My friend Chris introduced me to GW's art director, Jesse Reyes, just after he moved to New York, and for just less than a year I was the magazine's "man in Toronto," which meant catching whatever fell through the net that Jesse's considerable stable of photographers in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere south of the border couldn't get. I was happy with the gig, though, sure that it would help me when I made what I thought was the inevitable move to the States.

Dread Zeppelin, RPM Club, Toronto, Sept. 1990

My tryout gig was a front-of-book shoot with Dread Zeppelin - a rather underwhelming novelty act based on the premise that "D'yer Maker" wasn't Led Zeppelin's only reggae song. (And that Robert Plant was an Elvis impersonator.) I shot Tortelvis and the band's guitarists backstage at the club where they were playing, hauling my strobe kit and light stands with me and shooting cross-processed Fuji 400 slide film to give it Technicolor saturation.

The trick obviously worked because I got another gig shooting a feature for Jesse a few months later. Charlie Baty was the leader of Little Charlie & the Nightcats, a California-based swing blues band that recorded for Alligator Records in Chicago. His tour schedule somehow eluded GW's photographers south of the border and I ended up shooting him in my studio when his band passed through town - a luxury that I hoped would allow me to show Jesse my more polished work.

Charlie Baty, Parkdale, April 1991

Cross-processing again, I aimed for something that would have looked right on an Atlantic LP cover in the early '60s. I plugged Baty's guitar into my own Twin Reverb and let him play along with records while I shot, lighting the room and the white seamless behind him with warm gels and focusing a hard spot on his face with a cool gel. It all seemed to come together and I happily sent the shots to New York.

My next job for Guitar World came not long afterwards - an in-house ad shoot advertising GW t-shirts with the new logo Jesse had designed for the magazine. My model would be Steve Brown, the guitarist for Trixter, a New Jersey-based metal band that had just released its first record. This time around I tried to ape Richard Avedon's studio fashion work for clients like Blackglama furs.

Steve Brown of Trixter, Parkdale, April 1991

The song that always ends up doing soundtrack duty when I remember this period is Extreme's "More Than Words" - a huge hit around this time and probably the last gasp of the big stadium metal acts that bands like Trixter were hoping to join. The grunge explosion was just over the horizon, however, and they'd all be swept away like dry husks in a strong wind.

Jesse was a Seattle native and a tireless proselytizer for his hometown bands; one of my favorite memories of him is standing around the Guitar World office with Chris Buck while he extolled the glories of "Beyond the Wheel" by Soundgarden, doing his best Chris Cornell impersonation while explaining to us the song's dynamic changes. I was already on board with Soundgarden - I'd shot them in a dingy club in Toronto not long before - but his enthusiasm was contagious and we let him finish his exegesis.

Steve Brown would be my last gig for Guitar World. There was nothing passing through Toronto that Jesse's stable couldn't catch elsewhere, and he'd end up leaving the magazine just over a year later. Talking to him the other day, he said that he'd definitely have given me more work if I'd moved to NYC, though I'd have been up against stiff competition down there. The New York move obviously never happened, for both good and bad reasons best examined some other time.


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